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Pop Review : Good Golly! It's Wally!

September 25, 1986|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

You say you've heard about the new "American music" but you're turned off by rock stars who look like scruffy bums (Mellencamp), sound like bleeding-heart liberals (Springsteen) or both (Tom Petty)?

Fret no more. There's finally a singer for real Americans--Wally George. That's right, the ultra-conservative host of Orange County's cartoonish "Hot Seat" talk show (KDOC-TV, Channel 56) has recorded a rock album and is mounting his assault on the rock world.

The idea of "Wally George, Rock Star" sounds as incongruous as "David Lee Roth, Choir Boy." Nevertheless, there he was in his red, white and blue "Wally suit" making his rock 'n' roll debut Tuesday night at the Palomino before a crowd of hooting "Hot Seat" fans. (Actually, the show marked George's return to rock after a hiatus of about 20 years since he fronted a band called the Hollywood Twisters in the 1960s.)

Backed by the Sound Waves, a youthful six-member band from Corona, George offered up an hourlong All-American set that included Glenn Frey's "It's Better in the U.S.A.," Leiber and Stoller's "Kansas City" and the Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." Heck, the only thing missing was "Born in the U.S.A.," although Springsteen's anthem reportedly will be on George's album, due in October.

Having graduated magna cum loud from the "whip-your-audience-into-a-frenzy" school of broadcasting, Wally carried his "Hot Seat" approach over to his music. Not to disappoint the show's fans, George fomented their chants of "Walll-eee! Walll-eee!" between songs by peppering barbs at liberals, gays, feminists, punks, Jane Fonda and everyone else he's insulted over the years.

As for Wally's voice, he can at least carry a tune--though he would be wise always to use both hands for the task. And his range, phrasing and expressiveness are every bit the equal of George Putnam or any other TV commentator who comes to mind.

Although he's got no additional dates scheduled, George said he plans to perform periodically after the album is released. Near the end of the show, he remarked, "I think I deserve at least a mediocre review, don't I?"

Relax, Wally--you got it.

Before his performance, George talked about his new career move while sipping slowly on a 7-Up (on the rocks) and eschewing the standard rock star modus operandi of sequestering himself in a backstage dressing room. Instead, he pulled up a chair in the middle of the famous country music club, where he was periodically interrupted by autograph seekers and well-wishers.

"I can't understand these celebrities who complain about a lack of privacy," George, 49, said. "I love it. In fact, if I go out to dinner and I'm not interrupted at least once, I get upset. This is the kind of recognition I've worked for all my life."

Indeed, George appears to be as genuinely thrilled--and amazed--at his success as anyone. One reason he accepted an invitation from Taboo Records to do the "Wally Sings the Rock Hits" album was that "a lot of people think of me only as the guy who sits up on stage and throws people off my show."

Another incentive was "my daughter (actress Rebecca DeMornay), who is really the light of my life. She's never really been thrilled about 'Hot Seat' and that her father is known as this right-wing loudmouth. And frankly, she's been embarrassed at some of my remarks about the Hollywood community, which doesn't look at me as a friend.

"When I told her I was going to play the Palomino, she was so excited. So I'm doing a lot of it for her, to make her proud and a little more comfortable with her father."

Although one of his favorite targets on "Hot Seat" is heavy metal music, he denied that he is opposed to all rock 'n' roll.

"I've been misquoted as being against all rock music," he said. "I've always liked the kind of songs I'm doing tonight. But I am completely against the heavy metal that promotes satanism, violence and drugs. As for rock 'n' roll in general--hell, I had a band in the '60s and late '50s. I think rock is an important part of American entertainment."

Because it took him nearly 30 years to gain widespread public recognition, George said he is using his rock act to provide exposure to the young members of the Sound Waves.

"Some people said I should get a bunch of professional studio musicians for my band," George said. "But those guys would just show up, play, collect a paycheck and go home. For these guys, it's a big thrill to play at the Palomino. So I hope maybe this will help them get a break."

George said the best advice he received on maintaining a career in entertainment came from Ozzie Nelson, when Wally appeared periodically on "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" as a grocery delivery boy.

"Ozzie told me, 'The secret is never, ever give up. If you hang in there long enough, you'll make it.' Up until four years ago (when 'Hot Seat' debuted), I didn't think it was ever going to happen for me.

"But now my show is syndicated across the country, CBS is doing a feature on me for 'West 57th Street,' and the Wall Street Journal did a front page article on me. It's absolutely amazing to me that after 30 years I've reached this kind of recognition."

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