Art Laboe has built a career following the hearts of music lovers around the globe.
As the beloved host of one of radio's longest-running music dedication shows, Laboe's syndicated "Killer Oldies" -- which broadcasts Sunday evenings on Bakersfield station Hot 94.1, KISV-FM -- has inspired legions of fans to get their groove on with the sounds of peace, love and silky soul.
Today, after more than 50 years in the entertainment business, Laboe continues supplying the soundtrack to the perfect lovers' holiday through his Valentine's Super Love Jam series, which makes a return to Rabobank Arena Saturday night.
"I enjoy it," said Laboe, 87, during a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles. "There's a lot of love going across those stage lights both ways. I don't let it go to my head and always try to be the same guy I've been since the beginning."
A tireless showman, Laboe still oversees his empire of radio and entertainment-oriented ventures, including his record imprint, Original Sound, which specializes in vintage music reissues on vinyl and CD. Among the label's most popular releases are Laboe's best-selling "Oldies But Goodies" series, featuring many of the hits handpicked from his early years broadcasting live from Scrivener's Drive-In in Los Angeles.
"Before rock 'n' roll, it was all ballads: Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doris Day and those people in the mix. Kids began bringing me songs, mostly rhythm and blues artists like The Dominoes, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles and Little Walter to play. Then along comes Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis like a tremendous tidal wave, and there was no stopping it. The kids wanted it, and there I was right in the middle of it all in 1956."
Laboe recalls many afternoons at Scrivener's like a crazed sock hop with overstuffed cars, screaming teens and plenty of wild dancing.
"It caught on like a forest fire, and there I was riding the surf on top of it, because I was the first one to play all that music out here. Here was this program in the afternoon. Nobody had every heard anything like it. Live with kids laughing, honking their horns, going from car to car talking to them and getting their requests. Some from the establishment, but I didn't let it get any worse than it was. They thought the music was going to corrupt the youth. Looking at today's standards, it was pretty clean."
Though the scene has changed, Laboe's ability to remain timeless owes much to his penchant for keeping up with the needs of his listeners, inspiring, for instance, the introduction of his first music compilation years ago.
"I remember being with a girlfriend, trying to be romantic and get somewhere and all of a sudden the music would stop on the old record player. She'd hit me in the ribs with her elbow and say, 'Go fix the music.' So I'd have to walk across the room and change the stack of 45s dropping one at a time. Eventually it's going to run out of music. Then a lightning flashed in my mind, 'All of these people with these songs on 45, should have them on album.'
"When I left her place, I went back to the radio station and dubbed a bunch of songs I liked onto a tape. I thought about getting permission from all these record companies to put them all on one record and pay them for it. It worked, and the rest is history."
Like his favorite mix tape, Laboe has assembled a cross-section of love-song lovin' artists for Saturday's show in Bakersfield: Heatwave ("Always and Forever"); GQ ("I Do Love You"); Peaches and Herb ("Reunited"); Bloodstone ("Natural High"); The Originals ("Baby I'm For Real"); Sly, Slick and Wicked ("Confessin' a Feelin"); Barbara Lewis ("Hello Stranger"); Eddie Holman ("Hey There Lonely Girl"); The Fuzz ("I Love You for All Seasons"); and MC Magic ("Lost in Love").
"Oldies but goodies don't have to be from the '50s. We released the first LP compilation in 1959, and those songs were only 5 or 6 years old. You gotta remember that with teenagers a social life begins in junior high school, so songs that are 5 years old to someone that is 18 just seems like a long time ago. It's the same today. A singer like Akon or Alicia Keys has been making songs for more than 12 years now, but that's a long time ago to some kids. If you come to our shows, they're really all ages."
Laboe has plans to publish a book about his life in radio, with chapters filled with recollections about everything from his friendship with Elvis Presley, keeping a watchful eye on a young, girl-crazy Ritchie Valens and more.
"There aren't a lot of people still around that can say they sat around and talked to Elvis. That's a great thing to be able to do that."