Happy Birthday John Peel

(Gibson) It would be difficult to argue that any DJ outside the U.S. and possibly inside the U.S., for that matter has had a greater impact on music than John Peel (born on this day in 1939). The son of a cotton merchant in the village of Burton, outside Liverpool, Peel was a slightly eccentric, but gifted communicator. He was also a devourer of music, and not just the chart-toppers, either. Peel scoured the record bins and airwaves for obscure gems. In his BBC bio, he recalls a school headmaster writing on one of his reports:

"Perhaps it's possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays."

And indeed, he did. Having moved to America initially to work for his father's cotton company, Peel soon got into radio, charming Dallas audiences with his Liverpool accent which was particularly advantageous (and exaggerated) after The Beatles arrived in the States. After a stop in Oklahoma City, Peel moved to San Bernardino, California, where he still worked under the name John Ravencroft (his surname at birth was Ravenscroft). Had he stayed in San Bernardino, Peel would have been no more than a solid local DJ and a '60s music footnote. But he returned to England in 1967 and began work at Radio London, one of the so-called pirate radio stations that transmitted in England from clandestine offshore stations aboard ships. more on this story

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