The !!!! Beat, a groundbreaking soul music television program broadcast out of Dallas in 1966, was the brainchild of music impresario William “Hoss” Allen. Allen, a native of Gallatin, Tennessee, had made a name for himself on WLAC—an all-black music programming radio station in Nashville. Calling himself “The Hossman,” the white Allen built a formidable business network of music publishing interests, record production, artist management, and talent booking. He helped launch the careers of Otis Redding and James Brown. Allen went to work for Chess Records in 1960 and promoted that label’s releases throughout the South. In 1963 he left Chess and returned to WLAC at Nashville. He also started a new label, Hermitage Records, and produced records for many other labels. He had the good fortune of being able to draw on an impressive talent pool of rhythm-and-blues artists in the Nashville area.
Inspired by the short-lived, first all-black music television show, The Night Train, that aired on WLAC-TV in Nashville in 1964, Allen adopted this concept and pitched it to Show Biz Productions, an independent television production company in Nashville. The company accepted Allen’s idea but insisted that the program be filmed in color. At that time, the WFAA television studio in Dallas was one of the very few independent television stations in the South that possessed color video capabilities. “Hoss” Allen chose Texas bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, an artist he had recently produced on his Hermitage label, to lead the house band, known on the show as The Beat Boys. He also recruited saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, who had performed with Ray Charles and was a resident of Dallas at that time, to lead the horn section.
On January 31, 1966, shooting for The !!!! Beat began and continued through the spring. A total of twenty-six half-hour shows were shot, divided into two thirteen-episode seasons. Gatemouth Brown wrote a catchy theme song, and “The Hossman,” the only white star on the program, hosted the show. His premiere opening exuded a hip flair with his greeting, “Well, salutations out there swingaroonies. My name is Bill Allen. Everbody calls me Hoss….Welcome to The !!!! Beat, with a great segment of entertainment coming up right now.”
Allen booked all the acts for the show and recruited almost all of the musicians from four specific areas: Nashville, where he managed many of the acts; Chicago, where the artists were signed to Chess Records; New Orleans, the city where Allen owned part interest in a booking agency; and Texas, which offered a pool of local and available talent. Gatemouth Brown and the house band were the only musicians who received pay. The reward for all other performers rested in the television exposure and free promotion of their records.
The program went on the air in the summer of 1966. The Strickland Corporation (manufacturer of Royal Crown hair dressing) sponsored the show, and thirteen stations in major urban markets and smaller southern cities carried the program. The !!!! Beat usually aired on weekend afternoons or late-night slots.
The show consisted of a balance of live performances with the house band and lip-synched numbers. A group of black go-go girl dancers added youthful energy to the set and made for “a fascinating visual time capsule.” According to the program’s liner notes produced by Bear Family Records (2005), “This was groundbreaking stuff, with a strong element of racial pride.”
The guest musicians on the show ran the gamut from famous black artists of the day to virtual unknowns. A wealth of Texas soul and rhythm-and-blues performers gained exposure to a wide audience. Freddie King, Barbara Lynn, and other artists of the Lone Star State appeared on The !!!! Beat. The show's star power included guest shots of Lou Rawls, Etta James, Percy Sledge, The Ovations, Bobby Hebb, Sam & Dave, and Otis Redding.
Halfway through the first season, Johnny Jones of Nashville replaced Gatemouth Brown as bandleader, because Brown could not read music. Jones in turn brought in his own horn section. Brown later left the show. The program faced various challenges. Sometimes musicians arrived late or even failed to show at all, causing problems in the timing of the segments. Artists also showed up unannounced. Host “Hoss” Allen, who suffered bouts of alcoholism, was at times “noticeably inebriated” and his commentary “disjointed.” But, according to Bear Family Records, “…nobody cared. It was about the music and the music was great.”
For the most part, audiences regarded The !!!! Beat with indifference, though the show was a hit in Birmingham, Alabama. One racial backlash occurred in Alabama with a cross burning on the lawn of a TV station. Local advertisers pulled their sponsorship, and no additional episodes were filmed. Otis Redding hosted the final episode in place of Allen, who was too intoxicated to appear. After its initial run, no reruns were ever aired. Allen returned to Nashville and WLAC and eventually entered rehab in 1971 and stayed sober until his death in 1997.
The !!!! Beat remained relegated to the obscure annals of music history, with a few surviving bootleg tapes sought by soul music fans. Willie Nelson purchased the Show Biz Productions catalog. Eventually in 2005 Bear Family Records released the entire series on DVD.