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Doc West’s iconic photo collection rocks the community

Doc's 1970 selfie
Credit/Doc West
Doc's 1970 selfie

Fort Wayne has long been a musical mecca in northeast Indiana and the midwest, embracing myriad genres as well as performers and promoters on a variety of entertainment platforms.

Now, thanks to the Allen County Public Library, this city's epic rock & roll history is being documented and preserved through the extensive photo collection of WXKE’s legendary, Doc West.

Born Rick West in Columbus, Ohio, Doc made his way into northeast Indiana’s rock radio worlds via south Florida, where his stepmother worked for WFUN.

He began his Fort Wayne broadcasting career on WXKE in 1979, two years after that station began broadcasting rock.

By his own account, it all came down when the radio gig he was working at WCOL in Columbus switched to a Top 40 format. “We went from Miles Davis to Donna Summer, Doc remembers, “it took its toll on me. I got into radio for rock ‘n’ roll.”

After 45 years behind that mic, he’s not about to relinquish the position or the camera.

WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the scope of the acquisition with West and the library’s Director of Collections Curt Witcher to talk about the story it tells of the community’s rich musical past.

Here's the direct link to Doc West’s Collection at the Allen County Public Library

Here’s a transcription of our conversation.

Julia Meek: Doc West Curt Witcher, welcome.

Doc West: Thank you.

Curt Witcher: Thank you.

Janice Joplin, Mothers Day, 5/09/69, Vets Memorial, Columbus, OH
Credit/Doc West
Janice Joplin, Mothers Day, 5/09/69, Vets Memorial, Columbus, OH

 Julia Meek: Now your passion for all things rock'n'roll is legend, Doc. So, in a word, how does it feel to have this legacy collection taking shape?

Doc West: It's actually very mind blowing.

Julia Meek: Two words, very and mind blowing. That's great. And Curt, your job at the Allen County Public Library is Special Collections. How and why is this project all of that,

Curt Witcher: Because it is such an important part of the community. It's part of the community's story. And that's what we'd like to do at the library. We'd like to discover preserve, and present story.

Julia Meek: Rock and roll. Great bunch of stuff from Doc. But do you have any that tend to be that specific? Is this kind of a new dimension for your collections?

Curt Witcher: It is a very new collection. And it's really exciting, because number one, it is Doc, Doc West is a legend in this community.

It's amazing to be able to work with a legend and to see and share what the legend has collected over the years. We get to be part of his life. We get to experience part of his life.

Julia Meek: And then share it...

Curt Witcher: And share it. And his generosity and sharing it means the whole community has this rock and roll experience. They can relive, and they can discover for the first time, rock and roll.

Julia Meek: And Doc, that's a great combination. Okay, now you launched it on March 15, that's fairly recently. First of all, go back to kind of the basics. When did this idea take shape?

Doc West: Well, I especially on Friday nights with a glass of Cabernet, I sit there, I like to put some of my photographs up on Facebook. And then I was talking on the air one day about that.

And mentioning that one day I hope to digitalize. But there's a lot of them, a lot of them, way beyond what I reached into that box. I had tons of negatives that have never been processed, other than becoming negatives. And Curt heard about that from one of your employees, correct?

Curt Witcher: Right. And we picked it up too, because we like to get to know the community's history and it came to my attention. I read it and then a couple of my colleagues said, Doc West is interested in doing something with his collection.

Elvis, 10-26-76, UD Arena Dayton OH
Credit/Doc West
Elvis, 10-26-76, UD Arena Dayton OH

And one of the first things that comes to my mind is always, Oh, no, it's it's going somewhere, it won't be accessible, people won't be able to benefit from it. And so, we reached out to Doc to say, is there any way we could, we could work together on making this something for the community?

Julia Meek: Sounds like a very, very perfect timing on everybody's part, and certainly a perfect project to be sure. Now a word on why Fort Wayne has such a great history of national touring acts that you've been enjoying and supporting, Doc all these years. You've been at it for more than four decades. Why is this town so rockin'?

Doc West: Well, because I personally think that here wasn't a whole lot going on for the youth at that time. When I got here in '79, stories I heard out about the Fort Wayne Coliseum were off the hook.

It was a wild place. Fort Wayne Coliseum, the stories, especially going back to that Aerosmith concert where they popped for 44 people's bail are amazing. And Fort Wayne was a hard rocking town.

Julia Meek: And you picked up on it when you did come here?

Doc West: Well actually, it was interesting because when I got here, rock'n'rollers were the underdogs. There'd been a major clampdown qt the Coliseum, it was ridiculous.

And they were arresting at least a hundred concert goers virtually every concert, and I was appalled by it. And to be honest, I told myself, well I'm out of here in six months. Because the rockers of Fort Wayne, Indiana were suppressed.

Rolling Stones, Cleveland, 7/01/78, Some Girls Tour
Credit/Doc West
Rolling Stones, Cleveland, 7/01/78, Some Girls Tour

Julia Meek: So how did you change all that?

Doc West: Well, working with the promoters and via the radio station, getting the promoters to understand, hey, we can make things better. Let's let's take it one step at a time.

Julia Meek: So you were the ambassador, the conduit if you will, but you were the one that made it work into a wonderful situation for the city, back in the day that was prime time. That's fantastic. And taking a project like this from conception to launch Curt. Now that we're in the 21st century, what are some of the key logistics to consider?

Curt Witcher: Well one of the neatest things was actually being able to get a hold of the artifacts. So as Doc has said, a number of these images were only developed into negatives and not really ever prints.

So, we're able to take, through the digitization process, we can take those negatives just bring them right to life as though we were going to print images of the last generation, only we're, quote printing online.

So, it's just using technology, using some really good software and having people that geek out over something really unique and special. Because the library in so many ways is about story and the power of story. And so we saw an opportunity to present another piece of Fort Wayne story.

Julia Meek: A grand one as a matter of fact.

Curt Witcher: A very grand one, very grand.

Jim Morrison w/ the Doors, Cleveland, OH, Allen Theater
Credit/Doc West
Jim Morrison w/ the Doors, Cleveland, OH, Allen Theater

Julia Meek: Great. So, once you two got together a happy occasion for music, and the library and the whole city of Fort Wayne. What was the community response once they started hearing that this was really going to take shape?

Doc West: Well, I think they were very interested. It hadn't been done before. It hadn't been done and so it was a brand new thing.

And like I say, Fort Wayne is, this is a new Fort Wayne, we're in where rock and roll awareness, actually, I gotta give credit to Sweetwater, they have really kicked us up ten notches. And because of that Fort Wayne is much more of a rock and roll town.

Julia Meek: And we've got a real kicking Public Library as well, that counts for a lot--and the genealogical side of things. People will think, I mean, ancestry is wonderful all on its own.

But you go much further than that. And this is kind of proof. How were you motivated to think in terms of music and sharing that story? That, that's very intriguing how you could put it to a digital picture use.

 Curt Witcher: Right. And so I think, Julia, you put your finger right on it. It really is about story. So whether you're looking on Ancestry for dates, and facts and documents, you're doing that, to do what? To find and tell your story.

And so, we like to preserve and present digital assets that do that, whether you're doing family history, whether you're doing a piece of your family history that revolves around the music that your family enjoyed, the things your family loved to do as a pastime.

So the community element is an integral part of the library's presenting back to its community, the community's history. And this is such a key part of the community's history. So you might think genealogy, rock and roll? That's a tortured tie.

Well, no, it's not. It's about story...about peoples' story. (all chuckle)

Julia Meek: That is great. Did you know it would grow this nicely? This satisfactorily? And were there any surprises along the way? And Doc, you have basically a mountain, a small mountain of negatives, that you took yourself with your camera.

Curt Witcher: I'm always optimistic. First of all, Doc West, you knew it was gonna be great? You know it's gonna be great. (chuckles) Secondly, even though you never know until you start looking into a collection, like what's in the box, well what's going to be in there?

But...we knew we had people who are interested, people who can leverage technology. And we knew that we'd have a good product because of what Doc has done over his years of being involved with rock and roll.

 Doc West: Yes!

Julia Meek: And so that's all part of it. Is it kind of like seeing your kids born or show them off? Or, you know...

Doc West: Yeah, well, it really triggers good feelings. I mean, uh, suddenly, I'm transported back to being 17 years old when I'm looking at some of these things.

In fact, one of them I took in 1970, so I would have been 19, and it was a selfie I took with a 35-millimeter camera. (chuckles) And it turned out pretty well, actually.

Another one was a picture of me at the age of 17, at The Ohio State Fair, attending a Bee Gees concert. And I had never seen the photograph until just a little while ago!

Jeff Beck
Credit/Doc West
Jeff Beck

Julia Meek: Oh my! So, it was more than a walk down memory lane for you. You uncovered your own dreams?

Doc West: Yeah, it was kind of like really? Wow, I used to look like that? (all laugh)

Julia Meek: Well, that's one thing about the sands of time shifting. So Curt, what does this collection look like today?

Curt Witcher: Well, it's way more than 1000 items, it's approaching 2000 items. And we have at least another 1000 to post as we're processing them, getting the images as clear as possible and adding the descriptions that Doc had provided initially.

Julia Meek: Quite literally, we get to see that on our screen?

Curt Witcher: Correct.

Julia Meek: And, so this is in living black and white--now, is most of this in black and white?

Doc West: Yes, most is black and white, which is cool as well. The sad side of it now is, as I look at some of these photographs, I realized we've lost a lot of these heroes.

Julia Meek: By the same token, you have preserved them on those pieces of film and that's really quite something as you do share them with the community.

Doc West: That is correct, yes.

Julia Meek: And as we've been saying, this is all about the storytelling, a picture is worth a thousand words and that's a lot of story going down, just right there, when you think about it.

Do they come alive? Do they tell their own stories when you see them, when you read what goes with them? You two have been working with this for a long time; does it satisfy you?

Curt Wicher: Oh, very much so! The neat thing about it is it will tell your story if you experience that group.

Let's say you're encountering that group for the very first time through Doc's collection, it will conjure up a different kind of story for you. It will remind you of some other musical or theatrical experience that you've had.

Julia Meek: So it's a multimedia story situation anyway, and it's a win, win, win, win, win situation going on. That's awesome. And the library's community album is already a very righteous enterprise. How does this enhance or add to it?

Curt Witcher: Well, at so many levels, just checking a few boxes quickly. As we've mentioned, it's an honor and it's a privilege for the community for us to be able to have Doc's collection available literally for all time.

Secondly, we are about telling the entire community story. So this is a nice piece of the community story that we don't have a similar collection in the community album. So this is a nice enhancement.

This is another piece of the community story. So it's a fuller, robust story of Fort Wayne, Allen County, northeast Indiana.

The Doors & stage crasher
Credit/Doc West
The Doors & stage crasher

 Julia Meek: That's the best kind of story to be able to tell and to capture, to be sure. And from the performing end of things, all the newer generations that we're talking about, musicians as well as music lovers are embracing our golden era of rock. (chuckles) I think I can safely say that Doc? Are they embracing this as well? Are they grabbing on to it?

Curt Witcher: I believe so. I know, it's only a small metric. But from the Friday we'd launched til the Monday when we just took our first peek at how many views there were, many hundreds of views taking a little bit look behind the window?

They didn't come from all one or two people. They came from many IP address. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: That's the best-- the best, because they ain't seen nothing yet! Is that safe to say?

Curt Witcher: Yes. Yes, it is!

Julia Meek: So after a great launch like this, what is next for the collection, mid- and long-term wise, Doc? I don't think you're out of negatives yet, are you?

 Doc West: No, not yet! I'm not sure; I've thought about it. And there's so many of them.

I'm thinking I'm doing kind of a "best of" kind of thing, where I cherry picked many of the photographs. I have the artists that have endured, people like Jeff Beck and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and many others there, I'd like to tighten it down somehow do an exhibit, "the best of."

Julia Meek: And if I understand correctly, you have audio of a lot of these concerts as well, that might have a place in your collection? And I do have to go ahead and ask this, You're not done taking concert pictures yet, are you?

Doc West: No! I just took some of them of Stevie Vai and Joe Satriani over the weekend.

Julia Meek: So, no worry there, Curt. Right?

Curt Witcher: Excellent. (chuckles) Absolutely excellent!

Alice Cooper 1970, pre makeup, Cincinnati Pop Festival
Credit/Doc West
Alice Cooper 1970, pre makeup, Cincinnati Pop Festival

Julia Meek: Now, I won't ever ask a favorite moment in anybody's journey, Doc, especially not yours, because yours isn't done yet. And hopefully they're never going to stop coming. But is there one thing that will be forever in your heart that you would like to share?

 Doc West: Yeah, well among the photographs in there is a one-time only concert with Pink Floyd at Three Rivers Stadium on the Wish You Were Here tour. Pink Floyd is a multimedia band. They do special lighting, films, all sorts of things all going on at same time.

And they actually brought in a pyramid they had put together filled it with weather balloons and hoisted it over the stadium during Dark Side of the Moon.

And then what happened was, they pulled it down with tether ropes after dark side into the parking lot and the fans shredded it-- took mementos! It was only used one time--and you can see it in my collection.

Julia Meek: Amazing. And last question, from each of your perspectives, what do you want everyone to know about this community that embraces and nurtures such a rockin' tribute to its own rockin' past?

Curt Witcher: So, I would just invite people to explore and enjoy Doc's collection. It is addictive. So you will want to come back many times.

And my second aspiration, Julia is, does this spur any thoughts, any aspirations for other parts of the community's history that should be preserved in the community's album?

We take that really seriously, that responsibility of presenting the community its album.

Julia Meek: Thank you, and you, Doc? What do you want everyone to know about this community that embraces and nurtures such a rockin' tribute?

 Doc West: Oh, yeah--rock and roll is here to stay! You're gonna be able to check this stuff out 100 years from now thanks to Kurt and his cronies, (chuckles) the Allen County Public Library!

Julia Meek: Doc West is WXK's legendary DJ and Kurt Witcher, Allen County Public Library's Director of Special Collections. Thank you for sharing your story of this remarkable collection and the legends behind it, guys. Do good work and do rock on.

Curt Witcher: Thank you.

Doc West: Thank you.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.