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Rock and Roll Gatekeeper: Dennis Elsas and His Multi-Media Time Machine


It may have started out as the name of the opening song on Bob Seger’s 1976 album Night Moves, but “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” struck a chord with legendary DJ Dennis Elsas, who borrowed the name for his live multimedia presentation, which will be presented on March 11 at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center.

“‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets’ was a great song by Bob Seger that came out in the 1970s,” Elsas remembers today. “When it came out, I was on the air from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. at WNEW-FM. There’s something about the phrase that says to me [it’s] not just the celebration of old songs but it’s about loyalty, friendship and this continuing legacy of the celebration of rock and roll.”

Over the past four decades-plus, the Queens native has been a mainstay on New York radio, first as an on-air personality and music director for WNEW-FM from 1971 through 1998, and since summer 2000, his on-air home has been at 90.7 WFUV-FM, where he holds down the 2-6 p.m. weekday shift. In 2004, Elsas added satellite radio host of the “Classic Vinyl” channel on Sirius/XM satellite radio to his resume.


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Given the fact that Elsas has had a front-row seat for much of the history of New York rock radio, who better to be a kind of gatekeeper for so much of this rich history? Along with the treasure trove of photographs and memories recounted on his site, www.denniselsas.com, he has a wealth of on-air interviews done over the years. While legendary artists ranging from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey to Elton John, Ray Davies and John Fogerty make up some of this impressive audio archive, it is the two-hour on-air sit-down he conducted with John Lennon back in 1974 that is the segment for which Elsas is best-known.

Elsas had been invited to the Record Plant to watch the ex-Beatle mix Walls and Bridges, prior to the album’s release and after meeting him, flippantly invited the Liverpool native for an on-air visit at WNEW-FM. “I asked John to come down full well knowing that no Beatle had ever been up to the radio station,” Elsas recalls. “The phone rang a week or so later, and it was [then-girlfriend] May Pang calling to say John was game to come, [asking] when he should arrive and if it would be all right to bring a few of his own records.”

For the next two hours, the late rock legend and his on-air host discussed the new record, his immigration problems and even wound up with Lennon doing a cheeky on-air promotion for New Jersey rock club Joint In the Woods. “The fascinating thing is that years later, so much of what he talked about became Beatles legend—the King Lear lines at the end of ‘I Am the Walrus.’ The description of the person saying ‘number nine” at the end of “Revolution” being an engineer’s voice—if he told that before, I don’t know, I hadn’t heard it,” Elsas explains.

This storied lore is just a small part of the music history shared by the Queens College alum throughout the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Never Forgets” live event.

“Bob Seger sings, ‘All Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks,’” says Elsas. “I don’t play an instrument but I like to feel like I keep the continuity going.”

Dennis Elsas presents Rock ‘N’ Roll Never Forgets March 11 at Dix Hills Performing Arts Center. For more information, visit www.denniselsas.com.

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