Thursday, December 9, 2010

Donnie Iris: Ah! Leah!

Yesterday, I talked about being on the air in Huntington, WV the night that John Lennon was killed. Within two months, I took a job in Beckley, WV as the evening jock for WCIR-FM. One of the songs that I heard for the first time in Beckley was Donnie Iris’ “Ah! Leah!”

During those first few months of 1981, the song was played in what was called a recurrent status. For you non-radio types, this was the song rotation for recent hits and these songs were typically played between one to three times daily.

Apparently, it received tons of airplay at CIR before I joined the staff in early 1981, but was a song that was overlooked by the stations in Huntington. Music director and later program director Ron Hill was responsible for getting this record its start in Southern West Virginia. I had totally missed this release.

By the summer of 1981, an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station came on the air in the market - WOAY which replaced country formatted WRJL at 94.1. Charlie Jennings, WOAY's program director, made sure that Iris’ tune was played in a pretty significant rotation throughout their years in what they termed as the Adult Rock format.

I later worked at WOAY from 1983 to 1987 and helped transition the station from an AOR to a Contemporary Hit Radio station beginning in 1984. We still played “Ah! Leah!” in the new format as an oldie.

“Ah! Leah!” was also a colossal hit in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Domenic Ierace, as he was born, was something of a Greater Pittsburgh legend playing in the biggest local band during my high school years. The Jaggerz had one national hit – “The Rapper” which peaked at #2 in 1970. Donnie Iris wrote and sang lead on this hit.

Following the break-up of The Jaggerz, Iris later joined another Upper Ohio River Valley band, Wild Cherry – but it was after the band had reached the peak of their success. He contributed to their third and fourth albums, but not to any of their hit releases.

The year 1980 was primed for Donnie Iris and “Ah! Leah!” was originally released on Midwest National Records before being picked up by MCA. While its chart performance wasn’t outstanding (#29 on the singles chart and #19 on the rock charts), it is a timeless song that is still heard today. In fact, I heard it last week on an episode of Bones – thus qualifying it for inclusion as this week’s TV Thursday selection.

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