Home » Intrinsic nature of his art » JEAN SHEPHERD & Sound Part 2

JEAN SHEPHERD & Sound Part 2




From time to time, Shepherd ridiculed the silly nature of his theme song, yet listeners were delighted when they heard “Bahn Frei” at the beginning of each show, and Shep knew it. Here he delivers an ironic riff as the opening music plays:

Oh boy! You’ve got to admit that when you hear those first thunderous tones of this deathless theme, little tinkles of excitement, anticipation, run up and down your backbone, your spine, right, gang? [Laughs.]  Right?  Oh boy.

It’s certainly an exciting world.  All you have to do is hang onto the old hanging straps, keep your knees loose, and keep those old onions skinned.  Watching that arcing, curving sky overhead there, just ahead.  Just at the other end of the turnpike.  Yes, press down on that vast accelerator of existence.  Pick up steam!  Oh!  Listen to that theme.  Ohhhhh!  For the next forty-five minutes really live, friends!  Bring it up there!  All the way up, Skip.  Listen to that.  Isn’t that fantastic music?!!! [Scats along.]  The thunderous, feckless, racehorse of life!

The momentous question of when and why his voice, with the enigmatic “Ahhhh,” was added to the ending of his theme song has bedeviled Shepherd freaks for decades.  (Yes, I know—don’t we have better things to do with our time than worry over such minutia?)  We knew it wasn’t there in the 1950s and into 1960, but there it was starting sometime in the mid-1960s.  Engineer Herb Squire had been told that the original record had broken and they had to make a copy from an old show, from which they didn’t quite manage to remove Shep’s voice, and they decided to leave it in.  Shepherd on the Alan Colmes interview show of 1998 kiddingly said the “Ahhhh” was there because “I thought it was interesting.”

Here’s more info—direct from the horse’s mouth as heard on a recently discovered Shepherd program when it was sold on ebay. On December 10, 1962, as he goes on the air he has a problem:


The way to do this is to sneak in quietly and pretend that everything is okay.  Now as a matter of fact, that is the American way.  [Shepherd and his engineer laugh.]  You can be no more American than to try to phony it up.  You know that, Bob, don’t you?  Try to pretend?  [Laughs.]

This is one of the wildest things that’s happened to me in a long time.  I’ll tell you what happened.  I might as well let you know.  We have my theme song—the little thing that comes on—ricka-ricka-ticka… You know that thing that comes on.  It’s the theme.  Well, we have that on tape.  And so tonight, or sometime, we don’t know when, somebody expeditiously erased the tape. [Laughs uproariously.]  (December 10, 1962)

We have been bedeviled by this for decades.  You see the sort of thing that has us kooks pacing the floor in the middle of the night—why, why, why?  Are we about to find all the answers to the mystery?  To replace the old tape of the theme, that night they find a tape of an old show that has the music on it—note that Shepherd doesn’t give its title.  They play it and he scats along.  The following night, and from then until the show leaves the air in April 1977, the Bahn Frei theme song, used at beginning and end of nearly every program, has the added “Ahhhh.”  So now we know the when and what the problem was, yet not exactly why they didn’t simply find an old copy from a show that didn’t have the added voice.  Maybe, as he said, he just liked it.  Maybe it just became one more little piece of enigma.  As for me, though, having that part of the puzzle solved, I sleep a lot better.    : )

More to come





  1. tragon11 says:

    So why didn’t they just buy a new recording of it? Cool story, though.

    John M. Whalen

  2. ebbergmann says:

    We’ll probably never know!

  3. tragon11 says:

    Hey Gene,

    Should have included this in the original post, but I’m glad to see you posting these items here. I’m a huge Shepherd fan, and was really thrilled to buy a copy of Excelsior, You Fathead, when it first came out. It’s a great book, a highly original way of digging into the master’s MO and subject matter. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t wish I could turn on my radio and listen to what he would be saying about current events. Keep up the good work.

    • ebbergmann says:

      John, thank you. I’ve got loads more stuff to post–things I’ve written over the last few years and new things I think of. I suppose you know that my SHEP’S ARMY book of introduced transcriptions of nearly 3 dozen army stories of Shep is due out this August 9.

      Tell me, do these comments and responses get posted? They don’t show up when I go to the blog–only when I go to the dashboard.


  4. tragon11 says:

    I see you are new to blogging, as I was last year when I started. You have to click on the individual blog item to see the comments. They appear at the end of the article, but are invisible on the home page. It’s a peculiarity of wordpress blogs. I use wordpress for my blog. It’s relatively easy to use for a non-computer person like me.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Yes, very new to blogging. I find electronic technology very annoying–especially because I observe that the nerds who design it have no clue how to communicate info to those who are not fellow-nerds.

      I now see that clicking on the particular post allows one to see comments. What I don’t know is if people such as yourself who go to my blog can see all the comments on all my posts–When I go to my home page I see no comments. I have to go to the dashboard to encounter comments.


  5. tragon11 says:

    On the home page right under the title of the individual blog (e.g. Jean Shepherd and Sound–Part Two) it says in orange what date the blog was written followed by a / and then it says how many comments there are. If readers click on that it takes them to the comments. If it says Leave a Comment, obviously that means nobody’s commented yet. I think most blog readers are familiar with that. Hope that helps. Takes time to figure all the ins and outs, and you’re right, it’s hard to find anyone to explain it in English.

  6. ebbergmann says:

    Thank you very much. My entire professional career, as an exhibit designer at NYC’s Museum of Natural History, etc.), has been involved in using words and images to accurately communicate info to others, so the inadequacy of so much info to users has been a sore point with me.

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