Cerphe’s Up: Homegrown Rock and Roll History

A love-struck Boston kid followed a girlfriend to American University to study art in 1967. Over the next five decades, he would have a front row seat for—and a significant hand in—the growth of rock and roll. More so, he would become a familiar, trusted voice to generations of Washington area radio listeners.

Cerphe Colwell documents the rise of DC’s rock music scene and the birth of many of the industry’s greatest contributors in a new autobiography. “Cerphe’s Up,” which debuts locally Wednesday evening, when Cowell and co-author Stephen Moore will hold a book signing at the Leesburg Vintner, 29 S. King St. downtown.

His introduction to the DJ booth came at the invitation of a housemate and fellow student who had a part-time job at a 5,000-watt Bethesda radio station that played easy listening music during the day, but let the DJs play whatever they wanted overnight. WHFS would become one of the most influential rock stations in American and, starting fulltime in 1973, Colwell was among the core group of the station’s famed free-form DJ line up.

Colwell helped bring acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Little Feat to prominence and developed life-long friendships with a roster of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. “Cephe’s Up” shares those stories through Colwell’s recollections and interview transcripts.

But there is more. There is the night he played in the backing band for Chuck Berry. There are tales of the rise and fall of important DC music spots such as the Childie Harold and The Cellar Door. And you learn the colorful effects of a health-conscious DJ going a bit overboard with carrot juice.

Colwell’s run at ‘HFS ended after eight years, but he remained a force on Washington airwaves for decades more. He worked at WAVA, DC 101, WJFK, and 94.7 (through its Classic Rock/The Arrow/The Globe stages) during an era that saw the rise of national media conglomerates that now dictate what is played on local airwaves. Today, Colwell controls his own playlist once again with Music Planet Radio streaming new music and classic hits 24/7 online and through an app.

These days it is not just Colwell’s voice that is familiar around Leesburg; his face is, too. He and his wife Susan have moved to the Leesburg area and are working with Todd Wright, Stilson Greene and others to support the town’s community of performers and songwriters.

Wednesday’s book singing will be from 5:30-7 p.m. Hardcover copies will be available for purchase at a discounted price.

Learn more at musicplanetradio.com/cerphes-up-a-rock-roll-life/.

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