Street 'musician' loves his work
MEDFORD — In baby-blue pajamas, rocking out to Mick Jagger and waving at passing traffic, Phoenix resident Dan Cheek hardly notices the freezing temperatures or the occasional sideways glances from motorists.
Cars and trucks rush past during lunch hour, some drivers shake their heads or smile and wave, while others look befuddled.
A street marketer with his own following on YouTube, Cheek is a local celebrity of sorts. He was a popular radio-show host for two decades, once co-hosting the "Morning Zoo" on KTMT-FM (93.7).
Often recognized by former listeners, Cheek, 47, finds some irony in the fact that he spent the first half of his adult life using his voice to make a living and now he rocks out in virtual silence.
On Thursday, a police car pulls up to the stop light at 10th and Central. For a split second Cheek debates whether to "assume the position" or theatrically drop his sign and attempt an escape.
Instead, he plays his fake guitar for the officer while using the "instrument" to shield his face, eliciting chuckles from passers-by.
Not long after, a pedestrian with a guitar bag on one shoulder attempts to ignore Cheek's jam session, to which the PJ-clad jammer responds by swinging his guitar-turned-bat as the man walks away.
"The ironic thing about it is, I actually make more money acting like I play music than any of my friends who can play music actually make by playing it," says Cheek.
Musicians, Cheek says, sometimes join his jam session, while others seem indignant at his wannabe attempts. There was a time, however, when musicians and celebrities were thrilled over some on-air time with Cheek.
After moving from California at age 6, Cheek grew up near Greensprings with a knack for chit-chat, knowing early on he'd one day entertain.
"I saw an episode of 'Happy Days' when Richie becomes a disc jockey —'Richie the C.' And from the time I was 8 years old, that was all I wanted to be."
From age 18 until the ripe old age of 40, he lived his dream. He spent decades on the air meeting some of his favorite musicians, with Alice Cooper and David Bowie at the top of his list.
Others included Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Robert Palmer, KISS, Loverboy, Cheap Trick — for whom he was allowed to "sing backup" during one song in a concert — Aerosmith and REO Speedwagon.
After leaving radio in 2004, Cheek became a stay-at-home dad to twin sons, now grown, and two daughters, now 9 and 12.
A re-entry into radio didn't happen when he last attempted it, he says, explaining that the industry had changed drastically.
"It's like being on a train, stepping off the train and into the woods, then coming back out of the woods and expecting the train to be in the same place it was when you left," says Cheek.
He began waving a sign and donning costumes four years ago for Liberty Tax. Outside tax season, gigs have varied from advertising in creepy costumes for the Spirit Halloween store and donning a pink gorilla getup for Curves Fitness.
"What the hell a pink gorilla has to do with women's fitness is beyond me!" quips Cheek.
His favorite gig so far has been rocking out for Medford Mattress, which helped him lose 60 pounds in less than a year and resulted in a loyal YouTube following.
"I believe he really makes a difference for us," says Tony Kell, a manager at the mattress store. "We've had several compliments, and people sure notice he's out there because they'll call and come in just to comment on how he does such a good job."
Brian Fraser, who works in sales for OPUS Broadcasting, says Cheek, whether waving a mattress sign or eliciting chuckles over the airwaves, is a local favorite.
"He's a very, very funny, very talented, extremely creative guy," Fraser says.
"When Dan and I started in radio, there was a jock in every studio 24 hours a day. There have been a lot of changes, but Dan was always extremely effective on the air. In fact, I'm not sure why he's not still doing it."
"I spent the first half of my life listening to great music, entertaining people and meeting celebrities," Cheek says. "I'm still performing for an audience of 10,000 to 15,000. It's just in increments that are two and four at a time.
"This isn't a job for everyone, but I love what I do. And if I can put a smile on somebody's face that wasn't there before, then I consider that a good day."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.