of the music that has influenced its birth and
development are a far more endangered
species, mostly due to the lack of “Cat Music” curiousity
of many of the writers, scholars and
researchers about the earliest roots of this classic American Music.
Rock ‘n’ Roll (please note the correct
spelling) was and still is influenced by
almost every kind of music that went down
before–not just the obvious roots like
blues, gospel and country music, but
how the popular music, vaudeville, show tunes,
radio programs and the incredibly
enormous effect of the earliest
cylinders and 78s had on all the later styles of the 20th century. At
the AMHF, we have learned that the only way to completely understand the music of any artist requires checking out who they listened to,
and then exploring who and what those artists listened and so on, eventually “going all the way” (how’s that for Rock ‘n’ Roll jargon?) back to the earliest ragtime, brass band, minstrels and Tin Pan Alley cats from those thrilling days of yesteryear. If you really want to understand this Rock ‘n Roll music, or for that matter, any other genre, you need to “get” that every style of music has a history and a pre-history that must be investigated “by ear” and in depth if you are seriously interested in learning about where the music you dig, came from.
Fo’ eggs-ample, to really, really grok the music of the 1960s, you have to know the 50s, for sure, but then there’s the direct and indirect impact of the 40s, 30s, 20s and all the way back to the beginning of recorded sound, because those 60s artists were deeply affected by this whole cosmic musical evolution that happened from about 1890 to whenever it ends. To “get” the 60s, you don’t have to bother about the 70s or later, as that music was not an influence on the sixties–it’s optional.
If you want to learn about about your favorite living musicians then you should do what I’ve always done, just ask them what they listen to or research their influences and check all that shit out. If you don’t “get” what they got from listening to something they liked, then do the right thing, Spike, and repeat the listening until you do.
Compared to other kinds of “homework,” this method of learning the music’s recorded history simply by spinnin’ stacks of cool wax next to your earholes is way more fun than any educational experience you ever had in school with the possible exception of any sex education “lab sessions,” you wish they would have had, but you could be soakin’ up some serious sounds while workin’ it out with your “lab partner.”
To learn most subjects they teach in school, you read a lot of books; if you want to learn about music, those books are called records. Books about music can enhance the appreciation of the records, but they are not even close to being even secondary in importance to experience of diggin’ through the records. You can’t learn to sing and play like Ray Charles from books and sheet music, you have to hear his records. The same goes for everyone else, including classical music.
Many “authorities” claim that the first Rock ‘n’ Roll (excuse me, they usually misspell it as “rock and roll” or “rock & roll) record was “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston. This record was chosen because these writers had actually heard of Ike Turner (the session leader), the label it came out on (Chess) and the recording studio where it was made (Sam Phillip’s famous Sun Studios in Memphis). Most of them don’t know or care anything about Mr. Brenston’s pre- or post-“Rocket 88” career. He has become just another “name check” for all those professional amateur rock journalists.
One of Frank Zappa’s most enduring and endearing quotes is: “Rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” I call them column inch-worms, because they get paid by the column inch to pad extra wordage into a news hole. It’s a living, I suppose, but a fate I was happily able to escape. Our collection has several contenders that are far older, but most of these “experts” are unfamiliar with the total depth of the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and are generally not very interested in just how far back its origins go, which is actually well before the invention of the phonograph. We’ll get around to talking about that later.
The 7 Real Kings of 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll
Elvis Presley is often called the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but we disagree. We would call him easily the greatest “teen idol” of all time, handily beating out the endless parade of Bobbys, Frankies, Annette, Shelley “Fabricated” Fabares and even the far more interesting Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darin and Dion all of whom had some real degree of talent, an unnecessary requirement as Fabian and his ever-devolving descendants have demon-straighted in that idle teen music genre ever since.
Had Elvis remained on the Sun label, he would have easily had a place in our Pantheon. If only he had not been forced “to join” the army or had died before he had his hair Samsonized by an Army barberian, we could still argue that, even though RCA’s producer Steve Sholes and his hand-picked senior citizen session musicians set about to tame and sanitize Mr. Presley the moment he first set his blue suedes in their studio, a large enough percentage of his pre-induction recordings were actually outstanding enough to cinch him a place into our own little list of the “7 Real Kings of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
If only his handlers hadn’t steered his career toward the spiritual slaughterhouse of cheesy films and lame teen pop singles and if only the Rockabilly Kid could have had resisted the evil Colonel Carny, the chickenshit and maintained the spark of originality he had in his early career, he might not have sold out so quickly, so thoroughly and so embarrassingly. The man who returned from Germany in 1960, was, quite simply, somebody else, a victim of brainwashing, legal drugs, and / or a combination of two of my favorite outsider explanations, that he was replaced by a former Hitler Youth doppelganger and / or was a graduate of the CIA’s MK-Ultra program–assigned to assassinate himself and his music.
Even as a child, I knew that “It’s Now or Never” was Enrico Caruso’s “O Sole Mio,” but Elvis himself wasn’t deep enough to know the Caruso version, just Tony Martin’s 1949 pop hit, “There’s No Tomorrow,” actually the third set of English lyrics set to that old Italian folk song. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” came from a late 40s Al Jolson Decca 78, and Jolie learned it from Henry Burr’s 1927 Victor recording–not exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll, especially if you actually know who Henry Burr was and what he sounded like.
Not that everything Elvis did after returning from the army was complete garbage, but compared to his early work, very little of it comes close to the high standards he set for himself early on. “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” is a great record, but it’s not Rock ‘n’ Roll and Nat “King” Cole could have done it just as well and if not better.