The 7 Real Kings of 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

The 7 Real Kings of 50’s 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,  Read more..

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Glenn Allen Howard – Introduction

Fats Domino – Blue Monday (1956)

Fats Domino – Ain’t That a Shame (1955)

  • Note the ropes separating the black band from the white kids. Rock ‘n’ Roll would be the cure for all that, but in ’55, that shit was still very much alive.

Fats Domino – I’m in Love Again (1956)

Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (1956)

Fats Domino – Valley of Tears; It’s You I Love; I’m Walkin’ (1957)

Fats Domino – I’m in Love Again; I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill; Ain’t That a Shame (1957)

Fats Domino – Wait and See (1957)

Fats Domino – Let the Four Winds Blow (1962)

Fats Domino – Mardi Gras in New Orleans; Ain’t That a Shame (Milan, 1962)

Fats Domino – I Want to Walk You Home (Antibes, 1962) Loud

Fats Domino – Ain’t That a Shame (Antibes, 1962)

Fats Domino – The Big Beat; I’m Walkin’ (1957) TURN IT UP!

Fats Domino – Don’t Want You No More (1962) CRANK THIS MUTHA UP!

Fats Domino – I’m Ready (Antibes, 1962)

Fats Domino – Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (Antibes,1962)

Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (Antibes,1962)

Fats Domino – When the Saints Go Marchin’ In (Antibes,1962)

Chuck Berry – Little Queenie (1959)

  • During the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll, when it was called “race music” and even later after it was changed by a white victim of racism, Jerry Wexler, to Rhythm and Blues, the guitar was usually not featured as much as the sax and the piano. St. Charles Berrily had verily chucked that idea right out the window (along with the saxophone, in his case) and put the guitar out front and center where is remains today, although with the shear explosion in numbers of terminally white and / or heavy muddle guitar wankers, not always for the better.

    Coming out of the starting blocks in ’56, Chuck could do no wrong with his songwriting or his guitar playing, which is why he was treated so harshly by the 50’s era adult (and adultress) authority figures who were trying to kill Rock ‘n’ Roll by pretending that payola hadn’t existed as THE music industry standard since the early days of Tin Pan Alley when it was all about sheet music, not records or radio. Their spin was that if the disk jockeys hadn’t been bribed to play this evil Rock ‘n’ Roll, instead of “good music” like “How Much is That Dogshit on the Window?,” their innocent little children would have never been exposed to this communist-inspired, “nigger” bop jungle music. Never mind that the deejays were likewise bribed to play white(“corn”)bread “pop” music like Eileen Barton’s “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake,” Sinatra’s “Mama Will Bark” and just about everything else at the time–especially since grand accuser Mitch (“The Bitch”) Miller of Columbia Records, somehow failed to mention his own involvement as Columbia records payola paymaster.

    Chuck did a couple of years in the slam on a trumped-up charge invoking the Mann Act, a law passed by early 20th Century Congressional racists specifically for the purpose of jailing the World Champion boxer Jack Johnson for the twin crimes of beating the shit out of EVERY white challenger, marrying a very willing white woman and then horror of horrors, taking his wife across state lines “for immoral purposes,” which was namely their presumption that the couple were having otherwise normal marital relations. Those late 1950s ASSHOLES in the “best Congress money could buy” that manufactured the “payola scandal” were every bit as racist and hypocritical as their predecessors and I hope they burn in hell for what they did to kill not just rock ‘n’ roll, but to screw over jazz artists like Mingus, Billie and Bird and virtually anyone with dark skin. Black was the new “witch,” years before “burn, baby, burn” came back to haunt these grand-standing inquisitors.

    Too much has already been written about Mr. Berry for me to regurgitate and up-chuck the endless amount of ink spilled over his contribution to American Music. It is disturbing to me that there are now “would be” Rock ‘n’ Roll guitarists who quite obviously never learned anything from this super-creative genius and one of the fountainheads of this culturally revolutionary music. I could say the same about the rock ‘n’ roll songwriters of the past 3 or 4 decades. Nothing that anyone can write is more important than hearing and in this case viewing vintage Chuck Berry film clips.

    One of the problems for the “adults”reaction to the teen-targeted film industry was about the placing of this very popular music into movies was because so much of the music was made by those “colored people.” Actually they were just as likely to use the “letter after ‘M’ word (for those who are offended by the “N’ word), as often as not. Here they solve the problem by hiring some honky-ass amateurs as a backing band. The result is eliminating 3/4 of the black faces on the screen–everybody but the “star.” Never mind that ANY black band, let alone Chuck’s Trio would have done a much better job. Still, it is the Chuckster live, in 1959, right before the righteous racists framed him to get this wonderful music off the radio and off the charts.

Chuck Berry – You Can’t Catch Me (1956)

Chuck Berry – Oh Baby Doll (1957)

Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen (1958)

Chuck Berry – School Days (1958)

Chuck Berry – Go, Johnny Go! (1959)

Chuck Berry – Almost Grown (1959)

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1964)

Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley (1955)

Bo Diddley – Road Runner (1960)

Bo Diddley – Hey Bo Diddley / Bo Diddley (1965)

Bo Diddley (Hollywood A Go-Go, 1965)

Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley (1965)

Bo Diddley – You Can’t Judge a Book (1973)

James Brown – Please Please Please

  • Most of the post-embryonic kiddies are like, like the 60s girl group the Poni-tails, in that they were “Born Too Late” to know the gospel / blues / R & B Soul Brother sound of the first ten years of this REAL King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and know him solely (and soully) from his “Funk” and / or “Disco” era and that sucks even more than “Disco Sucked and still does! It’s not that he wasn’t still good, it’s just wasn’t as deep as his early stuff and soon became more or less like a Lost Vegas style of show-biz show–short, tight and overly slick, if you get my spin on this spun out soul spinster as he got his nose into some bad white (powder) drugs. Like PCP was NOT P.C.

    The 1966 Olympia footage is to tie die for even though tie dyes didn’t yet exist in ’66 which is Okeh because film is all in black and white anyhow. The band is black and the all the teenage Parisites sitting (wtf?) in their seats are waaaaaayyyyy too white, but diggin’ it the best they can and they really can, Can Can. The Frogs were the first Euro-peons to flip their collective wigs over black music when they got to dig Lt. James Reese Europe’s 369th Infantry Band, known for the hell of it as “The Hellfighters,” which if you think about it is a helluva good name for this fighting ragtime band that learned to rag and fight on the streets of Harlem.

    Europe hit Europe, France in 1918, hit a strong downbeat and batted his baton down on his big black band, whereupon they launched into a rippin’ ragtime take on W.C. Handy’s ‘ “Memphis Blues.” which was nothin’ like anything much of anybody “Over There” ever had pounding on and in their ear drums before. In 1918, this was Rock ‘n’ Roll. This got to somadeeze dere Limeys, and a few moruvdeese doughboys from the you-knighted states –but the Frenchys got it, bought it, caught it and sought it inside and out, for the duration of not jest little ol’ WWI, but like forever, so far. Inspired by the music of Harlem’s finest, the allies ragged and raged their way eastward, in front and at the front and soonerooney, triumphed W.C. Handily over the Heines kickin’ them in the hind end and takin’ a piece of the Rhine, which was like pretty much the Kaiser’s End Zone, but the begin-zone for black music in La Marsellaiseville land.

    In the 1967 Olympia Theater show, you can catch the transition from soul to funk (in fronta some female frogs, no less) and his desperate attempt to crossover to the main-scream pop song market in the vein of Frank ‘n Steinnatra and Tony Bent-tit. Though he never crossed even over the double yellow line with the geriatric adulterous mainscream crowd of his era, he did leave some great takes on a precious little pile of cool pop standards. Of course the first “not-my generation” of Rock ‘n’ Rollers almost all did pop standards, live, if not on records. They all came out of a culture where old school pop (NOT Michael Jackson) was the dominant style of music and R ‘n R was the new kid on the (auction) block, especially over the issue of black recording artists / slaves.

    When St. James wanted to download some of his royalties from King Sid, it was like Nathan shakin’ in the direction of his pockets so he split from the Cincin-natty-dread King which led to a short stint on the Smash label, which was “Out of Sight,” for about a minute until the lawyers started linin’ up against him, which set him back. This Smash single did help him hip a lot of young white baby boomers boys and baby boomer babes once this single crossed over onto the white top 40 radio stations. It was easily the blackest sounding side on the teenage radar in 1964.

Ray Charles

  • So here’s one even the squarest of hexagon-heads knows, but it is, after all, a great live rendition of Percy Mayfield’s most righteous royalty–raker, filmed just as Ray was moving into the top of his game and into the depths of his heroin jones. Still, it’s the man hisself gettin’ dissed with finesse and distinction by four of the greatest back up singers that ever backed up anything.

    According to legend, the singers were called the Raelettes because they “let Ray.” I don’t know, I was only told.

Ray Charles – I Believe to My Soul (1960)

Ray Charles – Sticks and Stones (1960)

Ray Charles – Let the Good Times Roll

Ray Charles – Drown in My Own Tears (1960)

Ray Charles – My Baby (1960)

Ray Charles – Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying

Ray Charles – Lil Darlin’ (1960)

Ray Charles – You Are My Sunshine (1963)

Ray Charles – What I’d Say (1963)

Ray Charles – Hallelujah, I Love Her So (Paris, 1969)

Little Richard – Tutti Fruiti (1956)

  • There is no God but Little Richard! And, back in the day, there was no music my poor, not quite yet so ol’ mother hated more than his, so naturally he was my favorite. Neither of us had any idea he was gay until he appeared on Johnny Carcinogen with Ed McMayhem in the late ’60s flirting with and devastating a dumbfounded Don Rickles in the process with his outrageous process and lime green attire.

    My mom’s world had been in a post-war, Worry World 3’ll be here any minute, daffy duck and cover, Perry Coma and Doris Day-job mode for a short forever, when St. Little launched his crazy ass across the screen infronta kiddio’s lucky enuff to commandeer the TV set and be-in in the theater while he was screamin’ his lungs out this bran’ new brand of WTF? way over the Big Top Rock ‘n’ Roll. He wuz louder than a giant gaggle of Civil Offensive sirens designed and resigned to test our little testes (and breasties) in case the Ruskies were ever found to be on the way over. They never did come, but all those kids were freaked from ducking down under the covers and then there was the psychological fallout just from the idea of atomic bomb shelters. Who needed aliens when you had so many alienated youth?

    The second 45 I bought brand new as a little rock ‘n’ roll bambino was, no shit, “Oh My Soul” / “True Fine Mama,” still my favorite L.R. single. “TFM” had brilliant lyrics in the chorus–just the word “Baby” shouted 24 times in a row, proving that Richard was the also the inventor of “minimalism,” long before the classical kitties got on the bandwagon. (As far as minimalist composers, the less said about them, the better). Meanwhile, back at the rant–I had records, a record player and a volume knob I never turned down lower than all the way up. I wore that 45 out, but la little bit later on, found sweet copies of the 45 and the 78, plus I got it on his original LP, so I’m covered and cool and done with high on Little Richard High School.

    The grown ups got fed up and fast with the likes of Sir Richard the Chitlin’-Hearted eve sooner than Fats or some of the white cats like Elvis and Pattycakes Boone, so the vintage film is all from 1956. By ’57, the old folks in charge knew this shit was dangerous and needed censoring, so from ’57 to ’66, there are very few, if any moving photos, ’cause they weren’t made, ’cause Richard made the adulterers mad as the hell they made for the kids by not letting us see him ever again, so young and so beautiful.

    The live concert in France in ’66 is a real treasure and NEVER would have been filmed in the U.S. Dig how crazy even French kids can get when exposed to this “jungle bop music” by one of the all out allest of all-timers, ever. Be sure to see “The Girl Can’t Help It” (1956) for full colored Little Richard, Jayne Mansfield, and “A” movie “musical / comedy” made to cash in on this new Rock ‘n’ Roll fad before it faded away. We’re still waitin’ on that final fade out.

Little Richard – Long Tall Sally (1956)

Little Richard – Lucille (1956)

Little Richard – She’s Got It (1956) from The Girl Can’t Help It

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire (1957)

Jerry Lee Lewis – Breathless (1958)

Jerry Lee Lewis – High School Confidential (1958)

Jerry Lee Lewis – High School Confidential (1964)

Jerry Lee Lewis – Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On (1964)

  • “That’s the music that inspired me to play music. There is nothing conceptually better than rock ‘n’ roll. No group, be it Beatles, Dylan or Stones, have ever improved on Whole Lotta Shakin’ for my money.” -John Lennon

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On (tearin’ it up 1964!)

Jerry Lee Lewis – High School Confidential

Jerry Lee Lewis – Wild One (a Real Wild Child)

Big Maybelle – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (1955)

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay, but an awful lot of the music that has influenced its birth and development are a far more endangered species, mostly due to the lack of curiousity of many of the writers, scholars and researchers about the earlier influences. Rock ‘n’ Roll (please note the correct spelling) was and still is influenced by almost all the music that went down before–not just the obvious roots like blues, gospel and country music, but how those kinds of music as well the popular music, vaudeville, show tunes, radio programs and the incredibly huge influence of the earliest cylinders and 78s on later styles. 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 to 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’ve 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 came 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.