Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll in the 1950s (The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 4)

The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll in the 1950s (The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 4)
PART 1: The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 1: The Rise of the Blues
PART 2: The Electric Blues, and Country Music (The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 2)
PART 3: Rock and Roll in the 1940s (The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 3)
Here is part 4 of the series The Blues and Heavy Metal.
The context of the 1950s
The Black struggle for equal rights in the 1950s intensifies. The symbol of the spirit of rebellion against racism is Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a Caucasian person. Parks’ gesture was part of an organized campaign against discrimination of which Martin Luther King, Jr. is the face.
The African-American struggle for equal rights is taking place in a world context. In the period after Second World War the colonies in Africa are waging various forms of struggles to become independent. The Chinese Revolution triumphs in 1949. Korea is fighting for independence. Vietnam is fighting for independence. The Cuban Revolution from 1956 until victory in 1959 brings down the Washington-backed Batista dictatorship.
There is a sense of hope and struggle amongst Black Americans and many Caucasians feel sympathetic to the just grievances of the fight for human rights for Blacks.
Rock and Roll
Rock and roll in the 1950s exists within the context of institutionalized racism and Jim Crow racial segregation, the second-class status of African-Americans in the United States instituted by law, force, violence, murder, lynching, custom, intimidation, police brutality, and so many other ways not only throughout the South, but in the country as a whole.
At the beginning of the 1950s the young beat of rock and roll is popular with African-American young people, and it is known at this time as “rhythm and blues.” The high energy and the irresistible beat of the music is appealing to a growing number of Caucasian youth, too, but given the social norms of this period, there is stigma for Caucasians to like music performed by Blacks.
As the story goes, a Caucasian record store owner in Cleveland, Ohio by the name of Leo Mintz notices that more and more Caucasian youth browse through the section of records by African-American rhythm and blues artists at his Record Rendezvous record store, even though at this time U.S. Caucasian youth are afraid to buy the “race records” of Black musicians.
Mintz befriends a Caucasian radio disc jockey named Alan Freed and talks to him about what he’s seeing at his record store. Mintz has a role in convincing Freed to begin playing these rhythm and blues records in 1951. Freed’s cool on-air personality and the combination of the exciting, youthful music makes his radio show a hit. Freed begins using the term “rock and roll” to describe the music that he’s playing on his show. His audience at first is made up of African-American youth, but his show becomes very popular with Caucasian teenagers, too.
Freed early on plays music like Varetta Dillard, whose style can be found on songs like “Easy, Easy Baby,” “Scorched,” and “That’s Why I Cry.” A song like “Scorched” is full of energy featuring a great singing voice. Another artist is The Dominoes (Bill Ward and His Dominoes): “Sixty Minute Man,” an upbeat, suggestive number; and Tiny Grimes and the Rockin’ Highlanders with “Blues Round Up,” a song that features quite a bit of guitar. Another example is the Paul Williams’ Hucklebuckers “Rockin’ Chair Blues” song, a lively, animated rock and roll tune.
Varetta Dillard - Scorched
Varetta Dillard - Easy, Easy Baby
The Dominoes: Sixty Minute Man
Tiny Grimes: Blues Round Up
Rockin' Chair Blues : Paul Williams' Hucklebuckers ( 1951 )
An interesting thing happens to rock and roll involving a Caucasian country musician and his band. Throughout the 1940s they have been working with some success as the Four Aces of Western Swing, and other names. This type of country music can often have a lively feel, but it is not rock and roll at all.
In the 1950s they take up the new name Bill Haley and His Comets and begin recording some rock and roll songs, marking a big shift in musical style now directed at teenagers.
In 1955 Haley and his band turn the American music world upside down with the song “Rock Around the Clock.” The genealogy of the song, as has been observed by knowledgeable people, is very interesting: the song verse is very similar to Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” (1947), which itself is very similar to Charley “Father of the Delta Blues” Patton’s 1929 song “Going to Move to Alabama,” which itself is very similar to Jim Jackson’s 1927 song “Kansas City Blues.”
In any case, “Rock Around the Clock” is without a doubt a song that puts rock and roll in the mainstream in a big way. The song becomes a major international hit when it booms in the movie theaters in the 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle, a movie that warns about the danger that teenagers pose to society because young people, it says, have a tendency towards criminal activity. The song itself is fun, but it is one thing to hear it on the radio by yourself at home at a normal volume, and it’s an entirely different experience when you hear it on the big speakers at the movie theater with many other young people who have been watching a movie about themselves. With Haley and band as the gateway, the American Caucasian youth take to rock and roll like fish to water.
Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley & His Comets
With the success of Bill Haley and His Comets the businesspeople in the music industry are now smelling the money coming their way and their lust for more grows by leaps and bounds. It is said that the Sun Records bossman Sam Phillips, a Caucasian man who has been working with African-American artists, has been looking for a Caucasian artist that can perform this music with the original spirit of the Black performers so that he can make more money by selling it on a much bigger scale to Caucasians.
Soon he will find him: a 19-year-old young man.
In 1953 an unknown Caucasian truck driver begins recording songs at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. One day in 1954 he records a cover of the African-American blues artist Arthur Crudup’ “That’s Alright, Mama” and immediately Memphis radio goes crazy for the song. From then on, Elvis mania spreads very quickly as Elvis goes on the road trying to but failing to satisfy the huge demand that there is for his music. The wheels of business are in motion and in January 1956 the debut album is released to madly incredible success.
The Caucasian youth go wild for rock and roll. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Elvis Presley. His music sells at an unthinkable rate, it is hit after hit. Haley was fun, but Elvis has a whole other level of cool due to his tremendous talent, his beautiful voice, his sexy dance moves, the newness of the music, his clothes, his hair, his way of talking, his gorgeous face, and his persona.
Another reason that Elvis is so cool is that he is very young, and millions of American, and British and European, post-World War II teenagers see him as one of their own. Bill Haley’s music is very nice, but he is 30 years in 1955, while Elvis is 20 years old in 1955, and Elvis most definitely does not look like a dad.
Bill Haley and Elvis Presley have opened flood gates. The rock and roll gold rush is on.
Elvis Presley.... Thats Alright (Mama)- First Release - 1954
Arthur Crudup - That's All Right (original version)
Rock and roll as international sensation is underway now with Bill Haley and His Comets, and Elvis Presley. In addition, the new sounds continue with Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens and others.
Some of these performers are totally wild. For instance, Little Richard was a complete maniac with his screaming voice and his way of playing piano. Jerry Lee Lewis seems to come unglued when he is performing. Chuck Berry plays guitar in an exciting way and moves with it all over the stage. Buddy Holly looks extremely young and besides the good tunes, just seems like he is one and the same with the young crowds. There is barely an age difference, if at all. All these rock stars have to be seen performing in order to be believed. Just the reaction by the fans has to be seen to be believed, too.
Little Richard Long Tall Sally - Tutti Frutti
Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls Of Fire
Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode
Rock and roll has taken over American popular music, but the authorities are very upset and alarmed by rock and roll. From the beginning, the government, politicians, religious figures and other authorities speak out against Elvis and rock and roll. Elvis causes a major uproar and the outrage seems to be based on morality, that his dance moves are immoral and indecent, but the real reason is that he is a Caucasian young man playing “Black music” and there is nothing more disgusting to the racist than to see their “own race” accepting, welcoming and embracing the culture of a “different race.”
It is a most racist impulse that is motivating the authorities’ rejection of the so-called immorality of rock and roll.
The preachers and politicians are alarmed at how the Caucasian young people are reacting to what they see as “Black music” and they are scared that the Caucasian youth are acting like Black people. Some authorities use the vilest most racist language to describe rock and roll and what they see as the degeneration of Caucasian youth.
Rock and roll has gained popularity in the 1950s, but rock and roll will not go out of the 1950s with a bang. It goes out with a whimper.
In 1958 Elvis is drafted into the U.S. Army in order to take him out of public life. The media does a lot to bring down the career of Jerry Lee Lewis’ as it makes it a scandal that he marries a cousin who is 13 years old while he is 22 years old. Little Richard leaves rock and roll and becomes a minister after he has some supernatural experiences. By 1959 Chuck Berry is in legal trouble and eventually goes to jail. As if that were not enough, in 1959 Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper all die in a plane crash, an event popularly known as “the day the music died.”
In addition, Alan Freed, the man called “the father of rock and roll,” is under federal investigation during what is known as the payola scandal. Essentially, Freed is found to be taking songwriting credit for some of the songs that he plays on the radio. His career is ruined by the government and it is said that he dies a broken man.
All good things come to an end. It’s no different for rock and roll. By the late 1950s rock and roll becomes a parody of itself and it begins to sound very coopted, not rebellious, and the popular songs sound funny and comical, like The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown” and its line “Why is everybody always picking on me?”
Rock and roll is now also softer, with more ballads, like Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulders”. In addition, rock and roll is coopted by people like Pat Boone, who specializes in taking Black artists’ songs and making them very tame, safe and Caucasian and this is all very much to the liking of the authorities, the corporations and the politicians. One listen to his version of the Little Richard song “Tutti Frutti” is enough to see that rock and roll is dead.
Or is it?
That is the subject of the next installment: the 1960s.
The Coasters "Charlie Brown"
Paul Anka - Put Your Head On My Shoulder (1959) HQ Audio
PAT BOONE on TV 1957 singing TUTTI FRUTTI little Richard

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