Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

"Memories of nearly 50 years in the Biz"

Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby Brian Lord » Sun Oct 03, 2010 8:48 am

Brian Lord's Radio Stories Part 32
The Music and The Musicians - your impression, Lord?

When I started out in radio, Rock 'n' Roll had reached a phase in it's popularity where it was about half and half with all the other types such as pop, jazz, musicals, classics and country. Young people like Rock, people over 35 liked anything but. I liked Rock, however I consider myself a group six. The number six stands for nothing...a group six is just a person who enjoys all kinds of music. In my case though, it had to be good. I learned music from A) the radio, B) Dave McCormick and C) from Bob Bell. The radio had Cullen, and a lot of 'radio announcers' who filled in between the music. Radio also had, beginning in 1956, Red Robinson and later Dave McCormick, the two original pure Rock DJ's in Vancouver. Bruno Cimili was not a rock-jock. I loved the medium and in an early chapter I wrote how I lied my way into the industry and met... worked with... Dave McCormick. Then came CFUN and Frosty and Al Jordon and Jerry Landa and my musical world was wrapped in the colors of wild, crazy music.

The rest is chronicled, or will be in other chapters but I'd like to tell you about the music, starting with the late 50's. When I first heard Elvis, I thought he was fantastic. This was in 1955 and all his music that was really available were his Sun recordings. I still consider The Sun Sessions to be one of the top LP's (CD's) ever recorded. (actually it's not a real CD at all--the songs were recorded separately and released separately. RCA put it together in LP form much later.) It got little play in Vancouver because Presley was really only known in the Southern US. Sam Phillips' Sun Records didn't have long arms and he couldn't afford a national distributor... the 12 songs were recorded before RCA, Col. Tom Parker or the Motion Picture Industry--the suits--discovered him And ruined him.

You have read the anomalies: the studio had a special sound, Presley was completely uncoached, his background musicians were Bill Black, bass and Scotty Moore, lead guitar and Elvis on rhythm guitar. They recorded in a little cramped studio in Memphis, Tennessee and Phillips only recorded the trio because he liked how they sounded when they were foolin' around at break-time. I heard a couple of his Sun records when I was working on a railroad gang in Ashcroft B.C.

But before Presley's time, the tiny studio at 7O6 Union Ave began recording the greatest Blues singers of the day: Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Ike Turner's band and his lead-singer Jackie Brenston taped Rocket 88 , the first Rock song ever recorded long before Rock was a genre. The important thing about Elvis when he came down to Sun and recorded a song for his Mama was that he was white. Philips didn't record many white artists but with the advent of Presley, the dam broke. White or Brown, it didn't matter. It was Rock that Phillips wanted; the music of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers Cash, Orbison.. I could go on and on but what nobody knew at the time was that Sun Records on Union in Memphis would years later be known as the most famous recording studio in the world. It is revered by every musician who ever recorded a line or a note including Pavarotti.

Because we've talked about Sam Phillips it may be a good time to bring this up and settle the question.. It concerns the first Rock 'n' Roll song ever recorded. R&B vocalist Jackie Brenston recorded the song "Rocket 88" at Sam Phillips Memphis Studio in the early 50's under the name of "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats" and released it on Chess Records. The song went to #1 on the R&B charts in 1951. However there was no such band as "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats"...the name was made up for the record label. Ike Turner (who's band at that time was "The Kings of Rhythm") wrote the song and his sax man who happened to be Jackie Brenston sang it on the record. Had things been correct the label would have said "Rocket 88" by the Kings of Rhythm. Ike Turner should have had composer credit on the label instead of Brenston. Did Ike have so much money that he could completely ditch an R&B song that he wrote and went to number one R&B. (Hmmmm)

The raw sound of early Rock 'n' Roll could never sustain, it would change, like all music regardless of genre, form or purpose 'cause if it didn't change we'd still be singing A Bicycle Built For Two. What proponents of Rock wanted to know--what was it gonna change into? Oh God, please don't let Mitch Miller out of his cage. Not Quite. We Got Bobby Vee, we Got Paul Anka, we got Frankie Avalon and Annette. Movies moved into the Rock market--every one of them pus. Presley came home from the Army and began singing bastardized classical music with new words. The image of Jerry Lee Lewis making love to his 13 year old cousin was a bit much to sustain his career. And then there was Paul and Paula ("Hey, Hey Paula", "Hey, Hey Paul"--tune and lyrics by Cole Porter). I hated that garbage, despised it and was beginning to feel that Rock may fade from view, a victim of it's own bowel system.

But wait. There was help. The gaping hole left by female vocalists (think of ten) during the early Rock period was beginning to fill. Black America spawned the girl groups--the Ronettes, Darlene Love, the Crystals--through Phil Spector, and Berry Gordy with the Supremes, Mary Wells and Martha and the Vandellas Things kept moving at Phillies and Motown. Several black vocalists were still on the scene: And white girls were learning: Brenda Lee's I'm Sorry was a great song, still is. There was Connie Francis and "Where the Boys Are" Bobby Rydell, Dell Shannon, Dion and the Belmont's, the Four Seasons, even the emerging Beach Boys left us DJ's at Rock stations who liked the music were kind of in limbo. There was little soul. There was little excitement, the biggest thing was Chubby Checker and The Twist. Out West it was Surf. Country produced Loretta Lynn and Buck Owens; Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline. The continent's music was fragmenting and the most successful of all--"Rock 'n' Roll" was left as an an additive to a music stew... cauliflower or maybe turnips. %$&?#.

Meanwhile, across the sea and unbeknown to the United States, England had her own stars. The Brits had become absolutely captivated with Presley and Rock 'n' Roll. The only real way to hear this new music was on Lux (Radio Luxembourg) which spun a weak signal into the UK. Being as the Yanks weren't comin' they decided to invent their own Rock groups. It wasn't easy. The lack of facilities for a full-on, new-music medium were sorely lacking. No instruments, poor recording equipment, lousy management, incredible lack of talent and only a few youngsters, radios stuffed under their pillows, listening to some tweaky signal from a thousand miles away as an audience.

So What.

London was never the center of the new music; too much else going on in the World Capital of Stage Entertainment, too big, too busy, too posh. however the sound drifted north to Liverpool, a tough, shipping port full of bars crusted with sin and tough seaman with who you didn't make eye contact or anything could have happened to you. "Whot you lookin' a' mate?... a little of this?". If you were lucky, you ended up alive. If you didn't, well nobody gave a shit. By all accounts Liverpool was the roughest town in England and it's citizens demanded what they loved best: beer and noise.

Sharp management teams with scruples no better than a scrounging rat--they went after the money they saw blossoming in front of their eyes like Vultures. Club owners built their filthy, crowded little 'nightclubs' into dance halls to appease the younger clientèle while on the rickety stages they presented the greatest rock groups in England. Sputtering marquees sprouted the names of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Tony Steel, Johnny Gentle, Billy Fury and Manny Wilde, Down by the Docks, Mersey side, the imitation Little Richards and Fats Dominoes echoed late into the dark. One of these groups was known as the Quarrymen, led by a gruff but intelligent rhythm player named John Lennon. As time passed he formed a group made up of bassist Paul McCartney, lead guitar George Harrison--a young friend of Paul's--and a good looking guy with upswung hair, sun glasses, expensive traditional teddy boy clothing. Stuart Sutcliff. Stu was not a good musician but tried to make up for the lack of a drum-kit by his loud loosely strung strumming. It took awhile but the group managed to get a drummer named Pete Best and went off to an even more evil hangout, the Reeperbaum in Hamburg, a district equally as bad or worse than Liverpool except prostitution was legal (well almost) in that part of Germany. It was here that young George lost his virginity with the rest of the group cheering him on. And it was Sutcliff who permanently changed the name of the group from several stage handles--The Quarrymen (Lennon's section of Liverpool) the Beatals, the Silver Beetals--to the Beatles. Done.

The days dwindled. The group was drunk most of the time or high on prellies (amphetamines) on stage and off. They were in no way the lead group in Hamburg--maybe 7th or so down the line. They took what they were paid, stole booze and food and struggled through life living no further from the gutter than the ash on their cigarette. Eventually they were forced to leave as the Reeperbaum changed style and in 1962 found themselves all back in Liverpool.

I loved the Beatles when I first heard them. I was in a position to program the music when they arrived on the scene in 1964 and they even managed to change my life. They, as had Elvis Presley in 1956, opened the door to Rock and Roll in 1963 ('64 in America). In that year it was the English guys who swept in, long hair waving, dressed in nothing but black, singing Rock 'n' Roll like it should be sung and flipped the cards on America. They brought Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer, Peter and Gordon, The Searchers and the Hollies. They brought Cilla Black, Maryann Faithful, but more than anything, they brought the music. A million times we have heard "the British Invasion". It happened. Just as they say it did. And it took the Brits a while to subsidize the North American groups that were hangin' on waiting to get some new records in the stores. In some ways you can say the Beatles saved to recording business, I rather think something would have come to save it but 1964 was a wild year. I've written several chapters on it earlier, my experiences. And I openly say, I enjoyed the whole knees-up.

And then there were The Rolling Stones. The music was growing up. Next time.
Brian Lord
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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby CubbyCam » Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:55 am

Another great walk/saunter down memory lane Brian! I'm enjoying the ride! Hmmm... mixed metaphor.
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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby Russ_Byth » Mon Oct 04, 2010 10:16 am

Loving it! Thanks again Brian.
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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby groundwave » Mon Oct 04, 2010 6:18 pm

Great stuff! There's lots of memories and enlightenment here. Thank you.
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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby Steve Sanderson » Tue Oct 12, 2010 9:10 am

Keep them coming!....Another great story my friend!
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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby hagopian » Tue Oct 12, 2010 9:25 am

Love this stuff.

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Re: Part 32: The Music and The Musicians

Postby isthisthingon » Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:32 am

These are great. Thanks.
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