Not sure about the ‘burger plinths’, but hey, it was 1972…
Record Store Day is a celebration of music, a celebration of fandom and it’s a celebration of independent record stores holding their own. In the past the event has been spearheaded by the likes of Jack White, Ozzy Osborne and Metallica and as Ron Burgundy would say, they’re kind of a big deal.
This year fans queued overnight to wrap their claws around limited vinyl including the Sex Pistols box-set and even cassette tapes put out by Skrillex, Green Day and Radkey. Live events also took place all over the world and at London’s Rough Trade West crowds gathered to watch Adam Ant play in the street; one of the more bizarre events of the day. But more on that later.
Sadly some old style record shops have closed in the last four years, but since 2010, 150 new record stores have opened their doors in the UK alone and Record Store Day officials attribute this, albeit in a small way, to the success of the celebration. Rough Trade, a shop originally spawned in 1976 in West London, is currently towering over just about every single independent record shop going. Now having expanded to three properties, another in East London and one in New York, Record Store Day saw the West London venue threatening to burst. In our download dominated world, how is such a seemingly archaic business still going? In a recent blog Chuck D, member of seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy and ambassador for this year’s Record Store Day and certified badman explained the phenomena. “Everything is there on the internet – everything. But if you don’t know how to read the internet and interpret what’s there, then it’s useless. I think record stores can work in conference with people making these [new] discoveries, and help them to find more and more.The record stores are sonic libraries.”
The amazing thing about independent record stores is that they are ready and willing to grapple your ears and (gently) hurl you into a new musical adventure; they serve a platter of customer interaction that others cannot. For instance, Banquet records set up a twitter feed exclusively to answer queries about Record Store Day – fans were kept up to date with stock, re-stock and all that jazz. Ultimately this did lead to one woman having a strop because the Ghostbusters picture-disc had sold out, but at least they let her down gently.
With Record Store Day's annual success so much in the public eye one could be forgiven for thinking the discovery and exposure of music through independent stores is a recent creation. It’s not – Rough Trade’s record label, which became its own independent entity in 1983, released early material by the Smiths in the same year. I dare you to tell me that’s not important.
Even in the supposed death-knell of vinyl in the 1990s, independent colonies festered and grew – albeit sometimes in less frequented territories. Former Mayhem guitarist Euronymous was captain of the infamous Helvete records in Norway; a dungeon of decadence (literally – it was a basement), the project was a financial disaster, yet the community created by such a place was imperative in the now-revered black metal movement within Scandinavia. Remembered by Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir in Dayal Patterson’s excellent ‘Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult’; “He [Euronymous] didn’t overprice the CDs and I doubt that he made any money from it really. He was all about getting this extreme underground stuff to the kids.” From just geeking out in a basement together, key players within the genre such as Darkthrone and Burzum honed their sounds and reared their ugly heads to wider, often-terrified audiences.
Independent record stores have always provided this level of personality and character, and it seems that the fanaticism surrounding Record Store Day has only heightened this fact within the public consciousness. One such act of fan-pleasing individuality came from Rough Trade West, who had Adam Ant knocking out a salvo of tunes in the street outside the shop.
Strolling forth in the springtime sunshine, Adam Ant epitomised the spirit of Record Store Day and independent shops on the whole. Dedicating his set to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation (a charity well worth checking out), Ant rattled through six songs with unbridled showmanship and class; with no barrier between audience and artist, lucky punters were treated to a ridiculously close-quarters encounter. Ant told of his youth and meeting one of his heroes, Marc Bolan, in a record shop on Oxford Street before finishing his set off with a superb rendition of T-Rex classic ‘Get It On’. Alright, so he did get a little bit rock-star and dash straight to a black van as soon as he was finished, but give the bloke a break – he had a sold out gig at Hammersmith to do.
Independent record shops are not a new trend, nor are they a novel concept to only be thought of once a year. Yes, Record Store Day does generate an insane amount of revenue for the small shops and also helps to expose fans to new music, but they do that anyway every day of the year. Next time you’re in search of some fresh, exciting music, don’t spend ages trawling the internet and inevitably becoming distracted by videos of cats on skateboards. Go into your local record store, speak to an actual human being and be astounded by the results.
Formats will come, formats will go but vinyl will never die, a point proven during this year’s Record Store Day by the early morning, round-the-block queues of vinyl zealots outside almost every participating shop. But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the ‘80’s there were a number of close calls for the humble plastic record.
Charity Shop Days
The temporary hiatus in vinyl appreciation came in 1982 with the arrival of the compact disc, a format which back then seemed to be a revolution in both sound and space. As music spun into the ‘90s and digital files were introduced, the drop in interest continued and it was for a time not that uncommon to see previously loved record hoards unceremoniously dumped on charity shop doorsteps. With the drop in demand distributors started imposing heavier restrictions on return policies from the stores who, as a consequence ordered less records. Fewer orders meant fewer indie pressings and so the downward spiral began and seemed like it would never end. The trend was further compounded by the major record labels who had by then brought their volume of vinyl pressings down to a bare minimum perhaps in attempt to lead their buyers towards the far more economical-to-produce digital formats.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
Then at the start of the new millennium, just as things were looking pretty bleak for the once adored record and sleeve, some key releases kick-started what was to be a surprising turnaround. One of these was the 2002 limited edition anniversary 7” of The Jam’s ‘In The City’. Peddled for the original price of 75p it sold out immediately, charting at number 36, higher than its original release.
In 2003 7” releases by The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ and tracks by The Darkness, The Strokes and Iron Maiden contributed to the on-going resurgence of the format’s popularity. By the time Record Store Day began in the USA in 2007 vinyl was firmly back on the collectors map although mainstream sales still remained low.
2008 saw Record Store Day start up in the UK and also signalled the start of the trend towards exclusive vinyl releases to mark the occasion. Vinyl from 10 or so artists including R.E.M., Death Cab for Cutie, Black Kids and Vampire Weekend proved a huge hit and served to support the formats continuing renaissance. Such was their popularity and collectability value that by 2010 the number of exclusives was over the hundred mark.
By the end of 2013 the BPI recorded that vinyl sales had exceeded half a million for the first time since 2003 and also announced that under 35 year olds accounted more than a third of all record buyers. In the land of independent labels vinyl is today their bread and butter business, and to an extent has always been. Some new indie artists also find that they can make more from pressing a record because it cannot be so easily shared or reproduced.
But don’t call it a comeback. Today records still equate to less than one per cent of all music sales and vinyl is likely to remain a niche market for evermore. On the flipside it is this very niche-ness that is at the heart of vinyl’s endurance and one that will see it stand the test of time. By making Record Store Day releases limited editions it cleverly taps into the anorak mind-set of every vinyl aficionado who loves nothing more than getting their mitts on rare pressings. Scanning through some of this year’s most coveted records among the 600 plus exclusive Record Store Day releases, it’s not hard to see why some of them would generate the kind of hysteria that meant many sold out in minutes.
Is this renewed interest in vinyl an aural echo of the times we live in? Perhaps in a world of increasing mass song consumption and expendable overnight trends vinyl represents a much longed for musical authenticity. Part of that authenticity is in the way it sounds. The crackles, the surface noises, the sensitivity to pitch just makes it all the more real. Creedence Clearwater Revival – The 69 Singles reissued for RSD was recorded as an analog recording. The sound that comes from the vinyl grooves is uncompressed, just like the band heard in ’69. Another RSD release Got Live If You Want It! was the Stones’ first live recording to be released from their British tour in in 1965. It is legendary for the raw and crude sound of the recording. Why would you want to hear it any other way?
Far from the cut and paste culture of digital disposability is also the collectability value. Some exclusive vinyl released for RSD may have never been seen before or indeed may never be seen again. Status Quo’s Tokyo Quo album recorded live during their 1976 tour was originally only released for the Japanese market. Grace Jones’s iconic 1981 LP Nightclubbing has recently been re mastered and reissued from the original analogue tapes. The bonus exclusive 12” for RSD includes a previously unreleased cover of ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ by Gary Numan’s band Tubeway Army.
You Can Touch It
The physicality of the product also has a large part to play in vinyl’s continued adulation. The fate of heroes such as Kurt Cobain, Marc Bolan and Sam Cooke are made so much more moving when holding the product of their creative brilliance in your own hands. The 7” pressing of Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ which was planned for release in April 1994 was halted after Cobain’s death that same month, making the re-release on 7” for Record Store Day 2014 a poignant cenotaph. Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News released as a 50th anniversary exclusive, was recorded after the death of his baby son and was also his final studio album before he was tragically murdered. Cheap plastic CD cases simply don’t emphasise the gravitas that the music made by these fallen idols merits, and you can’t hold an mp3.
Some vinyl artwork has become so iconic that it instantly invokes the zeitgeist of its time. On this year’s RSD Pistol’s 7 x 7 box set release, the politics and social anxieties of the era are brought to life on the artwork of every sleeve. Even RDS shoppers who may not have been alive when the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks stuck two fingers up to the British ruling class have to feel at least a spark of anarchism when they see HRH’s head with the words “God Save The Queen” emblazoned across the royal eyes. Also within the artwork is the sleeve minutiae; the lyrics, the composer, the studio where the recording was mixed and engineered. ‘60s beat and mod collectors who may have coveted Diana Dors’s highly sought after ‘So Little Time/It’s Too Late’ on exclusive this year, may know that both tracks were written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, the team behind classics such as Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ and ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ from one-hitters Edison Lighthouse. Ignored for decades ‘So Little Time/It’s Too Late’ is its first official reissue since 1964.
Every Record Tells A Story
Almost every record ever made tells a story but how many messages are lost when we don’t take time to listen?
“Music is now so polished, shiny and predictable, we have forgotten to try and say something with it,” roared Roger Taylor when he released his album Fun on Earth also on RSD release. Made during the Iraq War Taylor’s message was an angry wake up call to the slumbering masses. ”What happened to the protest song?” he added during the same interview. Soundgarden’s Superunknown: The Singles is a RSD re-release of a 10” box set that came out at the same time as the album. Running through the songs are themes of revenge, death and isolation. At the time of the release of the album in 1994 one band member said it was a “plea [for the world] to leave us alone”.
Also on exclusive release this year was Deep Purple’s “Black Night (Live In Osaka)/Woman From Tokyo”. The first was recorded during the band’s Japanese tour in 1972, the second produced a month after the tour when allegedly many of the band were no longer speaking to each other resulting in some parts being recorded separately. Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Sister Morphine/Something Better’ recorded and released in 1969 was not a chart success and only 500 copies were ever released. The Stones reworked ‘Something Better’ for their own Sticky Fingers album originally leaving Faithful out of the credits until this was rectified a number of years later.
Taking The Trip
But one of the strongest allures of records is that neither vinyl nor turntables are made for idly skipping through tracks. The format compels the listener to take the trip. That can include the trip to the record shop, hard-earned money in their pocket and the sharing of musical appreciations with other vinyl fanatics as well as the relishing of every sonic detail from the production to the order the artist compiled the tracks. Ultimately the vinyl journey is one of social as well as musical discovery. And once you start the journey there is often no way back.
Joe Walsh left the James Gang in late 1971 after the recording the band’s live album in May, it was their swan song; he was tired of the band’s direction and his role as the principal songwriter. He formed Barnstorm with drummer, and multi-instrumentalist, Joe Vitale and bass player Kenny Passarelli; Walsh and Vitale had played together in a band in Akron before Joe had joined The James Gang.
While any lover of the James Gang attack based rock will hear shades of his former band, Barnstorm, the album, is so very different from what Walsh had done before. Recorded in March 1972 at Caribou Ranch in Colorado it is an altogether more laid back affair, with shades of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash and other West Coast bands that had been a part of the scene that blossomed through album tracks being played on FM radio.
The opening track, ‘Here We Go Again’ is typical of the album, a complex song with complex layered sounds created with multi-over dubbing in the studio. Walsh used an ARP Odyssey synthesizer to great effect on this and many others on the album. With it’s title reflecting the start of a new challenge it is a fabulous opening track; full of promise and passion. The mood continues with ‘Midnight Visitor’, ‘One By One’ and ‘Giant Bohemoth’ – it’s like they are part of a single song suite. The layering of acoustic guitars, keyboards and Walsh’s guitar plugged directly into a Leslie cabinet to create a swirling effect all adds to the mystery and mood of the first part of side 1 of the original LP. The side closes with ‘Mother Says’, a monumental classic written by all three members of Barnstorm.
Side 2 of the LP opened with ‘Birdcall Morning’, and it is another classic. This like what had gone before creates the feeling a cohesive whole, an album conceived collectively and performed to perfection. ‘Home’ has a real CS&N vibe going through it; interestingly Vitale would later join their touring band, while both Walsh and Passerelli played on Steve Stills’s Manassas project.
‘I’ll Tell The World’ is the only song to be written by non-group members. Its co-writer is Alan Gordon who co-wrote the Turtles hit, ‘Happy Together’. It is a beautiful love song and fits the album’s mood with an arrangement that makes it sound interconnected with everything else.
‘Turn To Stone’ is the album’s best-known track, in part because it was later re-recorded by Joe for his solo album, ‘So What’. It is a colossal sounding track, immense in every way and it would have been the perfect closer, but for ‘Coming Down’ which is very much a Joe Walsh solo track. It’s a fitting closer to this 37 minute long epic. It is a product of the long playing record era, a time when artists were not given a 70 plus minute CD to fill. There’s not a wasted note, a miss placed lyric or anything that is less than perfect.
They don’t make albums like this any more…
In the 28 years since its inception the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards ceremony has delivered in equal measure, both high-octane emotion and the kind of controversy to be expected from a bunch of bona fide rock and roll artistes.
This year there was no break from tradition with the current line-up of KISS refusing to play; affronted they said that only the original members, rather than all the members were inducted. They also bluntly refused to wear “traditional” make-up. Tipping the scales towards the misty-eyed however nothing could surpass the moment Courtney Love hugged Dave Grohl on stage as Nivarna were inducted, ending a two decade long feud right there and then. Such is the power of rock and roll music to generate love and hate, and then love again.
The Home of Rock ‘N’ Roll
The Rock Hall was the idea of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. The philanthropist and music devotee started the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983. Bringing together a group of senior music industry pros they set about looking for a permanent location.
Music was a big money business and the contest to be home of rock and roll was hard fought. Cleveland, Ohio staked its claim through its connections with local radio DJ Alan Freed who first used the term ‘rock and roll’ on air and also because it was home to WMMS the radio station that broke big acts in the USA including Bowie, Springsteen, the New York Dolls, Lou Reed and Roxy Music. The city’s $65 million pledge of public money may have clinched the deal.
While the residence of rock and roll was being built, Ertegun, the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine Jann Wenner and other biz wizzes inducted the first group of music nobility. The 1986 roll call was beyond impressive with James Brown, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis and Alan Freed himself among those baptised to the Rock Hall.
Nowadays inductions are in four categories. There’s the performer and the non-performer categories, the latter now called the Ahmet Ertegun Award in tribute to the pioneer who died in 2010. The other two are Early Influence and the Musical Excellence award, both introduced in 2010.
To be inducted as an artist you have to have had longevity and released a record at least 25 years prior to induction, making sure that no fly-by-night talent slips through the net by selling a silly amount of records or being really famous for just 15 minutes.
Having passed the first test the criteria for nomination is, on face value, a simple one and stated on the Foundation’s online manifesto as, “to recognise the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll”. Other factors considered are influences on other artists and musical excellence in general. All in all the nominees and final inductees are undeniably the real deal.
Most inductees are awestruck and proud to be given the honour and even those who do the inducting at the ceremony, often themselves illustrious artists who are yet to meet the criteria or past inductees, say they feel flattered. But reducing rock and roll to a set of rules was always bound to get the passionate world of melody-makers debating and complaining. Some groan about being inducted much later than they feel they should have been, others about being overlooked. Conversely there are also the few who feel offended at being added at all.
Snubs, Subs and Rock ‘N’ Roll
In 2006 there was the most famous snub when the Sex Pistols sent the Rock Hall a grammatically-challenged handwritten note explaining, “Were not coming. Were not your monkeys” and other appropriately rude things that the paters of punk should say.
Those with artistic temperaments can take time to forgive and forget and there have also been no-shows, mostly down to internal strife within a band. Paul McCartney felt that long running business differences (since resolved) with the remaining Beatles would make him feel like a “complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” Guns’n’Roses’ Axl Rose put his non-attendance down to a feud with some of the original band members and said in a statement “no one is authorised nor [… ] permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf.” When Blondie were inducted in 2006 one ex band member´s acceptance speech was a plea to join the band in their award performance; Debbie Harry declined, making it all a bit awkward.
For a while the hip hop no-call was a contentious issue, but one that caused even more strife when remedied. In 2007 Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five were announced as the first rap group to finally make it onto the music magna carta, however it was felt to be at the expense of The Dave Clark Five who allegedly received six more votes from among the panellists. The story goes that Wenner used a technicality to get Grandmaster inducted because he felt they couldn’t go another year without a rap act. Although DC5 were nominated again in 2008, and this time inducted, the whole affair was tinged with sadness when band member Mike Smith died ten days before the ceremony.
Aretha Franklin was the first woman to make it on to the register – just a year after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began. Since then there has been a noticeable gender unbalance with women only accounting for eight per cent of the inductees. No Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kate Bush or Suzi Quatro? What are they thinking? Tina Turner is in, albeit coupled with dodgy ex Ike, as are The Supremes, Etta James and Madonna. Maybe it’s something of a transatlantic divide?
Then there’s the annual discussion among music anoraks and press, typically starting when nominations are announced in October, around those not included. Recent questions from perplexed pundits include - what about The Smiths? Or - what do you mean no Def Leppard? Where’s Barry White? The Cure? While to the arguably less qualified ear there may seem to be some obvious omissions, to the Rock Hall’s credit there have also been some surprising and brilliant choices such as La Vern Baker and R&B recording engineer Cosimo Matassa.
The difficult decisions come down to the nominating board of rock and roll historians and then a voting board of over 500 rock experts around the world, although the public also get the chance to vote for their top five in the performer’s category. Pleasing every music maker, shaker and lover over a span of 28 years of rock and roll music is an impossible task and if someone must choose these things then leaders of the industry seem like the best assemblage.
Despite the grumblings the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is undoubtedly a coveted notch on the career post of most successful performers. This year’s roll of honour included Peter Gabriel, already in as a member of Genesis, who was inducted by Coldplay’s Chris Martin. In a genuinely thankful speech Gabriel added advice to young musicians. “To those at the start of their journey, dream big and let your imagination guide you.”
Also receiving the accolade were Hall and Oates, Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen’s – E Street Band, aptly inducted by the Boss himself, and the late manager of the Beatle’s Brian Epstein. Those inducted but not performing this year included Linda Ronstadt who was not able to make the ceremony due to ill health and the aforementioned affronted KISS. Andrew Loog Oldham, the first manager of the Rolling Stones refused to attend, citing the latter-day TV led commercialism of the awards as his reason to boycott.
Finally there was Nirvana who were inducted by Michael Stipe of REM. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic as well as Courtney Love and members of Kurt Cobain’s family accepted the award. After “The Hug” Love turned to the audience and said, “I just wish that Kurt was here to see this.” The band then performed, with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent and Lorde taking turns in vocals. Rather poignantly this year’s ceremony took place just after the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s death who once famously sang “I’d rather be dead than cool.” Hopefully the late great frontman would have seen his band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as more of a symbol of gratitude for the music than a judgement of credibility.
OK…hands up…admit it…you first got into Peter Frampton in 1976 with the release of the brilliant Frampton Comes Alive. Three years earlier Peter had released Frampton’s Camel on A & M Records – it’s our Rediscovered Classic.
When Peter Frampton was labelled the Face of ’68 by Rave magazine he was with The Herd, a pop oriented band who nevertheless produced some classy singles. In April 1969 Frampton left the Herd to form the ‘supergroup’, Humble Pie with Marriott on guitar and vocals, Jerry Shirley on drums and Greg Ridley on bass. After four albums Frampton quit Humble Pie in October 1971 to go it alone, releasing the appropriately titled Winds of Change the following year.
He then formed Frampton’s Camel to tour the US in support of his debut – their first public appearance was at The Academy of Music, New York in September 1972 supporting The J Geils Band. In December 1972 the band went into Electric Lady Studios in New York to begin recording the album that became Frampton’s Camel.
Frampton’s band was a moveable feast throughout the early 1970s but at this time it was future Blockhead and former Animal, Mick Gallagher on keyboards, and especially the Hammond B-3, bass player Rick Wills formerly with Cochise and later with stadium rockers Foreigner and American drummer John Siomos whose credits by this time had included the brilliant, ‘Hello It’s Me’ with Todd Rundgren. For this album Frank Carillo, very much a jobbing American musician who had also played on Winds of Change was drafted in to play acoustic guitar, some bass and backing vocals
Frampton’s Camel is classic early 1970s rock, but with a difference, it includes some outstanding melodic songs – always a trademark of Peter’s career. The album opens with the funky ‘I Got My Eyes On You’ written by Frampton and while it is very definitely ‘of its time’ it is completely indicative of what made both this album and Frampton so appealing. ‘All Night Long’ is one of the two co-written songs on the album; this one with Gallagher that also features some gorgeous guitar work. It was also one of the two tracks released as a single, but it failed to dent the charts on either side of the Atlantic.
Track 3 is the familiar, if you came to Peter via Frampton Comes Alive, ‘Lines on My Face’ that was on side 4 of the live album. This is a trademark Frampton ballad with a tingling guitar solo and an emotional vocal. It’s followed by ‘Which Way The Wind Blows’ that harks back to the gentler side of Humble Pie and their country rock influences with the addition of another sumptuous melodic guitar solo. It was also released as a single at the time but also did nothing on the charts.
Frampton has always had an ear for great songs to cover and on this album it’s Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)’ that had been released on Talking Book a couple of months before Frampton’s Camel entered the studio. It closes side one of the original LP and works a treat in that it takes the original and imbues it with something fresh, no mean feat when covering Stevie Wonder.
Side 2 of the LP opens with ‘White Sugar’, a definite nod to the Stones and their classic ‘Brown Sugar’ in title and in something of the feel of the track that has a great piano solo from Gallagher. ‘Don’t Fade Away’ is a return to the melodic rock ballad style that Frampton is so good at. Similarly ‘Just the Time Of Year’ it emphasises what a very good songwriter Frampton had already become.
The album closes with ‘Do You Feel Like we Do’ written by the entire band and a track that would go on to become one of the standout cuts on Frampton Comes Alive where it also closed side 4 of the double LP. What’s not to love about this track? It is easy to hear why it translated into such an excellent stadium rocker. A great riff that allows it to build, and build, and that Gibson rings out loud and clear.
Ultimately with no hit singles Frampton’s Camel struggled to sell in large numbers, after its release in June1973, although it did eventually make No. 110 on the Billboard chart where it hung around for half the year. In retrospect it obviously deserved way better and with the benefit of hindsight it’s the solid, grounded stepping-off point for Frampton’s subsequent success. His song writing and guitar playing had matured so much by this point giving him the confidence perhaps to step into the spotlight alone and assume superstar status.
“Jimmie Rodgers connected with you, he came from the same place as the black folks that were singing the Blues.” – Sam Phillips
Back in the 1920s when the blues was taking hold in the South white people listened to it too. It was a “natural fact”, according to Sam Phillips that white people should start playing a derivation of the blues and the man acknowledged as the father of country music is a Mississippian, Jimmie Rodgers. His first hit record in 1927, ‘T for Texas (Blue Yodel No.1)’ is a long way from rock ‘n’ roll but it had a profound effect on many other aspiring white artists.
Cliff Carlisle was one who followed close on the heels of Rodgers. In 1934 he cut ‘Nasty Swing’ with its thinly veiled sexual references; Cliff sings about “winding the motor” and “putting his needle in the hole”. It was an important development in the lyrical content of rock ‘n’ roll, if not the musical direction.
It was in Texas that a sound developed that owed much to Jimmie Rodgers but we have no trouble identifying it as a close relative of rock ‘n’ roll. The first big stars of this exciting new music were Milton Brown and Bob Wills. Both started out as members of The Aladdin Laddies and The Light Crust Doughboys; groups that performed on their sponsor’s radio programmes. They later recorded as members of the Fort Worth Doughboys and by 1934 they had started their own bands, Milton with his Musical Brownies and Bob with his Texas Playboys.
Called Western Swing it drew on influences from a broad musical palate. In his book Lone Star Swing, Duncan McLean describes the music as “a chilli-pot of New Orleans jazz, old country fiddling, big-band swing, ragtime, blues, pop and mariachi……..it dominated Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and beyond — all the way from San Francisco in the west, Memphis in the east — from the mid-Thirties till mid-Elvis. This was western swing.”
Whereas Milton Brown’s sound harks back to a European sound it was Bob Wills that took this music off in a direction that influenced many rock ‘n’ roll stars. Wills’ last big hit, ‘Faded Love’, came out in 1950, although he continued making records through the fifties. Bob Wills has been an influence on just about every Texan country musician that has followed him. From Willie Nelson to Asleep at the Wheel and George Strait to Waylon Jennings they all pay homage to Bob, Waylon recorded Bob Wills is Still The King in 1975, the year that Bob Wills died.
But it was not just Texan’s that Wills influenced. Listen to a Wills’ ‘Stay a little Longer’ and it is structured like a rock ‘n’ roll song with the distinctive lead guitar break in the middle. Hank Williams who followed Wills as one of the most popular artists in country music and his sound was a lot closer to rock ‘n’ roll. Bill Haley was like many of his contemporaries listening to ‘Move It On Over’ from 1947; you only have to check out how many of Hank’s songs were later covered by rock ‘n’ rollers.
Hank had a string of hits from 1949 through 1951 including the No.1, ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues’. Ill equipped as he was for stardom Hank, who liked a drink, soon depended on the drink to see him through. By 1952 he Hank discovered drugs and was living a lifestyle that has been replicated by many who followed and for eager tabloid newspapers it has often been dubbed – the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. With his career in disarray Hank Williams died on New Years Day 1953 as a result of drugs and drink. The crowds at his funeral were enormous; a string of country stars turned out to honour the man dubbed the Father of Contemporary Country Music’.
Rock ‘n’ roll found a spiritual home in Memphis and flourished in other major cities. Like the blues it moved away from the country and became a harder urban influenced sound. Country music came under the control of the rhinestone Mafia. Nashville became home to the Holy Grail, and country music took on a clean-cut approach to life, love and lyrics. While rock ‘n’ roll was all about sex, country music for many years seemed lost in a lyrical and musical time warp. Teenagers in the fifties whether black or white had listened to the blues and western swing favoured by their parents and older siblings and decided they needed a sound of their own.
It was only with the rise of artists like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson that country took on a harder edge. When young rock bands, including the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers did so much to popularize country rock it was not long before people began to discover that everything was connected. And if proof was needed all you need to know is that Chuck Berry based ‘Maybellene’ on a song recorded by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in 1949.
_”It was an old fiddle tune called ‘Ida Red.’ I changed the music and re-arranged it, Chuck re-wrote the words, and the rest, as they say, was history. Leonard Chess asked me to come up to record it live.” _– Chuck’s piano player Johnnie Johnson
It was on this day in March 1957 that guitarist Barney Kessel took a teenager into the studio to cut three songs for Verve Records. Verve was a jazz record label stepped in the music of Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, but this was no jazz session, although Kessel himself was one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the post war era.
Two months later “I’m Walkin’” coupled with “A Teenager’s Romance” came out and both sides were massive hits on the Billboard chart, with the latter song making No. 2, and the former No. 4. By the end of August, the follow up “You’re My One And Only Love” with a Barney Kesssel instrumental on the B-side made the Top 20. The teenager’s name was Ricky Nelson and the situation turned out to be one of great good fortune for Verve Records that ultimately turned sour according to Mo Ostin the company’s chief financial man.
‘Barney had asked Norman Granz if he could make a pop recording, and Norman said “Sure.” Back then, for jazz singles, if we sold 50,000 singles we were doing very well. 20,000 albums and we were making a profit. When we released Ricky’s single we sold a million copies. Ricky’s parents Ozzie and Harriet had their own TV show and Ricky sang his songs on the show and the record exploded. Ozzie Nelson came to Norman to ask him to increase Ricky’s royalties. Norman said, “l have no problem increasing the royalty but lets make an album so we can make a proper evaluation.” Ozzie was adamant, “Either you increase the royalties or we’re leaving the label.” Norman was equally adamant, “We have a contract.” What Norman didn’t realize was that Ricky was a minor and in order for the contract to be confirmed it should have been affirmed by a court. It allowed Ricky to walk from the label. Norman was incensed and asked me to find a new lawyer and the man I found was Mickey Rudin, Frank Sinatra’s long-term lawyer.’