Well, not to tread on Mike's coat-tails, but he gave me permission, so I thought I would post a little blurb to let you all know a little about who one of your moderators is, and along the way, provide you all with a little trip down memory lane to reminisce what was going on in the music scene at that time. Born in the lovely patriotic state of Massachusetts, during WW-II. My father had enlisted in the U.S Navy the year after Peal Harbor, and was sent to Sicily where he served on an LST. They made runs between there and North Africa delivering men & tanks to help fight Rommel's troops. After two and a half years, his ship was hit on the fantail by a German fighter, destroying their rudder and shaft. His gun turret was no more than twenty feet from the point of impact. They were towed to New York by an ocean going tug, and two weeks later he saw me for the first time. I was two years three month old. He was discharged as a Petty Officer second class, and found work as a carpenter.
During those years, war was nearing an end, and Big Band music was always blaring on the old four foot tall RCA radio in our kitchen. At an early age, I was hearing the likes of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Jimmy & Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Harry James and so on. Then I realized, that these were not just “bands”, the bands were made up of individual musicians, but not just regular music makers. These were the cream of the crop, the best of the best ! I was listening to Gene Krupa’s drums (my idol), Buddy Rich’s drums, Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone and drums. (Are you seeing a theme here?) I LOVED percussion, but then there was Tex Beneke’s sax, Satchmo Armstrong’s horn, Woody Herman’s clarinet, Charlie Parker’s tenor sax, Ziggy Elman’s, Bunny Berigan's and Bix Beiderbeke’s horns !! (The only reason I didn’t mention Dizzy Gillespie’s crazy horn and John Coltrane’s sax is because they were more into the Jazz aspect.) The only guitar player(s) I had any recollection of were Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford. Their recordings of “Mocking Bird Hill” in 1951, and “Lady of Spain” and “I’m sitting on top of the world” in 1952, had me in awe of the finger picking speed !
Then all of a sudden, it was 1955, and I heard something entirely different, coming out of our maple gargantuan with the soft golden glow of the station dial. It was kinda crazy, odd music if you could call it music….but I liked it, actually, I LOVED it! The musician’s name was Chuck Berry, and the song he was playing was called “Maybellene”. It was so different from anything I had ever heard. That “twang” of the guitar! The back beat of the band, and Berry’s nasally hillbilly vocals, like country western music but NO, this was DIFFERENT! It was unlike anything else on the radio. One thing I knew for sure, I just had to have MORE of this stuff, and luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. Bill Haley charted at #1 in July with “Rock Around The Clock” and held first place for 8 weeks. I collected enough soda bottles at two cents each to finally run to the record shop and buy my very first 45 rpm record (which I still have). In those days, if memory serves me correctly, I paid around $0.39 for it, and was thirsting for more just like it. Pat Boone hit with “Ain’t That A Shame” that summer, selling more than one million copies. In spite of the sales success, he would not hit the chart until September seventeenth coming in at #11 and later moving up to #1. Fats Domino who had written the song, had made only the “Rhythm & Blues Chart that summer, but did hold the cherrished #1 spot, for eleven weeks! Later in the year, he finally hit the Billboard Chart in the #10 spot, but Daniel Boone’s young relative proved too much of a challenge for sales units. The Rock & Roll music was coming, but not fast enough as far as I was concerned.
The old crooners were still very much in the forefront, singers like The McGuire Sisters, Frank Sinatra, The Four Aces, Kay Star, Perry Como, etc.. But for this (soon to be) teenager, I wanted the faster stuff, the songs that you could stomp your foot to, and when mom wasn’t home, CRANK the volume knob up to TEN ! (If I had had a record player like the Spinal Tap’s amp , it would have been on 11!) So around the same time, releases started pouring out of various studios, tunes like “Tutti-Fruitti”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Crazy Man Crazy”, ”Bo Diddley “ and “Ain’t That a Shame”. Fats Domino became one of my favorites. Then with segregation still a problem in many Southern areas, black music (Race Records) were not getting the play that they well deserved. White record companies were “substituting” their white singers on a lot of the Race hit tunes. People like Pat Boone, and The McGuire Sisters' cover of “Sincerely” by the Moonglows, the Crew Cuts and the Fontane Sisters. There were some hold-outs, however, like Rosemary Clooney who vowed to NEVER sing one of those R&R songs. She said, quote: “What’s the story value? Every good song should tell a story” So I guess “Mambo Italiano” really is a novel in disguise? And now I started seeing this strong Country Western influence coming into the picture, but not the C&W that had been on the scene forever. This was a “Rock-A-Billy version. Singers like Guy Mitchell changing his style, and this new up and comer kid, Elvis Presley, who was first billed as “The Hillbilly Cat” by RCA records, who bought his contract from Sun for a reported $40,000, more on him later.
Meanwhile while record producers tried to figure out how to capitalize on this new trend without losing their older clientele. Small mail order record exec Randy Wood, revamped his little known DOT label from a C&W specialty, into a Rhythm & Blues label targeted at white youth, using white singers covering the Race Records, and by one year down the road, he had cornered fifteen percent of the market! Then along came this DJ by the name of Alan Freed around mid 1955, from a Cleveland, Ohio radio station where he was known as “The King of Rock & Roll” by local teens. He moved to New York’s station WINS in August, and soon established himself as the leading authority on this “new music”. Every so often when the weather was just right, I could pick up his broadcast, and hear all this great music with the Back Beat that left me wanting more! He branched out into producing concerts, and at his first try in Brooklyn he grossed $107,000 for one week. Back to the Elvis, RCA released “Heartbreak Hotel” in ’56, around the same time Carl Perkins had written and recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” for the same label. Elvis’ record sales amounted to 50% of RCA total sales. Capitol Records, not to be outdone, opened its new “Record Stack” shaped building in L. A. and immediately signed Gene Vincent (Bee Bop-A-Lula) to compete with Elvis. The door was now open for a plethora of talented new young singers to get noticed and win the hearts of eager young teens like myself. The crooners were still on the scene, but fading quietly into the past. The influx of young stars was just too much to compete with. On the charts were singers and groups like Buddy Knox, The Diamonds, Paul Anka (the first and maybe only Syrian rocker), Frankie Limon (who broke into the game at the age of thirteen), Bill Doggett, The Everly Brothers., the great Buddy Holly, The Drifters, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Danny & The Juniors ("Let’s Go To The Hop: was HUGE!), Frankie Avalon, The Platters, The Del Vikings, The Drifters, Johnny Mathis, that real “fun” group The Coasters, and so many more greats and a lot of “One Hit Wonders”.
Alan Freed continued to upset local authorities. In Boston there was a near RIOT with a dozen people ending up in the emergency room of City Hospital, all because he wanted to turn down the lights during the performance and the city prudes said NO! A new dance craze entered the scene, called “The Stroll”, and basically all you did was to “stroll”. I loved it because I was a clumsy Jitter-Bug dancer, and this new thing was SO easy to learn. Two lines would form facing each other, boys on one side girls the other. As the music played, a boy and girl would join hands, do the stroll steps down between the two lines (with some fancy footwork and spins if you were daring), then rejoin the bottom of the ranks.
Also new in 1958, was Stereo Recordings, using eight track technology. Previously only tape to tape dubbing or live studio takes were available. The only problem with this was that none of the record player companies had produced any stereo equipment to date, and wouldn’t for another three years! By this time, Elvis was making his fourth movie, “King Creole”, but in March of 1958, he was conscripted into the army, where he went from making $1,000 per week to $83.20 per month. After basic training, he was given a tour of duty in Germany where he met the lovely Priscilla, although she was only fourteen at the time. (Does this remind you of Jerry Lee?) They dated and after a few years were married, which broke the hearts of every female teen in America. “Blackboard Jungle” was the big box office attraction in Spring of ’55, starring Glenn Ford, and “Rock Around The Clock” was the background music. Lots of controversy with a lot of cities banning it because they were afraid of promulgating more “delinquents”! One group that caught my ear in those days, were the Everly Brothers. Their close two-part harmonies and jumpy beats were enthralling. They sang the songs that everyone would memorize the words to, tunes like “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, but at the same time Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” was competing for our hard earned $0.45 cents. It got to a point that there were SO many great songs being released, I didn’t have enough money to get all the ones I wanted! That’s where I learned to turn on the charm and schmooze a half-buck from my mom, every so often.
In July of 1957, Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” was first transmitted Coast To Coast! Dick was the show’s creator, DJ and producer. He had a music publishing company and also a record pressing factory. He was estimated to have made well over a half-million dollars that year, and he was only 29. The kids couldn’t wait for school to get out so they could rush home just in time to grab a snack and turn on the TV. Most of the acts were “lip syncing” to the records, but some were so good at it, we couldn’t tell. We were anxious to see who the next big star would be to appear live. One of the perennials was Bobby Ridell, with his pegged pants, pointy shoes and tubular hairdo! “Wild One” was another really big hit, a local Philly boy, the girls all went crazy over him. Two more Philly hearthrobs were introduced, with a flurry of teen screams, Frankie Avalon, and the one name wonder: “Fabian”. We were all into the show, wanting to see who would be dancing with whom, and we noticed when a “relationship” was on the rocks. We knew most of the kids by name, and they became psuedo-stars in their own rights. Alan Freed also had a TV show, but it was cancelled by ABC because the sponsors were not willing to take a chance with a show featuring “so many blacks”. But Alan would keep on trying. He continued his live show called “Big Beat”, touring the country featuring SEVENTEEN acts! During one performance, the local authorities would not let the lights be dimmed ( fearing sexual malfeasance I presume) so the 6,000 paying customers rioted outside the concert hall, and a dozen serious injuries were reported. The following year, Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” hit the charts at #1, a feat never before achieved. Closing out the Fifties, we find that Billie Holiday, the greatest female blues singer of all times, passed away from jaundice and heart trouble. Newcomers on the scene were Dion & The Belmonts, Duane Eddy with his Twangy Guitar, and the incomparable Ray Charles. In Great Britain, the NME folks started handing out “Gold Rocords” for million sellers.
The music was starting to “heat up” now. The year was 1960, and the year started out with sad beginnings. Singers Jesse Belvin and Eddie Cochran both were killed in separate auto accidents. Ironically, Cochran’s last recording was titled “Three Steps To Heaven”. Alan Freed was indicted on “payola” charges stating that he had accepted more than $30,000 for playing records of the labels that supposedly bribed him. (That would be chump change in today’s market and would only get one play at best!) At the top of the charts right then were hits like ”El Paso” (Marty Robbins), “Teen Angel” (Mark Dinning), “I’m Sorry” (Brenda Lee) and “Georgia” (Ray Charles). Then, out of nowhere, came this likeable good natured slightly overweight guy named Chubby Checker hitting the charts at #12 with a new dance he called “The Twist! It took a little while to catch on, but soon it was the hit of all hits, and EVERYONE in the U.S. and other countries as well, were doing the Twist! Kids, business men, clergy, nuns, politicians, all ages from two to ninety-two were Twisting to this joyful, energetic, fun dance craze. Chubby’s voice was instantly recognized, kind of a “back of the throat, echo-ey sound” that no one else compared to. A year later he pulled it off again, with “Pony Time” coming in at #4. (It had a brand new dance to go with it.) The Pony was easy for anyone to do, even for dudes like me with two left feet. You kinda stood in one place, with your hands curled-up like a dog begging for food, and just hopped around, with knees bouncing up & down like a marching band, only FASTER! Chubby hit the charts ahead of such GREAT hits as “Blue Moon”, “Runaway”, “Running Scared”, “Runaround Sue”…..WOW! What a great year (1961) for music.
Then, a little later, the music scene along with everyone else, came to a standstill, as the news media alerted us to the assassination death of President John F. Kennedy. Of course as you might expect, Massachusetts residents took it somewhat harder, as we had known him from his Senatorial days, and from his family’s Hyannisport, Massachussets compound, where he loved to sail and play with his kids. It was a gloomy time all around the country and around the world. Camelot had vanished overnight, and we will never forget the stoic presence of his beautiful wife Jackie with whom we also felt a nearness, because of her connection to Newport, Rhode Island and the Hammersmith family farm. As I drove by the farm a few years ago to attend my son’s wedding just a few doors down, I couldn’t help but think about the sorrow that had befallen that family. Maybe, just maybe, fame and fortune is not really worth the price we have to pay for it.
By 1964 the world (well, the music world that is) was not prepared for what would happen next. Just to set the scene, I was out of High School now and married, with my first real job as a Mechanical Draftsman. I was also attending night school for my engineering degree three nights a week, and I worked weekends in a department store selling cameras and stereos to help make ends meet. At this job I always had the rock music station on, to help attract customers. All of a sudden, I heard this CRAZY new sound coming out of the speakers. It was kind of a harmonic, pleasant “yelling”. The lyrics were saying something about holding someone’s hand, and the song was being sung with a distinct British accent. I tried to listen for the name of the group, because I loved the sound, but there was too much noise in the store, and I couldn’t catch it. It was February 1st when I realized that this new group of English kids called the “Beatles” had made an impact. They had entered the music charts at the #2 position! Then, not to be mistaken for a fly-by-night group, seven weeks later they did it again! This time it was “She Loves You”, which entered at #3. And just to put an exclamation point on their statement, two weeks later they came in with “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the #4 position!
In current events at this time, President Johnson having taken over after Kennedy’s death, he made a major mis-calculation: In August of this year, after falsely stating that our Naval Destroyers had been attacked, he requested authorization from Congress for troops and materiel to be sent to Vietnam to ensure the safety and well being of the people of Saigon, who were in great danger of being overthrown. Congress approved with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that would allow him to use “Conventional Military Force" WITHOUT a formal declaration of war! Until now, we had only sent over military advisors, beginning around 1950. Over the next five years, he would commit to well over a half million troops. My buddies were being drafted left and right, but I was working for a military contractor at the time so I received a temporary draft deferment to continue engineering work on Sonar Systems for U.S. Nuclear Attack Class submarines. As the war continued, one of the MAJOR factors that kept our boys from going crazy was the MUSIC! Groups like CCR, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Troggs, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Barry McGuire, The D.C. Five, Donovan, The Four Tops, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Zager & Evans, and let us not forget THE DOORS!
Now Entering The Seventies: Sly & The Family Stone, The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, Edwin Starr, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Temptations, Edgar Winter, Grand Funk Railroad, Elton John, Marvin Gaye, BTO, Harry Chapin, ERIC CLAPTON!, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, America, David Bowie, and last but not least: K.C. And The Sunshine Band! Just for reference sake I took these names in ascending order, based on their popularity on the Billboard Top Forty Hits charts. I only listed the artists that were of greatest importance to our brave men whohad been sent to a foreign land to help preserve liberty for one and all.
Just as the war came to a close, with the Operation Frequent Wind evacuation of Saigon on April 30, 1975 by President Ford, so will I, bring this lengthy dissertation to a close. There are many awesome musicians that I have not mentioned here, mainly because I didn’t want this to be longer than Jack Kerouac’s mile-long “Scroll” that he eventually turned into a book simply called, “On The Road”. If you have managed to stay with me throughout this musical trip down memory lane, I wish to thank you, for your patience, your stamina, and your interest in what I have had to say. Music is my passion, followed closely by art, and along the way if you have any questions about the musicians, their music, or anything related to music, I will do my best to answer for you, or at the very least, try to find a website that will provide the answers that you seek.
Thank you so very much for visiting our website/blog, and please remember to "Enjoy the music of today, but try not to forget the music of yesteryear”.
“BlueStrat” aka: Denny L.