Hey all I thought I might share a few short tales I have been sketching out of late. The story of these …. lets call them Tales of Music and Imagination… is as follows. In early March 2020, as online talk began to spread of this new disease – and my newsfeed began to fill up with a mixture of genuine news, 5G conspiracy theories, questionable COVID jokes and naysayers – my first inclination was to get the hell away from social media for a while. I would look for the expert analysis, avoid think pieces, dodge hysteria till I knew I had something to panic about.
My social media hiatus lasted half a day.
My second inclination was to try to up my own contribution to the mix – my specialist topic for this round? Tales from the Origins of Rock & Roll. Every day for around two months I posted a new song each day – with a couple of paragraphs about the song or the artist. Every morning as I had my coffee, before I went up into my office, I would drop a new track.
Whether you love old rock songs or not I think, personally, everyone should be fascinated with the tales which surround them. If music is the soundtrack of our lives, as Motown’s Berry Gordy once said – the music of the postwar era is the soundtrack to a tale of rapid change, growth and struggle. It gives one yet another perspective to assess the world from in that time.
In the following bonus tales I’m not going to regurgitate the original project, or run 50 plus episodes, just a handful of short tales I feel should be told more. I need to acknowledge my source for much of the information on the bonus tales. I am a huge fan of Andrew Hickey’s A History of Rock and Roll in 500 Songs – when it comes to rock and roll, Mr Hickey’s knowledge is extraordinary.
Anyway folks, longer intro than the Tale itself. Please enjoy – Simone
On the evening of 23rd December 1938 the most culturally important concert in history took place at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Funded by the Communist party of America, and stage managed by the talent scout, civil rights campaigner, record producer and scion of the Vanderbilt’s, John Hammond – the From Spirituals to Swing concert was something to behold. To many well heeled, white Americans the concert would be their first exposure to American race music; as some of the brightest lights of gospel, swing, blues and boogie-woogie rocked the venerable old stage.
The tale most often shared of the night is the bluesman Robert Johnson was meant to play, but when Hammond went looking for him, he found he had passed on – legend has it Johnson had expired 16th August 1938 near Greenwood Mississippi. According to legend he was poisoned by a publican, jealous that Johnson had gotten a little too friendly with his wife. The concert opened with a single spotlight punching through the dark – the light aimed at a gramophone playing one of the bluesman’s discs. If this were a tale on the ’27 club’ this would make a fitting start. My focus today however is not Robert Johnson, The Count Basie Orchestra, The Kansas City Six…. On the 23rd December 1938, Blues shouter Big Joe Turner teamed up with Boogie-Woogie piano master Pete Johnson for a short, impromptu set. One song, titled ‘It’s All Right Baby’ on the night, but later recorded under ‘Roll ‘Em Pete’ was groundbreaking. 82 years on it may not seem so; but the duo married barrel-house piano with the ‘floating lyrics’ seen regularly in the blues. There was an element of the ‘Hokum song’ a form borrowed by race music from vaudeville, full of sexual double entendre.
Most importantly, where the blues and boogie-woogie was typically a ‘four to the floor’ shuffle, Turner – a big man with a big voice who could bellow above an orchestra – stood a way back from the mic, hands out front clapping to the 2 and 4 of the 1,2,3,4 of the song. The inclusion of this ‘backbeat’ may very well make “It’s all right Baby” patient zero for what, 2 decades later would become known as rock and roll.
Of course there is no first rock and roll song. It was a form that developed from several landmark recordings. Long before Elvis gyrated to Arthur ‘big boy’ Crudup songs, Bill Haley rocked this joint to Jimmy Preston covers or Ike Turner’s Rhythm Kings liberally borrowed from Jimmy Liggins’ Cadillac Boogie, dozens of musicians were developing new, rebellious sounds.
The following bonus series is a collection of short tales of rock and roll. None of them will solve which song is patient zero. All of them will, hopefully, cast a spotlight into the dark and uncover something new.