The conventional wisdom is that when Elvis released Heartbreak Hotel on 27 January 1956 the world surrendered to this new phenomena. And as you would expect, those perps from Rolling Stone are aiding and abetting this fabrication:
In 2004 it was ranked number forty-five on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it in its unranked list 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and in 2005, Uncut magazine ranked the first performance of “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 by Presley as the second greatest and most important cultural event of the rock and roll era.
This is hogswash of the first order. Rock and Roll, rockabilly, call it what you like, was well and truly percolating in the major cities in the South prior to this date and via numerous musicians who are now mostly footnotes. The whole idea of placing the first dot on a musical timeline is an idiot’s exercise. Musicians of that period simply didn’t think of themselves as genre artists: that was a retrospective exercise undertaken by both the musicians themselves (at least those that survived) and rock journalists.
Insipid pop, pure country, rock and roll or blues: The South was one massive melting pot of sounds and musicians turned their efforts to song types where they (or more exactly their managers/record companies) thought they could make a buck. Royalties from the sale of vinyl were non-existent: the only way to pay the bills and buy that mandatory pink cadillac and/or bus was really exhaustive touring – bars, roadhouses and high school hops, whitey’s version of the Black America’s chitlin circuit. And Black and White sounds of the day routinely intersected as bands ground out a living on the road. Songs were routinely pilfered, rewritten and sanitised, with Black musicians opting for the more visceral versions.
This abbreviated rant out of the way, let’s turn up the speakers and listen to some major and minor footnotes. Charlie Feathers HERE and HERE always enjoyed pointing out that he held a musicians union ticket well before Elvis.
Prior to his death in 1998, Charlie downsized and turned his family into his backing band. Just think that years later Tarantino (or more correctly longtime associate Robert Rodriguez) included the following in the Kill Bill double bill. (Rodriguez is unquestionably the most interesting sound track creator in decades.)
Interview with Charlie. You’ll need a linguist.
Sorting thru Gene Vincent’s catalogue for song gems is a bit like ploughing thru Rockally Rarities Vols.1 -4: it’s not worth the time or effort. There is just too much dross. Vincent led a pained life (naval injury) which was not helped by his love of bourbon and flick knives. And like Jerry Lee, he had to vacate the US to avoid the demands of the Inland Revenue. However Be Bop-a-Lula is a shining example of all the rockabilly mannerisms.
I think this was the clip used early on in Scorsese’s No Direction Home.
And here’s the same, but with superior sound values.
Vincent’s guitarist Cliff Gallup seriously inspired Beck, Page and others and the guy never left his day job. He was the Director of Maintenance and Transportation for the Chesapeake, Virginia city school system, where he worked for almost 30 years. Wicki
Update. Just realised that I forgot this piece Catman by Gene Vincent, where Gallup’s breaks the mold with guitar playing which precursed The Cramps, The Gun Club etc by decades. And since this is a family friendly site, I leave the Catman signifier to you lecherous imagination.
For the full road house opera, there is little to surpass Lonnie Mack’s Why. Mack, a reverb twang, country and blues sojourner displays his Otis Rush skills here – brass riffs to die for, strong lyrics and incandescent guitar.
Finally, we come to Sleepy La Beef, The Human Jukebox, capable of doing three hour concerts without a break and covering a massive sweep of songs in a variety of genres including gospel. Saw him on two occassions and had my musical parameters seriously extended.
Readers who are interested in guitar porn will have noted the Danelectro on the right, and there are some of you since the The Luthiers Art….post has been read around 2,500 times, which is sort of gratifying.
The final in this series will focus on Train Mythology.