Music

Music Uncovered

As the world of popular culture celebrates the 50th anniversary of the British invasion, including the arrival of The Beatles, there has been little, if any, discussion of the artists who wrote and performed the music the groups from the UK imitated or copied when they “invaded” American music. These artists, playing what was referred to as rhythm and blues, were black. Consequently, their music never crossed over to a white audience. In many cases, the music was actually banned from the radio. It was banned, not simply because the performers were black, but because the performances were considered too lascivious for the delicate ears of white American youth.

An example of a black entertainer who was responsible for some of the greatest rhythm and blues music, and whose music was ignored until covered by white artists, was Hank Ballard. During the 1950s Hank Ballard and the Midnighters made numerous recordings that were popular on the black nightclub circuit, but unknown to the white mainstream. His recording of Work with me Annie reached number one on the R&B charts but was banned by the FCC from radio airplay for its obvious sexual overtones.

The great Etta James recorded the answering song, Wallflower, which also was an R&B hit.

But, it was not until Work with me Annie was rewritten as Dance with me Henry, and recorded by the white vocalist Georgia Gibbs, that it reached number one on the national charts. White audiences would have seen the sanitized version on shows like the popular Your Hit Parade. Here is a hilarious rendition by Gisele MacKensie from May 7th 1955 when Dance with me Henry was number four on the national hit parade.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters followed up Work with me Annie with Annie had a Baby and Annie’s Aunt Fanny, both of which made clear Annie wasn’t a ballet dancer.

In 1959 Hank Ballard and the Midnighters wrote, choreographed, and performed The Twist. But, because the group was too black, the song was covered by Chubby Checkers, who, although black, was, as his phony stage name implies (get it- Fats Domino- Chubby Checkers), a chubby, cuddly, non-threatening black man. What resulted was a dance craze that swept the nation and made Checkers a super star.

Below is an amazing episode from the very 1960s popular quiz show, To Tell the Truth, where two contestants lie in an attempt to convince the panel they are the contestant telling the truth. The fact that the panel, made up of nationally famous white media stars (including Johnny Carson in this episode), have absolutely no idea who Hank Ballard is, shows just how invisible the real black artists were. The other two contestants are black, but are conspicuous in their “clean cut”, i.e. white like, demeanor. The panel ignores Hank, asking him only one question about the origins of Rock and Roll. He answers that Rock and Roll is just another name for Rhythm and Blues, but none of the panelist seem satisfied with the answer. Kitty Carlisle is the only one to choose the real Hank, and that was because she saw him moving his body when the music was being played.

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The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died

Fifty five years ago today, three stars of the first wave of Rock and Roll, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed in a snowstorm a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City, Iowa on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error.

Because of mechanical difficulties with the bus for the Winter Dance Party Tour, Buddy Holly had chartered a plane for his band. The Big Bopper, sick with the flu, convinced a member of Holly’s band, Waylon Jennings, to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

 

Born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly was just 22 when he died. He began his musical career as a boy playing bluegrass and country music. After seeing Elvis Presley perform in Lubbock, Buddy and three friends began to play their own version of “Rockabilly” under the name The Crickets. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as The Beatles. The group had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day” prior to the 1959 tour.

Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, was a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s one and only hit was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”

The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los  Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba”. In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

See the full story below:

Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”

Friday Night Music

I imagine everyone is aware that the incomparable Pete Seeger died this week. I don’t have anything to add to the tributes already paid to him as a folk archivist, musician, song writer, peace activist, environmentalist, and yes, radical.

We live in a time where those who refuse to conform are vilified much like they were in the McCarthy era. If Seeger had never made a single record, he would be an American hero based upon the courageous stand he took when he was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. The HUAC committee interrogated more than 3,000 government officials, labor union leaders, teachers, journalists, entertainers, and others. They wanted to purge Communists, former Communists, and “fellow travelers” who refused to renounce their past and inform on associates from positions of influence within American society. 

When they accused Seeger of performing for Communist front organizations, he refused to invoke the Fifth Amendment, instead he insisted that the Committee had no right to question him about his political beliefs or associations.

When asked if he had performed at Communist Party functions he said:

Mr. SEEGER: I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

The counsel for the committee continued to badger Seeger until he finally said,

Mr. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them. . . .

Pete Seeger was sentenced to a year in prison for contempt, but the verdict was reversed in 1962. Nevertheless, Seeger remained on a network television blacklist until the late 1960s.

He went on to record hits with The Weavers and on his own over the years. His musicianship is often overlooked because of his impact as an activist. But, as this clip of him singing “Wimoweh” from the 40th anniversary concert of The Weavers shows, he was an intense and riveting entertainer.

Fogged In

happy light visor I don’t mind cold weather. I don’t have a problem with snow. I can even handle icy roads. But when all of the above are combined with FOG, I start to get a bit depressed. That is exactly what I see when I look out my window, icy fog. It settled in yesterday and is supposed to hang around until at least Sunday.

Of course, one reason I am depressed is because the weather results in me spending too much time indoors where I spend too much time in front of my computer where I spend too much time reading about the confederacy of dunces we call the Idaho State Legislature.

I don’t actually own the “light therapy visor” shown above. But, I am tempted to try it. That is one thing that happens when I start feeling a bit “down”, I start grasping at visors. I wonder, does anyone have experience with “happy lights”? Do they really work?

Actually, I really don’t plan on ordering the visor because, even with Amazon’s two day delivery, the worst of the weather will be over by the time it gets here. After all, today is groundhogs day and Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, which means we will have an early spring.

So, to get me through the weekend, I turn to what has always been “mood altering” for me- music.

As you may know, a giant of American popular music, Patty Andrews, died last week at the age of 94. The Andrews Sisters, with Patty singing lead, kept up America’s spirits during the “good war”. Her death caused me to dig around the You Tube vaults where I found this. Enjoy

Utah Phillips – Voice of the Common Man

If you heard Michael Feldman’s “Whad’YaKnow?” broadcast live from the Morrison Center in Boise last Friday, you heard Rosalie Sorrels sing a song written by her friend, the singer-songwriter Utah Phillips. When she finished, she mentioned that Utah was not well and wished him the best. It turns out that Utah died at home that evening of congestive heart failure.

Utah Phillips was much more than just an entertainer. He was an authentic “folksinger” in the mold of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Ramblin Jack Elliot.

Phillips was the son of labor organizers and his music was an outgrowth of his belief in social justice. When he returned from the Korean War, Phillips became a drifter riding the rails. He ended up destitute and drunk in the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter in Salt Lake, where he met anarchist, philosopher and social reformer Ammon Hennacy. Hennacy helped Phillips reconnect with the struggles of the American laborer. Like the real Joe Hill, Utah became a “Wobblie” and devoted himself to singing to and for working people.

I was lucky enough to see him perform a number of times. Some of his songs were hilarious, others sad; but they always had a strong story line and a deep message.

Although his records were never able to capture the warmth of live performance, they are all we have now. If you have never heard Utah, I suggest buying one of his many available recordings. If you only get one, try The Long Memory, the 1996 recording he made with Rosalie Sorrels. In his obituary, she said of her friend:

He was like an alchemist. He took the stories of working people and railroad bums and he built them into work that was influenced by writers like Thomas Wolfe, but then he gave it back, he put it in language so the people whom the songs and stories were about still had them, still owned them. He didn’t believe in stealing culture from the people it was about.

With Utah gone, Pete Seeger and Rosalie Sorrels are among the last of the authentic folk singers still with us.

John McCain Misspeaks

By this time, almost everyone has seen this video of John McCain. Moveon.org is even using it in a political ad. Why then, am I posting it here? Not because I think posting it will convince anyone that McCain is too intemperate to be President.

No, as reprehensible as the “bomb, bomb Iran” joke is, what I find annoying is McCain’s ignorance about the original song. He gave credit for Barbara Ann to the Beach Boys when any self- respecting old guy who grew up in the ’60s knows that the Beach Boys recorded a cover of the original classic by The Regents.

theregents

The song was written by Fred Fassert, lead singer of The Regents, in honor of his baby sister, Barbara Ann. Some may excuse McCain for this error, assuming that he was a prisoner of war during the time period. But The Regents had a hit with Barbara Ann in 1961 and the Beach Boys covered it in 1965. McCain was not taken prisoner until 1967.

As a result of this gaffe, McCain has lost all credibility with me.

By the way, in case you were curious, The Regents of Barbara Ann fame are not the same Regents who hailed from Tacoma and who were part of the Pacific Northwest rock and roll bands that included Idaho’s Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The Kids Are Alright

Angus Young

Dress to Suppress Part II

There is another article in today’s Statesman about the Borah High School anti-uniform protesters. I have a couple of thoughts about the push on the part of the Borah High Principal to require uniforms.

On one hand I agree completely with the comment made by Keith to my previous post on the subject. He said:

The push for school uniforms is just another sign of the dismantling of the public school system. Soon, all the students will look the same while all the teachers prepare them for testing using the same scripted curriculum. I’m glad I went to school in the ’60s and ’70s, when individuality and creativity were nurtured and encouraged.

There is no doubt that the current “standards” movement has resulted in schools where everything is standardized and individuality and creativity are stifled, if not eliminated.

On the other hand, I think Administrators Like Frederick and McCurdy are living in a dream world if they believe uniforms will result in a more conforming, obedient, less rebellious student body.

Case in point- While Keith and I were students in American schools in the ’60s and ’70s, kids in the British Isles and Australia were all wearing uniforms. How did that work out for those school adminstrators?

Let’s see, the Who, the Rolling Stones, AC DC (see Angus Young in his school uniform above) and the rest of the British Invasion staged a rock and roll rebellion.

Maybe a new generation of uniform-wearing American students will engage in some creative rebellion and save rock and roll from Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake and Carrie Underwood. We can always hope.

Top 10 Protest Videos for 2006

As 2006 comes to a close, everyone has their “top ten” something for the year. This year, as I watched the tragedy in Iraq continue to unfold, I took some solace in the fact that musicians were beginning to speak out with enough frequency that it was possible to talk about “protest music” in a way that hasn’t been possible since the ’60s. With that in mind, here are my top 10 Protest Music Videos of the year, courtesy of YouTube.

1- “Dear Mister President” by Pink. I have to admit that I had never listened much to Pink. I assumed she was still the Pink of “Let’s get this party started.” This is a moving, powerful song by a talented artist.

2- “Let’s Impeach the President” by Neil Young. Neil Young is a national treasure and has been since he was writing songs protesting the war in Viet Nam. The lyrics aren’t too subtle, but sometimes you have to speak the truth in plain language.

3- “Casino Nation” by Jackson Browne. A brilliant singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne has also been writing powerful music since the 1960’s. Not only are the lyrics to the song thought provoking, the graphics are superb.

4- “Megalomaniac” by Incubus. Disturbing lyrics, disturbing graphics.

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5- “Lives in the Balance” by Jackson Browne. I know, this Jackson Browne classic was not written this year. But, the updated video shows how relevant the message of the song is for today.

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6- “Mosh” by Eminem. Not my favorite genre of music, but I have a feeling this song was heard by more young people than any others on the list. This video is not new this year. Eminem has an updated version, but I wasn’t able to find a copy on YouTube.

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7. Advertisement for “Shut Up and Sing” by the Dixie Chicks. I couldn’t have a top ten list of protest music without including the Dixie Chicks. This ad for the documentary, “Shut up and Sing” and the next video are my “tip of the hat” to them.

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7a. “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks. Not exactly a protest song, but see above.

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8. “Rich Man’s War” by Steve Earle. Steve Earle is a folksinger/songwriter in the classic tradition. This video was taken at a concert in tribute to Cindy Sheehan.

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9. “America First” by Merle Haggard. Bush had to know he was in trouble when Hag turned on him.

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10. “Masters of War” by Pearl Jam. The paradigm protest song by Bob Dylan. This is a great version, but it is not the original. O.K., I guess you had to have been there to really appreciate Dylan’s version.
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