Monday, September 13, 2021

Under the Influence • Songs of 1949-1951

Howlin' Wolf and band in the 1960's
 
In May of 2020, I started my Fifty Years of Music series where I feature my favorite songs from a month and year 50 years from when I publish a post on the subject. Then at the end of the year, I post My Favorite Songs of (that year). I started with 1970, and at the end of this year will post My Favorite Songs of 1971.

Since I started the series in 1970, I thought I should go back to the birth of rock ''n' roll in the 1950's and the explosion of rock 'n' roll in the 1960's with lots of treasure to mine into playlists.

In 2019, I wrote a blog called,  Rock 'n' Roll: The Classic Generation 1940-1950. I started that blog by identifying three essential groups of musicians:

  1. The Founding Generation of Rock 'n' Roll born in 1910-1925;
  2. The Pioneering Generation of Rock 'n' Roll born in 1925-1940;
  3. The Classic Generation born between 1940-1950.

The Classic Generation includes all the musicians in: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, just to name a few...

I thought I should go back to 1940-1950 where this classic generation of rock 'n' rollers as World War II babies and children, absorbed the music of the day from their parent's radios and records. 

Sun Records, Memphis Tennessee
I then started sifting through Wikipedia's (Year) In Music as my guide starting in 1945. When I got to 1950, I found my starting point-

January 3, 1950 
Sam Phillips launches Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sam Philips [brought in] performers such as B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, who made their first recordings there. Phillips then sold the recordings to larger labels [like Chess Records].

Chess Records located in Chicago was also founded in 1950 by the Chess brothers Leonard and Phil. The brothers formed an early business association with Sam Phillips as both Chicago and Memphis became magnets for the Blue's and early rock 'n' roll.

Sam Phillips
In 1951, Sam Philips produced "Rocket 88" (originally stylized as Rocket "88") is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1951. The recording was credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", who were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. The single reached number-one on the Billboard R&B chart [and as distributed by Chess Records].

Many music writers acknowledge Rocket 88's importance in the development of rock and roll music, with several considering it to be the first rock and roll record.

Alan Freed
Also in 1951,  Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed began broadcasting rhythm, blues, and country music for a multi-racial audience. As one source points out, there was some controversy in his selection of recordings: "Freed would play the original singles by the black artists instead of waiting for a white singer to cover them".

Freed, familiar with the music of earlier decades, used the phrase 'rock and roll' to describe the music he aired over station WJW (850 AM).

Several sources suggest that Freed discovered the term (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) on the record "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and his Dominoes. The lyrics include the line, "I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long". Freed did not acknowledge the suggestion about that source (or the original meaning of the expression) in interviews, and explained the term as follows: "Rock ’n roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm".

This past week, I found a great little documentary titled, Howlin' Wolf - The Howlin' Wolf Story - The Secret History Of Rock & Roll (2003) on Amazon Prime. This 90 minute film gives insight into the beginnings of rock 'n' roll as older black Blues artists influenced many white kids in England hungry to experience American music and culture in the post-war 1950's. 

As a child of the 1960's, I was totally unaware of who Howlin' Wolf was or any other Blues musician. Without the backstory of bands like The Rolling Stones starting out as a Blues cover band in London; I would only later learn in the 1970's about these Blues players and their great contribution to the birth of rock 'n' roll and great influence on bands like The Rolling Stones. The name, "Rolling Stones" actually comes from a Muddy Waters song, Rollin' Stone picked by Stone's guitarist Brian Jones in 1962.  

In 1965, The Rolling Stones were invited to play on the popular ABC music variety show, Shindig!. They said they would do the show only if Howlin' Wolf would perform. On one hand, that's brave of the Stones to do that, on the other hand, it's sad that it took a bunch of young white upstarts from England having the privilege and power to coerce an America TV network to feature a black musical legend and national treasure, born right here the United States.

Note- Billy Preston is the piano player for this performance on Shindig.


I rather enjoyed the interrupted intro of the Shindig host by Brian Jones who basically calls out his BS and tells him, "I think it about time you shut up and we have Howlin' Wolf on stage." 

Another side note- You may have noticed my recent and complete interest in everything Rolling Stones of late. Well the debauchery continues.

Brian Jones
This week, I recommend two Rolling Stones documentaries. First up is, Rolling Stone: The Life and Death of Brian Jones on Amazon Prime. And, if you are a budding 'True-crime podcast' detective, Brian Jones' death would make for a great future podcast series... just saying.

Second is Keith Richards: Under The Influence, a 2015 Netflix one hour and 22 minute film that serves as a video companion to Keith's 2010 autobiography, Life. 

I think Under the Influence is a great title and I've ripped it off to use here for a series of blogs to showcase songs that influenced the development of rock 'n' roll. I think this will serve as a good lead in to My Favorite Songs series that will have a starting date around 1963. 1963 in Music is the first year in Wikipedia where new albums released for that year start to be categorized on a monthly basis. Let that big bang begin! 

Now on to the playlist. Enjoy my friends.

Songs Featured in this 'Under the Influence' Playlist
  1. Rock Awhile is a song by American singer-songwriter Goree Carter, recorded in April 1949 for the Freedom Recording Company in Houston, Texas. The song was released as the 18-year-old Carter's debut single (with "Back Home Blues" as the B-side) shortly after recording. The track is considered by many sources to be the first rock and roll song, and has been called a better candidate than the more commonly cited "Rocket 88", which was released two years later. And, I would agree with that assessment making it my first song to start this playlist.

  2. Move It On Over (1947) Hank Williams. Often cited as one of the earliest examples of rock 'n' roll music. I thought I'd insert it here. The influence of Folk and Country music is unmistakeable to the birth of rock 'n' roll. Hank was right there.

  3. Rock The Joint  (1949) Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians. Another contender for first rock 'n' roll song, there are hundreds and the playlist here is just a sample of the power of R&B and its influence towards rock 'n' roll. 

  4. Rollin' Stone - (1950), Muddy Watters - In 1962 Brian Jones takes the title of this song and names his band, 'Rollin' Stones', then changed to 'Rolling Stones', then finally 'The Rolling Stones.' Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had a friendly rivalry as both were fearless leaders in the Chicago Blues sound.

  5. Rocket 88- (1951) The original version of the twelve-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, which hit number one on the R&B charts. Brenston was Ike Turner's saxophonist and the Delta Cats were actually Turner's Kings of Rhythm back-up band, who rehearsed at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Brenston sang the lead vocal and is listed as the songwriter, although Turner led the band and is said to have been the actual composer of the song.

  6. Sixty Minute Man is a rhythm and blues (R&B) record released in 1951 by Billy Ward and his Dominoes. It was written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks and was one of the first R&B hit records to cross over to become a hit on the pop charts. It is regarded as one of the most important of the recordings that helped generate and shape rock and roll.

  7. Good Night Irene - (1950) 13 weeks at #1 in the U.S. - The Weavers. The song was written by Lead Belly a great influence to the American folk music revival movement in the late 50's and early 60's. 

  8. Down in the Bottom (Written by the great Blues songwriter, Willie Dixon) - Howlin' Wolf 

  9. If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time (1950) Lefty Frizzell. And you thought Willie Nelson wrote that song. Willie loves Lefty Frizzell. 

  10. Move - (1950) Birth of the Cool - Miles Davis. The man was miles ahead his whole life. 

  11. Rollin' & Tumblin'  - (1950) Muddy Waters. Muddy made it a classic, and in the middle to late 60's he and Howlin' Wolf would be playing songs like this to a whole new generation of fans via rock 'n' roll bands from England.

  12. Hey, Good Lookin' - (1951) 8 weeks at #1 C&W charts - Hank Williams

  13. The Thrill is Gone (1951) Roy Hawkins. B.B. King makes this a #1 hit song in 1970, a magical time when some of the Blues greats finally got their due.

  14. How High the Moon (1951) 9 weeks at #1 in the U.S. - Les Paul & Mary Ford

  15. Unforgettable - (1950) Only #14 in the U.S. Later in 1961 Nat King Cole would record the song again and it became his biggest song. 

  16. Cold Cold Heart (1951) #1 Country & Western charts - Hank Williams

  17. Walkin' Blues (1950) Muddy Waters. England is listening and learning.

  18. Moanin' at Midnight (1951) Howlin' Wolf. England is listening and learning.


References - All Wikipedia

Monday, September 06, 2021

#BestSongIHeardToday • Volume VII

Volume I • II • III • IV  • V • VI • VII • Team Tortoise Blogs

The #BestSongIHeardToday series is often centered around hearing great songs while exercising. These posts will tend to drift into health related topics but will always come back to the music that brought you here. This particular series is probably more about a self journal to help me stay on the path of healthy living that includes, listening to old and new tunes. If you're looking for a great mix playlist of 25-30 songs, just click on one of my Volumes above.

Graphic by - Kyran BerlinGolden Gate Xpress


West Seattle Junction
Easy Street Records & Cafe
It had been on my mind for about a month to buy Keith Richards' autobiography, Life. So I dropped into a book store in San Diego and found a copy that I thought would be a fun read for my upcoming flight and vacation in Seattle. The book in fact had remained in my backpack until the sad news of Charlie Watts death on August 24th. With that event as my kickstart, I began reading it the next day and it's been hard to put down. I don't remember the flight back home as I was completely absorbed into it until touch down.

Here's a passage from Keith Richard's Life (2011).

Amazon Books
If it hadn’t been for Charlie, I would never have been able to expand and develop. Number one with Charlie is that he’s got great feel. He had it then, from the start. There’s tremendous personality and subtlety in his playing. If you look at the size of his kit, it’s ludicrous compared  to what most drummers use these days. They’ve got a fort with them. An incredible barrage of drums. Charlie, with just that one classico setup, can pull it all off. Nothing pretentious, and then you hear him and it don’t half go bang. He plays with humor too. I love to watch his foot through the Perspex. Even if I can’t hear him, I can play to him just by watching. The other thing is Charlie’s trick that he got, I think, from Jim Keltner or Al Jackson. On the hi-hat, most guys would play on all four beats, but on the two and the four, which is the backbeat, which is a very important thing in rock and roll, Charlie doesn’t play, he lifts up. He goes to play and pulls back. It gives the snare drum all of the sound, instead of having some interference behind it. It’ll give you a heart arrhythmia if you look at it. He does some extra motion that’s totally unnecessary. It pulls the time back because he has to make a little extra effort. And so part of the languid feel of Charlie’s drumming comes from this unnecessary motion every two beats. It’s very hard to do — to stop the beat going just for one beat and then come back in. And it also has something to do with the way Charlie’s limbs are constructed, where he feels the beat. Each drummer’s got a signature as to whether the hi-hat’s a little bit ahead of the snare. Charlie’s very far back with the snare and up with the hi-hat. And the way he stretches out the beat and what we do on top of that is a secret of the Stones sound. Charlie’s quintessentially a jazz drummer, which means the rest of the band is a jazz band in a way. He’s up there with the best, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones. He’s got the feel, the looseness of it, and he’s very economical. Charlie used to work weddings and bar mitzvahs, so he knows the schmaltz too. It comes from starting early, playing the clubs when he was really young. A little bit of showmanship, without himself being the showman. Bah-BAM. And I’ve got used to playing with a guy like this. Forty years on, Charlie and I are tighter than we could express or even probably know. I mean, we even get daring enough to try and screw each other up sometimes on the stage.
Richards, Keith. Life (pp. 121-122). Little, Brown and Company.

Charlie & Ringo
This got me thinking about the two greatest bands of all-time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. As young bands, both had all the players except they lacked a really good professional drummer. I find it very interesting that both picked guys who were very similar in their simple straight ahead style of playing the drums. Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts were not showboats, but they were the anchors.

•••

As kismet would have it, I started program surfing in Netflix last week and stumbled upon, Count Me In. This is a 1 hour and 21 minute documentary on the history of some of rock's greatest drummers. Both Charlie and Ringo are featured and I recommend it. 

The best quote from Count Me In is from Joe Strummer of The Clash, "The rule of rock 'n' roll says, 'You're only as good as your drummer.'"

•••

Bill & Charlie (far right)
And kismet². Last Friday, I'm watching the second season of Modern Love on Amazon Prime. After I finish an episode, Amazon's AI suggests I watch the 2019 documentary on The Rolling Stone's original bass player Bill Wyman (from 1962-1993), The Quiet One. It was perfect timing watching this documentary for the second time as it filled in several key holes missing so far from Keith Richards' Life. I'm a little more than half way through Life as I write this, and it seems Bill Wyman has been mentioned like only three times so far! "Keef" does mention in his book, and also in The Quiet One how solid the rhythm section of the Stone's became once Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts started playing together. Up until that point, Richard's wanted Wyman only for his amp! What a complete group of characters, and as it turned out, the enduring band for the ages! 

The Stones' will be starting up their 13 date U.S. 2021 No Filter Tour beginning September 26th in St. Louis with drummer (and long-time collaborator with Keith Richards) Steve Jordan sitting in for Charlie. 

•••

All Down The Line • Lincoln Park



When in West Seattle, I try to get to Lincoln Park. I usually can get (con) the family to go for a walk or play on the playground equipment (they have two great kid friendly zip lines), while I take off for a run on the trail that leads down to the water, and then loops back up to the trail again.


As luck would have it, a couple of Stones' songs came on during the run and seemed appropriate to complete this mix of songs.


Stay well my friends, and mask-up at public indoor locations, again. The folks in Seattle know how to do that very well!

Artists featured this week.
  1. The Rolling Stones
  2. Neil Young
  3. Peter, Paul & Mary
  4. Tom Petty
  5. The Jayhawks
  6. Danny O' Keefe
  7. The Youngbloods
  8. The Byrds
  9. The Smother Brothers
  10. Jackson Browne
  11. Ray Wylie Hubbard & Ringo Starr
  12. Mollie Tuttle
  13. The Kinks
  14. J.D. Souther
  15. Ricky Nelson
  16. Stevie Wonder
  17. Traffic
  18. The Cactus Blossoms
  19. Seals and Crofts
  20. Rosanne Cash
  21. REM
  22. Bob Dylan
  23. Gillian Welch
  24. Timothy B. Schmit
  25. Pete Townsend, Ronnie Lane & Charlie Watts
  26. John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd with Brian Wilson
  27. Todd Rundgren
  28. John Prine