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On Air by Mike James
The Cavern Club in Liverpool is well named. Three rows of arches wide, it was a brick-vaulted converted underground warehouse in Mathew St. in Liverpool’s fruit market district. A jazz club by day and a portal into the future of popular music by night, The Cavern was an experience never to be forgotten. Loud music, sweat, walls running with condensation and an all-pervading smell of Dettol were The Cavern’s trademarks.
Dark, dingy and a fire-trap at the same time it was the most uplifting experience of many young lives.
Many bands’ baptism of fire was in Hamburg, Germany. It was the ‘thing’ in 60’s Liverpool bands to have ‘been to Hamburg’ and that fact conferred much kudos to those who had ventured across the North Sea. The experience however, was mostly negative, as the pay was lousy, the accommodation worse and the hours of work were comparative to slavery!
The Cavern was but one of the many, mostly small clubs in Liverpool at the time. The Blue Angel, The Iron Door, The Jacaranda and many others, were the birth-place of many of the bands that became internationally famous in the 1960’s.The Hamburg experience of many bands cemented relationships with others in an almost incestuous way that led to the free exchange of personnel for one or more gigs and even permanently!
As many clubs were small and so well attended, the area available for dancing was miniscule and it became inevitable that much of the rock and roll era dances were swept aside in favour of more ‘static’ and less complicated moves. Sad, but true!
Very few of the bands, club owners and customers had any idea that they were the vanguard of the sounds and ideas that would soon sweep the planet. When the local bands began to cut records and move to London, many of the local female fans began to protest that the bands had ‘forgotten who had made them who they were’ and took to protesting at clubs where bands who were likely to move were playing! They did have a point, as many bands who left the clubs in the city for the bright lights, never returned.
The Searchers, The Beatles, Gerry& The Pacemakers etc. never returned to play at the local clubs once they became famous. Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas were one of the very few that did!
On Air by Mike James
I was originally to write about the rise of ‘The Motown Sound’, (a subject close to my heart) but the whole reason for the existence of this magazine would, I thought make that a selfish gesture perhaps of little interest to it’s readers.
So what now?
I have long been interested by how one form of popular music has led to another, perhaps even more popular.
Rock n’ Roll is not immune from the above, so I thought I might tell it’s story. It is a tale of coincidences, big names, illegal payments, huge wasted talent, alcohol, drugs and big dollars!
It is also a long story, so stand by for part one of ‘A Short History of R&R’
There is no doubt and there is general agreement between ‘those that matter’ that R&R originally derived from the southern states of the US and the music of that region. Many blacks moved from the country to the city following the abolition of slavery and Gospel, jazz, blues and boogie woogie went with them.
Many blacks moved to the industrial cities of the north like Chicago and Detroit, others moved to Memphis and Atlanta.
It was the advent of the ‘gramophone’ or ‘phonograph’ (depending on where you come from) that gave these music forms a wider appeal, enabling whites to buy ‘black music’ and vice versa even if they couldn’t hear it in person because of the racial bans in place at the time. It was this admixture of musical styles that led in the 1940’s and 50’s from ‘race music and ‘hillbilly music’ to Rhythm & Blues and Country & Western respectively. The northern cities spawned R&B and Motown and the south became the home of C&W.
The swing era of 1930’s introduced African/American rhythms to white audiences for the first time and 1940’s brought more in the way of brass to bands in the form of saxophone and trumpet together with boogie woogie beat and shouted lyrics rather than the very formalised vocals of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
However, the advent of the electric guitar, amplifier and microphone in the late 1940’s together with smaller combos rather than larger jazz bands and the introduction of 45rpm records started an avalanche that continues to this day.
Next Issue …..Early artists and the value of ‘cover versions’
The History of Rock and Roll Contd .by Mike James
The History of Rock & Roll by Mike James.
In 1981, ‘Papa’ John Phillips of ‘The Mamas and Papas’ somehow managed to serve only one month of a proposed 8 year prison term in Los Angeles for faking drug prescriptions with the assistance of a local pharmacist.
Ike Turner (of Ike & Tina Turner fame) served two years in California for possessing and transporting cocaine. He had been an addict and had pleaded his way out of prison terms eleven previous times before the ‘bench’ had had enough. A thoroughly unpleasant man, he was extremely lucky not to have been jailed many times for assaulting his wife Tina. She left him in 1976 after many years of spousal abuse.
Barry White (the famous ‘Love Rooster’ of the 1970’s) at 17 years of age was jailed for four months in 1961 in Los Angeles for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tyres! He decided to go onto ‘the straight and narrow’ when in prison after hearing an Elvis Presley song. The song?….’It’s now or never’.
‘Leadbelly’, the blues singer extraordinaire, served a total of thirteen years in prisons in US southern states for murder, attempted murder and possession of a concealed weapon, namely
a gun. First jailed in 1915 for assaulting a prostitute, he escaped from the chain-gang and lived under another name before killing a man in an argument over a woman and was sentenced to thirty years in jail. A song he wrote begging for release actually worked (what the…?) but five years later he found himself back inside, convicted of attempted murder under similar circumstances.
The artist with perhaps the least common sense of all was of course Jerry Lee Lewis.
JLL was married no less than six times. First in 1952 when he was 14 years old…..“she was too old for me, she was 17”. His second marriage was unusual in that the marriage occurred 23 days before the divorce from his first wife! He was married to Jane Mitchum for four years and they had two children.
If all this were not perfect it had little affect on his popularity because his
private life was completely unknown. This all changed in 1958 when a London
reporter innocently asked who the young lady was with him. She replied that she
was JLL’s wife. The reporter asked JLL “How old is Mrs Lewis?”, to which he
replied (knowing nothing of UK law but being smart enough to know that something
was amiss), “She is 15.”
It took little work to ascertain that Myra Gale Brown (as was) was actually only
13. This was nothing compared to the ensuing uproar when it was discovered that
not only was she only 13, she was actually his cousin too!
Lewis and Myra and Lewis’s management team insisted that she was 15, but the proverbial cat was already out of the metaphorical bag. Lewis was almost 23
In fact Myra was not Lewis’s cousin, but was the daughter of his bass player who was his cousin! This small difference mollified the baying crowd not one jot, serving only to have the British tour cancelled after only three concerts because nobody bought tickets.
One would have to marvel also at the attitude of Lewis’s bass player in allowing
such a marriage in the first place. However we must remember that in Louisiana,
such marriages were entirely legal. This from a state where other US states
would joke that the definition of a virgin in Louisiana is ‘a girl who can run
faster than her uncle!’.
The scandal followed Lewis back to the US where he found himself as an outcast where he was banished from radio and almost disappeared from the music scene. His only supporter was Alan Freed who continued to play JLL records until he was removed from the airwaves after the ‘payola’ scandal in the early 1960’s.
JLL, never one to be normal then remarried Myra as their original wedding took place before his divorce from Jane Mitchum was final! JLL and Myra were married for 14 years and had two children.
More to come next issue. Until then, Good Rockin’
The Bobbetts were first known as ‘The
Harlem Queens’, changing their name for their 1957 hit ‘Mr Lee’ the song being about their crush on their schoolteacher. The girls actually disliked the teacher, the original title and words being ‘I Shot Mr Lee’, Atlantic Records insisting they rewrite the lyrics. They later recorded the original version of the song for Atlantic who refused to release it and the girls went to the TripleX label, re-recorded and released the song from where it climbed the charts. Atlantic then released their track of the
song, both versions appearing in the charts by The Bobbettes on two different
The Clickettes’ ‘Because of My Best Friend’ (1957) and The Deltairs’ ‘Standing At the Altar’ (1958) and ‘Lullaby Of The Bells’ (1957) are a good indication of the popularity of ‘Doo-Wop’ at the time, but the standout song of the time was ‘Maybe’ by the Chantels featuring Arlene Smith as lead singer aged 13 years.
The Cookies were the only all-girl group that spanned the 50’s - 60’s gap without breaking stride. ‘Chains’ (1962) and ‘Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby’ (1963) were stand-out hits for them in addition to huge amounts of backup work for Neil Sedaka and Little Eva amongst many others. They released many other recordings for different labels under the names of The Honey Bees, The Cinderellas, The Stepping Stones and The Palisades. The Honey Bees’ ‘One Wonderful Night’ (1964), ‘Baby, Baby I Still Love You’ by The Cinderellas (1964) and the Palisades’ 1963 song ‘Make The Night A Little Longer’ are excellent examples of their work.
Must hear songs?……The Cookies’ ‘I Never Dreamed’
The Cookies’ ‘Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys’
Many examples of great all-girl groups in Rock n’ Roll exist but now mostly sadly
forgotten. As the genre morphed into pop and especially Motown the all-girl
groups flourished. From The Supremes to The Spice Girls the all-girl groups went
on to be unmatched.
Try The Toys’ ‘Lovers Concerto’ and The Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’ too……so much to choose from!
As always, all of these tracks can be found on YouTube. Go on….you know you want to!