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Chapter 2-3

MUSIC 2II3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2-3: Lubbock, Texas, Alan Freed, Electric Blues

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Simon Wood

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Music 2II3 Chapter 2 The Birth and First Flourishing of Rock and Roll
Rockabilly in the Wake of Presley
Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun
- Only weeks after signing over Elvis’s contract, Phillips recorded Tennessee guitarist-
vocalist Carl Perkins
o In one December session in 1955, Perkins laid down four songs, including
“Honey, Don’t” and his biggest hit, “Blue Suede Shoes”
o First half of 1956, “Blue Suede Shoes” rose to number two on the pop charts,
record was a hit on all three charts (r2c1)
o “Blue Suede Shoes” was the first million selling single for Sun, reassured Phillips
that he had acted wisely in selling Presley’s contract to RCA
o Perkin’s career ended when he and his band were in a serious auto accident
- In July 1957 (about a year after Elvis’s first provocative national television appearances),
viewers of The Steve Allen Show tuned in for new Sun artist Jerry Lee Lewis
o Energetic performances, pounded the piano, belted out lyrics, tossing piano
bench across the stage
o Might have turned out more hit records for Sun had he not been involved in a
scandal that his new bride, Myra Gale Brown, was his 13 year old cousin
Was also apparently married twice before
Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holly)
- Killed in a tragic plane crash in early 1959
- One of the first major figures in rock music who was significantly influenced by the rock
and rollers who emerged in 1955 and 1956
- Grew up in Lubbock, Texas, first exposed to the music of Elvis Presley, Little Richard
and Chuck Berry by listening to the radio
- Between his emergence onto the national scene in August of 1957 and his death in early
February of 1959, he had seven Top 40 hits
- Despite being a clean-cut, white performer who wrote his own material, his biggest hits
were also very popular in the rhythm and blues market
- In many ways, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry offer an interesting comparison
o Both were guitarists who wrote most of their own songs and performed them in a
distinctive manner
o Wrote music intended for a pop audience that was strongly influenced by country
and western and rhythm and blues
o Country elements of Berry’s music can be heard in his vocals, however his guitar
playing is derived strongly from the electric blues tradition (often relying on
muted, low register chords for rhythm playing and distorted string bends and
double stops)
o Holly tends to strum full chords energetically with an open, clean tone on his
electric guitar combined
- Holly’s clear country twang in his voice and the vocal hiccups that came to be his
trademark, his west Texas musical roots are perhaps the most obvious feature of his
- As engaging as his recorded performances may be, was most influential as a songwriter
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The Day the Music Died
The Misfortunes of Many in Rock and Roll’s First Wave
- 1950s ended with rock and roll suffering a series of setbacks that removed some of its
principal figures from the music business
- At the height of his success in 1957, Little Richard believed he received a calling to go
into the ministry (quit music and became a minister at Church)
- Elvis received notice in Dec.1957 and was off to Germany by late Sep.1958
- In May 1958, British Press broke the story of Jerry Lee Lewis’s marriage to his 13 year
old cousin a scandal that sent his career on a steep decline
- Buddy Holly’s plan went down on Feb.3 1959
- 1959 Chuck Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act (transporting a minor across
state lines for immoral purposes)
o Was convicted but the verdict was overturned on appeal
o Tried again and convicted in Feb. 1961, receiving a 3-year sentence
- By the end of 1959, many of rock and roll’s most important figures were out of the pop-
music picture and rock and roll seemed to be a played-out fad, fading away
The Payola Investigations
- A series of legal and political proceedings fed a nationwide scandal over payola in the
record business beginning in late 1959
- Paying to get your song heard goes back to the nineteenth century
- Certain professionals were “gatekeepers”, had the power to expose a song to a broad
audience and hopefully increase record or sheet music sales in doing so
- Early in the decade, most hit pop records were recorded and released by major labels
- By 1958, because of rock ‘n’ roll’s breakthrough to the pop mainstream, a significant
portion of the hit pop records were on independent labels
o From perspective of major label executives, this was a substantial competitive
threat and had to be eliminated
- Important to understand how little respect rock and roll had in the minds of many
seasoned musical professionals in the late 1950s
- Rock and roll, rhythm and blues and country and western from which it developed were
considered to be crude and unrefined
- One explanation made particular sense to opponents of rock and roll: these ragamuffin
indie labels were buying their time on the air paying the disc jockeys to play that
primitive musical garbage and that’s why people were buying it
- Nov. 1959 the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight turned their
attention to payola in the music business
o Focused on radio stations that played rock and roll
o Disc jockeys were fired and formats were changed
o Strangely enough, nothing illegal about taking money or gifts in exchange for
playing a record on the radio
o 2 catches: by FCC rules, gift had to be acknowledged on air and money received
had to be claimed on recipient’s income tax form
o Problem for many disc jockeys under scrutiny was not that they took gifts but that
they never declared them
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