Tag Archives: Today In Musical History

Rock, Rock, Rock! ► Monday Musical Appreciation

A precurser to the Baby Boomer Youth Culture to come, Rock, Rock, Rock! is one of the earliest Rock and Roll movies, released all the way back in 1956.

Youth culture was a phrase barely known when this movie was released and I was a mere 4 years old.

Top billed is Disk Jockey Alan Freed, who coined the term Rock and Roll and was an important link for teenagers until the Payola scandal brought him down in the early ’60s. Despite this disgrace, Freed was among the first class inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The RnRHoF was placed in Cleveland to pay tribute to Freed and his Moondog Coronation Ball, considered the first major Rock and Roll concert.

Rock, Rock, Rock! was the first movie for Tuesday Weld, years before she appeared as Thalia Menninger in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Her singing was dubbed by Connie Francis. This is also the film debut of Valerie Harper — seen at the middle table during the performance of Cirino and the Bowties‘s tune “Ever Since I Can Remember” — and actor Jack Collins, who played dozens of roles on tee vee.

Not only was the movie in Black and White, so were the performers. According to jgp3553@excite.com on the Internet Movie Data Base:

A young teenage girl desperately tries to earn enough money to buy a dress for a school rock and roll dance. This early rock and roll feature, the 3rd in a series of 5 staring Disc Jockey and Rock N Roll impresario Alan Freed, includes performances by artist Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Flamingos, The Moonglows and The Johnny Burnette Trio.

Because the movie entered the Public Domain, as the result of not getting the copyright renewed, it can be posted here without fear of a lawsuit. Enjoy:

U-Roy ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Let’s get right to it. Had it not been for Reggae “toasting,” or “dancehall,” there would have been no Rap or Hip Hop. U-Roy, was not only one of the firsts in the genre, but one of the best.

Born Ewart Beckford on this day in 1942, U-Roy got his nickname from a family member who couldn’t pronounce his real name.

According to the WikiWackyWoo:

As a young man Beckford listened to the music of Louis Prima, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Smiley Lewis and was especially influenced by the vocal phrasing of Louis Jordan.

U-Roy’s first single
U-Roy began as a DJ in 1961 toasting over the records at live events. In Jamaica there was no access to radio, so the toasting was done at live shows in front of a “sound system.” Moving from one sound system to another, it took almost a decade before his career took off, but when it did U-Roy changed the face of Reggae music.
U-Roy has worked with the great producers of Dub Reggae, from King Tubby to Lee “Scratch” Perry, going from height to height.

According to All Music: 
His toasts were utterly relaxed
and conversational, yet always in perfect synchronicity with the
rhythms. The DJ had now gained a significant following in the U.K., as
well, and in August 1976, visited Britain for the first time. He
performed at the London Lyceum, backed by the always excellent
Revolutionaries, and the 1978 Live EP was drawn from this phenomenal
show. Back in Jamaica, U-Roy began recording his new album, Rasta Ambassador,
filling the studio with musicians and singers, 15 strong in all. The
Gladiators provided particularly sonorous backing vocals, while the
band, led by the rhythm team of Sly & Robbie,
created a deep roots sound appropriate to the album’s title and
accentuated by Robinson’s deeply dubby production. 
U-Roy is still toasting and we are still listening. As always the proof is in the record grooves and in the beat. Listen to U-Roy and you’ll see why he was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction. A fitting distinction for a man who changed the face of Reggae music.

Bob Dylan Walks Out On Ed Sullivan

Dateline May 12, 1963 – Back in the day you couldn’t really say you were in Show Biz unless you had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. As much as Bob Dylan was known as a Protest singer, he still craved Show Biz legitimacy. That’s why he allowed himself to be booked on the Sullivan Show on this day in 1963. However, always the contrarian, Dylan walked off the show before he was to appear.

Ed Sullivan was a Tee Vee institution. Beginning in 1948 as Toast of the Town, his show ran for 23 seasons — 22 of them in the same Sunday night time slot of 8PM. Entire families would gather around the only tee vee set in the house and watch one of the only 3 tee vee networks in existence. The Sullivan Show had something for everyone in the entire family. It was a variety show, in the Vaudevillian tradition; a solo singer might be followed by a ventriloquist, who was followed by a plate spinner, with a Big Band performance next, to be followed by a comedian, and then, maybe, wrapped up with a scene from a Broadway musical. In a classic example of Art imitating Life, this “Hymn for a Sunday Evening,” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” sums up the importance of an appearance on the Sullivan show.

In ’63 Dylan was just an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, barely known outside the small, cultish world of Folk enthusiasts. If people knew him at all it was from Peter, Paul and Mary’s cover version of Blowin’ in the Wind. His 2nd LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with his own version of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” was just days away from being released. A Sullivan appearance would have been a huge boost to Dylan’s career and fame. However, according to the Official Ed Sullivan Show webeteria:

Bob Dylan was slated to make his first nationwide television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963.  For the show, Dylan decided to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, a satirical blues number skewering the conservative John Birch Society and the red-hunting paranoia associated with it.  A few days earlier, Bob Dylan auditioned the song for Ed Sullivan who seemed to have no issue with it. However, on the day of the show during the dress rehearsal, an executive from the CBS Standards and Practices department decided Dylan could not perform the song due to its controversial nature.  When the show’s producer, Bob Precht, informed Dylan of the decision, Dylan responded saying, “No; this is what I want to do. If I can’t play my song, I’d rather not appear on the show.”  Rather than choose a new song to perform or change the lyrics (as the Rolling Stones and the Doors on Ed Sullivan would agree to do), a young Bob Dylan walked off the set of the country’s highest-rated variety show.

The story got widespread media attention in the days that followed helping to establish Dylan’s public reputation as an uncompromising artist. The publicity Bob Dylan received from this event probably did more for his career than the actual Ed Sullivan Show performance would have. Unfortunately, this leaves us with no performance footage of Bob Dylan on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Here’s a live version of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” which Dylan introduces by saying, “And, there ain’t nothing wrong with this song.”

No wonder they didn’t want the song performed on the show. In 1963 “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” would have still been politically explosive. However, Ed Sullivan was a known control freak, who had his fingers in every aspect of his show. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t part of this decision, if not the instigator. An alternative theory is that Sullivan found the song a bit too far for his family audience, but wanted to come off as Mr. Nice Guy, so he told Bob Precht to deliver the bad news to Dylan. Blaming the CBS Standards and Practices office was probably just Standard Operating Procedure at the time.

Regardless of who made the decision, it resulted in Dylan’s “boot heels to be wandering.”



Happy Birthday Mama Africa

Dateline March 4, 1932 – Zenzile Miriam Makeba is born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She would go on to become one of the great voices in World music. While her music will live on forever, it’s quite possible that a more lasting legacy will be her loud voice in the struggle for Civil Rights back in her homeland — from which she had been barred from ever returning — and the rest of the world. 

Miriam Makeba’s influence is such that Google has honoured Mama Africa with a one of its famous doodles today.

There are so many Miriam Makeba songs one could play, but Pata Pata, her first ‘hit,’ for which she won a Grammy, is still the one that seems to sum up her entire career. The joyful presentation, along with her unrestrained shout of joy at the 2 minute mark, perfectly encapsulates her entire career.


For politics, there was no stronger song in her repertoire than “Soweto Blues” written for her by her former-husband Hugh Masekela, a Civil Rights activist in his own right. This clip also describes her joy at being able to return to her homeland after so many years of forced exile.

Let’s all remember how Miriam Makeba fought for the Civil Rights of all of us, whether you are Black, White, African, European, Jewish, Muslim, or ‘Merkin.

A Musical Appreciation ► Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins

DATELINE January 10, 1935 – Ronald “Rompin’ Ronnie” Hawkins is born in Huntsville, Arkansas, just two days after Elvis Presley is born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Both carved out quite a niche in Rock and Roll, but Elvis’ story is better known. That’s a shame.

Ronnie Hawkins started his first band when he was studying Phys Ed at the University of Arkansas. Called The Hawks, it toured throughout several southern states. On the advice of Conway Twitty, who was one of the up and coming Rock and Rollers who played at a club Hawkins owned in Fayetteville, he began playing in Canada in 1958. The first place he played in Canada was the last place I lived in Canada: Hamilton, Ontario. Apparently he was a huge hit at the Golden Rail, near the corner of King and John Streets. It was this initial success that prompted Hawkins to move to Canada.

The Hawks were less thrilled with Canada and they all quit and went back to ‘Merka, except for Levon Helm, the good ol’ boy drummer. Ronnie Hawkins was forced to recruit a new set of Hawks. He found some good ol’ Ontario boys in Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. This version of The Hawks was rehearsed within an inch of their lives by Hawkins, a notorious perfectionist. When, some 5 or 6 years later, this tight group of Hawks up and quit on Hawkins, they changed their name to The Band and worked with some barely known folk singer named Bob Dylan in a barely known town in upper New York named Woodstock.

This is why, in homage to their early mentor, Ronnie Hawkins appeared at The Last Waltz.

When the band called The Hawks quit to become The Band, Hawkins hired a new band, which he called “And Many Others.” When, some 4 years later, Hawkins fired “And Many Others” they took the name Crowbar. This was also in homage to Hawkins who told them as he sacked them, “You guys are so crazy, you could fuck up a crowbar in 3 seconds.”

Crowbar became one of Canada’s best-known bands, who had a huge hit in 1971 with “Oh, What A Feeling.”

John Lennon & friends bundled against the Canadian cold

I wasn’t as lucky as John Lennon, who hung out at Ronnie’s farm signing his Bag One lithographs while planning a peace festival. However, I was still fortunate enough to meet Ronnie Hawkins twice. Both times he had me laughing so hysterically, my sides hurt.

The first was soon after he appeared as a special guest vocalist on a spoken word LP by Xaviera Hollander, still in the flush of success following the publication of The Happy Hooker: My Own Story. Hawkins was helping her promote the GRT release and appeared on my show at Radio Sheridan, the college campus station. During the interview he swore more than I had ever heard anyone swear before, telling one obscene joke after another.

This was only a week after Xaviera Hollander simulated giving me fellatio under the table during her interview about the LP. As Station Manager I was called on the carpet for the “inappropriate” content of the Hollander interview. Now Ronnie Hawkins had me in stitches and he was being far more obscene than Xaviera had been. As I doubled over in side-splitting laughter, I couldn’t help but think the administration was going to revoke our license to operate. Luckily nothing happened. Either the admin didn’t get wind of it, or John Bromley decided we were a lost cause.

The next time I ran into Ronnie Hawkins was more than 15 years later. I was working at Citytv by then and heard a loud voice coming from a room that was normally locked and used for storage. I peeked inside and Ronnie Hawkins was pacing the room all by himself, rehearsing some words that he was expected to tape for MUCHMusic, which was broadcast out of the same building. He noticed me in the doorway and stopped, so I reintroduced myself to him and reminded him of the interview and how much I feared being called up in front of the administration for it, but it would have been worth it.

While not acknowledging whether he remembered me or not, he started off on a series of obscene one-liners that didn’t stop until he was fetched 15 minutes later for his close-up.

There are two stories I’ve heard about Ronnie Hawkins and I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster neither of them are apocryphal:

After Ronnie Hawkins had his first brush with fame, he decided he deserved a Rolls Royce. He went to the Rolls Royce dealer on Bay Street in Toronto looking like a Hippie and the saleman treated him like something that had stuck to the bottom of his shoe. He wouldn’t even let Hawkins have a test drive. Imagine that! Hawkins left and came back a short time later. He slapped — in cash — the asking price of a Rolls Royce on the hood of one and drove it out of the showroom.

The second story is from when Hawkins was hiring the [not yet] The Band to be The [replacement] Hawks. As incentive he apparently said, “Sign up with me boys and you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra.”

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Hawkins!!!

Here’s a Ronnie Hawkins documentary for those who want to know more:

Frank Zappa ► A Musical Appreciation

Dateline December 4 – On this day in 1971 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were on stage in Montreax, Switzerland when the casino caught fire. The night was immortalized in Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water.” On the same date 22 years later Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer.

The ugliest LP cover I had ever seen.
I had to own it.

Not to brag, but I was there from the beginning. I discovered Frank Zappa some time in 1966 when I first set eyes on the cover of Freak Out at my local Kresge’s record department. As one descended on the escalator into the basement, a gap opened in the wall revealing Kresge’s 2-rack record department. The farther one descended, more of the record department was revealed in the expanding triangle of the record department. As teens we’d crane our heads into that crack to see what was new each week.

One day in 1966 my eyes spied what was the ugliest record cover I had ever seen. I had to own it.

It was a double-record set in a gatefold cover, among the first for a Rock and Roll LP. The music was also a revelation. One LP was all Doo Wop, but done in a slightly demented style, as opposed to straight up. The other LP contained longer songs and musical collages that were NOTHING like demented Doo Wop, but were demented all the same. I became an instant fan and followed Frank Zappa’s career, like a lemming follows whatever a lemming follows, ever since.

When I signed up I didn’t realize that by the time it was over I’d have collected some 90 albums, many of them double and triple sets, making Frank Zappa one of the most prolific artists/composers/Rock musicians of the 20th Century. However, I wasn’t a fan because he was prolific. I was a fan because he made great music. Here’s just a small taste of what Frank Zappa composed and released. Enjoy.

Terry Knight and the Pack ► A Musical Appreciation

First LP
Second LP

When I was a teenager one of my absolute favourite bands was Terry Knight and the Pack. I was an unsophisticated 14-year old when they released their only 2 LPs and they really spoke to my teenage angst. It didn’t hurt that Terry Knight and the Pack were a local band. (Who knew from Flint, Michigan?) I didn’t know (at the time) of Terry Knight’s history as a Detroit DJ, first on WJBK, then moving to The Big 8, CKLW in Windsor. All I knew is the music really embedded itself deeply into my psyche.

At the time I didn’t have the language, or understanding of why they appealed to me so greatly. However, in hindsight based on my collected knowledge of musical genres, I can see how Terry Knight wove in bits of Psychedelia, Vaudeville, Country, Blues, Folk, and Jazz and then infused it all with a Rock and Roll sensibility that at once made it sound familiar, yet different. All I knew at the time is that I would listen to these two LPs — from start to finish — and then do it all over again and again and again.

Terry Knight and the Pack were short-lived, recording just two LPs in its 2-year history. Again, as unsophisticated as I was at the time about music, I knew nothing about the individual members of the band. Terry Knight’s name was known because he led the band, but the rest of the players could have really been called The Pack, for all I cared.

When Terry Knight and the Pack broke up, Knight became a producer for Cameo-Parkway, the company that released TK&TP’s LPs. When the Beatles formed Apple he went to London to try and become a producer and/or recording artists. Knight was apparently present at the recording session for the ‘White Album’ at which Ringo Starr quit the band (before being cajoled back).

Knight bounced back to ‘Merka and became a staff producer for Capitol Records, getting into some trouble with his song “Saint Paul,” which included snatches of Beatles’ songs near the end. The Beatles’ publisher filed a cease and desist order and the single was pulled. Eventually it came back on the market in a truncated form, but with a credit to Maclen Music. Later, when the Paul is Dead rumour swept the world, parts of this song were used as clues in the hoax.

It wasn’t until Terry Knight’s next project came on the scene did I learned that at least 2 members of The Pack were named Mark Farner and Don Brewer. Knight put them together with Mel Schacher from another local Detroit group, and label-mates, ? and the Mysterians to form Grand Funk Railroad. Terry Knight became their producer and manager. Grand Funk Railroad went on to fill stadiums, firing Terry Knight with just three months left on his contract. Lawsuits flew.

Soon after that Knight was fired from Capitol and he started up his own indie label called Brown Bag Records, which released music by by Mom’s Apple Pie, John Hambrick, Wild Cherry and Faith. Nothing really hit and Knight retired from the music biz in 1973, becoming addicted to cocaine. He cleaned himself up in the ’80s and settled in Yuma, Arizona, putting his hard-driving Rock and Roll past behind him.

On November 1, 2004 Terry Knight was murdered by his daughter’s boyfriend when he stepped in to defend her during a fight. He was stabbed 17 times. A year later Donald A. Fair, who claimed he was hopped up on methamphetamine at the time, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Terry Knight, born Richard Terrance Knapp 61 years earlier, was buried in a family plot in Lapeer, Michigan.

The first two Terry Knight and the Pack LPs were released on CD as a two-fer. Thanks to Spotify, you can listen to it here:

Long live Terry Knight and the Pack!!!

A Tribute to Ethel Waters ► Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Dateline October 31, 1896 – The incomparable Ethel Waters is born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the result of a rape of her mother, who was reportedly only 13 years old at the time. Waters was raised in extreme poverty and said of her own childhood, “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.” Waters was married at the age of 13 to an abusive man, whom she soon left. For a time she worked as a maid, toiling in a Philadelphia hotel for $4.75 a week. On her 17th birthday she was cajoled into singing two songs at a party. From that ad hoc performance she was offered a job to sing professionally in Baltimore.

It still wasn’t easy. She toured the Vaudeville circuit for a time. She joined a carnival, traveling by freight cars. Of her experience working carnivals she said, “The roustabouts and the concessionaires were the kind of people I’d grown up with, rough, tough, full of larceny towards strangers, but sentimental and loyal to their friends and co-workers.” After a stint in Chicago, she found herself singing at the same Atlanta club as Bessie Smith, who demanded that Ethel Waters not compete with her by singing the Blues. Waters complied and sang only ballads and popular songs instead. This is ironic because today Waters is best known for singing the Blues. In 1919 she moved to Harlem just in time for the Harlem Renaissance, where she eventually found her fame.

In 1933 she was one of the stars of “As Thousands Cheer” the first Broadway show to give a Black person equal billing with a White cast. It was a topical revue with a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. “As Thousands Cheer” was a hit, running for 400 performances during the height of the depression. Each scene was based loosely on a news story or headline of the day. Aside from introducing “Heatwave” in the show, a song that’s become a classic, Irving Berlin wrote the song “Suppertime” specifically for Ethel Waters. She sang it to the ripped-from-a–newspaper headline “UNKNOWN NEGRO LYNCHED BY FRENZIED MOB.” The “negro” was not unknown to Ethel Waters’ character. It was her husband and the song became a show-stopper which had audiences crying openly because of the intensity of Waters’ performance.

Sadly we don’t have that performance, but 36 years later Ethel Waters recreated the song for an appearance on the Hollywood Palace hosted by Diana Ross and the Supremes. In 1969 it was probably considered too incendiary to show the original staging, but on Broadway Waters sang this song on an almost empty stage with a silhouette on the bare back wall of a lynched man. In this single song Ethel Waters was able to sum up the Black experiemce in ‘Merka. If your eyes are not tearing up after this AMAZING performance, check your heart. You might not have one.

Ethel Waters died in 1977 at the age of 80. Luckily we have many records and movie performances to remember her by. There are so many outstanding performances, it was hard to narrow it down to just these. ENJOY!

With a very young Sammy David, Jr. in the movie “Rufus Jones For President”

Synchronicity Two

The Rolling Stones at Altamont

Dateline October 24 – In a weird act of Flying Spaghetti Monster manifested Synchronicity, today is the birthday of both Bill Wyman (1936) and Meredith Hunter (1951). Although separated by 23 years, they will always be linked by a singular event in history: The Altamont Free Concert on December 6, 1969.

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman was the second bass player for The Rolling Stones after the original bass player, Dick Taylor, decided to return to school. There are conflicting stories of how Wyman heard of the opening. One says early Stones drummer Tony Chapman told him; another report says he answered an advertisement. Both could be true. Either way, by December of 1962 Wyman was a Rolling Stone and stayed with the band until he quit the Stones in 1993.

Meredith Hunter

Meredith Hunter was an 18-year old from Berkley, California who went to Altamont Speedway (along with an estimated 300,000 other people) for a free concert which advertised appearances by The Rolling Stones, Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Grateful Dead. In the end the Dead declined to play because of the violence.

The concert was a gift from The Rolling Stones to ‘Merka and had been hastily organized after many people criticized the band for the high price of tickets for their ‘Merkin tour. Originally the concert had been planned for San Jose State, then changed to Golden Gate Park, but they couldn’t get a permit. The next proposed venue was Sears Point Racetrack, which was owned by Filmways, Inc., the same company know for such tee vee hits as The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. However, Filmways wanted $300,000 up front and the distribution rights to the resulting movie. This left slighly less than 2 days to find a new venue and the Altamont Speedway was hastily chosen.

One of the major complications of the venue change was the height of the stage. It was only a meter high. That would have suited the Sears Point Raceway, which would have placed it at the top of a hill. The location for the Altamont stage was at the bottom of a hill. To keep people from rushing the stage The Hells Angels, hired to provide security for a reported $500 in beer, surrounded the stage.

By now everyone knows what happened. The Hells Angels were out of control, as was the crowd. There were many fights, long before The Rolling Stones hit the stage. However, the one that everybody remembers is when Meredith Hunter, hopped up on methamphetamines, was stabbed to death by Hells Angel Alan Passaro. The horrifying act was caught on film directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. The resulting movie was called Gimme Shelter and chronicled the entire ’69 tour, but culminated in the disater at Altamont, often called the deathnell of the Hippie movement.

Passaro was charged, tried and acquitted of murder after he claimed self-defense. The jury agreed after being shown some of the footage above. He later served time on unrelated charges and was found drowned in the Anderson Reservoir a year after he was released from jail.

Happy Birthday Bill Wyman and Meredith Hunter.

Musical Appreciation ► Bob Weir

DATELINE October 16, 1947 – Robert Hall Weir is born in San Fransisco, California and grew up in nearby Atherton, on the other side of the bay, with his adopted parents. He picked up the guitar at the age of 13. Three years later, on a New Year’s Eve, he followed the sound of banjo playing to meet Jerry Garcia for the first time. After jamming all night they decided to form a band. At first they called themselves “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions,” which became “The Warlocks,” and finally “The Grateful Dead.”

There is no ‘Merkin band with the same storied romance between its fans and the group. Long before most people even knew about Bootleg recordings, The Grateful Dead would allow fans with tape machines to plug directly into the sound board. Dead Heads would follow the band around the country, and across the world, to take in as many shows as they could. An entire culture grew up outside Grateful Dead concerts, not to mention inside the shows.

While with The Dead, and after the death of Garcia in 1995, Weir also performed with such bands as Kingfish, Bobby and the Midnites, RatDog and his latest band Further, which is named after the bus used by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, where the Grateful Dead got their start, and the subject of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, one of Tom Wolfe’s early books.

However, it will always be about the music.