Friday, July 03, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America

Trust BBC4 to come up with a music series that gets to the heart of its subject. Rock 'n' Roll America, the first of a three part series, made a good stab at presenting the beginnings of the music that has influenced pop music for the last 60 years, with loads of original footage from the fifties and contributions from artists who were around at the beginning.
It's a huge subject to cover, but it started at the right place: New Orleans, with Allen Toussaint and Deacon John talking about the J and M Studio and Cosimo Matassa, with early film of a smiling Fats Domino who probably did more than anyone to break down segregation among American youth in the mid fifties. Deacon John, sporting a bow tie, visited the Dewdrop Inn, where many of the early New Orleans music pioneers played, pointing out where the stage would have been. At least the place still exists: I thought that Katrina might have destroyed it.
Alan Freed got a mention, but the programme focused on the black influences that led to rock and roll, including Rocket 88 (no mention of Ike Turner I noticed) and doowop, with the Spaniels singing Goodnight Sweetheart. The influence of radio and the juke box was covered and there was splendid footage of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. The rebellious element of the times was covered with clips of Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones and Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle, as well as the impact of Bill Haley and the Comets..
Sam Phillips and the rise of Elvis was covered as was the emergence of Little Richard, who turned everything
on its head with his style of music, not to mention his over the top persona and appearance. Contributors, many of them making just a small contribution, presumably with more to come in future episodes, included Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat Boone, Marshall Chess, Don Everly (pictured), the grand daughter and son of Sam Phillips, Tom Jones, Robert Gordon, Wanda Jackson, Chubby Checker and P F Sloan, but perhaps the most telling contribution came from Bobby Rush, who talked about Beale Street in the early days. Bobby, of course, is still at the top of his game at the age of 80 and still looking great. Apparently Little Richard once said that the prettiest guys in the world were himself and Bobby Rush. Bobby would have preferred the word 'handsome'.
The rise of Chuck Berry - the 'Shakespeare of rock and roll' - ended this fascinating and well produced show. Chuck brought a new approach to rock and roll, with intelligent lyrics. He also sang about smart cars at a time when most young blacks would not have the chance of owning one.
Next week's show, called Whole Lotta Shakin', continues the story and I will be looking out for it, plus the third show Be My Baby which continues the story to the emergence of the Beatles. Tonight's programme was followed by the movie Rock Around The Clock and there's more good stuff to comeon BBC4 over the next few weeks. There are also several programmes on BBC Radio 6 coming up, including features of Jerry Lee and Bo Diddley, and it's not too late to catch some of the recent Ronnie Spector programmes on doowop and the beginnings of soul, which are excellent. Well done the BBC.


At 11:13 pm , Blogger john marriott said...

I thought it was really good Nick. Nice to see vocal group music get a mention in the history too - often overlooked on previous occasions. Re your bit about forthcoming shows the Little Miss Cornshucks radio prog on from last year is on BBC listen again also.

At 11:18 pm , Blogger Lee said...

Thanks Nick. Afraid I missed it having got home from a local 20/20 cricket match shorty before 10pm. I shall keep an eye open for a repeat, as I will for the radio 6 programmes you hinted at, of which I was unaware. I think it is wonderful that the Beeb is broadcasting such material more than Half a century after rock 'n' roll wowed us. Almost worth the licence fee alone! Lee


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home