No Blues…No Rock n’ Roll

I used many books, videos and magazines for background research for Rock Vegas. The following is an excerpt from Rock Vegas and a review of the five set DVD: History of Rock n’ Roll.

Howlin’ Wolf

History of Rock and Roll-Excerpt from Rock Vegas

In the late 1940s, expressions of faith and hope bellowed out of the churches in the South, as gospel was transformed into the blues. Rock ’n’ roll and almost all forms of live music today were, according to Quincy Jones, “bred from Africa to the black church to gospel, which turned into blues, jazz, and country music. It cross pollinates and that’s the way it ought to be.”

From the energy coming out of the churches, blues artists such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf spawned riffs that were mimicked and interpreted by generations of guitarists to come. Ray Manzarek of the Doors said, “If it hadn’t been for black Americans, we’d be doing the minuet and dancing on our tippy toes.”

In the mid-’40s, black artists were not only relegated to playing to their own, but getting a record published was as likely as landing a white-collar job. Their music, ragged, crude, and explicit, couldn’t get anywhere near the radio. A few record companies determined everything contemporary-music lovers heard on their phonographs:

In the early ’50s, a disc jockey, Alan Freed, began playing rhythm and blues by black artists on WJW in Cleveland and popularizing the phrase “rock and roll” that he’d coined to describe the music. Freed also promoted what’s considered the first-ever rock concert, which took place in Cleveland in 1952.

San Francisco broadened and popularized the bohemian lifestyle when it hosted the first “hippies.”

Two major factors contributed to the explosion of what we now know as a “live music.” In the ’60s, the Vietnam War and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy left a hole in the heart of the youth of America. Rock and politics were suddenly colliding. If not for politics, rock might not have made it out of the ’60s and if not for rock, there wouldn’t have been a “Sixties.” The seismic growth of this music was a direct result of a rebellious counterculture of Baby Boomers being introduced to an invasion of musicians who were part of an evolving system to present themselves, live, to the masses.

“There always were pockets of people in our society seeking alternative lifestyles,” legendary San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham said. “In the ’60s, the funnel opened wide. People may have rejected the status quo before, but the difference this time was in sheer numbers. The vehicle was music. And millions of young people got on the bandwagon.”

On July 5, 1968, Graham opened the 1,200-seat Fillmore West Auditorium, where he broke such acts as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company with Janis Joplin,

But the live-music train was building a head of steam that, initially at least, left Graham behind. In 1969, Woodstock was more than a pivotal event for the counterculture; it also demonstrated that fans would not only tolerate large-scale crowds, but the enormity of a concert could be part of the experience. Graham didn’t see it that way.

“A couple of geniuses put on something called the Woodstock Festival. It was a tragedy. Groups recognized that they could go into larger cattle markets, play less time, and make more dollars. What they’ve done is to destroy the rock industry.”

But after Woodstock, things changed quickly. In the business, managers and agents looked for ways to get their acts regular work via a national network of promoters who, in time, created a live-touring industry. And the free-spirited hippie movement, embodied by the Summer of Love, took a dark turn with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the shockingly brutal murders of Sharon Tate and four friends by Charles Manson and a small group of followers, and The Rolling Stones concert at Altamont.

Meanwhile, a new wave of auditoriums and arenas were lining up with promoters. Using the newfound power of promotion from FM radio stations, acts were routed through over 100 cities per year. Madison Square Garden and the Los Angeles Forum hosted a sellout every month for acts like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, and many others.

And then there was Las Vegas, a live-music anomaly in the desert and hardly even an afterthought for superstar rock acts.

Probably no two contradictory quotes more aptly sum up the impact of Elvis and the transition from the margin to the mainstream that he and his music represented.

“Rock ’n’ roll is the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression, lewd, sly, in plain fact dirty—a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac and the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the Earth.”

“There have been many accolades uttered about Elvis’ talent and performances through the years, all of which I agree with wholeheartedly.”

The first quote is from Frank Sinatra in 1956. The second is from Sinatra in 1977.

History of RNR.jpg


History of Rock n’ Roll-Review by Sam Graham

Serving as an introduction for neophytes and a refresher course for experts, The History of Rock and Roll is a mammoth and, when considered on its own terms, frequently successful undertaking. The series, which was first presented in 1995, consumes some 578 minutes, with 10 episodes (there are no bonus features) spread out over five discs. Its pedigree (executive producers include Quincy Jones, while respected writers Peter Guralnick and Greil Marcus are listed as consultants) is impressive, as is its scope, beginning in the pre-rock days of bluesman Muddy Waters and boogie woogie master Louis Jordan and continuing through the death of Kurt Cobain and the birth of the Lollapalooza festival in the mid-1990s. Along the way, dozens of big-name performers (with the notable exception of the Beatles) are on hand to lead us through the story.

On the minus side, the format–clips of musical performances cut short by a parade of talking heads–while typical of the genre, will frustrate those who come for the music alone. Nor is it likely that anyone who studies such things will find much here that hasn’t already been seen. To be sure, there are some terrific moments, like the profile of Bob Dylan (in part 5, “Plugging In”), some cool clips of relatively obscure legends like James Burton and T-Bone Walker (in part 7, “Guitar Heroes”), and rarely seen live bits with Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop (goofing on the Dinah Shore Show in ’77), and many others scattered throughout the set. Part 8, which chronicles the ’70s, is surprisingly compelling (one forgets how many major artists–Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder–came into their own in a decade remembered largely for disco and faceless arena rock), while part 9, “Punk,” is arguably the most entertaining of the lot.

In the end, it’s the lack of complete musical performances that is the set’s Achilles’ heel. Then again, with their appetites whetted here, perhaps viewers will move on to other, more detailed looks at their heroes–beginning with, say, The Beatles Anthology–Sam Graham




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