Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

1954: Rock'n'Roll America = my childhood

Thanks to BBC4, that enterprising music channel, for the three-part series ROCK'N'ROLL AMERICA focusing on that period in the early and mid-'50s when that degenerate new music took hold of America's teenagers and quickly became upstoppable, to the consternation of the older generation. Focusing on the Deep South and Tennessee it showed how the fusion of blues, bluegress, and all that guitar music formed the new music for teenagers bored with their parents' heroes. This was still segregated America as the series shows, with seperate venues for Coloured folk, and the Ku Klux Klan were still operating, and everyone was afraid of flying saucers. The series focuses on the early black stars like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and then it all came together in the shape of Elvis, out of Tupelo and working as a driver in Memphis. We don't need to re-hash all that, but the footage is fascinating. Sun Records were looking for a white boy who could sing black and did Elvis deliver. I love that 1956 footage of him ....

Then along came Jerry Lee Lewis, the film THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT capturing Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, as Jayne sashays to and from the powder room in that red dress; and there were the Everly Brothers fusing their Appalachian tunes and harmonies to the new sounds .... The music biz though needed another white boy to sanitize that rather sleazy R'n'B, so Pat Boone was invented - a clean living (married with 3 little girls) and clean looking white boy eager to bowlerise those lyrics and appeal to the television audience. It worked for Pat - though not many would want to see APRIL LOVE or BERNARDINE or MARDI GRAS now. Boone, famously Christian and right-wing, now 80, is here along with Fabian and lots of other talking heads. The big re-discovery for me is Buddy Holly, with some great footage here - how I love those timeless tracks like "That'll Be The Day", "Not Fade Away", "Peggy Sue Got Married" etc. What a shame he died so young ...

Elvis had his imitators too - pretty Rick Nelson (a major talent too) struck out with Hawks' RIO BRAVO, always on somewhere and frequenly on here; Fabian had a run at Fox - I still like HOUND DOG MAN and that entertaining comedy western NORTH TO ALASKA (Fabian label), he also appeared with James Stewart (twice) and Bing Crosby, and the fantasy FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON, he was the first victim in TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965) as well as appearing in surfing and hot rod movies, he also tastefully posed for "Playgirl" and is still going. Then there were Tommy Sands, Bobby Rydell and those other Philadelphia boys like Frankie Avalon.

Across the Atlantic, on the West of Ireland I was following all this from that distance, being about 12 at the time, we may not have had AMERICAN BANDSTAND but were able to read about it in the fan magazines, and hear the records and the artists like Connie Francis and Brenda Lee, I remember loving all those circa 1959, when I was 'wild in the country' on holidays. Ireland was really colonised by America then - we did not have their TV, but had the movies and the music and all those magazines and comics, from "Dick Tracy" to National Geographic spreads on Idado and Colorado, as well as LIFE and "Movieland and TV Time" and Dell's "Screen Album". The first record I actually saw and held in my hand was a 78rpm of "Jailhouse Rock" belonging to an older cousin home from London. Soon we were loving Elvis on screen in LOVING YOU and JAILHOUSE ROCK. Then there were those early cheap rock'n'roll movies and Bill Haley ,,,

But by the late-'50s it was all changing ... Elvis was a G.I in Germany and his music was changing, Buddy Holly dead in '59, Jerry Lee was in disgrace after marrying his 13-year old cousin, and wild Little Richard has found God. The music was sanitised for the television audiences, and just around the corner was The Twist and those new dances, the California surfing sound of The Beach Boys, Motown taking off in Detroit, and the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles not too far off. 
So, fun to enjoy again that innocent era of the late'50s and all that rock'n'roll.

It pinpoints too what a pivotal year 1954 was - one of my favourite years, I was 8 and had just discovered cinema (as per label 1954-1 - I have written lots on it): Elvis was recording those early ground-breaking records, James Dean was filming EAST OF EDEN for Kazan for 1955 release, while over in Italy teenage Sophia Loren (20 that September) was filming non-stop, plus my favourite film magazine "Films and Filming" began that October .... It would take me a few more years to catch up with those. But I remember the fuss about James Dean and the special magazines that came out after his death, as we all began to go mad over Elvis .... 

No comments:

Post a Comment