Friday, July 17, 2015

blastin' in

"Roll over, Beethoven,
and tell Tchaikovsky the news."
 >  Chuck Berry


------------------------- [excerpt] -------------------- A small-town boy from Spokane, Wshington, Bing Crosby was one of the first white vocal stars to master black rhythmic approaches, but his expert jazz phrasing was overshadowed by his relaxed insouciance....

Twenty years later Crosby was still America's model of a pop singer, joined by...Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Tony Bennett, but the number one record of 1951 was as far from insouciance as a white singer had ever gotten. 

Johnny Ray was another small-town boy from the Northwest, but he was a strange, troubled character who served his musical apprenticeship on Detroit's black club scene, and his performances were cathartic displays of raw emotion:

he writhed, fell to his knees, and wept, and his voice leapt out of radios across the country, sounding like a man possessed.  The song was "Cry," and for a lot of listeners it signaled a new era.

------------------------- [excerpt 2 -- Hibbing, Minnesota - 1950s] -------------------

KTHS, a 50,000-watt clear-channel station out of Little Rock, Arkansas, bounced a show from Shreveport, Louisiana, called No Name Jive, hosted by a black-sounding deejay named Frank "Gatemouth" Page. 

"Late at night I used to listen to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin' Wolf blastin' in from Shreveport," Dylan recalled. 

"It was a radio show that lasted all night.  I used to stay up till two, three o'clock in the morning.  Listened to all those songs, then tried to figure them out."

------------------------- [excerpt 3] -----------------
In the 1930s Pete Seeger had to travel to the Asheville Folk Festival to find the raw southern sounds that changed his life, but Dylan made the same journey without leaving his bedroom.  To some extent that meant they had different relationships to the music:  for Seeger

it was inextricable from the communities that created it and the historical processes that shaped those communities, while for Dylan it was a private world of the imagination. 

But in other ways their discoveries were similar, and the difference was that the music was no longer a rustic curiosity.  What had seemed like a dying folk tradition in the 1930s was now a hot commercial property, and if most folk fans missed that fact, some were excited about it.

Alan Lomax had gone to Europe in the early 1950s to escape the McCarthyite blacklist, and when he hosted a "Folksong '59" homecoming concert at Carnegie Hall, he described the change:

A stampeding herd of youngsters -- hillbillies, citybillies, rockabillies -- had broken through the gates and set America singing, dancing, rocking to its own rhythms.  The juke boxes were pouring out the wild expressive singing that I once had to hunt for in the Mississippi Delta. . . . I saw rock and roll audiences clapping time on the off-beat and watched the kids dancing more expressively than ever in my memory.  When I closed my eyes I often couldn't tell a Negro from a white singer.  Tin Pan Alley with its stifling snobby European standards was spinning on its pinnacle.


I'm gonna write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local dee-jay.
There's a rockin' rhythm record
I want my jockey to play.
Roll Over Beethoven -- I gotta hear it again today...


{"Roll Over Beethoven."  Written and recorded by Chuck Berry, April 16, 1956.  Released, May 1956.  Producers:  Leonard Chess, Phil Chess.  Label:  Chess.}
{excerpts from Dylan Goes Electric!  Elijah Wald.  2015.  HarperCollins}


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