ed-ward-cropped

The “rock-and-roll historian” for NPR’s Fresh Air, Ed Ward, has published a new book, “The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1, 1920-1963,” where he argues that rock ‘n’ roll began with neither Beatlemania nor Elvis Presley. Instead, Ward weaves together the individual stories of 900-plus lesser-known musicians and producers who shaped the origins and trajectory of rock ‘n’ roll and situates them within broader cultural and historical shifts. We’ll talk with Ward about why no one “invented” rock ‘n’ roll and why he says that “one of the most important things that makes American music American is the African-American connection.”

Fresh Air Rock Historian Ed Ward Unveils Ambitious ‘History of Rock & Roll’ 22 December,2016Michael Krasny

Guests:
Ed Ward, author, "The History of Rock &Roll, Volume 1, 1920-1963"; rock-and-roll historian, NPR's Fresh Air

  • Robert Thomas

    My vote for the inaugural recording is orthodox. According to Turner himself, it’s Bill Haley and the Saddlemen’s July 1951 cover of Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” (March 1951).

    Distinctly from Rhythm and Blues, Rock’n’Roll requires

    Black or White players
    wheels
    free time
    some spending money in the pocket

    Some point to “When the Levee Breaks” (1929, Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie) but I don’t hear it.

  • Kevin Skipper

    Two words: Chuck Berry

    Very nice. Looks like we’re in for a treat. Wondering your guest’s (or your own) thoughts on the significance of music like rock and jazz as they have been utilized as part of sociopolitical expansion and, perhaps cultural cooptation. What do you think about studio complexes like Muscle Shoals, AL that, while they elevated American music to previously unseen level of exposure, also managed to intensify and, in ways, promote problematic practices like segregation, stereotyping and social control? What about the early influence of gospel, blues, and jazz on surrounding cultures like Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve heard that Communists (and anti-Communists alike) attempted (and succeeded) in fomenting several public rebellions and uprisings through popular music and it’s colorful cast of characters.

    10:08

  • Robert Thomas

    Phlegmatic film noir stalwart Edmund O’Brien was surprising as an enthusiastic promoter of Rock’n’Roll in his role in The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) also staring Jayne Mansfield – arguably a more important film for the music than was Blackboard Jungle.

  • beryl golden

    Where does “Tweedlee Dee” fit in?

    • Robert Thomas

      You mean LaVerne Baker’s “Tweedlee Dee”?

      • beryl golden

        Thank you, yes

  • Kevin Skipper

    “Blacks ‘getting into rock and roll’…”

    I would, of course, go a step further regarding rock and roll’s influences. Some are willing to speak to an African-American “connection” in rock music. However, when we study the compositional and structural aspects of various forms like Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rock, etc, we see that the nature of these styles exists in what we know as “Call and Response.”

    While some refer to it as a style created in the mixture that would make “American Music” others are aware that this format is not only scientific and highly mathematical, it is the definitive thread that directly connects our music to the African experience. It predates the lyrical format as it is born from our RHYTHMIC traditions. Namely, in our drumming. Ironically, slaveholder’s first instinct was to attempt to strip us of this aspect of our identity. Destroying and prohibiting drums and requiring all slaves to learn ‘European’ or Christian hymns repression was the norm. This was of course unsuccessful. Turns out that these forms and rhythms live inside us as part and parcel of our very Blackness. We’re still witnessing the (very) gradual acceptance that what we are said to have contributed to, we essentially created and TAUGHT to our captors, even as it it used to perpetuate our ongoing bondage.

  • Another Mike

    Don’t forget Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, whose Rock Me, Mama is another candidate for first rock n’ roll song, and whose That’s All Right, Mama was covered by Elvis.

    And I would like to mention Louis Jordan, whose boogie woogie records were crossover hits in the late 40s. (Caldonia, etc.) as a precursor, or forerunner to rock n’ roll

  • Kevin Skipper

    Roy Orbison and Pat Boone. Weren’t those guys country singers? Anyone interested in illuminating us as to the exact means by which Nashville created a ‘white” rock identity by way of borrowing from and segregating black and white audiences and artists into the disjointed, racialized markets that we see today?

    BTW, Exactly what year are we talking about?

  • Bob

    I’m shocked by the divisions driven by commercial genre categorization. Maybe I’m more open because I was born in Cleveland and grew up listening to everything in the white suburbs of Detroit in the Eighties, but I’m troubled by the split that seems to be growing between Hip Hop as “black” music and rock and roll being for whites. The marriage of the two cultures over music did as much to move race relations forward as the integration of sports, yet the death of Prince seems to have destroyed one of the last living bridges between the two worlds. Can you speak more to why and how this happened? It seems to have been in the Seventies after the death of Hendrix and with the rise of Soul and Funk.

  • Another Mike

    Does the book mention the etymology of rock and roll as slang for the sex act? (as is the word jazz, I believe)

    • Kevin Skipper

      I heard ‘jazz’ was a euphemistic play on the word ‘azz.’

  • Another Mike

    “I heard the news — there’s good rockin’ tonight” — Roy Brown 1947

    • Another Mike

      I’ll rock ’em roll ’em all night long — I’m a sixty minute man” — Billy Ward 1951

      • Robert Thomas

        “Sixty Minute Man” is a perceptive choice for proto-Rock’n’Roll R&B, but it’s an R&B record.

        • Another Mike

          I couldn’t draw a bright line between them
          You broke
          My heart
          Now we’re
          Apart
          Ain’t that a shame?
          Tears fell like rain
          Definitely R&B but not out of place in any early rock n’ roll set.

          • Kevin Skipper

            LOL. Who told you there was a difference? There’s no separation besides the percussive break between the drum kit and the bass guitar. Both utilize a ballad format, their apparent differences are based on the intensity ratios and syncopation between the various instrument sections. Rock tends to use a greater improvisational range while R&B blends harmonies over a generally more steady drum track.

          • Robert Thomas

            A succinct and perceptive, moment of Skipper clarity.

            The difference I generally note between Rock’n’Roll and Rhythm and Blues concerns the subject matter and the intended audience, more than the musical style. “Hound Dog” is an R&B song because it’s about adult emotion and adult ferocity and adult relations between formidable adults. Buddy Holly’s “Well… All Right” is a song sung by a kid, imagining adulthood; Chuck Berry’s “School Days” is about getting out of school in the afternoon; Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” is about teenage disgust; Little Richard’s “Ready Teddy” is sung by a kid who’s pretty ready… the latter are all R’n’R. Rock’n’Roll is upbeat and naïve and slightly awkward. As I wrote here elsewhere, it has some free time and a little money in its pocket.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Thanks for that. I think I see your point. In your description, the differing genres occupy their own particular emotional and perhaps experiential rooms. Makes sense from the listeners POV. Not quite sure if I see it as a compositional difference. I’ll have to think about that.

          • Robert Thomas

            Yes.

          • Kevin Skipper

            What would be the difference between “Aint That a Shame” as a we know it, or as a country song. Seems like something Patsy Cline would have done really nicely.

  • Kevin Skipper

    It sounds like this guest, as do so, so many experts on American Culture, refuse to see any roots or origins beyond those demonstrated by market activity. If we look at Rock history as being the same as that of the Rock Music Industry, then perhaps one could claim Orbison and Boone as progenitors. Those who are aware of the broader cultural history know this isn’t the case. Rock History, like Rock Present is a study in cultural and social repression. Corporate, Supremacist traditions eventually managed to use musical genres as sociological and idiological dividers.

  • Bob

    Thanks Michael and Co. Great segment!

  • John

    This comment is not necessarily for air but this interview is painful at times. Ed Ward is showing the same crotchety, condescending, prickly record-store-clerk-from-High-Fidelity attitude that make his rock reviews on Fresh Air hard to listen to at times. Lighten up, Ed.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Here, here!

    • P Brigham

      Amen. To almost every comment or question posed to Ward, he responded with a contrary comment. He came across as an arrogant boor.

  • Another Mike

    The first Beatles album released in the US was on Vee Jay records, out of Chicago.

  • Kevin Skipper

    ….patiently moving along….
    The guest mentioned that he noticed a marked drop in diversity or integration around rock music. What do you think of the ‘British Invasion” as it relates to the time that the Beatles and The Rolling Stones were installed in Alabama, Chicago, Tennessee, and Detroit. Could there be ANY relation between the desire to label Rock and Roll and “British” and abiding racist attitudes and polarities during the 60’s?

    • Robert Thomas

      What?

      • Kevin Skipper

        What do you mean WHAT? Is that a real question or just a demonstration of the need to dismiss all that doesn’t fit.-

        …wait. lol
        Lemme fix that typographical error. …relation to the desire to see Rock and Roll AS a British innovation…

        Thanks. Hope it’s easier to understand.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Lets try this again…
        Paraphrasing the words of the guest;
        Pre-Beatles=more diversity and less segregation
        Post-Beatles = less diversity and more segregation.

        Thusly;

        Knowing that they and the Rolling Stones got their chops in the South and Midwest…
        Knowing that post-slavery, these places were a virtual Mecca for recently freed Black musicians and their families…
        Knowing as well that those areas were also the most intensely segregated during that time….
        Knowing that those areas would, a decade later, be economically decimated, increasing social conflict….
        Knowing that racial and social conflict is intensified by obsfucating it surrounding factual and historical context….
        Knowing that despite their progressive dress and attitudes about sex and drugs, these bands did not endorse racial integration but, rather, the opposite….

        therefore; or perhaps;

        Those things being facts, could there be ANY relation between the desire to label Rock and Roll as a “British” innovation and abiding racist attitudes and polarities during the 60’s? Could the British Invasion and Elvis have been yet another aspect of oppression through extraction and derivation of Black American artistic talent and culture?

        • Robert Thomas

          [Thanks for the typo note. I perceive in your comments a duality I will describe as “high Skipper” and low Skipper”. The fragment

          “… [R]acial and social conflict is intensified by obsfucating it surrounding factual and historical context…”

          I will identify as “high Skipper” and admit that it is still somewhat impenetrable by me.]

          I’m unable to assign credentials either as endorsers of segregation or integration to the rather naïve British WWII babies to whom you refer when they were in their mid twenties. The fellows you name in particular may not have had a lot of Black school chums but they were enthusiastic consumers of American R&B and Rock’n’Roll records and the then contemporary, local craze for skiffle. They were also overmuch steeped in British music hall, which owes as much to Offenbach and Johann Strauss as their American records owed to Jelly Roll Morton or Blind Lemon Jefferson.

          I was a little kid in the 1960s, with older sisters who had a record player and a record collection. They and I were enthusiastic Beatles fans and they had lots of other British records but I sort of cringed at the “British invasion” label, even then. It was ridiculous to compare Herman’s Hermits to Buddy Holly. Bob Dylan said that Rock’n’Roll “finished up with Little Anthony and the Imperials” – probably, he was thinking of “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop”. But I identify the end of the genre with the mysterious death of Bobby (“I Fought the Law”) Fuller – at age 23 discovered by his mother laying on the front seat of her blue and silver Oldsmobile in a vacant lot (now Smith Park) parked near their Hollywood apartment at 1776 N. Sycamore, his body covered in hemorrhages and with a gasoline-soaked rag stuffed down his throat. This was July 18th, 1966. Janis Joplin died directly across the street, four years later.

          To me, African American-influenced British pop and blues is sturdy enough to judge on its own, but it can only be regarded as a Rock’n’Roll reinterpretation – like Chekhov performed in English (not even a revival). Not always but often, it rose above pastiche. Rock’n’Roll has appeared only in the form of a revival since “No Particular Place to Go” in 1964. The first great American revival was Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Worry Baby” in 1964. If you really want an example European parody of American musical idiom, listen to The Howlin’ Wolf Album (1968).

          Elvis Presley rose well above being merely derivative.

          • Kevin Skipper

            LOL! A astute observation. Sometimes is hard to type, listen, scream at the radio and dial Forum all at the same time. One thing’s for sure. The Skippers are high. All of us. B^D

            Your perspective is certainly interesting, if not for its earnest frankness.

            If Baby Boomers were, then naive, what was it about their naivete in relation to Rock and Roll that made for such a powerfully suggestive break from their parents’ experience with forms like Swing and Ragtime? Could it be that the mass-introduction of these folksy artistic forms simultaneously satisfied both a public need for an accessible, relatable form of expression and the growing need for governments to maintain ideological and social mores?

          • Kevin Skipper

            As for Elvis and his level of legeitmacy, he’s one of the few subjects that I don’t bother arguing about. After living in Hawaii, I’ve learned that his fans live in their own perceptive reality in who’s disturbance I am careful to take no part.

            It’s worth pointing out that I grew up hearing how he was effectively a vehicle for rebranding certain stylistic and expressive traits prior to which had been considered specifically “Black” to be amalgamated into a non-racial sex appeal palatable to racially skittish audiences. Only recently have I learned that, in his time, Elvis’ style was considered to push not only racial and musical boundaries but those around gender, sex and even queer identity.

            One thing’s for sure, if his career started out blackish, it sure didn’t end that way.

      • Kevin Skipper

        again, we are sidetracked with anthropological banter. Do you see a connection between the “British Invasion” in music and an establishment response to a burgeoning integration movement in the U.S.? Am I begging an obvious question?

    • Another Mike

      The Beatles transformed US R&B, but the Stones COVERED it. Consider how many Stones hits were credited to Chess Records regular Willie Dixon.

  • Kevin Skipper

    Thanks for reading my question. Since we’re talking about history, it may be worth pointing out that “Call and Response” far predates gospel or so-called religious forms. It’s a structural syntactical format that gave the basis not only for music, but for language itself.

  • Another Mike

    I’m definitely going to check out this book. The advantage these days is that almost every song ever recorded is available on youtube, so I could hear most of the work of those 900 forerunners. (I just thought to listen to Professor Longhair’s Ball the Wall.)

  • Another Mike

    I do miss the four part harmonies and the omnipresent saxophone of 50s rock and roll.

    • William – SF

      Back up singers, where are the back up singers in today’s groups?! (Oh, right, cut out for budgetary reasons. Ump!)
      (Stones bored me until the back up singers brought …chills.)

      • Kevin Skipper

        Autotuner and the “vocal hook” sample technique have replaced the erstwhile elegance of ensemble vocal arrangements.

        • William – SF

          • Kevin Skipper

            take heart. it just goes to show that there is always an opportunity to create new compositional platforms, despite vampiric interests. Check out my next comment.

    • Robert Thomas

      Rudy Pompilli’s sax on “See You Later, Alligator” is one of the most emblematic lines in pop music. I can’t describe how much I love that song.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Is that the song that John Candy pantomimed to begin the infamous freeway sequence in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?”

        • Robert Thomas

          That’s Ray Charles’s “Mess Around”, written by Ahmet Ertegün, 1953. I presume that David “Fathead” Newman is on tenor. I first heard it on a Professor Longhair record.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Right! LOL!

    • Kevin Skipper

      You might appreciate Roots Rock Reggae or even Classic Dub (NOT to be confused with its bastardized offspring, Dubstep). Heavily influenced by American artists like Fats Domino and even British military marching bands, it tends to feature vocal work and traditional arrangements that make heavy use of horns and other live instruments. It’s a cool window from which to view popular fusion bands like “The Police’, “Culture Club,” and “The Beach Boys.”

  • Kevin Skipper

    Yeah, I guess mainstream publishing isn’t quite ready to discuss some of the more prickly aspects of what it has taken to give ‘certain’ people a bit of rhythm. Maybe if I get to work now, the industry will be ready by the time I’m done.

  • Robert Thomas

    There are people who think that Rock’n’Roll is just Rhythm and Blues. I and others believe a distinction can be drawn between these, beyond the racial segregation of the commercial charts.

    I think that “Do You Want to Dance” by Bobby Freeman and “Rip It Up” by Little Richard and “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly are Rock’n’Roll records while Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner are Rhythm and Blues artists.

    My choices for the archetypes of Rock’n’Roll are

    “Rocket 88” – Bill Haley – March 3 or 5, 1951
    “Maybellene” – Chuck Berry – July 1955
    “Blue Suede Shoes” – Carl Perkins – January 1, 1956
    “See You Later, Alligator” – Bill Haley – February 1, 1956
    “Rip It Up” – Little Richard – June, 1956
    “School Days / No particular Place To Go” – Chuck Berry – March 1957 / May 1964
    “Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley – September 24, 1957
    “Not Fade Away” – Buddy Holly – October 27, 1957
    “Do You Want To Dance” – Bobby Freeman – March 1958
    “Come On, Let’s Go” – Ritchie Valens – July 1958
    “C’mon Everybody” – Eddie Cochran – October 1958

    • Kevin Skipper

      Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll are, indeed, definitionally divided by racial segregation. If they weren’t white supremacists wouldn’t have had to create new segregated demographic labels in the 50’s and 60’s. We all know good and well that what was known as “dirty, black music” was also known as sexy, sensual, natural music. The threat then, as it is now, was social and racial integration. What was once non-different was artificially made different by political and socioeconomic means. Nothing new there.

      I’d say they’re, in this case, the same product. Just a few distinct differences in packaging.
      For example, I could take any of the above ‘Rock and Roll” songs, leave the vocals EXACTLY the same, pull the percussion to the background and subdue the lead guitar riffs. I would be left with an R&B playlist.
      If I wanted, I could make the same list into Reggae, Blues, Hip-Hop, or even Hindu Bhajans.

      Like the host read on the air. This music is NOT rooted in America, an American experience, or a racially integrated school of co-creators but from a GLOBAL, melanated, diasporic tradition of Call and Response. While the guest erroneously labels is as a product of gospel of religious music, I would challenge him, or anyone else to produce a piece of music that contradicts this idea.

      • Robert Thomas

        Yeah… I don’t think it’s a big revelation to observe that both of these musical styles owe much to African American influence.

        I’m sure that any of these relatively simple songs could be produced in a variety of musical styles. So what? Paul Anka released the album Rock Swings in 2004 on which he artfully performed such pop songs of recent decades as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and “Lovecats” by the Cure and “Hello” by Lionel Richie, in the mode of his own “inimitable” swing style. It’s very well produced. But listening to the record actually induces physical (not just spiritual) nausea. Rock’n’Roll is a folk idiom – meant to be easily followed by its audience. It is NOT amenable to syncopation. Rock’n’Roll does NOT swing. You could cast a Three Stooges short with Marlon Brando and Lawrence Olivier but it probably wouldn’t be a very good Three Stooges short.

        As I wrote here elsewhere, the difference in the styles is largely the lyrical content and the intended audience (which with respect to pop music has never not been explicit). Rhythm and Blues artists generally were speaking to their own contemporaries. Chuck Berry was an adult player intentionally writing for teenagers – a relatively new, post-WWII idea.

        And I guess we’re all rooted in the East African Rift, eh?

        • Kevin Skipper

          Big or small, the impending revelation is that ALL musical styles are the product of the roots that trace ALL of our collective experience back to the African continent. That fact would be inconsequential were it not for the fact that market and social forces have treated these truths, not for the cultural richness that they represent, but as a means of commodification. Recorded music as a mass-distributed, affordable product is, perhaps the relatively new idea in this case. Examining the story at any of its deeper layers proves that this product was a purposefully executed extraction process. A mining of cultural and spiritual energy from the very same captive population that gave the West, everything from Science, to Medicine to Religion to our very concept of Time.

          Syncopation: I’m a long-time drummer and a student of the bass guitar so I might be a bit limited in my understanding of your use of the term If you really have assertions as to the relations between folk forms and their corresponding rhythmic bases, we would have to embrace a slightly less subjective rhetorical format. Terms like “easily followed” or “amenable” or what “does or does not swing” are, matters of opinion, not definition. They have their place in subjective preference but do not bear any empirical authority in analyzing music or, for that matter the history that it tells. BTW, please note that swing is not just related to Rock n’ Roll (and R&B) but deserves credit at one of their deepest roots. Swing is short for Swing Jazz. Its dance music, plain and simple. Just another rhythm-based re-statement of standard phrasing.

          How about the African Rift Valley idea.
          What exactly does that have to do with this conversation? I take it you’re not being sarcastic so I’ll skip the formalities. We all know, human beings are all from the Rift Valley. We ALL come from Africa. Some of us left the area at different points in human development and thus retained different levels of access to culture and its civilizing forces. From what I can understand, the story we have here about ‘Rock & Roll’s Mystified Origin’ or cultural influences has less to do with any question about the Rift Valley, the Cradle of the “Human Species” and more to do with contentions surrounding our activities in the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of “Civilization.”

          Understanding the intergalactic sciences carried in Roots musical forms is the key to improving our understanding of the INEXTRICABLE link between these two linked regions.

          Your thoughts?

          • Robert Thomas

            I’m unconvinced by the assertion that African culture is at the base of every Western intellectual and cultural achievement. It isn’t. While co-option of African style is readily evident in Western music and all other kinds of art, I detect little evidence of any “purposefully executed extraction process”, except very opportunistically and by haphazzard. My grandmother was an honest-to-gosh MacDougal Alley Theosophist and possessed a library of scholarship that aided her to successfully argue many an initially unreceptive interlocutor into believing that Western music was inherited from orchestras of the lost continent of Mu.

            I apologize if I misinterpreted the exact degree of historical sweep intended by “GLOBAL, melanated, diasporic tradition”. I was unsure if you referred to the merely prehistoric or to the Paleolithic. I’m utterly incompetent to speculate about Mesopotamian musical development.

            I’m not a musician and my use of related terms is that of a lay person talking about relatively simple melodies and rhythms of short bits of mid-twentieth century pop music. I take it as a reasonable definition that syncopation relies on the well trained improvisational performance of a melody “swinging” emphasis around a steadily anchored rhythm section. Is that inaccurate? It’s what I meant. In contrast, the Sacred Harp style that I detect at the core of much early Rock’n’Roll was devised for the sake of untrained voices that wish to follow along in simple key signature (which the shape-note technique encouraged) with enthusiastic rigidity. Stripped of electric urgency, I hear this for instance in the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream” or Ivory Joe Hunter’s marvelous R&B-R&R precursor “Since I Met You Baby”. I’ve heard “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling” very convincingly recreated in straight 4/4 as real Rhythm and Blues, and easily imagined it being covered by Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard – or by Jackie Wilson or Allen Toussaint, for that matter. Such songs are often perfectly adaptable in this way. Does Mahalia Jackson not rock out on “Didn’t It Rain”? Did Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller not write “Yakety Yak”?

          • Kevin Skipper

            If you consider the Kushites of the Upper (South) Nile Valley to be African and their expanding empire and civilization to be the formative root of what would come to be known as Khemet (The Levant) which included and still includes Mesopotamia (Iraq etc.) then you can understand the basis of my assertion that the original underpinnings of our existing Western civilization were and are still African.

            If you see America’s history of genocide, slavery, segregation, and their legacy of disenfranchisement to be tenants of an ongoing economic campaign to extract human and material resources, including labor, creative and intellectual property, debt and their resulting social immobility from these same people and those who share their ancestry then you might see how such a model could be scaled to a crucial cultural industry like international music distribution.

            To be sure, are you saying that being labeled “haphazard” or “very opportunistic” preludes an extraction process from being defined as “purposeful?”

          • Kevin Skipper

            If we were to speculate as to the likely nature of Mesopotamia’s music scene, perhaps it would look something like what I see in the very little that I’ve been able to learn about Theosophy or its specific Gnostic roots. Initial examination suggests that this complex of ancient scientific ideology and iconography is likely the result of a need to preserve or, perhaps, hide a type of knowledge and awareness that, at many times, has been considered forbidden.

            Perhaps consideration of the cultural/historical of theosophical knowledge and it’s myriad applications could offer investigators a bridge to the time and place of the peoples and places that we remember as Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Assyria, Ottoman and more. Think about how rocking out in Morocco, Greece, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel or Palestine would sound essentially the same! Considering the fact that banking and credit, along with state/corporate sponsored mass media and currency has its (most recent) roots in Mesopotamia, it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine its mainstream music scene. Probably a lot of love songs, protest ballads and maybe even the occasional Theosophical reference….
            Worth considering. After all, we did spend a whole work day discussing the different ways that we Americans have learned to sing, play guitar and reflect on life in a global civilization built on international debt and distant fortunes. Parallels abound.

          • Kevin Skipper

            “Mu.” The equivalent of mythical Atlantis. Any extracted knowledge has hidden in that conceptual interpretation of the ancient middle passage between the reaches of the same early empires that gave North, South and Central America their earliest gold and, according to some, first civilizations?

            While the definitive aspects of “Prehistoric” up to debate, we can agree that Paleolithic times are what preceded the last ice age and the general distinction of the time in which Homo Sapiens Sapiens is purported to have ‘branched-off’ from our Neanderthal relatives. If we allow for an interim between the end of the ice age and the time necessary for agriculture to reach beyond Western Asia, we can draw some simple conclusions regarding the grain and livestock species, religious and scientific, and the physical appearance of the peoples who would create the basis for some mythical “lost” civilization.

          • Kevin Skipper

            As for the musical debate, we’re hung up on a simple definitional incongruency.

            I’m pretty much self-taught so i have no problem embracing layman’s terms.

            In my understanding, syncopation is a rhythmic term. It refers to the idea of variable but simultaneous signatures. There are ways to syncopate melodies but they are generally expressed by rhythm. For instance, fingering a given scale on the guitar can be performed in virtually any time signature or rhythm. I think that’s called an arpeggio (like a harp). The same is true with a chord or the same notes played in unison.

            That being said, I wonder if your might be referring to syncopated harmonies which I don’t claim to be able.ti explain. I’ll listen to the songs you mentioned and see if I can get a clue.

          • Robert Thomas

            The syncopation of a pop tune is exemplified – for me – by Frank Sinatra’s vocal on “In Other Words (Fly Me to the Moon)” written in 3/4 time, originally recorded by Kaye Ballard. Hundreds of covers were recorded. Quincy Jones’s sophisticated arrangement for Sinatra is in 4/4 but Sinatra at one point sings sixteen notes in one measure. The orchestra remains dead steady, as Sinatra swings back and forth, ahead of the beat and then behind the beat.

            A pops orchestra chestnut is “The Syncopated Clock” by Leroy Anderson. The conceit of the song is that of a mischievous metronome, bored with strict tempo. The rhythm section stays on the beat, while the melody carried by the strings starts making unexpected excursions (unexpected at least for anyone who hasn’t heard the tune hundreds of times).

            My point is that Rock’n’Roll tunes rarely indulge in such sophisticated ornamentation. James Brown’s “on the one” funk in “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” – placing the emphasis on the down beat in most measures – relies on a complicated and unexpected set of polyrhythms that circle around and then resolve in a way that a simple Rock’n’Roll song won’t attempt. Compare Bo Diddley’s “Love is Strange” recorded by Mickey & Sylvia (1956). Sylvia’s vocal isn’t without inflection but she stays on the beat – along with the kids humming the song while listening to the radio.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Hope those explanations are of some help. My latest comment and accompanying video links might help better illustrate my use of the “extraction” terminology.

          • Robert Thomas

            I get it.

  • Kevin Skipper

    “Aint That A Shame” Performed here by its writer, Fats Domino in 1955. I think we’d all agree, that’s an R&B song with obvious potential for Rock interpretation.
    https://youtu.be/xbfMlk1PwGU

    The same song, performed three years later by Pat Boone in 1958. I think it’s quite good but some say that his interpretation lacked soul. I’d leave that to argument. We all agree that here, the presentation is retooled to appeal to white listeners and, most likely the still-tenuous relationship with a previously urban musical form. Note that while the lead vocals and guitar are distinctly Rock and Roll, the orchestration is what i would call Big Band Swing.
    https://youtu.be/xbfMlk1PwGU

    By 1971, the same song gave Hank Williams Jr., a country star one of his hits. Could this have been the runner-up to the opening sequence of “The Big Lebowski?” Maybe not but still, a more-than-competent execution of a soon-to-be-classic.
    https://youtu.be/Oba_zP7SGIc

    The song doesn’t sound quite Rock and Roll until 1975 when John Lennon recorded it.
    https://youtu.be/_XilYSDYH-0

    I found Lennon’s version last. It was the first one to mention Fats Domino’s name as the writer. Hank Williams’ and Pat Boone’s versions implicitly suggest that the song belongs to them. The significance? You tell me.

    Seems to me that for some reason, at some point there became a need to market one man’s creative work five times, to five different audiences, all of them being predominately white. Racism, economics, fickle listeners? I don’t know. Either way, I’ll call it a Cheap Trick. Here’s the seminal Punk Rock band performing their take on “Ain’t That a Shame” in 2014.
    https://youtu.be/q7QyCqgacTU

    Thanks for reading.

    • Robert Thomas

      One can condemn the common practice among labels and producers to take undeserved credit for the work of musicians in record sales and in publishing while at the same time acknowledging that no one living during the period would ever imagine that “Ain’t That a Shame” would ever be mistaken as anyone’s other than Domino’s complete creation. I can’t be as sure about the knowledge of a Millennial in 2016.

      John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975) has been in my collection since it appeared. At the time, it introduced me to Larry Williams (“Bony Moronie”) and Lee Dorsey (“Ya Ya”). It contains the legally compelled but unabashed acknowledgement (never actually concealed) of “You Can’t Catch Me” in the composition of “Come Together”:

      New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours
      I was rollin’ slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers
      Here come ol’ flat-top he was movin’ up with me
      Then come wavin’ goodbye in a little’ old souped-up jitney
      I put my foot on my tank and I began to roll
      Moanin’ siren – ’twas the state patrol
      So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn
      Bye bye New Jersey I’ve become airborne

      Now you can’t catch me
      Baby you can’t catch me
      ‘Cause if you get too close, you know I’m
      Gone like a cool breeze

      I say it’s Berry’s most otherworldly lyric. I also recommend Lennon’s rendition of Larry Williams’s “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” from Live Peace in Toronto 1969, in the liner notes of which Williams and Bradford and Gordy are certainly acknowledged.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Well put.

        “no one living during the period would ever imagine…”

        Without getting sidetracked by our recent collective experience with the supposedly “unimaginable” I should point out that Fats Domino, his song, and each successive remakeoccurred, though spanning generations, all existed within virtually one lifetime, yours.

        If your predecessors were the “Greatest” Generation, one could say that you baby boomers are the “Best Entertained.”

  • William – SF

    If only politics was more like music.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor