Elvis brought rock ‘n’ roll to the mainstream
AFTER writing about the 50th anniversary of the historic Sun Studio sessions from Elvis Presley, I realised that whilst it was true it wasn’t by any means the complete picture.
I described his debut release of ‘That’s alright Mama’ as the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
More accurately it was the birth of the rock ‘n’ roll idol in the mainstream.
The music already existed as it had been evolving for years from the world of black rhythm and blues.
Black pianists such as Fats Waller and Fats Domino had been prime movers in its development out of barrelhouse blues piano.
Many black blues guitarists were creating a slightly different version and it was eventually a certain Mr Chuck Berry who created the definitive rock’n’roll chops on the electric six stringer that would be copied, emulated and mutated by a complete generation (and subsequent generations) of copycats on both sides of the Atlantic, all leading to the formation of this new genre and others that followed.
The black versions, as had always been the case with black anything, were ignored if not suppressed by the American music media as they were considered subversive, degenerate and dangerous.
However, they were regressive enough not to notice that there was a massive change happening in youth culture.
It was in fact the first time in history that youth was ravenous for its own culture, what’s more, subversive degenerate and dangerous fitted the bill perfectly.
When Sam Phillips opened up Sun Studio and Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee in January 1950 he knew a massive change was coming.
There had been plenty of signs to pick up on, the 40s had given the world its first teeny bop idol in Frank Sinatra and the seeds were sown.
The lindy hoppers had made their presence felt massively in the nation’s ballrooms dancing to the likes of Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s (and many other) big bands. Youth wanted more.
Sam instinctively knew where to look.
Underground black music was exciting. He controversially courted black musicians and recorded any of them that wanted to have a go.
He set up a ‘recording service’ where anyone, for a (very) nominal sum could cut a demo.
Sometimes the sum was zero if he felt an artist was worthy of deeper consideration.
Many were signed to Sun records and had rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’roll hits with him.
One such recording was Bear Cat, by DJ Rufus Thomas.
In 1953 it was the label’s first hit and is effectively the song ‘Hound Dog’, by Big Mama Thornton, which was notably a colossal global hit later for Elvis.
Sam recorded many artists whom he would license to other labels for release.
Such notables as BB King, Rosco Gordon, Howling Wolf, Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner – whose Rocket 88 is regarded by many as the first true rock ‘n’ roll record ever – recorded at Sun but released by Chess (another massively important 50s and 60s label for black artists).
It was this environment that, in 1954, Elvis Presley walked into, to use the ‘recording service’ to cut a track for his mum.
It wasn’t long before Sam knew that this was exactly what the struggling label needed – a strikingly good looking white boy with a prodigious talent who sounded like a black singer and wanted to record black music – the music he had grown up listening to.
He may not have been the first rock ‘n’roll singer but he was the first one that could be a global success without compromise.
Part II next week. ●● On August Bank Holiday weekend you don’t have to look far to find a blues festival to hear some of the parent music of R’n’R and indeed some of its progeny. Down the road in Congleton is the closest. Running all weekend it has over four years become a decent small event. I will be there performing with Manatees on Saturday at 6pm. Check it out. FOR lots more ideas visit our website, thethread.org.uk. The Thread is your local e-guide, keeping you up to date with what’s happening in Macclesfield. We’re on air with Canalside’s ‘The Thread’ 102.8FM and online at thethread.org.uk bringing you news, reviews and the most comprehensive what’s on guide yet. Do you want regular updates about what’s on in and around town? Follow us on twitter @thethreadmacc or on Facebook. Cinemac: Heritage Centre, Roe Street, Macclesfield, SK11 6UT. Recorded Information: 01625 423535. Enquiries: 07871 422937. To confirm listings times, for more information and bookings go to www.cinemac.org.uk or contact 01625 423535 On this Week: Planes 2 (U), Hercules (12A), Pudsey the Dog: The Movie (U), Earth to Echo (PG), the Inbetweeners 2 (15). Summer craft activities at the Macclesfield Museums: Design and create beaded jewellery to take home with the Jewellery Making Workshop on Thursday, or why not learn all about symmetry and create art work using different shapes of different sizes in the Symmetrical Shapes on both Thursday and Friday? Date: Thursday, August 21 to Friday, August 22 Time: 12.30-3.30pm Venue: Macclesfield Silk Museums, Park Lane Call: 01625 613210. Windmill Band Night with ‘Under the Wire’: The Windmill usually hold their band night on the final Friday of each month, but this month they have decided to bring it forward to kick off the bank holiday weekend. And they welcome back Under The Wire with their live show of classic tunes from acts such as the Eagles. Date: Friday, August 22 Time: 7.30pm Venue: The Windmill Holehouse Lane, Macclesfield, SK10 5SJ. Call: 01625 574 222. Julieanna Live in The Broken Cross Club: Three shows in one in recognition of the start of the First World War. First off it’s ‘A night of Nostalgia’ – a walk down memory lane with songs from the 1940s. ‘Putting on the Glitz’ is a trip to the fabulous West End. Finally, you can trip the light fantastic with popular dance hits from various artists with ‘Dance Till You Drop’. Date: Saturday, August 23 Time: 8pm Venue: Broken Cross Club, Fallibroome Road Visit: www.broken crossclub.co.uk Call: 01625 263087. Bollington Health and Leisure 10k run in Bollington: Bollington Health and Leisure has been providing swimming lessons, gym and fitness classes and squash courts for the Bollington Community for over 30 years as a non profit organisation and essential renovation work is needed. They expect 400-600 runners to be competing in this event to help raise funds for the work. For more information contact the centre. Date: Sunday, August 24 Venue: Start and finish on the field adjacent to the leisure centre Call: 01625 574774. Car Boot sale bank holiday Monday African Craft Market, Craft and Food Hall: Stalls £7 pre-booked or £10 on day. No traders allowed. Date: Monday, August 25 Time: 11am – 4pm Venue: Tytherington Family Worship Church, Sandwich Drive. Welly Fest is back: One of the area’s largest music and beer festivals in a beautiful location in the fields of Rushton Spencer. Over seven hours of live music with an eclectic mix of music. As well as great music, there will be over 40 beers, along with numerous other activities such as a five-a-side football tournament, tug-o-war competition and fairground rides. Visit www.triplefest.co.uk/ applications and apply. Date: Saturday, August 23 – Monday, August 25 Time: 4pm – 11pm Venue: The Fields in Rushton Spencer Visit: www.triplefest.co. uk/applications. Bollington Cricket Clubs Presidents Day in aid of Cystic Firbosis: They are really excited to announce the BCC Presidents Day on August bank holiday Sunday. There will be a BBQ, refreshments, raffles and an online auction (more to follow on BCC Facebook page.) The highlight is going to be a challenge match between a select Presidents and Chairmans teams featuring a host of talented cricketers including current Cheshire CCC players, overseas players and past and present BCC players. Special guest Manchester City legend Shaun Goater will be making his debut on the hallowed turf Date: Sunday, August 24 Time: 1pm Venue: Bollington Recreation Ground.
●● American blues guitarist BB King