Rock and roll before Elvis…before my time

  
You know those radio hosts that spin oldies and follow a Dion & The Belmonts hit with, “Remember that one from ’57?”

Not me. I wasn’t born until 1962. Too late for Elvis and even The Beatles, though they became my favourite band once I developed my own musical taste and came to realize that, despite my parent’s disdain and disapproval, rock and roll was cool and they weren’t.

The best book bargain ever

Skip ahead to the late ’90s when I found the book pictured above, Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll by Nick Tosches. There it sat on a table at the library book sale, among outdated computer guides and sad volumes that would either be thrown out or brought back for the following years sale.

It was the final day of the sale and you could fill a shopping bag for $2. So I did. Several books, including Unsung Heroes, for two bucks so I likely paid a quarter for the best source material I’d ever find for my radio show.

Which was 7 or 8 years from existing. At the time I was a behind the scenes radio guy…writing ads.

The Devil’s Music

The subtitle of Tosches’s book was “The Birth of Rock and Roll in the Dark and Wild Days Before Elvis” and in the chapters that followed, the author delivered on that promise. I should also mention that, during this period, I met the drummer of this band from London, Ontario. More on them later.

Sex & Rock & Roll (likely drugs and plenty of booze)

The book has 27 chapters, each focusing on a performer from the ’40s or early ’50s that Tosches deemed to be an unsung hero. A rock and roll pioneer who helped set the stage for Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and the first wave of rock stars.

Tosches said rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson was so hot in the early days of her career that you could fry an egg on Wanda’s G-spot. Ella Mae Morse developed at an early age that by 14 she caught the eye of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey, who thought (or pretended) the girl was older. Big Joe Turner remained a “big fat fuck” till the end. Tosches meant that as a compliment.

The Killer

Once I’d finished Unsung Heroes, I sought out more of the author’s work including one of the best music biographies I’ve read, Hellfire, the story of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Sean Anderson was well acquainted with that one. He’s the drummer I mentioned above, the madman that drives the rockabilly and surf sounds of his band, The Black Holes. Sean joined our radio team in the late ’90s and he, Vince Braca, Tom Hilborn and Jedd House introduced me to the songs of Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Dick Dale (they do an awesome Misirlou) and many others.

Goin’ wayyyy back

The song in the video above is the Fort Worth Stomp, done by the Crystal River Ramblers in 1944. The Black Holes gave my radio name after Sean convinced me to join them on stage and shake the maracas on Johnny B Goode.

So thanks Sean and Nick for charting the course, piquing my curiousity, and helping me become Johnny Maraca.

About johnnymaraca

host of Johnny Maraca's Rock & Roll Riot, the rockingest show on the radio. 60 years of rockin' rhythm and blues, from the late '40s pioneers like Louis Jordan to Elvis, Chuck Berry, CCR, Stray Cats, Ramones and tons more. Friday and Saturday nights at 7 on 97.7 the Beach, listen live at http://977thebeach.ca, and WRSG in Middlebourne, West Virginia, Tuesdays 6-8 pm.
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