My favourite rock and roller. Back in the ’70s John Lennon introduced Berry on the Mike Douglas TV show as follows, “If you were going to give rock and roll another name you might call it Chuck Berry.” He wrote about the teenage experience like no one else and invented rock and roll guitar playing as we know it. Keith Richards was such a fan (the Stones covered several of Berry’s songs early in their career) that he organized the terrific concert film, Hail Hail Rock & Roll.
Born: Oct. 26, 1926 St. Louis, Missouri
Notable recordings: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven
Johnny B Goode http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lNeEb7I3bwI
Cash’s music wasn’t easily fit into one genre. Country? Yes, but his early songs were rockabilly even if he apparently didn’t care to have his tunes labelled as such. Rock and roll is all about attitude. In ’68 when Cash performed at San Quentin Prison a photographer said, “Hey Johnny, how about one for the warden?” Cash flipped him the bird (the photo was used in the late ’90s in a print ad aimed at the country music industry, which hadn’t supported his more recent albums). That’s rock and roll!
Born: Feb. 26, 1932 Kingsland, Arkansas
Died: Sept. 12, 2003
Notable recordings: I Walk the Line, Get Rhythm
Folsom Prison Blues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Ts4M3irWM
“The Genius…” Lost his sight when he was just a young lad but that didn’t stop him from having a legendary career in music. Charles shocked gospel fans by mixing that genre with rhythm and blues on classics like “I Got a Woman,’ (covered by the Beatles and many others. And, when Charles moved from Atlantic Records to ABC he demanded to have control over his master tapes…it just wasn’t done back then. Record companies owned the artists but Charles held his own in so many ways.
Born: Sept. 30, 1930, Greenville, Florida
Died: June 10, 2004
Notable recordings: I Got a Woman, Hit the Road Jack, Georgia, What’d I Say.
What’d I Say http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAjeSS3kktA
Like Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, Cochran makes me wonder what might have been, had he not died at a young age. He gave us great rockers like the songs listed below but Eddie Cochran loved to experiment in the studio with overdubs and new production techniques. The Stray Cats were heavily influenced by Cochran and Gene Vincent.
Born: Oct. 3, 1938 Albert Lea, Minnesota
Died: April 17, 1960
Notable recordings: C’mon Everybody, Somethin’ else
Summertime Blues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeWC59FJqGc
Another great career that ended far too soon. Cooke was shot to death by the manager of a Los Angeles motel. She claimed self defence. To this day there are several theories but none have proved conclusive. Even so, Cooke left us some of the greatest pop and R&B songs ever put to vinyl and his sound inspired Rod Stewart and many others.
Born: Jan. 22, 1931 Clarksdale, Mississippi
Died: Dec. 11, 1964
Notable recordings: You Send Me, Cupid, Workin’ on the chain gang
A Change is Gonna Come https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbO2_077ixs
The King of the Surf Guitar! In the late ’50s, Dale wasn’t content to just play, he wanted to play LOUD! Dale destroyed amplifiers. The general public may not have recognized his greatness but Quentin Tarantino used Dale’s “Misirlou” for the opening credits of “Pulp Fiction” and today you can’t go to major sporting event without hearing this now classic instrumental.
Born: May 4, 1937, Boston, Massachusetts
Notable recordings: Let’s Go Trippin’, The Wedge
How many performers have a beat named after them? The Bo Diddley rhythm popped up in songs like The Who’s “Magic Bus” and U2’s “Desire,” among many others. So it was no surprise that in 2005, the man who had a beat and a song named after him would remind Rolling Stone readers of his lasting influence. “I was one of the first son of a guns out here….me and Chuck Berry,” said Diddley. “I’m the dude that (Elvis) copied and I’m not even mentioned.”
Born: Dec. 30, 1928, McComb, Mississippi
Died: June 2, 2008
Notable recordings: Roadrunner, Who Do You Love?
Hey Bo Diddley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeZHB3ozglQ
BILL HALEY AND HIS COMETS
Haley started out playing country music and Western swing. Then he heard R&B tunes like Rocket 88 (which Haley and his Comets covered) and it was goodbye western duds and hello rock and roll. Before Elvis arrived, Haley was the biggest rock star in the world. Haley was a bit of a square (check out the ’50s movies he was featured in) but the Comets rocked with wild stage antics that must have driven parents around the bend if they weren’t there already.
Born: July 26, 1925 Highland Park, Michigan
Died: Feb. 9, 1981
Notable recordings: Rocket 88, Razzle Dazzle, Thirteen Women
Rock Around the Clock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-qjc17KEsc
The date below says it all. February 3rd, 1959, immortalized by Don McLean as “The Day the Music Died.” In “American Graffiti” Big John Milner said rock and roll had been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died. John Lennon, who had poor eyesight, eventually wore glasses on stage because Holly had been the first rocker to do so. And Holly’s music was pretty damn awesome, too.
Born: Sept. 7, 1938 Lubbock, Texas
Died: Feb. 3, 1959
Notable recordings: , Peggy Sue, Rave On, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore
That’ll be the Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhBlwhkQ1YM
JERRY LEE LEWIS
The Killer! The story goes that in the late ’50s Lewis was on the same bill with Chuck Berry and both men insisted on closing the show. Since Berry had greater chart success at the time, he was allowed to go on last. Lewis finished his set by squirting lighter fluid on the piano and setting it ablaze. Follow that, Chuck! Even if Lewis had only recorded the two songs mentioned below, his place in rock and roll history would have been secured. But Jerry Lee Lewis will tell you (and he’s right) he’s one of the all-time great song stylists.
Born: Sept. 29, 1935 Ferriday, Louisiana
Notable recordings: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Breathless
Great Balls of Fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lidFipyLG8k
The voice! When Orbison signed with Sun Records, Sam Phillips wanted to turn him into a rocker like he’d done with Elvis and Carl Perkins. Orbison felt ballads were more his style. All he did was use that amazing vocal range to create classics like the tunes listed below, and many others. Check out the movie Blue Velvet when Dean Stockwell’s sadistic Ben uses an automotive light as a micophone and lip syncs to Orbison’s “In Dreams.”
Born: April 23, 1936 Wink, Texas
Died: Dec. 6, 1988
Notable recordings: Crying, Blue Bayou, Dream Baby
Oh Pretty Woman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PLq0_7k1jk
if you can find a little movie called “Mystery Train”, directed by Jim Jarmusch, there’s a scene featuring a young Japanese couple vacationing in Memphis. She loves Elvis. Her boyfriend says, “Carl Perkins was better.” Like Chuck Berry, Perkins wrote, sang and played guitar. Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes.” He was on the verge of stardom when tragedy struck. Perkins and his band were driving to New York to appear on Perry Como’s TV show when their car crashed. Carl spent several months in hospital. His brother Jay died later from complications due to the accident. Elvis cut his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” and that was that. Even so, Carl Perkins was a big influence on The Beatles.
Born: April 9, 1932 Tiptonville, Tennessee
Died: Jan. 19,1998
Notable recordings: Matchbox, Honey Don’t, Dixie Fried
Blue Suede Shoes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAa8BW_sR_c
Sam Phillips opened his recording studio in Memphis (which became Sun Records) with the idea of recording music by black blues and R&B performers. But, he said, if I can find white boy who can sound black, I can make a million dollars. And in ’54, in walked Elvis Aaron Presley. Like many rock and roll purists I prefer the ’50s Elvis though there is greatness to be found in his later efforts, especially the Memphis record in ’69.
Born: Jan. 8, 1935 East Tupelo, Mississippi
Died: Aug. 16, 1977
Notable recordings: That’s Allright, Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel
The originator, the emancipator, the architect of rock and roll! The former Richard Wayne Penniman has declared as much for decades and it’s hard to disagree. No other singer in history has captured the rawness and excitement of rock and roll better than Richard. Sure like to ball, indeed!
Born: Dec. 25, 1932 Macon, Georgia
Notable recordings: Good Golly Miss Molly, Long Tall Sally, Rip it Up
Tutti Frutti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFq5O2kabQo
BIG JOE TURNER
In the early ’50s, most American music fans were unaware of this groundbreaking force of nature. But the white kids knew! Alan Freed hung around record shops in Cleveland and noticed the kids were buying discs by black rhythm and blues performers such as Turner and Ruth Brown. In ’54, Turner hit the mainstream with “Shake Rattle and Roll” and suddenly he was a rock and roll star at the age of 45.
Born: May 18, 1911 Kansas City, Missouri Died: Nov. 24, 1985
Notable recordings: Shake Rattle & Roll, Honey Hush
Flip Flop & Fly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWoNMhAB9gc
The first time I heard “Move it on Over” was the George Thorogood version of the late ’70s. Jerry Lee Lewis idolized Williams and even though Hank was a country performer, his music helped form the foundation of rock and roll.
Born: Sept. 17, 1923 Mount Olive, Alabama
Died: Jan. 1, 1953
Notable recordings: Move it on Over, Hey Good Lookin’
Your cheatin’ heart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpYl-TQM-3U
Mister Excitement! Few performers whipped the female audience members into a frenzy quite like Wilson. He owned the stage and sadly, that’s where his career ended. In 1975, Wilson was performing at charity concert when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed on stage. Jackie Wilson went into a coma that lasted nine years, until his death at the age of 49.
Born: June 9, 1934 Detroit, Michigan
Died: Jan. 21, 1984
Notable recordings: Reet Petite, Baby Workout, Am I the Man
Lonely Teardrops https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nEfuE8Pw4U
Like Dick Dale, Wray is regarded as one of the fathers of heavy metal guitar playing. Wray wrote “The Rumble” and wanted it to sound like one, so he punctured the speaker on his amp to create a fuzzy, distorted tone. My good friend Sean Anderson of the London Ontario rockabilly band The Black Holes (heard many times on the Riot) caught Wray in concert in the ’90s and said it was the loudest show he’d ever attended.
Born: May 2, 1929 Dunn, North Carolina
Died: Nov. 5, 2005
Notable recordings: Ace of Spades, The Swag
The Rumble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXLo1YAUQBE
Be Bop a Lula gave Vincent his place in rock and roll history. As great as the music was, it was Vincent’s look that influenced generations of young rebels and misfits. Denim and black leather. JIm Morrison loved it and so did a retro rockabilly group called The Stray Cats (see Eddie Cochran, above).
Born: Feb. 11, 1935 Norfolk, Virginia
Died: Oct. 12, 1971
Notable recordings: Race with the Devil, Blue Jean Bop
Be Bop a Lula https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDU9FP5_B2M