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May 2012 | Blog Archives

The Number One "Rocket 88"

Thursday, May 31: 4:50 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
"Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats is often cited as the first rock and roll record

In June 1951, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats had the Number One single on the Billboard R&B charts with "Rocket 88." More pointedly, the recording – along with Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (1949), Wild Bill Moore's "Rock and Roll" (1949), Fats Domino's debut single "The Fat Man" (1949) and Jimmy Preston's "Rock the Joint" (1949), among others – ranks among the first incarnations of the genre that would come to be known as rock and roll. In fact, many consider "Rocket 88" the first rock and roll record.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Jackie Brenston was a forceful singer and a capable baritone sax player. By the close of the 1940s, he had joined the Kings of Rhythm, which had formed around the nucleus of Ike Turner in Mississippi. Farther north, in Memphis, Tennessee, Sam Phillips had opened his Memphis Recording Studio alongside the Sun Records label at 706 Union Avenue at the start of 1950 (he would later change the name to Sun Studios). Although the operation would go on to record the works of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name but ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Uncle John's Band"

Wednesday, May 30: 12:42 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Grateful Dead capped the Sixties with Live/Dead, a double-album that confirmed them as masters of acid-improv. But the spring of 1970 found the group's sound radically redirected on Workingman's Dead. Breezy harmonies and beer-soaked ballads replaced the previous blend of liquid noodling and lysergic lyrics, and no song illustrated the change more succinctly than the opening track, "Uncle John's Band." Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter recalled the song's origins in a 1991 interview with Grateful Dead historian Blair Jackson. According to Garcia, "At that time I was listening to records of the Bulgarian Women's Choir and also this Greek-Macedonian music, and on one of those records there was a... little turn of melody that was so lovely...  I thought, 'Gee, if I could get this into a song it would be so great.' So, I stole it." Eventually, Hunter received a tape of the band's finished arrangement. "I played it over and over [and] kept hearing the words 'God damn, Uncle John's mad'... and it  took a while for that to turn into 'Come hear Uncle John's Band,' and that's one of those little things where the ...


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Album Notes: the Mamas and the Papas' "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears"

Friday, May 25: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Mamas and the Papas censored cover for If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

For the week of May 21, 1966, the Mamas and the Papas debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, peaked at Number One on the Billboard 200. The group of New York folk vagabonds whose post-beatnik image and soaring harmonies bridged folk rock and imminent psychedelia had emerged from the "New Folk" movement of the late Fifties and early Sixties, delivering a seminal debut album with an unexpectedly controversial cover. 

John Phillips had been a member of the Journeymen, a folk trio that also included Dick Weissmann and Scott McKenzie. (McKenzie would go on record a song of Phillips’, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” that became a hit during the summer of 1967.) In a similar vein, Cass Elliot had been in the Big Three, while Denny Doherty belonged to the Halifax Three. Both Elliot and Doherty came together in the Mugwumps, which also included John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, later of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Michelle Phillips was an aspiring model (born Holly Michelle Gilliam) and the wife of John Phillips.

the mamas and the papas california dreaminJohn, Michelle and Doherty performed in the New Journeymen, a temporary group put together to fulfill contractual obligations after the ...


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Remembering Robin Gibb

Wednesday, May 23: 10:26 a.m.
Robin Gibb (12.22.49 – 5.20.12)

Robin Hugh Gibb was born on the Isle of Man on December 22, 1949. Robin was the fraternal twin brother of Maurice Gibb. In 1958, the Gibb family emigrated to Australia and settled in Brisbane. There, the twins, along with their older brother, Barry became known as the Bee Gees and found some success hosting a weekly television show. They released their first single in 1963, which reflected their trademark three-part harmony sound. Robin shared lead vocal duties with Barry, and the trio was heavily influenced by such English rock acts as the Beatles. The brothers collaborated in writing most of the group's original songs. Their first Australian hit came in 1966 ("Spicks and Specks"), and its success subsidized the family’s return to England in 1967. Over the next two years, the Bee Gees launched a string of hit singles executed in a brooding, distinctively British pop style. From this period came such well-crafted, harmony-rich songs as “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody,” “Massachusetts,” “Words,” “I’ve Got to Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke.”

Following a temporary breakup, the Bee Gees kicked off the Seventies with another round of pop ...


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The Story of "Ohio"

Thursday, May 17: 11 a.m.
Posted by Ivan Sheehan
The single for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio"/"Find The Cost Of Freedom"

In the first week of May 1970, Hall of Fame Inductee Chrissie Hynde was 18 years old and a Kent State University student, but it wasn't a typical week.

"[After days of protesting] Saturday morning rolled around to news that a curfew had been imposed upon the city... We were all fired up from our spectacle of a protest the night before," wrote Hynde in Reckless: My Life as a Pretender. "The ROTC – the Resident Officers’ Training Corps – was a very unpopular presence on campus. Anything 'military' was unwelcome... obviously, it had to go... a party atmosphere was in full effect. Every dorm room blasted music out: Hendrix, the Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, Ritchie Havens, Jefferson Airplane... then the real party began. An A-team of longhairs charged down the hill, hurling railroad flares through the windows of the ROTC building. Old and rickety, it went up in flames." The tension on campus continued to escalate leading up to the afternoon of May 4, 1970.

"The grassy, rolling common was teeming with students," recalled Hynde. "I’d never seen it so packed...I pushed my way through the crowd…. Then I heard the tatatatatatatatatat sound. I thought ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Tipitina"

Wednesday, May 16: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" is one of The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

If New Orleans music is a gumbo, pianist Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd – better known as Professor Longhair – is one of the chefs who filled the pot and lit the cooking fire. Variously hailed as “the Picasso of keyboard funk” and “the Bach of rock,” Byrd's syncopated music was as infectious as it was uncategorizable: his playing mixed blues, ragtime, zydeco, rhumba, mambo and calypso, while his hoarse singing voice cracked as it crept toward the high notes. A meandering recording career started in 1949 with two of his most popular songs, "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" and "She's Got No Hair," with the label crediting the tracks to "Longhair and his Shuffling Hungarians." A year later, under a different record company (Mercury) and using his real name (Roy Byrd & his Blues Jumpers), he rerecorded "She's Got No Hair" as "Bald Head," his first and only national R&B hit.

In 1953, while recording for Atlantic (his fourth label in five years ), Longhair cut yet another classic, "Tipitina." Pianists from Fats Domino and Huey "Piano" Smith to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John acknowledge Longhair's influence. The hum-along nonsense syllables and stutter stepping left-hand rhythm of "Tiptina ...


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Remembering Donald "Duck" Dunn

Monday, May 14: 2 p.m.
Donald "Duck" Dunn (11.24.41 – 5.13.12)

As one half of Booker T. and the MGs’ rhythm section, Donald "Duck" Dunn was house bass player at the legendary Stax label, where his artistry helped define one of the most distinctive and enduring sounds in popular music. Among the recordings for which Dunn laid down the bottom end: Otis Redding’s “Respect,” “Dock of the Bay” and “I've Been Loving You Too Long;” Wilson Pickett's “In the Midnight Hour” and Sam and Dave’s “Hold On I'm Coming” and “Soul Man.” He also played on sessions with such artists as Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name but a few.

Born in Memphis on November 24, 1941, Dunn was given his nickname by his father as the two watched a Donald Duck cartoon on television. Although one of his grandfathers played fiddle, there was no music in Dunn’s immediate family. He recalled: "My father was a candy maker. He made peppermints and hard candies. He didn't want me to go into the music industry. He thought I would become a drug addict and die. Most parents in those days thought music was a pastime – something you did as a ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Piano Man"

Wednesday, May 9: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Billy Joel's "Piano Man" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Cold Spring HarborBilly Joel's debut solo album, failed to make a strong impression upon its release in 1971. Worse still, it was released with a curious mastering gaffe that sped up songs and altered the pitch of Joel's vocals. Frustrated and seeking a change in scenery, Long Island native Joel packed his bags for Los Angeles. There he took any and every gig he could find as a lounge singer/pianist (performing under the name Bill Martin). From these long L.A. nights of cigarette smoke and boozy requests, however, came the inspiration and images for "Piano Man" – the title track of Joel's 1973 album for Columbia Records and one of his signature songs. It stands as a classic of the Seventies singer/songwriter movement. Playing expressive piano, reaching into his upper vocal range, Joel rues his own failings while finding hope and even humor in his interactions with the bar's patrons and staff. An old man, a waitress, Paul the "real estate novelist," Davy "who's still in the Navy" – listeners can imagine them all joining in on the song's indelible chorus: Sing us a song, you're the piano man/Sing ...


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