The story of rock and roll is often reduced to a happy mix of rhythm and blues and country music, but it is actually a far richer and more complicated comingling of styles, genres, instruments, cultures and people. For our Rock and Roll Night School last night, my colleagues and I researched a rather famous moment in rock and roll history featuring some of its greatest musicians playing together at an impromptu jam session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956. Coined the “Million Dollar Quartet” by local journalist Bob Johnson who stopped by to chronicle the session, I was struck by the versatility of these legends and the diverse repertory they had in their wheelhouse.
Earlier that day, rockabilly king Carl Perkins had recorded some songs with Sun newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. Former Sun superstar (and then RCA recording artist) Elvis Presley was home for the holidays and dropped by with his girlfriend. Johnny Cash swung by for a time as well. As the musicians began to play together, Phillips placed a microphone in the middle of the room and pressed record. What followed were hours of musical exchange, experimentation, improvisation, imitation ...
May 4, 1970 marked the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University, when four students were killed and nine wounded by the Ohio National Guard during student protests of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. As part of the commemorations, the Rock Hall’s Education department put together a panel at KSU on rock and roll and the Vietnam war. There are, of course, rock and roll songs about the Kent State shootings—most famously, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s single “Ohio”/”Find the Cost of Freedom,” recorded just weeks after May 4th. But I wanted to tell a wider story about the role that rock and roll played in our understanding of the Vietnam war, how protestors, soldiers, and civilians made sense of the war and its aftermath through the music. It was, as Samuel Freedman wrote, the first war to be “fought to a rock and roll soundtrack.”
I spent the afternoon on the KSU campus, listening to the many speakers who came together as part of the commemoration. Speakers included Florence Schroeder, mother of slain student William Schroeder; Russ Miller, brother of slain student Jeffrey Miller; Joe Lewis, a student who was shot and wounded ...
This past week, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) offered its 31st annual Jazz Fest in the city of Cleveland with events that ranged from community programs to all-star jazz performances. This year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum partnered with the Jazz Fest to offer two evening programs that explored the connections between jazz and rock.
On Monday April 19th the Rock Hall screened the film Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue directed by acclaimed filmmaker and friend of the Museum, Murray Lerner. The film looks back to the period of musical transition from Miles Davis’ freebop quintet to what later became known as electric Miles, culminating with uncut footage of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee’s legendary performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. It wasn’t rock and roll, although Bitches Brew (1969) came close, but Davis’ style wasn’t far removed from the acid rock and funk that was filling the airwaves in the late 1960s. For some extra fun check out the records his wife Betty Davis made starting in 1973 – awesome! Davis’ band at the Isle of Wight consisted of powerhouse jazz players including Gary Bartz (saxophone), Chick ...
As we were preparing last week’s special Rock and Roll Night School on rock and roll holiday records, I was amazed at how many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees had recorded a holiday record. So, being the obsessives that we are, the Education Department staff tried to figure out just how many there are. Here’s our preliminary stats. Note: for the purposes of discussion, we focused on inductees from the Performer and Early Influence category; we counted a band or a duo as one inductee (e.g., The Rolling Stones =1; Bob Dylan =1, etc.); and we included our newest group of inductees (ABBA, The Stooges, The Hollies, Jimmy Cliff, and Genesis). Here’s what we found:
143 out of 255 Inductees have recorded a holiday record: 72%!
Given how many crazy one-off records are out there, I’m sure that we missed a few. I’ve listed our working list below. Please let us know if we missed any! We’d love hear from you.
Inductees who HAVE NOT recorded holiday songs/albums
1. Charlie Christian
2. Willie Dixon
3. Billie Holiday
4. Howlin’ Wolf
5. Elmore James
6. Robert Johnson
7. Professor ...
Man oh Man was last night’s holiday edition of Rock and Roll Night School fun! And we all learned so much about a very special niche of music. In fact, we are thinking about doing this again and maybe streaming the program online. So……anybody out there, let us know if this would be something you would like to participate in…and if you can’t make it in person, consider possibly participating online or via the phone.
Below you’ll find a list of my favorite rock and roll holiday songs. Also, feel free to comment on all of the lists if you were here last night. Most importantly, let us know if we missed any holiday songs by Inductees.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Come to Cleveland!
27.) Merry Christmas – Lightning Hopkins
26.) Christmas Presents – Solomon Burke
25.) Not So Merry Christmas – Bobby Vee
24.) There’s Trouble Brewing – Jack Scott
23.) Chipmunk Song – Canned Heat and the Chipmunks
22.) Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy – Buck Owens
21.) Man with all the Toys – The Beach Boys
20.) Papa Noel – Brenda Lee
19.) Chinchy Old Scrooge – Phil Moore
18.) Jingle Jangle – The Penguins
17.) Christmas in ...
Rock Hall’s Director of Education Discusses the Sound of Janis’ Voice
Last night we hosted the first event of American Music Masters week: Rock and Roll Night School at the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University. The evening featured multi-media presentations by Dr. Lauren Onkey, Dr. Mary Davis (Chair of the Music Department at CWRU), and myself, examining Janis Joplin’s contributions to rock and roll history.
My presentation focused on what I most love about Joplin: her voice! Her vocal performances are so moving. She makes you feel something. She makes you want to jump and shout, dance and sing. People often talk about the wild abandon of her voice, as if she experienced a kind of rapture in her performances that pushed her and her audience to the edge. But after diving deep into her music over the last year I realized that her performances of rapture were just that, performances. It’s not that she didn’t feel them, but as a performer she worked at refining the way she created these moments for her audience. A great example of this is her performances of the classic Big Mama Thornton tune “Ball ...