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Old 09-01-2014, 11:16 AM   #11 (permalink)
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So this was the state of American music by the time the 50s arrived. A new generation of kids who were denied big band music due to the AFM strike and grew up on minority or specialty music were coming of age. There was a problem, though--racism. Racism was institutionalized in American society. Many white parents were absolutely opposed to their lily white children listening to n-igger blues. They forbid their children to buy such records.

This presented a big problem for record store owners eager to sell kids records because this was the majority of the record-buying market--teenies and tweenies. The kids didn't know big band from classical and didn't give a fig for Sinatra. They loaded up their record bins with jump blues but many kids were afraid to buy them because of their parents. This was the fifties when kids still didn't question or reject their parents' values.

A Cleveland record store owner named Leo Mintz decided to try another tack. Mintz hoped a radio program of such music aimed at young white listeners would increase sales of these records and he was perfectly happy to sell them. Mintz wanted a local DJ on station WJW named Alan Freed to host the show and Freed jumped at the opportunity to make his mark on modern music.

The station was all for the idea. The question was how to market the records. Terms as "jump," "R&B" or "blues" were out. White parents were hip to them and knew them as euphemisms for "jigaboo music." So Freed decided to call it "rock and roll." Then Freed set about popularizing the term in 1951 when he started his Moondog Rock ‘n’ Roll Party radio program on WJW-Cleveland.

According to one source, Freed took the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” from a 1922 song by Trixie Smith while another source says it came from the lyrics of Billy Ward & the Dominoes’ 1951 release, the blatantly sexual "Sixty Minute Man," which contains the line, “I rock’em, roll ‘em all night long.”

My Man Rocks Me Trixie Smith - YouTube
“My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll” by Trixie Smith, original 1922 version. Smith re-cut the number in 1938 with the great Sidney Bechet on clarinet. Many bands have recorded covers.

Dominoes - Sixty Minute Man - The First Rock and Roll Record?!?! - YouTube
“Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward & the Dominoes from 1951. The sexual innuendo is even more pronounced than in Trixie Smith’s number. The soprano vocal on this recording is Clyde McPhatter.

The program’s theme music was an R&B instrumental called “Blues for the Red Boy” by Detroit’s own Todd Rhodes (formerly pianist for McKinney's Cotton Pickers--one of the world's earliest big bands in the 20s).

Todd Rhodes - Blues For The Red Boy - YouTube
“Blues for the Red Boy” by Todd Rhodes & His Toddlers, 1949. I have recordings of some of Freed’s old broadcast and this song is clearly heard as the theme music that kicked off each program. It became so popular as a result that rock ‘n’ roll fans voted it one of the most influential songs of the 50s even though it was actually released in 1949.

But how old is the term "rock and roll"?

The earliest known use of “rock and roll” in a song was in 1916 by a male religious quartet apparently called Little Wonder that used the phrase “rockin’ and rollin’” on their recording “The Camp Meeting Jubilee.” A state of religious rapture among Southern black Christians, Pentecostal in nature, involved energetic dancing, heavy swaying and even lying on the floor rolling from side to side and hence rocking and rolling in direct relationship with god—what they call “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” But the term “rocking and rolling” was also a secular metaphor for sex or dancing in a sensual manner. Each word was also used by itself but the custom of using both together must have been early as evidenced in the 1922 Trixie Smith recording, “My Man Rocks Me with One Steady Roll.” In the 1934 movie Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round the Boswell Sisters perform a song called “Rock and Roll” referring to the motion of a ship on the ocean. Harlem drummer Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald released a 1937 recording called “Rock It for Me.” In 1939, Buddy Jones released “Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama” and Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson recorded “Roll ‘Em Pete.”

“Camp Meeting Jubilee” by “Male Quartette” from Little Wonder Records, 1916.

Rock and Roll - the Boswell Sisters - YouTube
“Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters, 1934.

Scatman Crothers- I Want To Rock and Roll - YouTube
“I Want to Rock and Roll” by Scatman Crothers, 1949.

In 1950, actress Betty Grable was billed as “The First Lady of Rock and Roll” the year before Alan Freed started using the term on the air. Also in 1950, John Lee Hooker’s “Roll and Roll” was released and a year later Tommy Scott released “Rockin’ and Rollin’” as a rail-riding hobo song. In 1951, there was Tiny Bradshaw’s recording “Train Kept A-Rollin,’” the original version. And Gunter Lee Carr released a novelty song called “We’re Gonna Rock.”
The one and only Tiny Bradshaw from 1951.

Tommy Scott - Rockin' And Rollin' - YouTube
“Rockin’ and Rollin’” by Tommy Scott, 1951.

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 09-01-2014 at 12:20 PM.
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Old 09-01-2014, 11:49 AM   #12 (permalink)
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doles dickens & his quintet - rock and roll - YouTube
“Rock and Roll” by Doles Dickens and His Quintet, 1949.
Written by Wild Bill Moore.

Erline ''Rock & Roll'' Harris - Rock And Roll Blues - YouTube
“Rock and Roll Blues” by Erline “Rock and Roll” Harris, 1949.

In 1952, Freed hosted The Moondog Coronation Ball on March 21st at the Cleveland Arena. This is often held to be the original rock 'n' roll concert. Five acts were booked and drew far more people than the stadium could hold. In frustration, many fans attempted to crash their way in which resulted in a riot which forced the show to close early. The notoriety rocketed Freed and rocknroll music into huge popularity and the country’s youth—black and white—was suddenly hooked on rock 'n' roll. This is the reason the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland even though New York, Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and LA each alone produced far more rock 'n ' roll talent than Cleveland.

Anita O'Day - Rock'n'Roll Blues - YouTube
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Blues” by Anita O’Day, 1952. O'Day was known as "the First Lady of Swing" but here she cashes in on the new craze which was rooted in no small wise to swing music. The label lists the personnel and I am surprised to see the bassist is Al McKibbon, a great jazz bassist out of Detroit whom I greatly look up to even though he's not easy to find.

Rocket 88 (Original Version) - Ike Turner/Jackie Brenston - YouTube
"Rocket 88" by Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm from 1951. This was recorded at Sun in Memphis. Sam Phillips renamed the band Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats which apparently didn't go down too well with Ike. Phillips also touted the song as the first rock 'n' roll record which Turner regarded as ridiculous and never accepted the accolade saying blacks had been playing that stuff for a couple of decades. However, the recording does feature a distorted guitar played by Willie Kizart. This was an accident though as Turner explained the amp was in a trunk the night before and it had rained and some water got into the amp. When they plugged it in later, it was fuzzy-sounding but they decided to go with it. Turner's piano intro would be later lifted note-for-note by Little Richard as his intro to "Good Golly Miss Molly."

From these early recordings we can see that "rock and roll" as originally meant by Freed did not include hillbilly styles or doo-wop. It was strictly jump blues, R&B and boogie-woogie. Based on this, we are hard pressed to state with any authority whether the term “rock and roll” or any variations of the term originated among whites or blacks. The only assumption we can safely make is that the term is American and by that we mean specifically the U.S.A.

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 09-01-2014 at 12:05 PM.
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Old 09-01-2014, 12:53 PM   #13 (permalink)
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As for the music itself, when did it really start? Hard to say but we can narrow it down by acknowledging that wherever whites and blacks in America came in close and constant contact, rocknroll resulted. This means that rocknroll didn’t arise from any one source but several concurrently as well as consecutively but independently. Consequently, the rise of minstrelsy in the 1840s was an early form of rocknroll and I think this is hard to deny. Elvis was decried by many whites in the 50s as a white man dancing and singing like a black man and in minstrelsy white men commonly donned blackface and played banjos while singing and dancing like black men (although women often got in on the act just as they did with rocknroll). Rocknroll was regarded as noise and minstrelsy was similarly regarded in its day. Indeed, in both styles, making noise was the very purpose, its raison d’etre.

Blackface minstrel with obligatory banjo which was to minstrelsy as the electric guitar is to rocknroll. Although images as this are now regarded as shamelessly racist and offensive, it was considered perfectly acceptable in the heyday of minstrelsy and no offense was intended. Whites couldn’t perform black folksongs as white people, so they became black which was seen as acceptable. We see things through different eyes today. The link below let’s you hear the type of music the above men would have performed. The man in the link, Felix “Sonny Boy” Wilson, is a modern minstrel performer and does not wear blackface because it is now socially unacceptable. In the 19th century, it would have been socially unacceptable for him to perform this way in public unless he blackened his face first. The custom became so ingrained that even black minstrels often wore blackface during performances.

Old Time Music in Galway Ireland - YouTube

From that to this:

Just a matter of degree, really.
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Old 09-02-2014, 03:17 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Since rock 'n' roll was the result of the interaction of black and white musical styles, if it was to survive after bursting onto the scene via Alan Freed, it would have to evolve. Inevitably, the white country artists looking to update their sound listened to this original rock 'n' roll and realized a wellspring of possibilities. They became the most zealous of converts but they rarely jumped into rock 'n' roll wholesale but rather mixed it with what they knew and loved--country (or hillbilly as it was actually called back then).

Indeed, the hillbilly radio stations became the place to tune into to hear the latest rock 'n' roll. There were no rock 'n' roll stations or charts back then. One had to see what was topping the R&B or country charts to know what was the hottest thing going.

In the days before Elvis, there was a plethora of beautiful hillbilly music criss-crossing the airwaves:

Zeb Turner - You're My Cutie Pie - YouTube
“You’re My Cutey Pie” by Zeb Turner. Not sure of the year—between ’49 and ’53.

Zeb Turner - Chew Tobacco Rag 1951 - YouTube
“Chew Tobacco Rag” by Zeb Turner, 1951.

Moon Mullican - Rheumatism Boogie 1953 - YouTube
“Rheumatism Boogie” by Moon Mullican, 1953.

Roy Hogsed - Cocaine Blues 1948 - YouTube
“Cocaine Blues” by Roy Hogsed, 1948.

Tennessee Ernie Ford - Hey Mister Cotton Picker - YouTube
“Hey Mr. Cotton Picker” by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1953) featuring Speedy West on steel, Jimmy Bryant on guitar and Cliffie Stone (Merle Travis’s bassist) on bass.

Johnny White & Skeets Mcdonald - Southland Boogie (1950) - YouTube
"Southland Boogie" by Skeets McDonald & Johnny White, 1950.

Hillbilly boogie was the transition point between western swing and rockabilly and an essential ingredient in keeping rock 'n' roll growing by becoming more inclusive. The addition of hillbilly styles wasn't really particularly odd. One of the great myths we have today is that whites and blacks listened to distinctly different styles. In the South, blacks and whites listened to and played country music. The record labels may have been segregated but black bands very frequently played at white dances. The Grand Ol' Opry radio program had a huge black listenership even after King Biscuit Time hit the air (after all, Opry had a clear channel and so was heard nationwide). Black artists as Chuck Berry (who based "Maybelline" on Bob Wills' "Ida Red"), Fats Domino (who got "Blueberry Hill" from Gene Autry) and Ray Charles (who made "I Can't Stop Loving You" the song that it is) openly professed their love of country music and stated that it was what they grew up listening to.

And it hardly bears mentioning how blues and boogie-woogie influenced the white hillbilly artists:

Rocket 88 - Bill Haley and the Saddlemen - YouTube
Bill Haley and the Saddlemen doing "Rocket 88" in 1951 just a few months after Ike Turner's band had released their single. Bill was from Highland Park, Michigan (same city Jackie Wilson was from) and his early musical career was entirely hillbilly music. When rock 'n' roll became the rage, Bill was keen to latch on and his Saddlemen mutated into a rock 'n' roll band called the Comets.

Rocket Boogie 88 pt.1- Pete Johnson - YouTube
"Rocket 88" came from Pete Johnson's "Rocket Boogie 88". Johnson was the partner of Big Joe Turner but did quite a lot of solo material as this. He and Joe came out of the Kansas City jazz and blues scene which is another significant strand of rock 'n' roll.

Big Joe Turner - Pete Johnson 1938 ~ Roll 'Em Pete - YouTube
Joe and Pete with "Roll 'Em Pete" from 1938. Another candidate for a very early rock 'n' roll number.

BIG JOE TURNER. Shake, Rattle & Roll. Live 1954 Performance from Rhythm & Blues Revue - YouTube
Big Joe doing "Shake, Rattle and Roll." He is the original artist to record this tune but Bill Haley had a bigger hit with it. When they first met, Bill was afraid that Joe might be resentful of a white artist taking a black man's material and making a killing off it. Instead, he found Joe a warm, kind man who was nothing but complementary to Bill for his cover. Big Joe and Bill Haley became best buddies and often went fishing together and often played on the same bill. Bill often lent Joe the Comets when he needed a backup band. By the way, the backup band in this clip is none other than that of Paul Hucklebuck Williams who is playing the baritone sax just behind Joe.
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Old 09-06-2014, 12:48 PM   #15 (permalink)
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In 1947, a new station in Memphis went on the air—WDIA—the first station with an all-black staff with entirely all-black programming and quickly became the #1 station in Memphis reaching 10% of the African-American audience nationwide with its powerful 50,000-watt signal. The station started a blues program in 1948 called the Sepia Swing Club to rival King Biscuit Time as well as KWEM and offered a young guitarist and former-sharecropper from Mississippi named Riley B. King the job of hosting it since he was up and coming and garnered a lot of notice around Memphis. King accepted and decided to choose a bluesy moniker for his DJ gig. He thought of “Blues Boy” King but abbreviated it to B.B. and the rest is history.

B.B. King advertising his DJ gig on his guitar. Actually, his first live performance was on KWEM which was a very innovative station in the early days of rock 'n' roll. Although a fan of King Biscuit Time himself, BB credits T-Bone Walker with inspiring him to play electric blues.

T-Bone Walker of Dallas, one of the founders of electric blues. One of the most important musical figures of the 20th century (and you thought Jimi Hendrix started all that stuff).

WDIA gave B.B. his own band called, appropriately enough, the Sepia Tones. Pianist John Alexander and singer Bobby Bland left Adolph Duncan’s band and auditioned for the Sepia Tones and made the cut in 1949. They weren’t there that long when King left the band and station in 1950 to embark on a solo career and national fame with his new recording contract with Modern Records in L.A. Bland took over the band and King’s job on WDIA for a short while before he was drafted into the Army. This left Alexander in a position to assume the leadership role. He became bandleader and WDIA DJ and renamed the band the Beale Streeters after the most famous street in Memphis—the city’s musical soul. But like his predecessors, other opportunities cropped up and Alexander seized them. His musicianship was top-notch but, more than this, Alexander had a voice of satin and honey. Not a blatantly black voice or a white one. The listener could imagine either. The music was generally as smooth and sophisticated as Alexander’s voice. He was a blatant romantic crooner which was guaranteed to capture the hearts of the ladies but his songs were R&B and not lightweight mainstream pap and hipper than Sinatra. It was new, it was hot. Every female loved his voice and every male wished he had it. He was irresistible and people tuned in to listen without fail. WDIA knew they had another hot commodity and were determined not to let another label steal him away as Modern had done with B.B. The program manager at WDIA, David James Mattis, working with his partner, Bill Fitzgerald, of the Tri-State Recording Company, had just founded the station’s own label, Duke Records, in 1952 and signed Alexander to a contract.

At this point, Don D. Robey enters the picture. Robey was a Houston entrepreneur who tried a bit of everything before heading out to L.A. to run his own nightclub. Business was competitive in that city and Robey decided to open a club in his native Houston where could more easily establish himself. In 1945, he opened the Bronze Peacock Dinner Club and hosted dances with such live entertainment as Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordan, Ruth Brown, T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. In 1947, he took over Gatemouth’s career as his manager and then founded Peacock Records in 1949 in order to put out records by Brown over which he would have complete control. Brown was the first artist signed to Peacock but would not be the last. Robey recorded a little known blues pianist who went by the name of Little Richard before Specialty Records made a huge star of him. Peacock also signed singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton who recorded the label’s biggest hit, “Hound Dog” which Elvis later remade into an even bigger money-maker for RCA Victor.

Don D. Robey

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton

Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog (1952) Blues - YouTube
"Hound Dog" by Willie Mae Thornton, 1952.

Mattis was having financial difficulties with Duke but Robey expressed an interest in a merger and so Duke merged with Peacock and, within a year, Robey took over Duke’s operation and headquartered it at the Bronze Peacock Club offices in Houston. Robey was shrewd and savvy. He knew Alexander was going to be big but needed to be marketed correctly so he changed John Alexander into Johnny Ace and a legend was born.

Duke/Peacock released Ace’s first single in September of 1952, “My Song” featuring the Beale Streeters backing him with impeccable timing and which immediately shot to the top of the R&B chart for nine weeks. This was not his first recording session, Ace had actually recorded for Sun in 1951 (B.B. King’s initial recordings for Modern Records were actually done at the Sun studio) before Duke existed but the two sides, “Remember I Love You” and “I Cried Last Night” were never issued and are now lost.

Other singles followed: “Cross My Heart,” “Please Forgive Me,” “The Clock,” “Yes, Baby” (a jump blues duet with Willie Mae Thornton), “Never Let Me Go” and “Don’t You Know” to name a few. Some of them were co-written by Robey (some under the alias of Deadric Malone) who was also a songwriter (he is co-writer of “Farther Up the Road” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, also signed to Duke/Peacock, that Clapton turned into his signature live song). Ace’s next eight consecutive releases after “My Song” were all hits. Like “My Song,” “The Clock” (written by D. J. Mattis) also hit #1 on the R&B chart. Although he was peddled to the white public with his love ballads, Ace was also hot among black listeners and songs as “Don’t You Know” and “How Can You Be So Mean” were faster-paced R&B bashers heavy on the beat and with a booming bass. In this way, Robey kept Ace appealing to both crowds and Ace seemed perfectly comfortable singing in either format.


Johnny Ace Don't You Know - YouTube

Johnny Ace could do no wrong, it seemed. He was every bit as popular among whites as among blacks and he proved it by topping or nearly topping the R&B chart with each release whether it be ballad or jump number (remember, there was no rocknroll chart at that time, R&B—which includes doo-wop—was rocknroll). Ace represented the most blatant transformation of black R&B into mainstream rocknroll. Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino got it started, Lloyd Price (with 1952’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”) was the one who made the music specifically geared for younger listeners instead of adults since he was all of 19 at the time and Bill Haley made it acceptable for whites to perform it but Ace turned R&B into a viable love ballad vehicle that swept white listeners, particularly the female variety, off their feet.

While many white parents were loudly complaining about their kids listening to Domino or Price because they sounded unmistakably black, Ace presented them with something soothing, something that comforted their anxieties. And even if their kids bought and danced to the jump numbers (like his superb “No Money”), parents had no idea that this was the same artist who had serenaded them with lovely, little ballads like “The Clock.” Robey knew what he was doing. Below, a youtube clip of “No Money”:


In this manner, Johnny Ace is indeed the artist that made black R&B into rocknroll that provided the soundtrack for white teens slow-dancing in gyms, unwinding in the drugstores (where the jukeboxes were) after school and making out in their cars at drive-ins all across the nation. Moreover, the girls thought Ace was gorgeous with his long-lashed, spaniel eyes and dazzling smile, always impeccably dressed, always perfectly groomed—and that voice, oh, that voice. He was, as they say, “dreamy.” If these are the ingredients of a rocknroll star--and they are indeed--then Ace was the first rocknroll star, which he was indeed. His appeal was universal and his music perfect for girls to call the radio stations to request while thinking of some dreamy boy and for boys to call those same stations to request as a dedication to their dreamy girls. It was the stuff that made rocknroll both a music and a cultural phenomenon—a distinctly American one. But it wouldn't stay distinctly American for long because it was setting the world on fire.

But while rocknroll played a large part in ending segregation, we would be naïve to assume this happened overnight. Johnny Ace’s music occurred in an age of segregation, an age of astonishing hypocrisy where whites could dance to the latest hits by black artists and buy their records but refuse to see them in concert unless the shows were segregated and who could applaud with glee at the sight of police dogs and fire hoses turned loose on civil rights marchers. While in the North, the shows were integrated, they were frequently segregated in the South.

Ace’s Southern shows were mainly geared towards a black audience. He was on the “chitlin circuit,” a grueling tour schedule where the artists performed at least two shows a day everyday and where two consecutive venues might be literally hundreds of miles apart. There were no lavish hotels to take in black performers as these were still strictly segregated, so they slept in dingy fleabags or people’s houses if they could find someone to take them in. Likewise eateries were segregated and even integrated ones often allowed blacks to sit only by the kitchen, never in booths or at the counter. Police frequently came in during the performances to arrest anyone dancing or to forcibly remove anyone white or who even looked white from the stage or audience. They also frequently pulled over the tour vehicles for any number of trumped up reasons or for no reason at all.

It was a hard life on the chitlin circuit as this was the reality day in and day out. The reason for the grueling tour was simply money. Artists generally do not make money from record sales, all profits usually go to the label only (this is still common as Lyle Lovett recently stated that he has never seen a penny of the millions in record sales that he has generated for his label). Performers made their money by touring, more stops meant more money so performers had to play as many dates as they could book for as long as their popularity lasted. A performer was lucky to spend only 300 days out of the year touring and on those off-days he or she was often recording new material.

Robey had set up Ace and Willie Mae Thornton on the same bill which was a very successful coupling. They were usually playing two shows a day virtually everyday. But they packed the houses everywhere they went. These were predominantly black audiences and often for blacks only (“Negro dances” as they were called). But Duke/Peacock was happy and had announced that sales of Ace’s records along with Thornton’s “Hound Dog” had surpassed 1.7 million records in 18 months. That was pretty good for a small label pushing black artists in those days. And the public was hardly sated—they wanted more. Robey had big plans for Johnny Ace.

But Johnny Ace wasn’t just the first rocknroll star, he was the first rocknroll legend—live fast, die young. On Christmas Day in 1954, Ace’s entourage was at the Houston Civic Auditorium to do two shows for a Negro dance. The first show went great and Ace left the crowd in a frenzy as he exited the stage. He had time for only a five-minute break and would have to get ready for the next show and then pack up and split that night for the next date. No one is sure what happened next and, as per a true legend, there is a great deal of speculation even six decades later. According to the legend, Ace sat backstage holding a revolver. There was one bullet in the weapon. Ace pointed the gun at his girlfriend, Olivia Gibbs, and pulled the trigger but the hammer fell on an empty chamber. Then he pointed the weapon at Gibbs’ girlfriend, Mary Carter, and pulled the trigger but, again, the hammer clicked. Then he pointed the revolver at his own temple and pulled the trigger and went down in rocknroll history. The anxious concert-goers were stunned when the auditorium management announced the second show was cancelled and rumors swept through the crowd that Johnny Ace had just died. Some stood in shocked silence while others broke down and wept. He was only 25.

As the news spread across the nation over the next few days, Johnny Ace fans grieved. Many demanded answers as to exactly what had happened, the story didn’t seem to make sense. Indeed, they were right and, to this day, those questions are still being asked. Why was Ace playing with a revolver during a five-minute break? Why a game of Russian roulette out of nowhere? Was he depressed? Was he contemplating suicide? Did he give any indication to anyone in the days before his death that he might do something drastic and tragic? Why did he threaten the lives of two innocent people before turning the gun on himself? Or were they innocent? But if they had done something that drove him to such a tragic act, why Russian roulette? Wouldn’t he simply have killed them both and then turned the gun on himself as is usually the case in such scenarios? Others suspected that Don Robey may have been responsible. Rumor had it that Ace wanted out of his contract and was planning to ditch Robey so Robey had Ace killed and made it look like suicide. There is, of course, not a shred of evidence to support this. Others said that Ace was high on PCP (which he allegedly used to give himself enough energy to get through the grueling schedule) and this was the reason he had acted so irrationally. But where did the revolver come from?

Gibbs stated that it was a kind of running thing between Johnny and his road entourage to take turns between shows putting a gun to their heads and pulling the trigger. She claimed she was sitting on his lap at the time it was his turn to play Russian roulette and Johnny’s luck just ran out.

Willie Mae Thornton witnessed the incident and gave her story to the police thusly: Ace was messing with a revolver, pointed it at both Gibbs and Carter but did not pull the trigger either time but was merely funning around. He then flicked the weapon back and his finger put enough pressure on the trigger that the gun accidentally discharged while the barrel was pointing at the side of his head momentarily. Some have used Thornton’s statement as the definitive account of Ace’s death but how conclusive is it? The statement was released a short time after Ace’s death but certainly Robey would have talked with her beforehand and told her what to say. We should be properly shocked if he had not since this would be part of his job duties as her manager and Ace’s. Frankly, none of these stories sound believable. So how did Johnny Ace really die and why? We will likely never know. The circumstances surrounding his death are a complete puzzle.

As the nation mourned the loss of its first rocknroll star, Duke/Peacock released Johnny’s next single, “Pledging My Love.” Another love ballad, this one was haunting. Even today, it gives me chills to hear it so I can imagine how it affected his fans in the immediate wake of his death. The song sounds almost as though Ace were crooning from beyond the grave. Radio stations played it with solemn sanctity. Fans requested it over and over again. They bought the single in huge numbers—the biggest sales of Ace’s short career. Some of Johnny’s fans couldn’t bear to listen to it while others would burst into tears upon hearing the opening strains. The song remained #1 on the R&B chart for ten weeks.

Johnny Ace - Pledging My Love - YouTube

The Johnny Ace myth has built up to the point that people believe he wrote “Pledging My Love” just before he shot himself. This is untenable partly because the songwriting credits go to Ferdinand Washington and Don Robey as the original Duke label reproduced here makes unequivocally clear and obviously because if Ace had written it just before his death, he must have recorded it posthumously! Another version has it that a tape of the song was found next to his body even though he had written it just moments before. Apparently, a supernatural element was at work.

But…that’s rocknroll, man.

The demand for Johnny Ace songs after his passing was now such that, Duke/Peacock issued a memorial album in 1955. That album is still available today with the original cover on CD. The album rights were bought by MCA:

Johnny Ace was a tremendous influence on rocknroll and the later rock music and country as well. Most of the musicians of the 60s and 70s were ardent fans—many when Ace was still alive. When John Lennon wrote “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” the melody is unmistakably that of a Johnny Ace song—in fact, it sounds very much like “Pledging My Love” and may have been a tribute by Lennon since Ace died on Christmas Day. It is certainly too close to "Pledging My Love" to be a coincidence.

Country outlaw David Allan Coe idolized Ace as a boy in the fifties and was unable to sing “Pledging My Love” for years afterward without choking up. Paul Simon wrote a song called “The Late Great Johnny Ace” and, while performing it at Central Park in 1981 during a Simon & Garfunkle reunion tour, a man rushed the stage and had to be tackled by security. As they dragged him away, he can be heard yelling to Simon, “I gotta talk to you! I gotta talk to you!” Simon managed to finish the song. When Simon appeared on Dick Cavett the following year, Cavett asked him to play the song and Simon obliged but a string broke on the guitar he was using forcing the producer to cut to a commercial. Simon performed it publicly in 2000 and that performance is on DVD. He prefaces the song by performing part of “Pledging My Love.”

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Old 09-07-2014, 08:10 AM   #16 (permalink)
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This was really a front organization for the Ku Klux Klan but the sentiment expressed was not any different than how a great many white parents, if not the majority, across the nation felt. Oddly, there is no mention of whether it is acceptable to buy the records of white artists playing boogie-woogie, R&B or jazz. Notice that the phrase "rock and roll" or any variant does not appear.
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Old 09-07-2014, 12:27 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Really, I'm not being smart or pithy here and it's just a suggestion, but you put so much work into these threads that I wondered if you ever considered starting a journal? I've seen ones with less work than this put into them and you really seem to be passionate about your subjects. Your threads, in the main, don't invite as it were real conversations or debate (which may or may not be your aim) other than deserved congratulations, and they will in time vanish as other threads push them down. So why not collect them all together in something like, I don't know, Lord Larehip's Manor or something?

Think about it; I think you could be a valuable addition to Journaltown, even if our opinions clash from time to time and we get on one another's nerves. I can recognise talent, and passion when I see it, and it should not go to waste.
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Old 09-10-2014, 04:02 AM   #18 (permalink)
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excellent posts, will return and read them thoroughly when i have more time. hope you are saving this stuff. i collect many of the names you mention, and i only really have one problem with that early jump and r&b, the ubiquity of boogie woogie piano. i can tolerate it, own moon mullican, but i wonder why everyone had to try it. it's such a cliché, i think. just my opinion, of course.
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Old 09-23-2014, 11:20 AM   #19 (permalink)
I'm back, baby!
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Yeah. I just find this rude. I mean, I give the guy a compliment two weeks ago and he hasn't the decency to even reply. I know he's about, as he started yet another thread after this. Last time I bother.
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Old 09-27-2014, 01:13 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Some other early rock 'n' roll precursors. This early rocknroll, jump blues, hillbilly boogie stuff is, IMHO, the greatest music ever made. If I had to live with only one era of music to listen to for the rest of my life, I would choose this stuff without hesitation. I wouldn't need to think about it. And before someone thinks I'm just some old fogey thinking the music of my era was better than today, this wasn't my era. I wasn't born yet. I just like it better than anything else. It was the result of jazz, blues and country coming together after each had matured to perfection. I was pleased to read an interview with Johnny Winter once and he said the same--that it came together in the fifties perfectly. You can doubt me all you want but you can't doubt Johnny:

The Delmore Brothers - Freight Train Boogie - YouTube
From 1946.

From 1952, one I play on guitar at open mics and turned out to be people's favorite.

Jimmy Forest - Night Train - YouTube
From 1952. Actually written by Duke.

Stick McGhee - Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee - YouTube
From 1947 and was often covered by the real rocknrollers in the 50s.

Houston's own.
Bill Haley from 1953 shortly after the Saddlemen became the Comets.

This isn't the end of the thread, think of it as an intermission.
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