The Birth Of Rock And Roll.    All births are painful,  that of Rock and Roll particularly so. When a child is born it's always helpful to know who the parents are.  The Mother and Father of Rock and Roll are Deprivation and Poverty. It's a Bastard Child and had to find it's own way in the World.  Just how did it come about ? There is no doubt that it's an Art Form, and there is also no doubt that it's an accurate reflection of Society in whatever period one chooses to examine it. All Art is, or should be some kind of "Reflection" of it's time, otherwise what's the point ?  There is also no doubt that Rock and Roll grows over time, a "living" thing, like a language. Encapsulating all the moods, styles, and experiences of thousands of different Artists from hundreds of different cultures, year after year , decade after decade.  So, who is this "Child"  who is reborn time after time, fresh and young again, moving from Era to Era.   Like a Chamelion, Rock and Roll can change it's shape and colour to reflect any society, but there is one thing it never loses. The Beat. The Groove. The Feel. That's the Great heart that keeps it Alive.

From a ballad like " Love letters In The Sand " to " Blue Suede Shoes "- take away the feel and there's nothing. And the Great Heart is made up of the dreams and aspirations in the Souls of People. Elvis was a reflection of his Generation and also of the Generation immediately preceding his own, and, as we shall see, many many generations before that. Let's go back BEFORE Elvis, and have a look at the musical situation before Rock And Roll Proper was born, or recognised or even given a name. Picture this :  1953 :There's a cafe. Inside there's a juke box blasting away, lots of kids around, 18-19 years old, drinking coke, ordering ice cream " floats," - The Chicks are all dressed like Natalie Wood in " Rebel" - the guys much heavier in drape suits, and the Music is KAY STARR or JOHNNY RAY or FRANKIE LAINE or BILLY ECKSTEIN.  Outside the cafe there are a dozen cars parked, mostly big cars, Rovers, Wolsleys etc. and tonight there's going to be a "Chicken Run"   - Where are we ? The US of A ?   No, we are in Glasgow, Scotland. Two idiots are going to have a race on a mile long stretch of road after midnight when the traffic is virtually non existent. This scene is being repeated all over the World. Why on earth would anyone want to do that ?  I mean to say, Wee Sammy McGregor died with a flattened head only last month when he turned his car over in a similar activity. So why ? Oh listen to that Juke Box...Hank Williams singing " Move it On Over" - Somehow it's different. That stinging steel guitar, the  wail of the country fiddle, the " Back -beat " from the rhythm guitars, the slap of the bass. No drums yet.  It's early Country blues, performed with a gentle intensity, but insistent, Hank just MADE YOU LISTEN.  The first time I heard him it stopped me dead in my tracks. Ohhh -that terrible hurt in Hank's voice as he sings a song. What's this, a white man singing Blues ?  Compare the melody of "Rock Around the Clock " which was written MUCH later, with that of " Move it On Over "- It's almost identical. I know that many melodies in the 12 bar blues form bear similarities, but this one's too close for comfort.  Remember, Bill Haley's Comets were originally known as BIll Haley and The Saddlemen, - a C and W outfit. I'm not saying the melody was consciously plagiarised, but the tie up is clearly there. But where is Hank coming from ? One of his biggest influences was an old black gentleman who worked the Family farm. He was affectionately known as Tea Top. 


So let's look at just  two ingredients in the music of the period leading up to The BIrth Of Rock and Roll.  Colour and social conditions. Rock and Roll is NOT someone in a Gold Lame Suit.  Rock and Roll is watching your father shovel 10 tons of coal a day to feed his family of seven, too tired to eat when he gets home at night. Rock and Roll is wearing someone  else's hand me downs, and handing your own to the next in line. Rock and Roll is quite simply a fight to Survive. It didn't come from some rich kid living in comfort and security. It came from the Ghettos, the plantation fields, the war torn cities of the world.   Anywhere there is injustice and poverty and oppression, the Child called Rock and Roll is waiting to be Born. For Rock and roll is a Spirit, and the Spirit can never be vanquished. Let me tie together some of the threads that make up the Tapestry of Rock and Roll.  The Beat. The Heartbeat.      The Heartbeat first Manifested itself in the Black man. Oh, it was ticking in many countries, notably Ireland, Scotland, great Areas of Social deprivation. But it was not until the great Slaveships appeared, carrying their dreadful cargoes of Humanity, that the Child called Rock and Roll was conceived.  Oh, all you Lovers of Blue Suede Shoes, come with me below deck and watch the Birth of the  Child called Rock and Roll. What, no soda fountains, no guitars, No glamour ? No shiny suits ? No fame ?  I'm afraid not. Only the chains, and the blood, and the first cry of a new born baby. And so The Great Heart starts to beat. This injustice, this unspeakable crime against Humanity MUST HAVE A VOICE. And it WILL be heard.  And so the Mother puts the Child to Breast, and with great tenderness and overwhelming Love gives the Spirit the  Strength to keep going.  And the Great Spirit passed from Generation unto Generation . How to resist, how to stay sane,how to pass on the message to others in quiet gentle songs,  twisting the words to hide it from the oppressor. Rebellion. All the time alive and well in the music. But others, similarly disposessed, have reached the strange shores of the "New World." Hey what's this ? French Settlers ? Oh Yes. But most of them are poor too.  And what's that funny "Cry" in the voice. CAJUN !  As sure as my Blue Suede Shoes . That sound is a cry from the soul. It's not a word. It's a cry. It's the cry of People lost on a New Continent, who miss the security and love of  those left behind in the Old Country. Anything else ? Oh Yes, I almost forgot,- more poverty.  As the years passed the music of the two mixed along with all the influences from the European Settlers. Scottish Reels, Irish Jigs, and the sweet melodies and rhythms from Mexico. Every Nation in the world contributed to the Development of Music in America. But down in the Delta something stirred. And it Glowed like a Beacon for the poor people, especially the Black man. It was called a guitar. A Guitar. The music had almost lost it's name on the dreadful journey from Africa, and a guitar was an impossible thing to acquire. But there was born a certain child in that time  who had a strange Dream. And the child spoke to the Lord in the Dream, and said  " Lord, I cannot be Heard in the World, My voice is too small . And the Great Spirit replied : " Take unto thee an empty wooden gigar box, Bind to it a piece of wood so as to fashion a fingerboard,  and also some fence - wire strings upon which to play. Let this be your  Axe and Thy Steed and ride Ye forth to the four corners of the Earth carrying the Word of the Lord Thy God  " FREEDOM IS COMING !!  " And what shall be my name" asked the Innocent One. The Lord smiled fondly, put his hand on the Child's Head and said " Your name is Mr Blues, You will have many children." And Mr. Blues asked " Will I reach the Promised Land, Lord ? "  And The Great Spirit Replied " You will see it, Mr Blues, but there is one coming after you who will set the troubled generations Free. His name is Rock and Roll. Born again."   Blasphemy ?  I think not. Look at the beggar you pass in the street.  Society walks past  and doesn't give a damn if he lives or dies. "Look among the poor, the hungry, the disposessed. There Ye will find me." I quote loosely but you get the message. And for those who think I'm a crazy sanctimonious Christian, well, I follow no formal relegion, but the words make sense in any language.


ROCK AND ROLL LIVES ! Oh Yes !  Long Live Rock and Roll. Shout it from the roof tops.  In today's messed up  Musical Environment  of  unrelenting Synths, Sequencers, Drum machines etc - there is one Instrument that still has the same appeal  as it did way back down in The Delta.  The Guitar. No one can resist the incredible desire to hold a guitar.  To hear the sound of it, and to fall in Love with the beauty of it's shape. Joe Pass states quite openly that He fell in Love with the guitar after he saw a picture of Gene Autrey with a big jumbo guitar around his neck. For the unitiated Joe Pass is one of the Greatest Jazz Guitarists ever. And Gene Autrey was a Cowboy Hero circa 1940 in the Movies. And why not ? Guitars are Beautiful things to look at. And there's a very important point here. One could walk around with the thing. One could go from Town to town with it.  And VERY important. You had six strings, You were a one man band. And during the great American depression you could ride the rails. That meant You could travel the whole country, provided you lasted that long or didn't get caught by the cops. Just as the big Southern Steamboats  helped to push " Jazz" up the rivers to the Northern towns, so the trains carried The Guitar Players, Black and White, Blues and Country, Cajun, and all,  throughout the length and breadth of  The United States of America. And everyone was telling a story in their song, usually about hard times, leaving home, the girl they left behind etc. but the songs also contained important information about the Economic and Social conditions  in various parts of the country. 



One of the key elements associated with Rock and Roll is Violence. Violence begets violence, and that practiced by the British Establishment in the education of it's young people in 1953 provided a perfect breeding ground for Rock and Roll. I was attending High school in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of the guys were around 15 -16 years of age.  Every teacher carried a thick black leather belt. Stiff, like a razor strop. For a minor offence you got three strokes, for a more serious offence you got six. You hold out your hands, palms upwards, one hand on top of the other about stomach height, the master raises the belt OVER his head and brings it down with enough force to break a table. The bastard even gives a little jump to add extra impetus,and he takes time between strokes to prolong the proceedings. . After number three you can't feel anything anymore. The Motherfucker knows this and makes you change hands. Your fingers and palms have blue weals for days afterwards. So, My Fellow Rockers, what does one do ?  Oh Dear, what does one do ? You wait till the guy has gone home at 4pm, sneak back to the empty classroom and YOU SMASH THE FUCKING PLACE TO BITS !!  You bring phials of Acid from the Science lab and you burn the blackboard white. You tear the books to pieces. That's what you do !  RAGE ! Blinding almost uncontrollable Rage. You can't hit back. If  you do that you're on your way to BORSTAL. The Reform Shool.  So the guys form a gang and anyone who steps out of line gets smacked. Hard. Now as I look back I realise I loved those guys, my buddies. All for one and one for all. Goodfellows.  From then on when a teacher hands you six of the best you send a friend from another school to borrow that teacher's leather belt. The bastard likes that, He thinks it's a compliment -another teacher using his belt on some poor kid. The belt is sent back to him in a brown paper bag, chopped to pieces. Luca sleeps with the fishes . If he DOESN'T get the message then he finds someone waiting for him on his way home some dark night.  Razors, Axes, bottles, chains. These were the fighting weapons in Glasgow. Black, worn out tenement buildings, three different families, perhaps 15 people in all, sharing one toilet on a landing.
Picture of typical backyard  tenement Crown St. Glasgow 1925.
By the time I was born,1938, nothing had changed. By 1948 still nothing had changed. In these slum houses the warmest , most loving people in the world were born, lived, and died. I've travelled far and wide and have never known love like that since I left Glasgow.
Crabs, rats and bed bugs. Being kicked stupid in a street fight, and when you get home your Dad hands you a golf club , picks up an axe , and says " Let's go get the bastards."  Cops who would fuck you up as soon as look at you. So what's to be done ? You either spend the rest of your life doing that or you pick up your guitar and you FUCK OFF. Dramatic? It sure is. I can't think of anything more dramatic than wandering the streets, broke, and my bed for the night is a shop doorway. That was the picture for many young Rock Musicians in the 50s & 60s. There was nothing peculiar about it. You either left or you stayed, as simple as that.  JAMES DEAN. MARLON BRANDO.
Not musicians or singers, but extremely important Symbols in the Rock world. Rebellious. Misunderstood. Can't fit in to "Normal Society."  What the fuck is Normal Society ? Elvis was crazy on Jimmy Dean, He would watch "Rebel without a Cause" over and over again in his home cinema.  Deaner epitomised the high school rebel. The dress, the walk, the attitude, vulnerable, but ready for a fight anytime.  He created an "Off the Peg" Persona that any kid could wear, just like a suit of clothes. Brando gave us Leather Jackets, Big Harley Davison Motor sickles, and the great example of facing up to Crooked Unions or whoever, and winning in the end { On The Waterfront } SIDNEY POITIER was the perfect example of the Black Teacher facing up to Evil punks in High School and succeeding .Something of tremendous importance was happening.  The Most Important Event in American History. Two great cultures were about to smack into each other with all the force of two planets colliding.  The cultures of the Afro- American and the White Man. And music was not only the point of collision but the point of RECONCILIATION. No other Art Form, Philosophy, or SYSTEM of ANY KIND has achieved what Music has achieved. Rock and Roll and Jazz meant that a guy could get up on stage and tell his story, do his thing, and the colour of his skin didn't matter. All the way down the long road from the Delta right up to the present day, one thing stands out like a Shining Beacon, the Destruction of Racial Discrimination.  I noticed an incredible thing after the Twin Towers incident on September 11  2001. People came together in their grief. Black,White, and all the other names by which we brand different races. Arms around each other. Comforting each other. Just people. Americans. But why In their Grief ? What about in Happiness ? Why do people have to DIE before we find each other ?  Is death more potent than life ?       " WELL SINCE MY BABY LEFT ME" !!!!!!!!            Ka - Boom !!  What is that ? WHO is that ?  It's someone called  Elvin Parsley or Elroy Pelvis, or somethin' - none of us can get his name right . Who ? ELVIS PRESLEY . Never heard of him. You will, sucker, you will.    Vocal, Piano, Guitar, Bass fiddle and Drums, That was the line up for "Heartbreak Hotel" - a quintet, and it grabbed the World by the neck and gave it a kick in the Ass from which it has never recovered.   (c) Joe Moretti
Elvis Presley. Born Tupelo, Mississippi, January 8,1935. Elvis was raised on Gospel. His family moved to Memphis in 1948, and Elvis starts soaking up the Jazz and Blues of Beale Street. He graduated from High School in 1953.  At the age of 18 Elvis went to Sun records to record his Voice,  Sam Phillips immediately saw the potentialand Teamed him up with Scotty Moore and Bassist Bill Black to cut "That's Alright Mama " b/w "Blue Moon of Kentucky"  - I went CRAZY when I heard those tracks. They set the stage for everything that was to come in the Great Rock and Roll Explosion and Scotty Moore's guitar hit the nail right on the head. Elvis had five Great hits with SUN then moved to RCA records, and his career really took off.  "Heartbreak Hotel " went across the board and held the #1 spot for 8 weeks. Elvis could handle a slow, sad ballad and a scorching rocker equally well. Between 1956/57 Elvis turned out hit after Hit inc : "Don't be Cruel" "Hound Dog" "All Shook Up' and many more. WOW ! From Truck Driver to Mega Star. And the kids thought " Hey, I wanna be a Rock and Roll Star" -so the fuse was lit and burning. After an Illustrious and incomparable career  Elvis died on August 16 1977. Cause of death given as  "Cardiac Arrythma/ Severe cardiovacular disease."  Just how popular was Elvis ? Judge for yourself. Here's a photo of Elvis' funeral procession.

January 23rd 1986 : Elvis was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Julian and Sean Lennon were his presenters.  (c) Joe Moretti

JACKIE WILSON. " Mr Entertainment. When I hear Jackie sing " Lonely Teardrops " Ah man, I just can't take it. There's that terrible cry in the voice again. I want to Screeeeem !!  "Jackie, Jackie, I know just how you feel, Baby" "Don't worry, she's coming back to You."  Girl, if you don't come back I'm gonna - I'm gonna, Ah what the hell, I'll just cry some more " 1959 :  " Lonely Teardrops"  went to # 1 on the R&B Charts and # 7 in the Pop Charts courtesy of Brunswick Records. Jackie was a GREAT singer and an athletic showman. He sang with the control of Sam Cooke and hit you with the power of James Brown. Audiences went NUTS when Jackie performed.  He carried them right to the edge of Hysteria. Jackie was born on June 9 1934, in Detroit, Michigan. Look at this list of hits: 1959 "That's Why " You better Know it" " Talk That Talk" - On May 9 1960 :" Night" hits # 4 in Pop and # 33 in R&B. Also on May 9 1960 : "Doggin' Around"  goes # 15 in Pop & # 1 in R&B. August 22 the same Year and The Incredible Jackie Wilson hits # 15 in Pop and # 1 in R&B with " A  Woman, A Lover, A Friend" - Hit after hit right up to October 7 1967 when He hit # 6 with " Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher." He went into a coma after suffering a stroke and remained hospitalised for more than eight years. Mr. Entertainer - The Incredible Jackie Wilson, died in Mount Holly, New Jersey in 1984. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. We all miss this guy. Hey !  If there are names here that you don't recognise, check them out . There are plenty of biographies on the Web and all the Great music is available in your music store. You'll love it. I promise you.   (c) Joe Moretti.

The Four Seasons. This was a knockout group. One of the few vocal groups that managed to stay out in front as the "New wave" of rockers hit the scene in 1964 [The Beatles etc}.  The original line up was as follows : Tom Devito, born June 19, 1935. Nick Massi, born September 19, 1935. Frankie Valli a.k.a Frank Castellucio, born May 3,1937. Bob Gaudio, born November 17, 1942.  As a matter of fact the Four seasons didn't just survive the onslaught, 1964 was the best year of the all for the group. Frankie Valli had a three octave range and the harmonies and arrangements were immaculate.  Bob Gaudio was responsible for much of the songwriting and the Four Seasons were never short on imagination when it came to production. They incorporated most of the great influences that were around at the time including Phil Spector's " Wall of sound "and Motown's great feel.  They had two dozen hit singles from 1962-68 including the number one hits "Sherry" "Rag Doll" "Walk Like A Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry".  The most successful white doo- wop group in record history, they have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. As a teenager Frankie Valli lived in Newark, New Jersey, and originally sang with the " Varietones". The name was later changed to the "Four Lovers" and had a minor hit in 1956 with Otis Backwell's "You're The Apple Of My Eye".  When Bob Gaudio joined them they changed the name to The Four Seasons and added the strength of  Philadelphia Producer Bob Crewe to their recording work. In addition to the wonderful talents of Bob Gaudi and Frankie Valli, special mention must be made of  Tommy DeVito { Singer/guitarist } and Nick Massi { Bass vocalist/Vocal Arranger }. Nick was later replaced by Joe Long. I had the good fortune to work on the same bill with them around 1965 on their UK tour and they were as musically brilliant and cohesive live as they were on their recordings, in fact even more so.  The Four Seasons reformed in 1975 with the New group retaining original members Valli and Gaudio and hit the charts again with " Who Loves You" and "Oh What A Night". Frankie Valli has enjoyed great success as a solo artist with " My Eyes Adored You" and "Grease".  The movie " Forest Gump " brought " Oh What A Night" to the musical fore once more and it re-entered the singles charts making it the longest chart single in history with fifty two weeks. The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990.    

all articles (c) JoeMoretti music International