Showing posts with label jerry lee lewis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jerry lee lewis. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night-Juke Box Cash-In

Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night-Juke Box Cash-In

Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:

[Several years ago then site manager Allan Jackson (under the moniker Peter Paul Markin like he needed a cover name like he was on the run, as he had been in his youth for a while after making a  few wrong decisions about the virtues of being a stone-cold outlaw living as he once told me “you had to live on the outside to be honest”) in commemorating the 50th anniversary of, Christ I forget what it was, either this graduation from high school, or maybe what was then called junior high school and now almost universally middle school commissioned, and that is exactly the right word a series of sketches  about the music of our youths. About the role that we admitted the gathering clouds of rock and roll had on our already weary working- class heads.

Now since I am a little younger that the brethren who have written here  forever or if not forever like Bart Webber one would have thought that my line of march would have been somewhat different than those “present at the creation” like Zack James’ oldest brother Alex who actually saw and heard Big Joe Turner blast out Shake, Rattle and Roll on the television (although when Zack inquired Alex did not remember what show it was back in 1954). Had heard the first Elvis fits and starts on something called the Louisiana Hayride before he really started grinding his ass and making the young girl, hell their mothers too sweat. Had heard Warren Smith cannonball his Ruby to rock and roll heaven. Probably a little different too that guys like Allan, I won’t use his outlaw name since he may feel he needs to use it again if he doesn’t get steady work soon to pay off those three alimonies and paying for the graduate school programs of a brood of young adults who need to be kept off the streets until better times come.

You would however be wrong, and maybe that is why despite much pressure at the time from his remaining hometown North Adamsville corner boys Seth Garth and Jack Callahan he gave me the assignment (that rundown derelict hometown which produced more armed robbery aficionados than anywhere else in the country for a town that size and where they listened to WMEX the pirate radio station out of Boston run by an ex-junkie, seriously, named Artie Ginsberg, something like that who had been a Time Square hipster, really an upscale name for a junkie back in the 1940s and early 1950s and had frequented a lot of rhythm and blues clubs downtown in Soho or better right in the mix up around 125th Street in Harlem and to his dying day claimed rock and roll had been invented by guys like Smiley Davis and Eddy “The Can” Edwards). And here is where Allan was exactly right since my uncle “Slim” Deauville ran the great rock and roll radio show Rock Me, Mama out of WABD in Olde Saco up in Maine, or really off the coast of Maine since this was the Pine Tree state’s version Ginsberg’s pirate operation (you might remember my uncle’s name if you were from somewhere  in Gaspe in Quebec where the family hailed from back in the early par to the 20th century and his series of hits on covers of One Night Of Sin, Swish and Sway, Bingo Baby Rock and hopefully have forgotten that he was “anybody’s darling,”  my mother’s bitter term when the big payola scandals hit in the late 1950s). So I breathed rock and roll, breathed stuff that guys like Alex James breathed at the creation and that gangster-in-waiting Allan Jackson grabbed second hand a little latter.         
When new site manager Greg Green, well maybe not so new now since the coup that ousted Allan happened a couple years back wanted to do an encore presentation to recognize the 60th anniversary of what Allan had done for the forlorn 50th he tossed Allan to the wolves and got the “real deal” to do the new introductions to the revived series. Josh Breslin]    

A link to a YouTube film clip of Jerry Lee Lewis performing Breathless to give a little flavor of the early 1960s American teen angst night.

Markin comment:

Frankie, Frankie, king of the old North Adamsville neighborhood, Frankie, king hell king, Frankie, king arbiter of the teen social mores, was the alpha and omega. Or that is what his relentlessly self- promoted image would have you believe. Most of it was strictly “flak” and now that we have some serious distance of time and space to shield us from retribution it can be safely told that a lot of this “mystique”, this Frankie, king of the hill, mystique, was made up by me to enhance his authority. Nothing wrong with that kings, and lesser kings and, hell, just average jacks and jills have been using this gag for centuries. What is not a gag, what is not “flak” is what I have to tell you here.
Frankie and I, of course, if you have been paying attention went back to old North Adamsville middle school days and although we had some tight moments old king Frankie, giving the devil his due, guided me fairly well through the intricacies of, well, ah, girls, girlish ways, and girlish charms. No question that I would have been left to dry out, alone, in that great teenage angst night if not for my brother, Frankie. And I’ll just give you one example, and you can judge for yourself. Okay.

I was just the other day telling someone about how in the great 1960s teen night a lot of our time, our waiting around for something, anything to happen time, was spent around places like pizza parlors, drugstore soda fountains, and corner mom and pop variety stores throwing coins into the old jukebox to play the latest “hot’ song for the umpteenth time (and then discard them, most of them anyway, after a few days). This is the scene that Frankie ruled over wherever he set up his throne. I was also telling that person about a little “trick” that I used to use when I was, as I usually was, chronically low on funds to feed the machine.

See, part of that waiting around for something, anything to happen, a big part, was hoping, sometimes hoping against hope, that some interesting looking frail (girl in the old neighborhood terminology, boy old neighborhood terminology that is, first used by Frankie, and then picked up by everyone else) would come walking through that door. And, especially on those no dough days, would put some coins in that old jukebox machine. I swear, I swear on anything, that girls, girls, if you can believe this, always seemed to have dough, at least coin dough, in those days to play their favorite songs.

So here is the trick part, and see it involves a little understanding of human psychology too, girl human psychology at that. Okay, say, for a quarter you got five selections on the juke box. Well, the girl, almost any girl that you could name, would have a first pick set, some boy romance thing, and the second one too, maybe a special old flame tryst that still hadn’t burned out. But, see after that, and this is true I swear, they would get fidgety about the selections. And, boy, that is where you made your move. You’d chime up with some song that was on your “hot” list like Save the Last Dance for Me, or some other moody thing and, presto, she hit the buttons for you.

That choice by you rather than, let’s say Breathless by Jerry Lee Lewis which maybe was your real “hot” choice told her you were a sensitive guy and worthy of a few minutes of her time. So you got your song, you got to talk to some interesting frail (you remember who that is, right?), and maybe, maybe in that great blue-pink great American teen night you got a telephone number even if she had a boyfriend, a forever boyfriend. Nice, right?
But here is the part, the solemn serious part, that makes this a Frankie story although He is not present in this scene, at least not physically present. Who do you think got me “hip” to this trick? Yes, none other than Francis Xavier Riley, Frankie, king of the teen night, king of the North Adamsville teen night. And, this is why he was king. He was so smooth, after a while, at directing the selections that girls would not even get a chance to pick those first current flame and old flame selections but he would practically be dropping their quarters in the machine for them. Hail Frankie.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Present At The Creation-Who Put The Rock In Rock And Roll Roll-Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential (1958)

Present At The Creation-Who Put The Rock In Rock And Roll Roll-Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential (1958)

From  Free-Lance Music Critic Bart Webber

Deep in the dark red scare Cold War night, still brewing then even after Uncle Joe fell down in his Red Square drunken stupor one night and never came back, so yeah still brewing after he kissed off in his vast red earth, still brewing as a child remembered in dark back of school dreams about Soviet nightmares under Uncle Joe wondering how the kids got through it, and still brewing too when Miss Winot in her pristine glory told each and every one of her fourth grade charges, us, that come that Russkie madness, come the Apocalypse, come the big bad ass mega-bombs (of course being pristine and proper she did not dig down to such terms as “big bad ass” but let’s face it that is what she meant) that each and every one of her charges shall come that thundering god-awful air raid siren call duck, quickly and quietly, under his or her desk and then place his or his hands, also quickly and quietly, one over the other on the top of his or her head, a small breeze was coming to the land.
Maybe nobody saw it coming although the more I think about the matter somebody, some bodies knew something, not those supposedly in the know about such times, those who are supposed to catch the breezes before they move beyond their power to curtain them. Take guys like my older brother Franklin and his friends, Benny and Jimmy, who were playing some be-bop stuff up in his room. (Ma refused to let him play his songs on the family record player down center stage in the living room or flip the dial on the kitchen radio away from her tunes of the roaring 1940s, her and my father’s coming of age time, so up his room like some mad monk doing who knows what because I was busy worrying about riding bicycles or something). Here’s the real tip-off though he and his boys would go out Friday nights to Jack Slack’s bowling alleys not to bowl, although that was the cover story to questioning mothers, but to hang around Freddie O’Toole’s car complete with turned on amped up radio (station unknown then but later found to be WMEX) and dance, dance with girls, get it, to stuff like Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 (a great song tribute to a great automobile which nobody in our neighborhood could come close to affording so reduced to cheapjack Fords and Plymouths), and guys who even today I don’t know the names of despite YouTube archival vaults giving everybody with every kind of musical inclination a blast to the past ticket. Or, how about the times we, the family would go up to Boston for some Catholic thing in the South End at Holy Cross Cathedral and smack across from the church was the later famous Red Hat Club where guys were blasting away at pianos, on guitars and on big ass sexy saxes and it was not the big band sound my folks listened to or cool, cool be-bop jazz either but music from jump street, etched in the back of my brain because remember I’m still fussing over bikes and stuff like that. Or how about every time we went down Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as the sun went down, the “Negro” part before Huntington Avenue (an area that Malcolm X knew well a decade before) and we stopped at the ten billion lights and all you would hear is this bouncing beat coming from taverns, from the old time townhouse apartments and black guys dressed “to the nines,” all flash dancing on the streets with dressed “to the nines” good-looking black girls. Memory bank.            
So some guys knew, gals too don’t forget after all they had to dig the beat, dig the guys who dug the beat, the beat of  out of some Africa breeze mixed with forbidden sweated Southern lusts if the thing was going to work out. And it wasn’t all dead-ass “white negro” hipsters either eulogized by Norman Mailer (or maybe mocked you never knew with him but he sensed something was in the breeze even if he was tied more closely to an earlier sensibility) or break-out “beats” tired of the cool cold jazz that was turning in on itself, getting too technical and losing the search for the high white note or lumpens of all descriptions who whiled away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they while away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they could swing to while reefer high or codeine low. If you, via hail YouTube, look at the Jacks and Jills dancing they mostly look like very proper well-dressed middle class kids who are trying to break out of the cookie-cutter existence they found themselves but they still looked   pretty well-fed and well-heeled so yeah, some guys and gals and it wasn’t always who you might suspect that got hip, got that back-beat and those piano riffs etched into their brains.
Maybe though the guys in the White House were too busy worrying about what Uncle Joe’s progeny were doing out in the missile silos of Minsk, maybe the professional television talkers on Meet The Press wanted to discuss the latest turn in national and international politics for a candid world to hear and missed what was happening out in the cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and maybe the academic sociologists and professional criminologists were too wrapped up in figuring out why Marlon Brando was sulking in his corner boy kingdom (and wreaking havoc on a fearful small town world when he and the boys broke out), why  Johnny Spain had that “shiv” ready to do murder and mayhem to the next midnight passer-by, and why well-groomed and fed James Dean was brooding in the “golden age” land of plenty but the breeze was coming.
(And you could add in the same brother Franklin who as I was worrying about bikes, the two pedal two kind getting “from hunger” to get a Brando bike, a varoom bike, so this girl, Wendy, from school, would take his bait, a girl that my mother fretted was from the wrong side of town, her way of saying a tramp but she was smart as hell once I found out about her a few years later after she, they had left town on some big ass Norton but that is after the creation so I will let it go for now.)               
And then it came, came to us in our turn, came like some Kansas whirlwind, came like the ocean churning up the big waves crashing to a defenseless shoreline, came if the truth be known like the “second coming” long predicted and the brethren, us,  were waiting, waiting like we had been waiting all our short spell lives. Came in a funny form, or rather ironically funny forms, as it turned out.
Came one time, came big as 1954 turned to 1955 and a guy, get this, dressed not in sackcloth or hair-shirt but in a sport’s jacket, a Robert Hall sport’s jacket from the off the rack look of it when he and the boys were “from hunger,” playing for coffee and crullers before on the low life circuit, a little on the heavy side with a little boy’s regular curl in his hair and blasted the whole blessed world to smithereens. Blasted every living breathing teenager, boy or girl, out of his or her lethargy, got the blood flowing. The guy Bill Haley, goddam an old lounge lizard band guy who decided to move the beat forward from cool ass be-bop jazz and sweet romance popular music and make everybody, every kid jump, yeah Big Bill Haley and his Comets, the song Rock Around The Clock.         
Came a little more hep cat too, came all duck walk and sex moves, feet moving faster than Robert Hall-clad Bill could ever do, came out of Saint Loo, came out with a crazy beat. Came out in suit and tie all swagger. Came out with a big baby girl guitar that twisted up the chords something fierce and declared to the candid world, us, that Maybelline was his woman. But get this, because what did we know of “color” back then when we lived in an all-white Irish Catholic neighborhoods and since we heard what we heard of rock and rock mostly on the radio we were shocked when we found out the first time that he was a “Negro” to use the parlance of the times, a black man making us go to “jump street.” And we bought into it, bought into the beat, and joined him in saying Mister Beethoven you and your brethren best move over.   

Came sometimes in slo-mo, hey remember this rock and roll was an ice-breaker with a beat you didn’t  have to dance close to with your partner and get all tied up in knots forgetting when to twirl, when to whirl, when to do a split but kind of free form for the guys (or gals but mainly guys) with two left feet like me could survive, maybe not survive the big one if the Russkies decided to go over the top with the bomb, but that school dance and for your free-form efforts maybe that she your eyeballs were getting sore over would consent to the last chance  last dance that you waited around for in case she was so impressed she might want to go with you some place later. But before that “some place later” you had to negotiate and the only way to do was to bust up a slow one, a dreamy one to get her in the mood and hence people have been singing songs from time immemorial to get people in the mood, this time Earth Angel would do the trick. Do the trick as long as you navigated those toes of hers, left her with two feet and standing. Dance slow, very slow brother.   
Came sometimes in very slo-mo if you could believe my older brother Franklin and the stories that he would tell us younger guys, not in 1955 remember we were worried about two-wheel bikes then but later when we came of age and were salaciously curious about the girl scene, what made them tick, about how he scored with this or that girl, put the moves on this way or that on some other one and some girl’s panties came tumbling down as if by magic. Although I should have been a little suspicion of Franklin’s big sky talk because when my time came the problem of garter belts and girdles would make that quick panties coming down a little suspect, no, very suspect when I had a hard enough and cumbersome enough time unhooking some silly training bra. Jesus.
But here is the big truth, the skinny. See Franklin was not, most guys were not including me, very honest about sex and about sexual conquests when guys got together on the corners at Jack Slack’s or Doc’s Drugstore or in the guy’s gym locker room or in the school’s boys’ lav Monday morning. No guy wanted to seem to be “light on his feet” one of the kinder expressions we used for gay guys in the days when “fag-baiting” was something of a rite of passage so guys would lie like hell about this or that score. Later when you would find yourself doing the very same thing you would find that about sixty to seventy percent, maybe more, of what guys said about conquests was b.s.
In any case one time Franklin was hot after this girl, Betsy Sanders, who even when I wasn’t that into girls (before I came of age, not that “light on my feet” if that is what you are thinking) was “hot,” definitely pretty and smart and just plain nice. She had a reputation, according to Franklin, of being an “ice queen,” no go, but he said that only made him want to go after her more. One high school dance night, maybe the Spring Frolic of 1955, Franklin went stag, although stag with six or seven other guys, as did a lot of guys because that kind of dance was set up by the school to have everybody mix and mingle unlike the prom let’s say which was strictly couples or stay home and wait by the midnight phone for some lost Janey or Jack. Of course Betsy was there, with a few of whatever they call a cohort of single girls, looking at hot as hell, all flouncy full length dress and some smell to drive a man wild, jasmine Franklin thought.
These school dance things like I said were held occasionally by the school to keep an eye on what was happening to their charges with this rock and roll craze beginning to stir up concerns (the churches also held them for the same reason). Basically a “containment” policy of “if you can’t fight them, keep two eyes on each and every one of them” copied I presume from the Cold War foreign policy wonks like George Kennan who ran the anti-Soviet establishment in Washington. So the thing was chaperoned unto death, had some frilly crèche paper decorations to spice up the woe begotten gym which didn’t really work, some refreshments to cool out the tranced dancers periodically, and a lame DJ, a young goof teacher recruited because he could “relate” to the kids who “spun” the platters (records for the unknowing) on a dinky turntable with an equally woeful sound system. None of that meant a thing because all that mattered was that there were boys and girls there, maybe somebody for you and music, music to dance to. Yeah.        
Now as Franklin weaved his story it seems that the usually reserved Betsy was in high form (according to Franklin she looked like maybe she had had a couple of drinks before the dance not unheard of but usually that was guys but we will let that pass), dancing to every fast dance with lots of guys, not hanging with any one in particular, getting more and more into the dancing as the night went on. Franklin approached her after intermission to dance Bill Haley’s latest big one, Rock Around The Clock, the one that everybody went to the Strand Theater up the Square to see that really lame movie about J.D.s, Blackboard Jungle, just to see him and the Comets blast away and she accepted. Danced very provocatively from what Franklin said, gave moves only the “fast” girls, the known school tramps threw into the mix and that was that until the end of the night when last chance last dance time came.   
This last chance last dance as I know from personal experience is a very dicey thing, especially if you have been eying a girl all night and she says “no”-end of evening. See this was a slow one so you could maybe make a last minute pitch or negotiate what was what after the dance. Franklin said he went up to Betsy and asked her for that dance when Mister Miles, that lame DJ I told you about already, announced that the Moonglows’ Sincerely a song he really liked. Here’s her answer-“Yes.” And so they danced and while dancing she allegedly wondered out loud why he had not asked her to dance other dances that night, she expected him to do since she had heard through the super-reliable “grapevine” that he was interested in her. Bingo. The rest of the dance consisted of negotiations about her getting her cloak, about giving the guys and gals they respectively came with the heave-ho and heading toward old Adamsville Beach in Franklin’s Hudson, really our father’s car borrowed for the evening. Down there while he did not go into all the juicy details about what they did, or didn’t do, she let him have his way with her (that “panties came tumbling down” business). Of course that kind of stuff happened all the time with good boys and girls, and bad but when Franklin asked Betsy what stirred her up she said the music and dancing got her going, made her all loose and everything she couldn’t explain it all but she got all warm. Enough, okay.     
Enough except what always bothered me about what parents, the authorities, hell, even older guys on the street, thought about rock and roll as the devil’s music came to mind. Some communist plot to “brainwash” the youth of America and make them Kremlin stooges was hard to figure when a girl like Betsy, an All-American girl if there ever was one, who later in life ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, as a Republican, got all warm when the drums started rolling the intro and the guitars built up that back-beat. Hard to make sense of the idea that maybe the Moonglows should have been brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the times or something for singing a doo wop classic like Sincerely, a last chance last dance song. Yeah, that has always bothered me.   
Came in very, very slo-mo for some guys, guys like me who even with big brothers to guide the way were after all is said and done rather clumsy picking up the first few tips (well “half guide the way” since a lot of what Franklin said about the ease of girl conquests was so much hot air, same with other guys but worse, worse than the hot air was the bad, plain wrong information about sex, sexual activity, which he, they had learned like everybody else from the streets, certainly not out of up-tight “asexual” parents who were not telling us anything, nor the churches and definitely not at school although some teachers would allude to stuff but you had to be pretty slick to pick it up. All this information, misinformation really, was far more dangerous that just plain ignorance as Franklin, and I, almost learned the hard way, very closely indeed).
Who knows when you get that first inkling, you know the exact date, when those last year’s girls who were nothing but sticks (that was our dividing line then, “sticks” and “shapes”) and bothered you endlessly when you were just trying to ride your bike or something, maybe reading a book in school turned into being well kind of interesting and had something to say after all. It wasn’t necessarily coming of age time, puberty, but close when all the confusion started, all the little social graces began to count. So, yeah, in fifth grade, toward the end of the year, I was smitten, smitten by Theresa Wallace, my first flamed out flame. So Theresa and rock and roll kind of go hand in hand in my mind since around that time I also started getting that rock beat in my head that Franklin kept telling me that would come at some point.
Naturally with no social graces to speak of the whole heart-throbbing thing with Theresa was a source of endless confusion. Of course as probably is true of half the guys and gals in the world I kept my feelings to myself, would moon, pine, twist, turn, and whatever else a smitten person does without quite knowing what to do about the feelings. Except to kind of be surly toward her in class, and, and, endlessly walk by her house at all hours, all kid hours, in the hopes that I might see her and she might wave, or something. Yeah, no social graces. Then one day the logjam broke, she spoke to me, asked me if I wanted to go to her birthday party the next week. Yes. Although the abruptness going from nowhere to being invited to her house kind of startled me (later I had heard that Slim Jackson, a friend of mine, whom I casually mentioned to that Theresa seemed nice told some girl that fact and it eventually got through the super-speed teen grapevine that I “liked” her).
And so the party was be held in the family room down in the basement of her house (which in the specific case of her house also served as the air raid shelter with signs, supplies, and defense materials which made me realize that I would rather take my chances above ground when I saw that included in the supplies were a record player and records of Patti Page, Frank Sinatra, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the crowd, yeah, I would definitely take my chances above ground with that scenario) and was to be unchaperoned meaning no adults would be in the room (although present, very present upstairs). I don’t know about now, about the customs of the young in these matters now, but then these pre-teen parties were called “petting parties” where somehow the first fresh bout of serious kisses were to be bestowed, or at least the first few innocent kisses. I was scared, scared two ways first that I would not be able to do the “deed” and secondly that if I was close to a girl how my grooming fit in, how I smelled and looked, something like that before we all got wise to mouthwash, deodorant and hair oil.
See it wasn’t only in sex matters that my parents were deficient but grooming and health matters as well what with five growing boys and nothing going my mother just didn’t give us the word. I know one guy at school said I smelled funny one day. And I probably did although I don’t know the why of it, maybe not washing under my underarms or something. So one of the things that Franklin was straight on was hygiene which he got from a friend of his when he was my age who had told him that he smelled and hipped him to what guys had to do to keep from being rogues. He clued me in on showering (really just an attached hose to the bathtub in our house), a little deodorant (nobody told me I smelled after that), a little Listerine (although the first time I used it I almost threw up since I used about half a bottle) and Wild Root Crème Oil for my always cowlick-driven unruly hair. I was off, thanks that one time Franklin (there would be other later times when I lent him money, cars, and other stuff that I never got back when I would curse his name, still do)                  
If you think that party of Theresa’s was some big Mayfair swell debutante affair well you know right now you are wrong but it was okay. About a dozen or fifteen kids, a couple more girls than boys but that was alright then (maybe now too), all dressed up and clean smelling presided over by Theresa who had a pretty dress on and who when she greeted me (and everybody else so don’t make a big deal out of it) smelled like I don’t know what, not perfume I don’t think but some exotic bath soap. Nice. The party itself was the standard music, guys and girls dancing (sometimes two girls dancing together but never guys remember that ‘light on your feet” jab), a little nice food, party food, kid party food, finger food and of course the cake, the birthday cake and Happy Birthday song. What was different, at least for me were these two little remembrances as this. Every few records when people were not dancing the lights would go out. That was the cue, although at first I was clueless, for everybody to grab somebody of the opposite sex to give a kiss to, an innocent kiss okay. Some girl, and I still am not sure who but it was not Theresa of the exotic bath soap smells, gave me my first official opposite sex boy-girl kiss. I bridled a little at first since I didn’t realize that was what was going on but it was okay, yeah, okay. So that was one thing. The other was toward the end of the party Theresa came up to me and a little coquettishly (although I didn’t know such a word or what it meant then) asked me to save the last dance for her. No problem. And the last dance, well you know what it was if you have paid attention to the title of this piece The Platters’ Only You. Only You and the lights went out during the song and Theresa planted a long kiss on my chaste lips, yeah, nice. We were an “item” for a while, maybe a month a long time as such things went then and then a new guy came into town, some tow-headed kid that all the girls went crazy over and I was reduced to sitting by the lonely midnight phone waiting in vain for some call to come my way.
Came in, well how should I put it, in awkward ways, ways around the way the world whirled, the American world in that cold, cold war night where lots of things were hidden from view. Things like race, class gender that are upfront and talked about in a usually rational manner today. Here’s what I mean as race, maybe class too, intersects with rock and roll, with who put the rock in rock and roll. And that is not a rhetorical question, or not only a rhetorical question because sixty years out it is still relevant as least in an historical perspective. We found out the hard way, or my best friend, Steve Malloy, in elementary school down in the Carver projects where we grew up at least until we came of age found out the hard way. And I learned my lesson from him. 
See when that rock beat got into our heads, got in like my older brother Franklin said in one of the few times he was absolutely right about something, something important, it came in our heads listening to the radio, car, family living room (although not much in my family since Ma forbade it and I, we, would only play the radio, WMEX, of course when she and Pa were out), later, have mercy on our private up-in-our-rooms transistor radios so what we heard was what we knew about. The sounds all had a classic beat, at least the serious rock beat one, whoever was singing played to. I don’t know that we were all that curious about what the singers looked like at that point, except maybe Elvis who we did know what he looked like from seeing him on the Ed Sullivan Show (a variety acts show popular on Sunday nights then). I don’t think so, it was really the music that moved our souls.       
In any case lots of guys, guys who could sing, not me, guys like Steve Malloy were always crooning away, always trying to sing like one, or more of the voices that we heard on the radio. Steve was particularly interested in those imitations because he really did have a great voice and if you closed your eyes you could almost heard the similarities. He was also like the rest of us in the projects, from hunger. He, once he got the Elvis rags-to-riches story down (and lots of girls too), was driven by the idea that he would be the next big thing in rock, or if not the next big thing then soon.
And that idea was not as fantastic as it sounded because in those days a lot of record companies and radio stations were sponsoring rock talent shows like they did back in the 1920s when they were looking for new talent to fill the airwaves. So one night WJDA, the local rock station (at least they played one show for four hours in the afternoon with DJ Tommy Swirl spinning the platters), staged a talent show up in the center of town looking for the next best thing that maybe they could latch onto, or at least expand their listening audience to the young in order to sell soda, soap, and sundries. So Steve was pumped, thought this would be the first break-through minute for him. But what to sing, whose style to project. He, even I knew this, that there would for guy singers be a ton of Elvis-imitators, and since he didn’t particular like Elvis at that moment since he had lost a girl to a guy who that girl said looked all dreamy like Elvis he decided on Bo Diddley who was all the craze with his song Bo Diddley that had this great beat to it.
So the night of the talent show Steve and maybe twenty other guys and maybe fifteen girls of all ages, all young ages, showed up to perform with a few obviously looking like Elvis imitators what with the long sideburns and slick backed hair in his style.  Steve told me as we walked in that he felt pretty good about his chances and that he was glad he chose Bo to separate himself out. Steve was about number eight on the list and so we fidgeted through the first seven acts, a few pretty good but most awful. Then it was Steve’s turn, Steve dressed in his best (and only) sport’s jacket looking like any teenage kid from Carver in those days, and he started to sing Bo’s song. About half way through though, Jack Kelly, an older guy from the projects, who was known as nothing but a hoodlum yelled out “Hey the kid is trying to sing a n----r jungle voodoo song.” That broke the whole mood, Steve barely finished.              
Needless to say Steve did not win (and probably would not have as three sisters stole the show with some Connie Francis cover) but after that he “got back in line” doing Elvis stuff since he knew Elvis was white. But his heart was no longer in it, and a while later his voice changed and he lost whatever rock energy he had. But he, we learned the hard way about the vagaries of race, learned the very hard way how important the black sound that even Elvis was stealing from was to what put the rock in rock and roll.    

Came in different flavors too, had different root as we would call it now all messed together to give a different beat. You had the rhythm and blues which drove a lot of the early stuff you know the Ike Turner Rocket 88 stuff, Big Joe Turner swinging and swaying that big ass of his to beat the band on Shake, Rattle and Roll, had guys like Jimmy Preston way back in the late 1940s putting in a bid to go into history as the “first rock and roll” song although you can see stuff going all the way back, going back to certain riffs (not whole songs I would say) in the 1920s with Furry Lewis, Lonnie Johnson guys like that who latter guys, Elvis (think Tomorrow Night, That’s When Your Heartache Begins) especially would cover with their own twists and step up the beat for the whole song.
Or take something like Rockabilly which a whole lot of good old boys, white boys okay, from places like Tennessee and Mississippi from hunger farm boys and small town kids would speed up some Les Paul riffs throw a few Saturday night barroom brawl Sunday morning confess all to Preacher Jack and get the girls to come around, come close if they looked good and has some sassy ass licks in and some Rock and Roll Ruby was born. So those big time sounds mixed and mended together to give a great new sound.
But get this, there were other sounds that mixed and matched, Bo Diddley of slurred memory mentioned above down in my growing up town with a definite Afro-Carib thing that bounced a little showing some other possibilities. Cajun too. Down in sweat filled Lafayette and Lake Charles where another of my high school friends, corner boys really, Rene Dubois, was born, where he learned to say pretty things like Jolie Blon in blasphemous crooked French and the girls down there, the cheris’ he called them went wild over him. (Not so in old Carver where his father had been transferred to as an oilrig guy when Nantucket Sound was being fished for oil exploration and Rene was taken for a redneck, a good old boy from the sticks, this in a town where half the population one way or the other was connected to the cranberry bog for which it was known, boggers for crying out loud and rednecks there were as thick as thieves). But Rene was not just into the Cajun stuff because his father, since he had spent a great deal of time fishing for oil in the Gulf of Mexico would take Rene with him when he went to New Orleans. Would take him to the joints down in Frenchtown, down on the avenue.
One time and this is where the spread of rock among the youth really started to take off, get people, young people of course on jump street Rene’s father took him to Lenny’s down by Jackson Square. Lenny’s was great because it had an open air front so Rene could sit out in the café chairs for hours. One late afternoon when it was starting to get dark so it was winter time but there is, or was no such thing as winter in funky, sweaty, steamy New Orleans a guy, a fat guy, maybe not fat but definitely heavy set came to the small stage over by the bar and sat down at the piano. Started playing some very fast boogie-woogie that got people dancing, played a lot of left-hand variations very smoothly creating a rock-like beat, a beat he thought had a Cajun flavor too. But get this, get this straight from me because I checked it out after Rene had told different guys the story about six different ways. When the fat man, the man named Jack Reed, who would go on on later to take the stage name, Fats Domino, played a song, Ain’t That A Shame this foxy girl, smooth dark skin, mulatto, high yellas they call them down there maybe seventeen, eighteen came over and asked him to dance. Of course he did, and of course he told the story that they got along, she invited him to her place up on Bourbon Street a few blocks away and “took him to paradise.”
I don’t think the story held up from what I was able to gather (for one Fats name was not Jack Reed and depending on when he said he had been there Lenny’s would not have been open)   by the time he changed it about sixteen times. But if it did happen then thanks Fats, thanks for the big ass piano addition to rock, our homeland rock and roll. And sorry about how Katrina took all your archives down the river.                  
Came in funny ways too. You know, like I said about my boyhood friend Steve Malloy and his wake-up call trying to imitate Bo Diddley, guys, young guys like us, me, were always trying to imitate whoever we saw or heard about, even though my voice then was too reedy and I had no basic sense of rhythm (which hurt later when I discovered the blues, straight blues and tried to play them on guitar to no avail, sounded like some third rate white bread boy from nowhere). 
Still as little invested as I was in success as a way to get out of the projects, get out of cheap street, Steve wasn’t the only one who tried to cover somebody’s song, tried for the brass ring, or maybe more correctly get an in with the girls who seemed a lot more interesting than before the rock storm blew in (maybe the wiggle and gyrations evoked some primitive sexual tom-tom but that is too much speculation some sixty years out. I tried too, a little, in the period before Steve’s fatal stab at fame mentioned above. Like I said in those days some radio station, locally WJDA no question, some record company, some independent company like Ducca or the Chestnut labels, were sponsoring talent shows to see if they could latch onto the need big thing coming down the rock pipeline.
In my case though it was the town fathers who were sponsoring the talent show, for their own nefarious reasons as I found out later when I got the political bug and such details interested me. See those harried town fathers (and it was mosyly male then) were as concerned as the guys in the White House, as J. Edgar Hoover over in FBI, that rock and roll was getting out of hand and that it softened up America against the hard-boiled red menace, or worse, made their own kids, made their own daughters susceptible to the “s-x” word and so they sponsored weekly dances, usually on Saturday nights at the town hall auditorium to, like the schools and churches, keep an eye or three on the doings of the young. One of the town fathers came up with the idea of the talent show as a way to draw crowds to the dances and keep the kids occupied during intermission. Furthermore, the draw to entry for money hungry “from hunger” kids who probably never had seen so much dough at one time was a prize of fifty dollars and, more importantly, especially to guys like Steve but the idea filtered down to the rest of us, that you would get to sing a few songs as the feature at the next dance, or an upcoming one. So a lot of kids, me, signed up for the thing and put out our stuff for prizes and glory.
For some reason that year I had been waylaid when I heard Miss La Verne Baker doing her Tweddle Dee, a tune that was a big hit for her in 1955 but which I had only hear later as I picked the rock bug properly. That song in her version had been very jumped up and also was great to dance to. More to the point that I had in my head constantly during that time. Plus, get this for teen insight, I figured that since I was covering a female singer on a song that really either sex could sing (later I heard both Big Walter Sidney and Manny Gold do great versions of the song with a little slower tempo) I would get some points for novelty.
The night of the dance/talent show I am talking about I was ready after several hours of practice and some coaching by Steve (who really did have a great native music sense and if thing had turned out better, if he had played his musical hand out instead of getting into that crime time scene he might have blossomed into something). I wanted to look good too for my big first show and in those days that meant wearing a sports jacket and shirt and tie. I was okay on the shirt and tie since that is what I wore to Mass each Sunday morning but our family being poor as church mice, maybe poorer, I didn’t have a sports jacket since we had with five boys a tradition of brother hand-me-downs and I was not big enough then to fix into any older brother’s jacket without looking like a hobo. I moaned and groaned to Ma, and after she said “no” I even moaned and groaned to Pa and you didn’t moan and groan to him unless it was a big deal.               
He said, which was true, that we did not have money for a sports coat for a one night gig, or maybe for any reason, I forget, but he would spring for material at the cheap-jack Bargain Center, the local Wal-Mart of its day, if my mother would make one. Now my mother was no seamstress but she agreed to do so and that Saturday night I had a presentable sports jacket on although I couldn’t say much for the beige color. I had tried it on as she was working  on the material and earlier that night and the fit seemed okay.  
I was number six on the list and so like all performers I was sitting there fretting during the first set of DJ record shuffling waiting impatiently for the intermission to arrive to strut my stuff. I felt pretty good even though I knew that Steve, who was on at number two, would do much better that me, which he did doing a nice version of a song that I forget what it was, some ballad, maybe Love Me Tender. Then in my turn I got up, went to the make-shift stage and started to sing and the crowd when they realized what the song was started chapping along. Then the other shoe fell off. This is what I found out later when I asked my mother about the jacket. She had gotten busy doing some family things and so only quickly sewed the sleeves to the body of the jacket figuring that would be good enough. Like I said before the jacket looked and felt good enough to me so there was no reason to say anything or ask any questions about it. That night though about half way through my act as I was making some motions, some odd-ball gyrations, responding to the crowd’s clapping one of the sleeves came off, then a few minutes later the other came off. They flew right into the crowd, mostly to the girls in front. The place went wild. They all figured that this stunt was part of the act. Well I finished, barely, and was finished. A girl singing some Fontaine Sisters’ song, maybe Sincerely I was so fluttered I just kind of head my head down to avoid dealing with reality, won, Steve second and my career was over. Over because of what happened that night which I had no desire to repeat but over also because like Steve not too long after my voice changed and it was not a good change for singing even if it did sound more manly.
Get this though, at school the next week, Monday  the girls, including one of the girls who caught one of the sleeves, were all around me, thinking my act had been cool, and for a time I was basking in that glory. Ah, wasn’t that a time.        
Came in baffling ways too if you were trying to figure out the love game, the odd way in which the game switched up with frequent chances for seemingly unknown reasons when teenagers fell in and out of love, or one party might, for reasons that were never explained, or maybe couldn’t be explained but which left gaping holes in hearts nevertheless  (other stuff baffled us too but really until later events like dealing with the military draft and whether to go in or not, a not unique question for the youth, the young guys, of my generation, whether or not to marry that gal who stole your heart and later whether or not to divorce when stealing hearts was not enough and other rough choices dealing with the intricacies of the boy-girl thing seemed to take up an extraordinary amount of time). Trying to figure out the lyrics anyway, how they could serve as cautionary tales of sorts since we took the narrative as part of the action.
At least some songs did, songs like Leader of the Pack which even for kids who knew nothing about motorcycles, couldn’t ride one if they tried, were afraid of the bandit road, avoided the Hell’s Angels types with their big hogs down at the beach come sunset Saturday night, bad boys and all instinctively sided with the brother of the song (and her too, she would be left behind when the Leader went over the edge) when everybody knew that the reason the pair broke up was because the freaking parents were so class conscious about staying above the riffraff that squeezed the life out of that relationship. I know I always hoped she would run off with the next leader after her man took the fall. How about He’s So Fine, where the girl narrator is tripping all over herself to figure out how she is going to take some guy into her life, a shy guy (or at least that is his public persona, a good ruse which was not a bad girl-catcher from what guys, and gals, have told me since it made the guy seem like the sensitive type and maybe would not paw all over the girl the first night), a guy who other gals are looking at so that the race is on. The most beautiful part though that she is not only not going to give up on the guy but will do anything he asks, up to and including abdicating her throne if he asked (and if she was a queen to be able to do such an act). Yeah, young love.     
Now that you have the idea take the case of Eddie, My Love which always intrigued, always made a guy like me who hung around more than one midnight phone hoping against hope for a call to sooth my savage soul, done by a number of different groups but the best seemed to me to be the Teen Queens to grab the pathos of the situation.
Here’s the gist of the story line, hardly the first time such action has happened in the love game. This Eddie of the title, obviously a fly-by-night kind of guy, has flown the coop, had gone off somewhere to take care of some business of unknown quality. Something about getting a job, a good job in another state so he can support his dear widowed mother in her hours of dotage need. At least that is what he told the narrator, his unnamed love interest (we could call her Betty or Sue or Maryanne but no need really since this one is an eternal question). Of course, young and somewhat innocent, she believed each and every word he said about coming back to her in a short time. But that short time has turned into a long time and she still hasn’t wised up to the hard fact that Eddie is gone. Long gone and on to the next conquest. And it wasn’t because he did not have dime to make a call on a public telephone or didn’t have three cents for a stamp to mail a letter. He took what he could from her, which was everything she, or any girl, had to give and went off into the night. She though had it bad, had let her Eddie get under her skin and so she was pining away and in the normal course of events, teen drama events, has thoughts of suicide or just dying of a broken heart, take your choice.
(Amazing the number of songs from that time which put everything, every boy-girl thing on the razor’s edge like that, my choice for the top on that one is Endless Sleep where after some silly spat, although I know, I know all those disagreements from where to go bowling Friday night to talk about “doing the do” had instant urgency, the girl, in the old days I would have said bimbo and would not have been far off the mark but in today’s more refined atmosphere just girl, ran down to the sea and jumped into the swirling fierce waves letting old King Neptune take her wherever he chances to go. Calling lover boy to come join her. Jesus. And the guy, a bimbo of the male persuasion, goes into after her to save her. Double Jesus.)       
Now this selection of the Teen Queen song was not random on my part because, and this may have been one of the reasons that the song was popular, popular among those young teen-agers, mainly girls who tended to buy these kinds of record (and most records), because while the story line might be specific to that poor gal and her Eddie the saga hardly was unique, a guy going off into the night after he has had his way is the stuff of drama and novels since the love game began, since Adam and Eve, maybe before. See my corner boy Frankie Riley had a sister, Emily, a nice girl from what I could see when I saw her around or went over to Frankie’s house, pretty in a little girl sort of way but quiet too quiet for me who turned out to like kind of neurotic talkative girls and not the silent types) that had an Eddie story and while she finally got over it from what Frankie said it was a close call about whether she would go over the top or not, you know go down to the very nearby sea at Adamsville Beach to be specific. Frankie, after he coaxed the story out of her when she was mopping around for weeks and he noticed that no guys had not been around the house for a while, looked high and low for the guy but never found his whereabouts, and I’ll bet six, two, and even that today Frankie would still give the guy a beating for what he had done if he ever surfaced around Carver where Frankie still lives and practices law.        
I don’t know all the details since Frankie never got the whole story although he figured out the “take advantage” part pretty quickly once he knew the score (having been just slightly more honorable about things with girls than the Eddie guy). Seems Emily had a boyfriend, a local guy, Kenny Jenkins, Jimmy Jenkin’s, who I knew from the corners a little, a young second cousin or something who I knew from the corners a little, she had met in school and had been going with for about a year, most of junior and senior year.  A good guy according to Jimmy. I don’t know if marriage was in the picture or anything like that, although in those days guys and gals going steady for that long usually wound up married in the job-marriage-kids cycle from that town at that time.
In any case Kenny was “from hunger” just like the rest of us from that part of town and so had no car and they would walk to the movies, the drive-in restaurant at the edge of town (definitely not “cool” since you went to that spot not for the cardboard hamburgers, flat soda and greasy French fries, awful food, really, but to be seen, seen in some “boss” car if possible but not walking into the parking area. That was for “losers.”
One late spring night they were sitting on the picnic benches that walkers were reduced to in order to eat their meals a guy, a guy on a motorcycle, not a Harley but an Indian, a real fast bike, no question, a guy named Lance Harding Frankie found out later, who was known to be something of a lady-killer and a good looking guy even if he was nothing but motorcycle bad news came up to Emily and Kenny and asked Emily if she wanted a ride. And without saying a word to Kenny she just got on the back of Lance’s bike and was off into the night. (There is some dispute about whether he actually asked the question or just looked in Emily’s direction and gave a nod but  either way it should have told Kenny something was wrong in their relationship, Emily was looking for the next best thing to come along and she was just killing time with him.)           
After that Emily was out all summer with Lance doing whatever they were doing and Kenny was from nowhere, a loser. Since you know the theme of Eddie, My Love and the aftermath of Emily’s affair you know Lance blew town one day and that was that. Well not quite that was that since not only was Emily pining away all fall but she was also in the “family way” to use an expression from that time and had to go see “Aunt Betty” out in Kansas, the expression used when a girl left school to have her baby. Yeah, the love game was baffling back then, now too come to think of it.
Came in like a fresh new breeze from out of nowhere. Kind of crept up on us kids, those who were born at the end of World War II as a result of fathers and mothers wanting to get on with their lives, their version of the natural social progression lives marriage complete with kids after the hardships and delays of war. Crept up on us like one time when I was turning the dial on the family radio in the kitchen in the ratty “projects” apartment we lived in, ratty because of the social stigma of projects-hood not because of their condition because they were brand new created as “temporary” housing, we stayed a decade plus, for returning G.I. up against it in a tight housing market, Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra stuff my mother listened to on the Bill Martin Show on the local radio station then catering to our parents’ music which was on all afternoon. I kept turning the dial until I stopped at this song about midstream that had a good beat, sounded different, and talked about going to the hop, you know dances that all the kids were crazy for as a way to meet the opposite sex if they were old enough to have developed that interest. It turned out the station was WMEX out of Boston which would become over the several years the key radio station that we listened to for the latest rock songs. That was the first afternoon that I heard rock on the radio. Of course the song was Danny and the Juniors now classic classic At The Hop that was for a couple of years a staple at, well, the hops we would attend looking for those aforementioned members of the opposite sex. But that was the beginning.
Crept up on us too wherever we went like at the movies. I already mentioned that Bill Haley thing presenting his Rock Around The Clock as the lead-in to The Blackboard Jungle a nothing film about a bunch of juvenile delinquents and a teacher’s inevitable attempt to tame them which was a set piece in the post-war 1950s where parents were in a frenzy to figure out why their kids were sullen and would not communicate. The story line on that was that the teacher took his beating, took it hard and bounced back with maybe a glimmer of hope that one of the kids would make the turn. Sappy stuff, really, for a kid like me who grew up in the J.D. den of iniquity, the projects, where they were hanging off the rafters there were so many, knowing that most of those guys would wind up some very bad place, wind up in county or state doing nickels and dimes for armed robberies or the like, for starters. So sappy stuff.  
Crept up to in another movie which actually deepened my feel for rock and roll and me a lifetime Jerry Lee Lewis last man standing devotion (and today he probably is of the male rockers of that generation). The movie, High School Confidential, was nothing but a sleeper. You know another one of those J.D. cautionary tale things that the 1950s were known for but this time about the dangers of drugs, of reefer madness, reefer madness which inevitably would lead to harsher drugs like cousin cocaine, sister morphine and boy H, heroin. The cops sent a young guy in, a young cop who looked about thirty but who seemed to have no trouble being seen as a teenager into a troubled suburban high school to crack down on the emerging menacing drug cartel who wants to get the kids “hooked” early to form lifetime habits. Naturally the cop busts the “fixer man” and the town and the movie go back to sleep.      
What was not going back to sleep though was the intro with Jerry Lee set up with his piano and back-up guys on the back of a flatbed truck cruising down the road toward the local high school blaring away doing his classic classic High School Confidential with all his mad man moves, flaming hair going every which way, making all kinds of gyrations with his hands, and rocking the joint. Maybe he, contrary to the theme of the film had a “joint” going in he was so manic. Yeah, those were the days when men (and women, think Wanda Jackson and others) played rock and roll for keeps. And we kept those tunes in our heads for the same reasons. If you don’t believe just Google the song on YouTube and that version should come up number one.       
Despite all these great hits that came our way that first big rock and roll year when it kind of came out from the underground here is the funny thing, funny since we were present at the creation, present in spite of every command uttered by Miss Winot against it, declaring the music worse than that Russkie threat if you believed her (a few kids, girls mainly, did whether to suck up to her since she would take their entreaties although boys were strictly “no go” and I know having spent many a missed sunny afternoon doing some silly “punishment” for her). We were just too young to deeply imbibe the full measure of what we were hearing. See this music, music we started calling rock and roll once somebody gave it a name (super DJ impresario Alan Freed as we found out later after we had already become “children of rock and roll”) was meant, was blessedly meant to be danced to which meant in that boy-girl age we who didn’t even like the opposite sex as things stood then were just hanging by our thumbs.
Yeah, was meant to be danced to at “petting parties” in dank family room basements by barely teenage boys and girls. Was meant to be danced to at teenage dance clubs where everybody was getting caught up on learning the newest dance moves and the latest “cool” outfits to go along with that new freedom. Was meant to serve as a backdrop at Doc’s Drugstore’s soda fountain where Doc had installed a jukebox complete with all the latest tunes as boys and girls shared a Coke sipping slowly with two straws hanging out in one frosted glass. Was meant to be listened to by corner boys at Jack Slack’s bowling alley where Jack eventually had set up a small dance floor so kids could dance while waiting for lanes to open (otherwise everybody would be still dancing out in front of O’Toole’s “boss” car complete with amped-up radio not to Jack’s profit). Was meant to be listened to as the sun went down in the west at the local drive-in while the hamburgers and fries were cooking and everybody was waiting for darkness to fall so the real night could begin, the night of dancing in dark corner and exploring the mysteries of the universe, or at least of Miss Sarah Brown.  Was even meant to be listened to on fugitive transistor radios in the that secluded off-limits to adults and little kids (us) where teens, boys and girls, mixed and matched in the drive-in movie night (and would stutter some nonsense to questioning parents who wanted to know the plot of the movies, what movies, Ma).              
Yeah, we were just a little too young even if we can legitimately claim to have been present at the creation. But we will catch up, catch up with a vengeance.

I will get to a CD review of Elmore James’ work in a second. Now I want to tell, no retell, the tale that had me and a few of my corner boys who hung out in front of, or in if we had dough for food or more likely for the jukebox, Jimmy Jack’s Diner in Carver where I came of age in the early 1960s going for a while. On one lonesome Friday night, lonesome meaning, no dough, no wheels, no girls, or any combination of the three, with time of our hands Billy Bradley, Jack Dawson and I went round and round about what song by what artist each of us thought was the decisive song that launched rock and roll. Yeah, I know, I know now, that the world then, like now, was going to hell in a hand-basket, what with the Russkies breathing hard on us in the deep freeze Cold War red scare night, with crazy wars going on for no apparent reason, and the struggle for black civil rights down in the police state South (that “police state" picked up later after I got wise to what was happening there) but what else were three corner boys washed clean by the great jail break-out that what is now termed classic rock and roll represented to guys who were from nowhere, had no dough, didn’t have many prospects or expectations in general to do to while away the time.(Since this is a time sanitized version of what we Jimmy Jack’s corner boys did to while away idle nights I will leave it at that although know too that in many a midnight hour when Frankie Riley, the acknowledged leader of the corner boys, was on to something we were entirely capable of doing some drifting, grifting and sifting to make ends meet. Done.) 
Here is the break-down though from one conversation night, or maybe a bunch mixed together since this was a more than one time theme and this is what I have distilled from far remembrances. We knew, knew without anybody telling us that while Elvis gave rock and roll a big lift in his time before he went on to silly movies that debased his talent he was not the “max daddy,” not the guy who rolled the dice for rock and roll but was the front man easily identified. For one thing and this was Billy’s position he only covered Big Joe Turner’s classic R&B classic Shake, Rattle, and Roll and when we heard Joe’s finger-snapping version we flipped out. So Billy had his choice made, no question. Jack had heard on some late Sunday night radio station out in Chicago on his transistor radio a thing called Be-Bop Benny’s Blues Hour where he first heard this guy wailing on the piano a be-bop tune. It turned out to be Ike Turner (without Tina then) blasting Rocket 88. So Jack had his position firm, and a good choice. Me, well I caught this obscure folk music station (obscure then not a few years later though) which played not just folk but what would be later called “roots music.” And the blues is nothing but roots music in America. One night I heard Elmore James slide guitar his way through Look On Yonder Wall. That is the song I defended that night. Did any of us change each other’s mind that night. Be serious. I later, several years later, saw the wisdom of Jack’s choice of Rocket 88 that no question had the heady black-etched part of the rock beat down pat and I switched but old Elmore still was a close second. Enough said.       


The History of Elmore James: The Sky Is Crying, Elmore James, Rhino Records, 1993

When one thinks of the classic blues tune “Dust My Broom” one tends to think of the legendary Robert Johnson who along with his “Sweet Home, Chicago” created two of the signature blues songs of the pre-World War II period. However, my first hearing of “Dust My Broom” was on a hot LP vinyl record (the old days, right) version covered and made his own by the artist under review, Elmore James. I have heard many cover versions since then, including from the likes of George Thoroughgood and Chris Smither, and they all reflect on the influence of Elmore’s amazing slide guitar virtuosity to provide the "heat" necessary to do the song justice. Moreover, this is only the tip of the iceberg as such blues masters and aficionados as B.B. King and The Rolling Stones have covered other parts of James’ catalog.

Perhaps because Elmore died relativity young at a time when blues were just being revived in the early 1960’s as part of the general trend toward “discovering” roots music by the likes of this reviewer he has been a less well-known member of the blues pantheon. However, for those who know the value of a good slide guitar to add sexiness and sauciness to a blues number James’ is a hero. Hell, Thoroughgood built a whole career out of Elmore covers (and also, to be sure, of the late legendary Bo Didderly). I never get tired of hearing these great songs. Moreover, it did not hurt to have the famous Broom-dusters backing him up throughout the years. As one would expect of material done in the pre-digital age the sound quality is very dependent on the quality of the studio. But that, to my mind just makes it more authentic.

Well, what did you NEED to listen to here? Obviously,” Dust My Broom". On this CD though you MUST listen to Elmore on "Standing At The Crossroads". Wow, it jumps right out at you. "Look On Yonder Wall" (a song that I used to believe was a key to early rock 'n' rock before I gravitated to Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" as my candidate for that role), "It Hurts Me Too" and the classic "The Sky is Crying" round out the minimum program here. Listen on.

Lyrics To "Dust My Broom"

I'm gonna get up in the mornin',

I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)

Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin',

girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' write a letter,

Telephone every town I know (2x)

If I can't find her in West Helena,

She must be in East Monroe, I know

I don't want no woman,

Wants every downtown man she meet (2x)

She's a no good doney,

They shouldn't 'low her on the street

I believe, I believe I'll go back home (2x)

You can mistreat me here, babe,

But you can't when I go home

And I'm gettin' up in the morning,

I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)

Girlfriend, the black man that you been lovin',

Girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' call up Chiney,

She is my good girl over there (2x)

If I can't find her on Philippine's Island,

She must be in Ethiopia somewhere

Robert Johnson
 She is my good girl over there (2x)
If I can't find her on Philippine's Island,
She must be in Ethiopia somewhere
Robert Johnson

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Ain’t Got No Time For The Harry’s Variety Corner Boys-With Jerry Lee Lewis’ Breathless In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Ain’t Got No Time For The Harry’s Variety Corner Boys-With Jerry Lee Lewis’ Breathless In Mind 

By Allan Jackson

[Sure I have put many a positive spin on my old corner boy Acre neighborhood growing up day in North Adamsville and have extended that wand plenty in comparing notes with other corner boy growing experiences like Josh Breslin’s up in Olde Saco, Maine and Fritz Taylor from up in New Hampshire (not the Fritz Taylor who occasionally writes in this space he was born down in Fulton County, Georgia where they didn’t have enough going to have a corner except some hayseed company general store best kept away from especially if Papa was behind in his land payments).

But know this that corner boy stuff had plenty of backside bad side. Had rough killer guys like the Red Hickey of the sketch below who could kiss your lips or give you the kiss of death and made you wish you never were born. Every Acre urban legend began and ended with some Red exploit just like every fresh breeze thing began and ended with the Scribe a few years after Red’s time, after Red went to the states the first time, but before he got caught in some fucking cops cross hairs down in the South robbing some goddam White Hen for nickels and dimes. The top urban legend story, the story that made him king of the hill around Harry’s Variety where the rough boys stood their ground and kept one foot against the placid brick walls that protected Harry from Red chaos was the time he chain whipped a guy within an inch of his life just because he was from some wrong corner, meaning any corner that Red did not control. Chain-whipped Loosey Goosey, that is the only name I knew him by so go with it, and Loosey was a member in good standing of Red’s corner boys just for not having his white tee shirt ironed like he was supposed to when they stood around the corner looking tough.

Sure it is easy to go chapter and verse on the real hood death battalion corner boys and have we simply bored corner boys with big dreams and swollen cocks look innocent by comparison. And maybe by comparison our hungry was not as great but we were no avenging angels, more like some exterminating angels out of some weird surreal Jean Cocteau play or the rough trade crowd around the waterfront in some Jean Genet our lady of the flowers moment. Sure the Scribe kept our, kept his head full of dreams and misty stuff that we could have given a fuck about listening too until much later when a lot for what he predicted came to fruition. But we also waylaid guys who tried to cut our turf, not chain-whipped but beaten bloody. You already know about our “exploits” with the fags down in Provincetown led by Timmy Riley, the guy who I mentioned before someplace who turned out to be gay and a flaming, his word, drag queen out in Frisco. Spent many a Scribe idea-Frankie Riley operational night doing the midnight creep around the darkened houses of the local version of the Mayfair swells. 

Why. Because we could do it, could get away with it one Scribe and Frankie put their heads. And because we were so poor and so desperate that we were willing to do a low-rent version of class war to prove our metal. So pull me up short if I make a myth out of the hard-boiled corner boyt night in the Acre. It wasn’t always pretty. Allan Jackson]      

Lewis Jerry Lee
Best Of Jerry Lee Lewis


Now if you love me please don't tease
If I can hold then let me squeeze
My heart goes round and round
My love comes a tumblin' down
You leave me ahhhhhhh
Breathtess ahh !

I shake all over and you know why
I am sure its love honey thats no lie
Cause when you call my name
You know I burn like a wooden flame
You leave me ahhhhhh

OOOOOOOhhhhhh baby Oooooooh crazy!
Your much to much Honey I can't love you enough
It's alright to hold me tight
But when you love me love me riiiiighhhht!
Ah come on baby now don't be shy
This love was ment for you and I
Wind, rain, sleet or snow
I am gonna be wherever you go
You have left me ahhhh
Breathless !



oooooh baby mmmmnnn crazy
Your much to much
I can't love you enough
Well its alright to hold me tight
But when you love me love me right
Ah come on baby now don't be shy
This love was ment for you and I
Wind, rain, sleet or snow
I am gonna be wherever you go
You leave me ahhhh
Breathless Ah!
Riding down the old neighborhood streets a while back, the old North Adamsville working class streets, streets dotted with triple-deckers housing multiple families along with close-quarter, small cottage-sized single family houses like the one of Tim Murphy’s own growing to manhood time in the early 1960s. He reflected as he drove on how little the basic structure of things had changed with the changing of the ethnic composition of those streets. Sure many of the houses had been worked on, new roofs, new siding, maybe a deck add-on for the ritualistic family barbecue (barbecues that his family on the infrequent occasions that they actually had one were taken at Treasure Island a picnic area that provided pits for the grill-less like his from hunger family on the site), maybe an add-on of a room if that home equity loan came through (or the refinance worked out). The lawns, manicured or landscaped like some miniature English garden, reflected some extra cash and care that in his time was prohibited by the needs to fix up the insides first or save money for emergencies like the furnace blowing out in mid-winter. In all the tradition of keeping up appearances as best you could had been successfully transferred to the new inhabitants (keeping up appearances being a big reason work was done back then in those old judgmental Irish streets, maybe now too for all he knew).

Whatever condition the houses were in, and a few as to be expected when there are so many houses in such a small area were getting that run-down feel that he saw more frequently back in the day by those not worried by the “keeping up appearances” ethos, the houses reflected, no, exclaimed right to their tiny rooftops, that seemingly eternal overweening desire to have, small or not, worth the trouble or not, something of one’s own against the otherwise endless servitude of days. Suddenly, coming to an intersection, Tim was startled, no, more than that he was forced into a double-take, by the sight of some guys, some teenage guys hanging, hanging hard, one foot on the ground the other bent holding up the infernal brick wall that spoke of practice and marking one’s territory, against the oncoming night in front of an old time variety store, a mom and pop variety from some extinct times before the 7/11 chain store, fast shop, no room for corner boys, police take notice, dark night.

Memory called it Kelly’s (as almost every local institution was Irish called from that small dream of ownership and out of hard manual labor variety store to the Dublin Grille bar that transfixed many a neighborhood father, including his father Michael Murphy to the shanty born, or else had an Italian surname reflecting the other major ethnic group, and at times mortal enemies). Today the name is Chiang’s. From the look of them, baggy-panted, latest fashion footwear name sneakered, baseball cap-headed, all items marked, marked with the insignia (secretly, and with no hope of outside decoding) signifying their "homeboy" associations (he would say gang, meaning of course corner boy gang, but that word is charged these days and this is not exactly what it looked like, at least to the public eye, his public eye) they could be the grandsons, probably not biological because these kids were almost all Asians speckled with a couple of Irish-lookers, shanty Irish-lookers, of the ghost be-bop night guys that held Tim in thrall in those misty early 1960s times.

Yeah, that tableau, that time-etched scene, got Tim to thinking of some long lost comrades of the schoolboy night like the hang-around guys in front of Harry’s Variety several blocks away (Harry O’Toole, the most “connected” guy in the neighborhood after Jimmy Mulvey who ran the Dublin Grille, since he ran the local “book”), although comrades might not be the right word because he had been just some punk young kid trying to be a wannabe, or half-wannabe, corner boy and they had no time for punk kids and later when he came of age he had no time for corner boys being unlike his older brothers, Red and Digger, a serious student and not a hell-raiser like them giving Martha Murphy nothing but the miseries. (He gave Ma Murphy his own miseries later but that was when all of society, all youth nation society, was going through a sea-change and he just travelled in that stream to her angers and dismays, especially in his wardrobe and physical appearance.)

Yeah, that scene got Tim to thinking of the old time corner boys who ruled the whole wide North Adamsville night (and day for those who didn’t work or go to school, which was quite a few on certain days, because most of these guys were between sixteen and their early twenties with very jittery school and work histories better left unspoken then, or else if you wanted to make something of it they would oblige you with some fists). Yeah, got Tim thinking about where the white tee-shirted, blue-jeaned, engineer-booted, cigarette-smoking, unfiltered of course (Luckies the “coffin nails” of choice, sneering (learned from watching, closely watching and repeatedly Marlon Brando in The Wild One and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause at the retro- Strand Theater up on Main Street), soda-swilling, Coke with a some kicks added, naturally, pinball wizards held forth daily and nightly, and let him cadge a few odd games when they had more important business, more important girl business, to attend to. Either a date with some hot “fox” sitting in some souped up car looking like the queen of the Nile or putting their girls to “work,” pimping them in other words. Tim had been clueless about that whole scene until much later, that pimping scene, he had just assumed that they were “easy” and left it at that. Hell he had his own sex problems, or really no sex problems although if he had known what he found out from Red and Digger he might have paid more attention to those “loose women.”

Yeah, Tim got to thinking too about Harry’s, old Harry’s Variety over there near his grandmother’s house (on his mother’s side, nee Riley) over there in that block on Sagamore Street where the Irish workingman’s whiskey-drinking (with a beer chaser), fist-fighting, sports-betting after a hard day’s work Dublin Grille was located. Harry’s was on the corner of that block. Now if you have some image, some quirky, sentimental image, of Harry’s as being run by an up-and-coming just arrived immigrant guy, maybe with a big family, trying to make this neighborhood store thing work so he can take in, take in vicariously anyway, the American dream like you see running such places now forget it. Harry’s was nothing, like he had said before, but a “front.” Old Harry, Harry O’Toole, now long gone, was nothing but the neighborhood “bookie” known far and wide to one and all as such. Even the cops would pull up in their squad cars to place their bets, laughingly, with Harry in the days before state became the bookie-of-choice for most bettors. And he had his “book”, his precious penciled-notation book right out on the counter. But see punk kid Tim, even then just a little too book-unworldly didn’t pick up on that fact until, old grandmother, Jesus, Grandmother Riley who knew nothing of the world and was called a saint by almost everybody, everybody but husband Daniel Riley when he was in his cups “hipped” him to the fact.

Until then Tim didn’t think anything of the fact that Harry had about three dust-laden cans of soup, two dust-laden cans of beans, a couple of loaves of bread (Wonder Bread, if you want to know) on his dust-laden shelves, a few old quarts of milk and an ice chest full of tonic (now called soda, even by New Englanders) and a few other odds and ends that did not, under any theory of economics, capitalist or Marxist, add up to a thriving business ethos. Unless, of course, something else was going on. But what drew Tim to Harry’s was not that stuff anyway. What drew him to Harry’s was, one, his pin ball machine complete with corner boy players and their corner boy ways, and, two, his huge Coca Cola ice chest (now sold as antique curiosities for much money at big-time flea markets and other venues) filled with ice cold, cold tonics (see above), especially the local Robb’s Root Beer that Tim was practically addicted to in those days (and that Harry, kind-hearted Harry, stocked for him).

Many an afternoon, a summer’s afternoon for sure, or an occasional early night, Tim would sip, sip hard on his Robb’s and watch the corner boys play, no sway, sway just right, with that sweet pinball machine, that pin ball machine with the bosomy, lusty-looking, cleavage-showing women pictured on the top glass frame of the machine practically inviting you, and only you the player, on to some secret place if you just put in enough coins. Of course, like many dream-things what those lusty dames really gave you, only you the player, was maybe a few free games. Teasers, right. But Tim had to just watch at first because he was too young (you had to be sixteen to play), however, every once in a while, one of the corner boys who didn’t want to just gouge out his eyes for not being a corner boy, or for no reason at all, would let him cadge a game while Harry was not looking. When he thought about it though, now anyway, Harry was so “connected” (and you know what he meant by that) what the hell did he care if some underage kid, punk kid, cadged a few games and looked at those bosomy babes in the frame.

Yeah, and thinking about Harry’s automatically got Tim thinking about Daniel (nobody ever called him that, ever) “Red” Hickey, the boss king of his schoolboy night at Harry’s. Red, the guy who set the rules, set the style, hell, set the breathing, allowed or not and when, of the place. He didn’t know if Red went to some corner boy school to learn his trade but he was the be-bop daddy (at least all the girls, all the hanging all over him girls, called him that) because he, except for one incident that Tim will mention below, ruled unchallenged with an iron fist. At least Tim never saw his regular corner boys Spike, Lenny, Shawn, Ward, Goof (yes, that was his name the only name Tim knew him by, and he liked it, that is Goof like his moniker), Bop (real name William) or the Clipper (real name Kenny, the arch-petty Woolworth’s thief of the group hence the name) challenge him, or want to.

Yeah, Red, old red-headed Red was tough alright, and has a pretty good-sized built but that was not what kept the others in line. It was a certain look he had, a certain look that if Tim went to the trouble of describing it now would go way overboard  describing it as some stone-cold killer look, some psycho-killer look but that would be wrong because it didn’t show that way. But that was what it was. Tim thought he had better put it this way. Tommy Thunder, older brother of his junior high and high school best friend and a corner boy king in his own right, Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, a big bruiser of a legendary North Adamsville football player and human wrecking machine who lived a few doors up from Harry’s went out of his way not to go near the place. See, Red was that tough.

Red was like some general, or colonel or something, an officer at least, and besides being tough, he would “inspect” his troops to see that all and sundry had their “uniform” right. White tee-shirt, full-necked, no vee-neck sissy stuff, no muscle shirt half-naked stuff, straight 100% cotton, American-cottoned, American-textiled, American-produced, ironed, mother-ironed Tim was sure, crisp. One time Goof (sorry that’s all he knew him by, really) had a wrinkled shirt on and Red marched him up the street to his triple-decker cold-water walk-up flat and berated, berated out loud for all to hear, Goof’s mother for letting him out of the house like that. And Red, old Red like all Irish guys sanctified mothers, at least in public, so you can see he meant business on the keeping the uniform right question.

And like some James Dean or Marlon Brando tough guy photo, some motorcycle disdainful, sneering guy photo, each white tee-shirt, or the right sleeve of each white tee-shirt anyway, was rolled up to provide a place, a safe haven, for the ubiquitous package of cigarettes, matches inserted inside its cellophane outer wrapping, Luckies, Chesterfields, Camels, Pall Malls, all unfiltered in defiance of the then beginning incessant cancer drumbeat warnings, for the day’s show of manliness smoking pleasures.
And blue jeans, tight fit, no this scrub-washed, fake-worn stuff, but worn and then discarded worn. No chinos, no punk kid, maybe faux "beatnik," black chinos, un-cuffed, or cuffed like Tim wore, and Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, king of the faux beatnik junior high school night, including among his devotees Tim, a little too bookish Tim, who was as tough a general, colonel, or some officer anyway, as corner boy Red was with his guys. Frankie example: no cuffs on those black chinos, stay home, or go elsewhere, if you are cuffed. Same kingly manner, right? Corner boys blue-jeaned and wide black-belted, black always, black-belt used as a handy weapon for that off-hand street fight that might erupt out of nowhere, for no reason, or many. Maybe a heavy-duty watch chain, also war-worthy, dangly down from those jeans. Boots, engineer boots, black and buckled, worn summer or winter, heavy, heavy-heeled, spit-shined, another piece of the modern armor for street fight nights. Inspection completed the night’s work lies ahead.

And most nights work, seemingly glamorous to Tim’s little too bookish eyes at the time, was holding up some corner of the brick wall in front or on the side of Harry’s Variety with those engineer boots, one firmly on the ground the other bent against the wall, small talk, small low-tone talk between comrades waiting, waiting for… Or just waiting for their turn at that Harry luscious ladies pictured pinball machine. Protocol, strictly observed, required “General Red” to have first coin in the machine. But see old Red was the master swayer with that damn machine and would rack up free games galore so, usually, he was on that thing for a while.
Hey, Red was so good, although this is not strictly part of the story, that he could have one of his several honeys right in front of him on the machine pressing some buttons and he behind pressing some other buttons Red swaying and his Capri-panted honey, usually some blond, real or imagined, blonde that is depending on the bottle, swaying, and eyes glazing, but he thought he had better let off with that description right now, as he was getting a little glassy-eyed himself at the thought, and because like he said it was strictly speaking not part of the story.

What is part of the story is that Red, when he was in the mood or just bored, or had some business, some girl business, maybe that blond, real or imagined, just mentioned business would after Tim had been hanging around a while, and Red  thought he was okay, give him his leftover free games.

Now that was the “innocent” part of Red, the swaying pinball wizard, girl-swaying, inspector general part. But see if you want to be king of the corner boy night you have to show your metal once in a while, if for no other reason than the corner boys, the old time North Adamsville corner boys might be just a little forgetful of who the king hell corner boy was, or as Tim will describe, some other corner boy king of some other variety store night might show up to see what was what.

Tim must have watched the Harry’s corner boy scene for a couple of years, maybe three, the last part just off and on, but he  only remembered once when he saw Red show “his colors.” Some guy from Adamsville, some tough-looking guy who, no question, was a corner boy just stopped at Harry’s after tipping a couple, or twenty, at the Dublin Grille. He must have said something to Red, or maybe Red just knew instinctively that he had to show his colors, but all of a sudden these two were chain-whipping each other. No, that’s not quite right, Red was wailing, flailing, nailing, chain-whipping this other guy mercilessly, worse, if that is possible. The guy, after a few minutes, was left in a pool of blood on the street, ambulance ready. And Red just walked way, just kind of sauntering away.

Of course that is not the end of the Red story. Needless to say, no work, no wanna work Red had to have coin, dough, not just for the pinball machine, cigarettes, and soda, hell, that was nothing. But for the up-keep on his Chevy (Chevy then being the “boss” car, and not just among corner boys either), and that stream of ever-loving blond honeys, real or imagined blonde depending on the bottle, he escorted into the seashore night. So said corner boys did their midnight creep around the area grabbing this and that to bring in a little dough. Eventually Red “graduated” to armed robberies when the overhead grew too much for little midnight creeps, and graduated to one of the branches of the state pen, more than once. Strangely, his end came, although Tim only heard about this second- hand, after a shoot-out with the cops down South after he tried to rob some White Hen convenience store. There is some kind of moral there, although Tim thought he would be damned if he could figure it out. Red, thanks for those free games though.