Tuesday, February 02, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night-With The Classics Til Then In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night-With The Classics Til Then In Mind

Til Then Lyrics

doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom)
(doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom) (doo-doo-doom)
[Intro continues behind each verse]
Till then, my darling, please wait for me
Till then, no matter when it may be
One day I know I'll be home again
Please wait (till) till then
Our dreams will live though we are apart
Our love will always stay in our hearts
Till then, when of the world will be free
Please wait for me
Although there are oceans we must cross and mountains that we must climb
I know every gain must have a loss, so pray that our loss is nothing but time
Till then, we'll dream of what there will be
Till then, we'll call on each memory
Till then, when I will hold you again
Please wait till then (ooh)


Sure I have plenty to say about early rock ‘n’ roll, now called the classic rock period in the musicology hall of fame. Yeah, I know I have already talked some ears off, maybe yours, about how hard-pressed Mississippi plantation workers (semi-slaves the way the pay-out came down at the  end of the year) gathered around on some sweaty Saturday night to hear Big Bill, Big Jack, Big Little, or Big somebody belt the blues out of some whiskey bottle in some broken down juke joint, and left enough of an impression that that dark boy in the corner, kind of shy but very inquisitive about that beat took it north-ward and put it in an electric outlet and you could see the audience, the woman audience part, swaying that sway that meant they got it, got that rif (and maybe said thanks that shy young brother in their own swaying way). I know too that I have left some ears kind of staggered after mouthing off about who Jesse Lee and Billy Bob, a couple of plain ordinary good old boys maybe heard a far off echo of that electrified music and started riff-ing on their own in places like Memphis and Mobile waiting to be discovered as the next be-bop daddy musical white negro (Norman Mailer’s term, hipster term, not mine but it fits) all young and hungry, ready to play for free, or nickels just to get out of the small town Saturday night and jump.  

So yeah I have talked some, some about the big broad trends coming out of the mid-century muck (mid-20th century just so you know) and within that say I have spent a little time, not enough, considering its effect on us on the doo-wop branch of the genre. Part of the reason for the “not enough,” once I thought about it was that obviously back in those mid-1950s jail-breakout days I did not (and I do not believe that any other eleven and twelve-year olds did either), distinguish between let’s say rockabilly-back-beat-drive rock, black-based rock centered on a heavy rhythm and blues backdrop, and the almost instrument-less (or maybe a soft piano or guitar backdrop) group harmonics that drove doo-wop. Even now that stuff is better left to the aficionados and musical intelligentsia, the guys who make dough putting the stuff in some boxed-in historical perspective. 

All I knew, all any of us knew when our knees started to tremble, maybe wobble is better, to the new beat that came out of some Mother Africa from whence we came, was that it was not my parents’ mannered Tin Pan Alley by-the-numbers music, not close. Get this too as a selling point it did not hurt that they, those same parents, got nervous, very nervous, anytime it was played out loud in their presence. Forever “turn it down” (or father “turn the damn thing down”) raced along with each song. Fortunately, some sainted, sanctified, techno-guru developed the iPod of that primitive era; the battery-driven transistor radio. No big deal, technology-wise by today’s standards, but get this you could place it near your ear and have your own private out loud without parental scuffling in the background. Yes, sainted, sanctified techno-guru. No question.

What doo-wop did though down in our old-time working-class housing projects neighborhood, and again it was not so much by revelation as by trial and error, is allow us to be in tune with the music of our generation without having to spend a lot of money on instruments or a studio or anything like that. Strictly built for po’ boys like us. First of all where the hell would we have gotten the dough, when we were stretched grabbing nickels and dimes, stealing really okay, from Ma’s pocketbook just to keep the juke-box at Sandy’s Diner going, for such things when papas were out of work, or were one step away, and there was “max daddy” trouble just keeping the wolves from the door. Bills and repo men the bane of every family’s existence. (Worse, worse though when papas could not take it anymore and just split, long-gone daddy split with or without some barroom frill or got nasty drunk with the paycheck and left Ma with empty Friday night envelopes and nothing to stave off the collectors.)

Sure, some kids, some kids like my corner boy elementary school boyhood friend Billy, William James Bradley, were crazy to put together cover bands with electric guitars (rented occasionally), and dreams. Or maybe go wild with a school piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, or Fats Domino but those were maniac aficionados. I remember one time Billy was so hopped up on the fame game that in the height of the Elvis craze when all us other boys were busy growing side-burns and perfecting our sneers (sneers meant for some young thing, in our neighborhood and in that time meaning stick girls who had not gotten their forms yet, to wipe off into the sunset) he tried to hop on the Bo Diddley bandwagon. Hop on that bandwagon until one cruel school talent show night he learned the hard facts of the racial divide in a northern white housing project by one of the older boy rednecks and returned to Elvis-land with the rest of us. Billy, never say die Billy, also trying to break out with a Bill Haley and the Comets routine which worked okay around the neighborhood where all the girls went nuts but got him nowhere when a regional new talent show came through town and he was all geared up to win except the suit jacket his mother had jerry-rigged for the occasion fell apart about half way through his performance. Yeah, Billy had it bad.

Even Billy though, when the deal went down, especially after hearing Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers was mad to do the doo-wop and make his fame and fortune on the cheap. (No need for instruments, cheapjack jackets or racial taunts.) The cover art on a doo wop compilation I once reviewed in an old time rock and roll series made that poor boy and girl point beautifully. No not some Karl Marx brotherhood of man thing or Adams Smith all ships rising if one guy rises. Nothing that heavy, please. The cover showed a group of young black kids, black guys, young guys who looked “from hunger” too like us and who looked like they were doing their doo wop on some big city street corner (maybe Brooklyn, maybe the old days Bronx, maybe uptown Harlem Saturday night). And that made sense reflecting the New York City-derived birth of doo-wop and that the majority of doo-wop groups that we heard on the AM transistor sister radio were black. But the city, the poor sections of the city, white or black, was not the only place where moneyless guys and gals were harmonizing, hoping, hoping maybe beyond hope, to be discovered and make more than just a 1950s musical jail-breakout of their lives. Moreover, this cover art I speak of also showed, and showed vividly, what a lot of us guys were trying to do-impress girls, impress them on the cheap with some harmonies and moonlight and maybe a little side chatter too (and maybe visa-a-versa for girl doo-woppers but they can tell their own stories).

Yes, truth to tell, it was about impressing girls that drove many of us, Billy included, Christ maybe Billy most of all, to mix and match harmonies. And you know you did too (except remember girls just switch around what I just said). Yah, four or five guys just hanging around the back door of the old South Adamsville Elementary School on hot summer nights, nothing better to do, no dough to do things, maybe a little feisty because of that, and started up a few tunes. Junior corner boys with no corner because, well, because true corner-dom required a drugstore, a mom and pop variety store, or maybe if you were lucky a pizza parlor to be real corner boys and we did not have such institutions within five miles of our isolated peninsula projects. Billy, who actually did have some vocal musical talent (he did a very servable Bo Diddley although no way did he have that Afro-Carib beat down being as I later tried to figure out just a tad too white to have immersed his soul in that milieu and also did, if not a son of Bill Haley act if you don’t count the clothes flying off, then close very good job), usually sang lead, and the rest of us, well, doo-wopped. (Sha-sha-do-be-doo, okay just in case you thought I was kidding.) We knew nothing of keys and pauses, of time, notes, or reading music we just improvised. Worked on stuff kind of by osmosis or something and over the course of a summer we started to jell a little (And to keep in that jell mood I kept my changing to a teen-ager, slightly off-key voice on the low, on the very low.)

Whether we did it well or poorly, guess what, as the hot sun day turned into humid night, and the old sun went down just over the hills, first a couple of girls, then a couple more, and then a whole bevy (nice word, right?) of them came and got kind of swoony and moony. And swoony and moony was just fine. And we all innocent, innocent dream, innocent when we dreamed, make our virginal moves. But, mainly, we doo-wopped in the be-bop mid-1950s night. And a few of the songs previously mentioned in that reviewed CD compilation could be heard in that airless night. The stick outs: Deserie, The Charts; Baby Blue, The Echoes; Till Then, The Classics; Tonight (Could Be The Night), The Velvets. And of course Why Do Fools Fall In Love although Billy did not make any mistake this time since he had seen Frankie and his boys on American Bandstand  and so did no imitation.
As for the girls as summer turned to school times on certain humid hot late August nights you could hear a mix and match of young male and female voices like they too had imbibed Billy’s dream, had seen that fame and fortune coming their way and they wanted in on it, if for no other reason than to get out of the projects. Or maybe I dwell too much, after the fact project too much, and they just wanted to bathe in the jail-break night we all knew was coming with the new rock dispensation.

Yah, I know everybody wants to know what happened to Billy since the name does not instantly come to mind when one thinks of the legends of classic rock, or doo wop bop. Well, Billy was wired for that success that always eluded him and after a while, after a few too many failures, bad moves or poor judgment he lost interest in being the president of rock and roll and turned to a life of small-time crime (even there he could not breakthrough since that life was just as “rigged” as everything else if you were not connected), got caught a few times and then I lost contact where he was and what he was doing. Whatever it was he still made many a project kid, including this kid, feel good for a couple of summers crooning out the tunes and bringing the girls around. Thanks Billy, thanks a lot.     

Yah, bop the doo wop

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