On this day, well nearly – actually on 22nd August 1906 – the Victor Talking Machine Company (New Jersey) started selling record players. The price was about $200 which must have been huge at the time. Records ranged from $1 to $7.
This was one of those pivotal moments in the history of popular music. There were some who said that it was the end of the world, culture available for the masses? A dreadful development. Having said that no Victrolar (that’s what it was called) and there would have been no James Blunt or Celine Dion and so the world would have been a better place. On the other hand, there would also be no Tim Fite, Nick Cave, Beefheart, Zappa, Patti, or Lou.
OK, on the whole it was a good thing.
J P Sousa (a renowned conductor) was off the mark when he said that recorded music would be the end of the amateur musician. About as right as the head of IBM predicting that there would only ever be 7 mainframe computers in the world, or the American politician (can’t remember his name) who said that the Japanese did not make things that the American public would want to buy…….
Les Paul has died, aged 94. He suffered from complications associated with pneumonia.
It is too easy when talking about music to use lots of superlatives which only leads to them being devalued. So, when I say that Les Paul was one of the true greats of popular music that is exactly what I mean. I am not trying to ‘big him up’, he was the real deal.
He was still performing right up to his death. He was regarded with awe and affection by many leading guitarists (only last year Slash was quoted as saying that he spoke to Les Paul once a week and spoke of their friendship). He said: “Les Paul was a shining example of how full one’s life can be. He was so vibrant and full of positive energy. I’m honoured and humbled to have known and played with him over the years.”
Les Paul invented multi-tracking, for which we should all be grateful (and by extension to Bing Crosby – read why here). He experimented with echo and effects, he and Mary Ford, his wife, recorded in different rooms of their home to get different feels to the recordings. Paving the way for people like Joe Meek. He was also a pioneer in other recording techniques such as phasing and over dubbing.
Oh yes, he also invented and designed the most successful electric guitar in the world. The guitar he designed and that bears his name was the preferred choice for many guitar greats including: Joe Satriani, Jimmy Page, Gary Moore, Peter Green, Pete Townsend and many, many more.
His personal story is as full, interesting and inspiring as his professional story. Born on 9th June 1915 and named lester William Polsfuss. At the age of eight he learned harmonica and it was not until he was 13 (after he had failed to play banjo) that he turned to the guitar. he left school when he was 17 to concentrate on a life as a musician.
In the thirties he was playing on the radio in Chicago and developing the individual style that still influences modern guitarists to this day. He eventually moved to Hollywood in 1943, formed a trio and gained the role of Bing Crosby’s backing group on his radio and TV shows. This helped propel him to stardom. he also met and Married Mary Ford and together they recorded many records employing all his skills, leaving rivals in their wake. His recording career continued into his 80s and won two Grammys in 2006 for his album ‘Les Paul & Friends: American made World Played Hero’
In 1948 he had a serious car accident smashing his right arm and elbow. He was told that his arm would never work again, there would be no movement in it and that it would have to be set. He told the doctors to set his arm at an angle so that he could play the guitar. It took Les Paul 18 months to learn how to play guitar again.
In the ’30s he became dissatisfied with acoustic guitars for performance. he wanted something louder with more presence. HI solution was, initially, a 4×4 piece of wood with a bridge and guitar neck and a pick up running through an amplifier. It was called ‘the log’. As well as not being particularly attractive it also suffered from feedback. The solution was to take an acoustic guitar split it legnth ways and put the log inside it. Style and playability (though still pretty heavy). Gibson loved the design and so began manufacture (any colour you want as long as it is a goldtop, at least at first).
Together with Fender, Gibson revolutionised modern music. It is arguably which design of guitar has most affect, and really that is a sterile debate. What is beyond doubt is that Les Paul himself had an enormous affect on modern music and we all owe him a great debt.
On this day in 1967 Fleetwood Mac played their first gig, the 7th annual Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival at the Royal Windsor Racecourse, Berkshire, UK. The festival ran for 3 days and Mac shared the last day’s bill along with Cream, John Mayall, Chicken Shack, and Jeff beck among others.
The festival was plagued with PA problems. The local residents wanted it turned down, the performers and audience wanted it turned up………. (You would have thought by the 7th time the festival had been held they would have got it right). The following year the festival was moved to a site with fewer (or deaf) neighbours.
Evidently, Cream were the hit of the festival. I would have like dto have been there as Mick Taylor was playing with John mayall at that time and I always liked his playing. The previous days also saw Paul Jones and Aynsley Dunbar performing which I would have enjoyed. (Dunbar was later of The Mothers of Invention, Lou Reed, Whitesnake, and nearly of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Story is that Jimi could not decide between Mitch Mitchell and AD and so tossed a coin. MM won.)
Oh yes, what about John? John McVie did not belong to to Fleetwood Mac at the time and so he was not there. He only took over from Bob Brunner a month later. Which is all a bit odd as the Mac from Fleetwood came from the Mc in Vie, if you see what I mean.
If you want to hear just what all the fuss was about Peter Green’s blues playing then this is the album for you. Known as the dustbin and dog album, no idea why, it is, in my opinion Peter Green at his very best.
On This day in 1966 Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, not that he did.
The original quote was “Christianity will go, it will shrink and vanish – we’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” What he meant to say was something along the lines of; “the way they (some fans) carry on, it’s like we’re more popular than Jesus Christ.”
The quote came in the middle of an interview he gave to Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard months before. It had appeared in print in the UK and no one turned a hair. In the States when a teen mag put the contentious bit “We’re more popular than Jesus” on the front cover the reaction was different.
Beatles records were burnt on public bonfires in Memphis, Alabama, and Oklahoma, Some local radio stations (often encouraged by the Ku Klux Klan) banned their records.
It was because of the reaction (mainly in the conservative south) that Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, made Lennon apologise as they started what was to be their last US tour.
On this day in 1956 Sweet Gene Vincent made his first TV appearance on the Perry Como Show. He performed Be-Bop-a-Lula which was still climbing the charts.
Be-Bop-A-Lula was written by Vincent, or his manager Sheriff Tex Davies, or Donald Graves (You pays yer money and takes yer choice) in 1955. He sang it on a radio show in Norfolk Virginia in 1956 and recorded a demo version, it came to the attention of Capitol Records who were looking for someone to rival Elvis. Rival Elvis ? Surpassed him I would have thought.
On this day in 1976 John Lennon got his green card that would allow him to settle in the USA after a long drawn out court battle.
The background to this story lies in Lennon’s left wing activism and the US government’s paranoia.
Lennon supported various left wing causes; He was anti Vietnam War, pro John Sinclair. When asked about the Bloody Sunday massacre he said that given the choice between the British Army and the IRA he would side with the IRA. It should be noted, however, that Ono specifically denied that Lennon gave financial aid to the IRA when a former member of M15 suggested it.
Lennon’s anti war activities were the direct cause of the deportation order being issued against him. Richard Nixon felt that Lennon’s reported intention to appear at an anti war concert that would coincide with the Republican’s national congress would work against him and his re-election. A deportation order was issued shortly after.
Those were strange times, a rock star could threaten US democracy? Given what Nixon went on to do if only Lennon did have that much power.
The original ‘reason’ for the deportation order was Lennon’s conviction on a misdemeanor ‘charge of possessing a small amount of dope in 1968. Eventually, after 3 and a half years of litigation the deportation order was thrown out when the court said ” … the courts will not condone selective deportation based upon secret political grounds.”
The battle continued until after Nixon was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Gerald Ford. Ford could not see the point of the deportation attempts and they were finally dropped in 1975. In 1976 the green card was issued.
On this day in 1979 the Reverend Richard Perriman spoke out about the evils of rock ‘n’ roll. He told his congregation that redemption is possible. He said “If God can save an old homosexual like me he can save anyone.” The Reverend Richard Perriman is better known as Little Richard.
On this day in 1973 Jim Croce reached number 1 in the Billboard charts with Bad Bad Leroy Brown, 2 months later he died in a plane crash blamed on pilot error.
Born into an Italian family in South Philadelphia in 1943 he showed an interest in music from when he was 5 learning to play the accordi0n. Music was a hobby rather than a career choice for Croce for a long time. When he did start to take music seriously he had already met and fallen in love with his future wife, Ingrid. Their wedding present from her parents was $500. the only stipulation was that it was to be used to make an album. Their hope was that the album would fail to sell and he would give give up music nd get a real job. (It reminds me of “Get A Haircut” by George Thorogood – an ace song you must listen to if you don’t know it already).
Sadly for the in-laws, all 500 copies sold. The album was “Facets”. Life as a performer was not easy, though. In ’68 they moved to New York having been encouraged to by their producer, Tommy West. Eventually they sold all their possessions (except one guitar) to pay the rent and eventually had to move back to Pennsylvania. There Jim worked at many manual jobs including construction jibs and driving trucks. Soul destroying work but it did give him great material for later songs such as “Working at the Car Wash Blues”. He kept writing songs and did not lose his determination to be a performer.
Success, when it came was not an over night recognition by us the public to Croce’s talent. It was a slow awakening. One important step on the road came in 1970 when Croce met Maury Muehleisen. Muehleisen was a singer songwriter and initially Croce backed him on stage. Over time the roles reversed and Muehleisen began to play the wonderful twiddly bits on Croce’s songs so evident in the following albums.
Croce secured a 3 record deal that would produce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, “Life and Times”, and “I Got a Name”. All went gold in the US. “I Got a Name” was released as a single on 20th September 1973 and it was on that day that Croce, Muehleisen, and 4 others died in a light plane crash. They were leaving after a concert at Natchitoches on their way to their next concert in Texas. The crash was blamed on pilot error, he flew into the only tree for hundreds of yards. The album “I Got a Name” was released posthumously in December 1973.
On this day in 1964 The Rolling Stones played the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, UK and the show ended in a riot. In Response the council banned The Stones from ever playing there again.
The Stones in 1964 was not the all conquering band that we all came to know and love a few years later. True, that had released 2 singles “Come On” and ” I wanna Be Your Man” but neither made them mega stars. The First, and quite frankly wonderful first album, “The Rolling Stones” had gone to number 1 in the UK. However, they still had a lot to learn. A UK tour in 1963 had seen them learning stage craft touring under Bo Diddley, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers.
Earlier in 1964 The Stones had undertaken their first, and disasterous US tour. Mocked on TV and largely ignored by most of the media Jagger described it as “A disaster”.
So to their second tour of the UK. The bad boy image designed and developed by Andrew Loog Oldham went before them. “Would you let yopur daughter marry a Rolling Stone”, the arrests for pissing in public, all that stuff was going on at about this time.
So, to Blackpool. Blackpool was England’s most popular seaside resort. Popular, populist, and unbelievably tacky. The Empress Ballroom was an old theater that had staged rock and roll before, but the Stones were something else. The girls were screaming lads dancing, everything set for a good night out. Until. Pre-punk spitting started, aimed at Brian Jones, orchestrated by a man at the front by the stage. Keith Richard told him to stop encouraging the crowd to spit. He did not stop. Keith’s answer? Simple stand on one of the mans hands (the man was that close to the stage) and then kick him in the head, a few times. That started the riot. Everything in sight was smashed, chairs,bottles, a piano, chandeliers (yes chandeliers). The damage was total. Reports put the cost of the damage at £4,000, £7,000 even £10,000 a huge amount at that time. Two policemen and more than 30 fans were injured, presumably someone with a very sore head.
The Blackpool Council met and banned The Stones from ever playing there again. They relented in 2008, saying that The Rolling Stones would be welcomed back. So far, Blackpool has not featured in The Stones’ plans.
On this day 1988 after being found guilty of various crimes including illegal gun possession (illegal gun possession I thought gun possession was mandatory in the States!), resisting arrest, and assault James Brown is sentenced to 6 years. He is also ordered to play a benefit concert for police and abused children. James Brown is not impressed and says that it is just a way of getting a free concert.
A year later he was moved to a medium security cell (from a low security cell) after more than $40,000 in cash and cheques were discovered in his cell. (Perhaps the benefit was not free after all).