Category Archives: Artists

Rock’n’Roll Legend Jerry Lee Lewis

“I was always worried whether I was going to heaven or hell. I still am.” It is a normal existential thing to think for someone aged 84 right?.. Not the case with legendary Jerry Lee Lewis who is actually associated with some hellish things in his past.

It will be no exaggeration to say Lewis’s life and career were extraordinary (sometimes in a bad way). At some point he was close to stealing the fame from Elvis Presley himself and you will be horrified to know why it never happened. Also Jerry Lee was nicknamed The Killer for his wild dynamic piano style and NOT for his threat to kill Elvis.

But wait for this story to develop. Jerry Lee Lewis was born in 1935 in a poor family. His father mortgaged the family farm when Lewis was a young boy to buy him a piano. So, he started playing at quite an early age, as well as demonstrating his wild nature. In his mid-teens the boy’s mother sent him to the Southwest Bible Institute.

Jerry Lee, unimpressed by evangelical tunes as they were, performed a boogie-woogie rendition of “My God Is Real” at a church assembly and, guess what, was immediately barred from the school. Rebellious Jerry Lee was just what rock’n’roll needed back then, so in his early 20s, Lewis was already performing with famous artists, including Johnny Cash.

His unique piano style forever altered the genre which had previously rarely featured pianists. Now, if we judge by the movie Great Balls Of Fire featuring Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee, Lewis and Presley were rivals from the very beginning. In reality, however, the relationships between the two didn’t seem that tense, but there was actually one MINOR misunderstanding that led to Lewis’s arrest.

Let us jump for a moment into year 1976 – the time when Elvis was living as a recluse and Lewis had been abandoned by the public over his immoral personal life. November 22, Jerry appears at the entrance of Presley’s home and asks to see Elvis. The security guard replies that Presley is sleeping.

Jerry Lee leaves and returns on the next day, his car rams into the gates before it stops. Lewis says it is Presley who wanted to see him and told him to come over. From here, versions vary a lot, but basically it went more or less as follows: drunk as hell Lewis, with a pistol on the dashboard, shouts: “Call up there and tell Elvis I wanna visit with him.

Who the hell does he think he is? Tell him the Killer’s here to see him.'” Soon Jerry Lee gets arrested for carrying a pistol and being drunk in a public place. Many later the musician would tell the story of him being a little wild and loaded on that day but without any intention to kill Presley.

But now back to the golden days of Jerry Lee Lewis. He quickly started releasing one hit after another, including his most famous songs “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” In the late 50s Jerry would have reputation of being a wild one on and off stage.

The story goes that once he even set fire to a piano mid-concert and kept pounding the keys while it flamed. All because Jerry Lee was sure HE was supposed to finish the show – not Chuck Berry. He told Rolling Stone: “Burned it [piano] to the ground. They forced me to do it, tellin’ me I had to go on before Chuck.

I was supposed to be the star of the show.” But his rebellious nature pretty much made Lewis only more appealing to the audience until the controversy surrounding his third marriage broke the news while he was on tours overseas. The English press discovered that 22-year-old Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown.

Although the label denied the claim, the tour was cut short. Jerry Lee was only adding oil to the fire. When he found out what the English press was doing to him, he was cocksureto the point of parading Myra onstage. After three stops on his tour Lewis had to return to America where he was already blacklisted from the radio waves.

The public could handle his, what they called, sinful music, but his marriage to a minor could not be excused. Jerry Lee’s fee for personal appearances soon dropped from $10,000 a night to $250. He tried to apologize, remarrying Myra in a ceremony that Lewis thought would validate the relationship, but to no avail.

Thus, the only musician capable of rivaling Elvis Presley became an outcast. Lewis got his career back ten years later as a country performer, he outlived Elvis, but his career as a rock star was forever crippled by the epic scandal. He and Myra divorced in 1970. They have two children… well they HAD two children.

The couple’s son tragically drowned when he was only 3 years old. Sadly, Jerry would lose a 19-year-old son from his other wife, he would tragically die in a car accident. Since 2012, Jerry Lee Lewis has been married to his seventh wife, Judith Brown. Now, at 84, he just recorded a new album. Jerry Lee is happy to have a chance to return to music after suffering a stroke in 2019.

He hopes to perform again one day. But for now he is simply grateful to be playing again. “It feels like I’m home,” he says.

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Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock’n’Roll

The following is a transcript from “Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock’n’Roll” interview with John Brewer available on YouTube.  John Brewer directed the 2018 film “Chuck Berry”.

Hi, I’m Jon Brewer. I’m a  director and a producer, and I also   have had 50 years of experience in the music industry. Chuck Berry was Chuck Berry. The  definition of Chuck Berry is – Chuck Berry. If you had tried to try and get rock and roll  another name, you might call it Chuck Berry. He is the most important  guitarist in rock history.

He can tell you a full story  in three minutes lyrically.   If he couldn’t think of a word, he would just make one up. Coolaradar Botheration Motorvating Everyone wants Maybelline, Maybelline. Well,  the music is just too powerful to be denied. And you could almost say Chuck  Berry invented the teenager.

That records wouldn’t get played on  white station even at that period. He was the first inductee in  a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now I know mine, we went to record it at the legendary Chess Studios.  In the studio, we met Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry. Started that whole hip-hop tradition. Back  then, he was the gangster, the first gangster.

You know, Chuck Berry was a character  that Charles Edward Anderson Berry played. When he came home, he was the man I married. The money goes in the case; then the guitar comes out. Yeah, he’s the man, for sure. Given me more headaches than Mick Jagger. That is the trailer for the recently released  documentary Chuck Berry – The Original   King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

And this is Factual  America. Brought to you by Alamo pictures,   a production company that makes documentaries  about America for an international audience. Chuck Berry was the original King of Rock  and Roll. That is according to Jon Brewer,   who should know. Known as the God of  rock docs, Jon discusses Chuck Berry,   the making of his documentary about the American  icon, and a host of amazing stories drawn from   his 50 years in the music business, working with  the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones,   David Bowie, Gerry Rafferty, and BB King, just to  name a few.

We caught up recently with Jon from   his studio in London. Jon Brewer, welcome to  Factual America. Jon, how are things with you? Oh, with me? Personally, I’m okay. It’s a bit cold  here in England. And of course, we’re subjected to   this strange virus lock down. But  other than that, I’m okay.

Thank you. Yeah, well, I’m based in England as well.  So it’s good to be talking to someone in   the same timezone. Usually, I’ve got someone  in LA on the other end. Also good news today,   we got a word of another vaccine that’s  about 94-95% effective, supposedly, so   maybe we’re about to see the light at  the end of the tunnel, and we just.

.. I think we are, but this, the effects gonna  now last for some time. And, you know,   I know everyone is canceling tours. And you know,  that whole routine of scheduling is completely,   in a good English way, is cocked up,  but you know, that’s what’s happened. It’s what’s happened.

And I think we’re all  in one big giant boat. We’re all in that same   boat together. Thanks so much for coming  on. It’s quite an honour to have you on.   We’re here to discuss primarily, your latest film,  Chuck Berry – The Original King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.   As it is, as it says on the tin.

He unfortunately  passed away went on to rock ‘n’ roll Heaven,   we think, on March 18 2017. But where can  listeners find this film? I think it’s on   all major streaming services, and it’s about to  come out on DVD and Blu-ray, is that correct? Well, I think it’s correct.

The problem is  that, I was asked this question the other day,   and it’s on some of the platforms and there are  holdbacks on certain situations, but it’s being on   a theatrical release. And quite interestingly, we  picked up a lot of the drive-ins and we basically   had great response.

And also we had sort of the  smaller, art theatres picked up on it. And of   course, we milked it all the way since then,  successfully. And then DVD will be coming out.   And then we probably will be on the bigger  platforms. yes. And then we’ll go to the   smaller platforms as things do.

But then  from there onwards, everything looks great. Well, excellent. Well, again, I’ve seen  the film, I highly recommend it. I really,   really enjoyed it. It’s a good, good fun,  good hour and a half, certainly. Maybe   the next couple of questions are going to seem,  certainly for someone my age, seem a little odd.

But in talking to someone on my team, who said,  we’re talking about this, and she said, well,   she didn’t really know anything about  popular music before The Beatles.   So maybe give us a little synopsis of the  film. And then tell us who Chuck Berry was. Well, Chuck Berry, I think, was the King of  Rock ‘n’ Roll because he performed and he   wrote.

And he recorded. To me,  just spending a little time on   Chuck at this point. Whereas Elvis didn’t write,  he performed and he recorded. And Little Richard,   well, he sort of wrote but not to the extent that  Chuck wrote. And so in a way, I just think that   Chuck was the, sort of, the King of Rock and  Roll.

He wrote with lyrics, he was a poet.   And he invented many words, as it was pointed  out, probably not in the Scrabble dictionary. And   if you listen to those lyrics,  they were pointed towards,   for obvious reasons, because Chuck  was a lot older than being a teenager,   towards the teenage audience, which I really  believe he created the teenager.

Although I grew   up as a teenager, I thought I was a teenager, and  I knew about teenagers. There are a lot of people   that didn’t really realise there were teenagers.  And the teenage expression, the teenage want,   things that made teenagers teenagers, was  everything that Chuck wrote about.

And if he   couldn’t use words that we all know, he made them  up. And it was great. So that was Chuck and Chuck   was given one of the best launches as a musician,  because everyone thought he was white. And in   those days, when he first started, you had black  radio that would only play black music, and there   was white stations that would only play white  music.

And the white stations were the powerful   stations, of course. And what happened was he got  his break, because they all thought he was white.   And when he came to concerts, there’s many stories  and appearances that he turned up and things went,   no, no we’re waiting for Chuck Berry, because  he was black.

And most of his problems   rose from being black. God knows what he would  have had if he had been white. But in those days,   that’s what happened. And I believe he  was one of those pioneers of being able to   get rid of the racism or start anyway. Because  I don’t know whether you know anything about   his performances, but I have visuals, and  there’s some visuals in the film, that show   archive footage of him basically  going from one side of the stage,   side of the stage to the other.

Now this was  what Chuck did. He was very clever. Ingrid,   his daughter, who was with him for 42 years on the  road, told me this. His idea was to pull those on   the left over to those on the right. Those on the  right over to the left. Well in the South, and   majority of the Southern and other territories  too, there was a law that if you were watching   an artist perform, it will be a rope down  the middle of the club.

And that rope   would disappear at Chuck’s performances, because  he went from the left to the right and the right   to the left. And he was moving so fast that people  love dancing and music, especially at that time,   and they still do, of course, and what happened  was that they mingled.

They started dancing in the   clubs. And black would dance with white and white  would dance with black and the rope would go down.   And there was always police at those venues.  And they couldn’t do anything about it.   Because nobody really worked out where the rope  was. And that’s what actually happened.

And,   being the God of rock docs, as they  now refer to me, experienced that.   Unfortunately not with Chuck, when we were filming  in the California deserts, we filmed at night. And   in the open there, outside, and it was so cold.  That was one reason we did this. We put bins   big speaker bins up in the desert, and at a gas  station, which was the set.

And what we did was   put Maybelline on and keep playing Maybelline. And  I don’t know whether you’ve ever experienced this.   But if you play Maybelline, you will never  stand still. And that’s how we generated heat.   With a couple of overcoats and sweaters and  various other things.

And what we did was make   really remake, the same thing that happened  in those clubs, which basically tore down   that barrier. And eventually, it collapsed.  Not completely, but it collapsed. And racism.   I believe in all our ways, and I looked at  Nat King, I did Nat King Cole, as you know,   was similar.

He’s tackled the situation of  racism in his own little way, or big way.   And Chuck did the same. Because he got himself  into all sorts of pickle. And got himself   arrested on many occasions. And I’ll talk about  that later, as we get into this conversation.   That was the reason, you couldn’t  stand still listening to Maybelline.

Well, and you’ve just, that’s just one  of his many songs, which a lot of people   of a certain age may not even realise are his  originally. Maybelline, Roll over Beethoven,   Rock and Roll Music, Johnny Be Good, Brown Eyed  Handsome Man, Monkey Business is one that you   give a lot of airtime towards the end, when  talking to his daughter, I think Ingrid.

So   he’s written these amazing songs, as you say, you  think, you pose, not just pose it. I think a lot   of people agree with you that he is the original  King of Rock and Roll. He was the first inductee   into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And then I  think, for someone of my generation who grew up   in United States, I mean, I hate to say it, but  the sad thing I found watching this film was that   I grew up of an era of which, okay, he had the  novelty hit in terms of my ding a ling, right.

Which is ironically, his own first and only number  one. And then you heard all about the troubles of   the law and the taxman. But I think what your  film does is brings us back to the essence of   his greatness and who he was. And I think this  thing about the poet and storyteller, maybe you   can say even more about that.

Because you’ve got  archive of McCartney, I think on there and others,   just saying, how he could just boil it, tell  the whole story in less than three minutes. Well, he definitely was a storyteller,  that’s for sure. And he definitely was   a poet. The situation is  that, I personally think, and   there are various views of his life that became  detrimental to his ongoing performing and his   relationship with how to deal with them.

See, when I started in the industry,   there were no parameters. We were  pioneers, we created those parameters.   And, you know, publishing is very important  today. And it was very unimportant in those days.   But, you know, he was responsible for bringing  the cycle in, of what we know as rock ‘n’ roll   in music today.

It was three chords. He played  the guitar beautifully, wonderfully, beautifully   is not the word, he played it wonderfully. And it  was related to the songs that he really created,   that was so important to the Beatles, so important  to the Rolling Stones. A lot of the English acts   that came over to perform in America that we know  of The Who and how in maybe 10 years after all, of   these acts, basically, learned from Chuck Berry.

And they adapted their way of playing his songs. Anything they would make, I mean, they  would set a path straight for Chicago   and Chess Records, wouldn’t they? I  mean, a lot of them, as in a way… That’s a little bit of, a little bit too easy to  basically agree with that. A lot of those would be   listening.

And that always happens through ports.  And ports, basically, as you probably well know,   The Beatles used to go down, Ringo used to go  down. Paul McCartney, John Lennon used to go   down to the docks. And as the big ships come in,  they bring them American jukebox, on records,   and they’d swap them.

And before you knew  what happened is, that became the format of   their band of which they were going forward. And  they wrote songs based around what they heard.   And it became related to those places you  just suggested. Yes, The Stones did go over   and record thinking they were going to pick up the  sounds that they had developed their music around.

You also looked at the back of a Stones album, and  everything was, you know, Berry this, Berry that,   Berry this, Berry that, who’ve written all  these songs. The Beatles were the same in a way,   although not as much. But The Who, everybody  that was starting out at that period of time,   was saying, if he can do it, we can do it.

But  they didn’t really do it as well in certain ways.   But you can hear Chuck in the way  they’ve performed. And, of course,   you’ve got to understand that he  was a real writer. A real writer. I think you have that great scene,  now, maybe educate us. There’s this   sort of a tribute concert done, wasn’t  it, in St.

Louis, and you’ve got… Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, you got Keith  Richards on there. And you capture that   scene where Chuck Berry basically is  giving Keith Richard guitar lessons. Yes. Well, look, you’ve got to, to a certain  extent, understand Chuck Berry.

That’s difficult.   Otherwise, we would have had quite a lot of Chuck  Berries. But Chuck Berry was not an easy person. I   think going to prison, and they do say that prison  sentence of any length changes the person. And I   think he got that from prison. I think he changed,  had a chip on his shoulder about a lot of things.

And he pushed the boat out too far. I’ve been  criticised for saying that, but I really do   believe he pushed the boat out too far. Which  means he stretched it. Why open, in St. Louis, a   club for people to dance at, younger people to  dance at, that allowed, against the normal rule   that whites went to white clubs and black goes to  black clubs.

Why open one in St. Louis? It was the   only one, right? And of course, the authorities,  basically he was putting a finger out to, or two   fingers out to the authorities. And they will  bring him down. They will stop his licenses,   they’ll stop his hours, they’ll stop various other  things.

And then he bought a cinema, a cinema or   theatre, and wanted to show specialised films  and bits and pieces, they closed him down.   And with the Mann Act, which was never intended to  do what they did with him, basically was nonsense,   you know. He met one of his friends in the  neighbouring state.

He met a girl that wanted   a job. He was opening this club, he said, I’ll  give you a job if you want to come, basically,   come back to St. Louis. And she did. And she  got back to St. Louis. And she was part of the   opening night, she wore wonderful headdress and  she was a novelty.

And unfortunately, you know,   he got wound up in that. I don’t know, I wasn’t  there. But I don’t think Chuck was short of a few   girlfriends. And anyway, he was happily married at  that time. Themetta, who basically was his wife,   right from the start to the finish, said to me  that he just built that club because when he went   up to do bandstand, he couldn’t believe how much  the young people wanted to dance.

And that’s what   he did. He actually got himself into hot water  again. Mann Act was, he went to prison. And I can   tell you, all of research, the reason he went  to prison was because he was black. And there is   no question about it. Charlie Chaplin, who also  was accused of the Mann Act, didn’t go to prison.

And didn’t Jerry Lee Lewis,  did similar things, didn’t he? He actually got married to that girl, age of 13,  which he got loopholes and various things. And,   I don’t know, some people, I don’t know. I  certainly was much too young at that time   to really know. And there certainly didn’t live in  St.

Louis, at that time Saint Louis, at that time   to see that whole thing going on? But, you know,  they couldn’t, if they were outside their areas,   in the city that they lived in,  and they were in a black area,   they were okay. To a certain degree. But if  they went in the white areas, you had a problem.

I was gonna say, you’re talking a lot about St.  Louis, and the thing that struck me as well,   that I hadn’t appreciated was, part  of this identity, who he is this,   he has this love for his hometown,  even if it’s not treated him very well. He owned a lot of it. I mean, didn’t you have, I forget who  says it, but it’s about 50-50 sort of   responsibilities for some of the troubles  that he got in.

He certainly was, as you said,   pushing the boat out, really  stretching the limits. He wanted to create a Disneyland. He thought  that was wonderful. So he bought Berry Park.   And his uncle, no, his brother, I was speaking  to his son about it, his brother said,   owned some land up there and told Chuck,  there was some land, a lot of land being   for sale.

And he bought it and tried to create  a Disneyland, a small Disneyland up there.   And filled big sort of craters with water  and build a swimming pool in the shape of a   guitar. You could go up there and stay there  and basically join in the fun and games.   He wanted concerts there and said he didn’t want  to promote them.

And he got into terrible trouble   because guns were carried, drugs were carried,  Leon Russell hadn’t been paid by the promoter.   And, you know, Chuck Berry have been the promoter,  he created so much about being paid and being   ripped off. That would never have happened,  but it eventually closed it down.

I’ll tell   you a little story. When I turned up and first saw  Berry Park, I was very excited. And is derelict. Yeah, you capture that on the film a bit.  It surprised me towards the end, because… The first thing came out of my mouth – Why? And  there in the middle of it was the most beautifully   new build of house.

And he lived in that  house, built it for himself. And he also   lived in his house in another part of the  city, a very affluent part of the city,   which is where Themetta lived and the  family lived. Now, I said to his family, why   did he not repair the swimming pool, after the  fire, there was problems and this and that.

And   his son, although being a musician, and then  toured with him, actually was a builder.   And I said, why didn’t you do  this? He said, I wasn’t allowed to.   Dad said, don’t touch it. And he did that  really to prove a point. It was a failure point.   Because he tried to give pleasure to a lot  of people.

But he was stopped in every way.   I mean, when you think about it, there was a  death in the pool, I think two deaths of kids   in the pool. And it just basically taught him. He  said, that’s it. No more, just leave it as it is.   Now, there’s further stories that go on and  his wife, she’s really a very interesting one,   his wife said to me, I said, I find it  very difficult because he wrote a book,   and his biography was there.

And she said to me,  I said, what did you think of the biography? She   said, I only wish, only wish that he told me  all these stories that he told in the book   to my face rather than having to write it and put  it out. And I said, Oh, that must be terrible. She   said, Well, I’ll say one thing, Chuck Berry was  a stage name.

When he walked out of this house,   Charles Berry, went out and went on tour as  Chuck Berry. And when Chuck Berry came back   of being on the road and walked into the house,  he was Charles Berry, the most wonderful father,   the most wonderful family man you could ever  imagine. And I know we all say what goes on on   the road, stays on the road.

But it really was  true. And he wasn’t very clever in the way,   because he was angry, I think, on keeping it  all to himself and being discreet. A lot of   people would say, well, that’s very genuine.  Why should he be like that? But there you go,   that’s what happened. He certainly kept a  couple of his mistresses on the property.

And   I felt that was quite strange. And yet she was so  wonderful to him. And he was so wonderful to her. Well, except for, almost right at the  beginning, it kicks off with Themetta.   And she comes across as she was definitely  his lodestar, I would say, but as you’ve   already said, they’re married 69 years.

Beautiful children. She’s quite amazing. I can’t,   she must be around ninety years old herself.  Hope I’m doing that well, when I’m that age.   And yet there are all these infidelities.  And like you said, there was this Chuck   Berry. And then there was this persona  that was Charles Edward Anderson Berry.

Yeah. Two people. Yeah. And so, I mean, obviously the family was  fully on board with this documentary. How did you,   you’re kind of showing warts and all, I would  say, in terms of his life, and they had no,   I guess they’re well aware of it. And they’ve  come to their peace with it.

Is that right? It is. And I don’t think they will ever come to  their peace with it. They are so proud of their   dad. And, you know, they’re not young. His  grandchildren are beautiful children. And they’re   all playing guitars now and basically was so full  of grandpa, that was it, you know.

But you’ve got   to understand that he made a lot of money. He made  a lot of money in real estate too. He put all his   money into real estate. He left 54 million cash.  And he basically had about a quarter million,   250,000. Was it 250? No, it couldn’t be. Two and  a half million on real estates.

I think you’ll   find out. But his real estate lawyer was very  timid to explain it. Maybe a lot more than that. He does make an appearance in the film.  But yeah, he’s a bit cagey, isn’t he? 250 million he made in real  estate. Sorry, I quoted you wrong. Yes. Okay. Yeah, well, that’s what I have down here.

I  mean, just my own notes. Family man, real estate   developer. That’s Charles Edward Anderson Berry,  you know. And then you’ve got Chuck Berry, who,   I mean, you could argue, as you’ve already  said, for the various reasons why you think he’s   the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

But he created  the persona of a rock and roll star. Absolutely. But the thing is that  he would not adapt to the current   at the time, wealth and building of the  industry. He basically published himself,   that’s very difficult to do. And when basically,  he performed, there’s the story of the Chuck Berry   stories of you know, his rider.

Now, his rider,  which went to the promoter of what he required,   was mainly the type of equipment that he wanted  onstage. Eventually, it was only him and the   toothbrush and the case and the guitar. And they  would, literally, the promoters in the local area   would put ads out for whoever was able to play  that night.

And he created a band that played   Chuck Berry music. And sometimes it went wrong.  Sometimes it didn’t. But anything he was asking   for, was not like to a lot of rock bands, like  four crates of hard liquor, and… It was all to   do with the equipment. Now, if you didn’t supply  him with that equipment, he’d find the promoter.

And he’d say that’s cost you $2,000. And if  you didn’t get what he wanted to do his show,   he also walked off exactly the timing on the dot,  whether it was halfway through a number or not.   And he would say, very simply, I will  be there. You will pay me in cash   before we start.

Now, I’ll tell you a story  about an English promoter who I knew well,   who basically said, Look, I’ve converted  this at a very fair rate to you.   And he said, you converted it? what are you  talking about? He said, well, in Sterling,   I’ve agreed to pay you so much money. That’s what  you wanted.

And he said – no, I didn’t want that.   He said, well, what did you want then? He said,  I wanted it in dollars. I know I’m performing   in London, but I need it in dollars. He said I  can’t go to the bank because it’s Saturday. And we   never, as you probably know, basically, in those  days, we didn’t open banks on Saturdays.

And he   said, well, I’m sorry, I can’t perform. They said,  well, look, we can get a rate from anywhere, we’ll   go down to your hotel, and there, and he said no,  I want dollars or I won’t be performing tonight.   And this guy, poor guy had to go around  every American or English hotel, and ask them   to basically change funds.

And by doing that to  get, I don’t know what it was 10,000 or 20,000 or   whatever it was. That’s a hell of a request and  a hell of a job to go around all these hotels   and down to the airport and whatever it was,  because they’re limited to what they could   change in those days.

So he did it and  he came back and gave him the dollars   and that was that, quite a bit of money.  But also, he was a stickler with that   and if you paid the fine, you’d go on, as simple  as that. But he wasn’t having it any other way. And it was always cash, right? Always cash. Couldn’t write, you know,  an IOU or basically or bankers draft.

He wouldn’t have taken it. He wanted cash. And  that was fair, you know, I did the BB King:   Life of Riley film and coming out  the BB King: On the Road film, just   next year. And, you know, the story is  that BB used to tell me, what unreal,   that you know you had to get your money, be said  he’d always eventually get half of his money.

So he could pay the gas. And he basically  knew that he was getting something out of it.   Because he held the record of 365 days, a year of  performing, and sometimes two times a night. And   he said to me, he said, Jon, at the  end, we had to get our money upfront.   We were big enough to demand it.

But the  thing was, if we didn’t, they were running   down the road with your whole money from the  box office. And that was it. And you know,   all the promoters would basically, you know, if  they were white promoters, they were saying well,   that is, that’s what happens. You  know, if they were black promoters,   even with black promoters, BB said, he said if  they had Jewish names, I knew something was wrong.

That seems like a good point to take a quick  break, and we’ll be straight back with Jon Brewer. You’re listening to Factual America. Subscribe  to our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook,   Instagram, or Twitter at Alamo pictures to keep  up to date with new releases or upcoming shows.

Check out the show notes to  learn more about the program,   our guests and the team behind the  production. Now back to Factual America. Welcome back to Factual America. I’m here with  Jon Brewer, director and producer of Chuck Berry:   The Original King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. You  can find it on various streaming services,   and it’s coming out on DVD and Blu-ray.

I mean,  we’re just been talking about Chuck Berry,   the man and his persona. I mean, these are  days that don’t, these kind of stories,   these characters just seem like  they’ll never be repeated, will they? Well, the business has changed. If you  walked up and said, I want to be paid   in cash and today, and you are  an artist that was commanding   20,000 seaters, or 30.

It’s impossible. First  of all, you become a very high risk situation,   you couldn’t get insurance, because, at the end  of the day, no one will put up with him. So the   fact is, it could never happen today. Those are  the little things that we’ve talked about. But   at the end of the day, the world has completely  changed.

I mean, look, the Stones basically sell   that tours. They don’t basically collect money, so  they may not be paid. And the deal gets done way,   way before the show’s over or seen the  light of day. Merchandise today sells.   I don’t think he ever sold any merchandise on the  road.

He wouldn’t know how, what I mean, you know.   At the end of it, the world has completely  changed. And he would have earned,   if he’d been handled by a manager, which  he wasn’t, handled by a promoter properly,   you know, someone like Bill Graham, because it was  changing in San Francisco.

And they had basically   five or six major promoters around the country.  And if they a cartel, if he had been handled   by that cartel, he would have made 10 times the  amount of money that he made. But it’s a different   world. Now, my first royalty statement that I ever  got from EMI was written in hand, written by pen.

That’s a long time ago. Every royalty statement  I ever got, that was written in hand, was robbed.   Now, define the computer to such an extent, they  can’t cheat it. I’m sure there are ways but,   it costs too much money to do that today.   So you know, at the end of the chapter, it’s  like, you know.

But, you know something,   he was very successful, very clever man.  He was not uneducated, he was very clever. Well, that really comes out in the  film. I think for someone like,   for me, what struck me was how intelligent he was.  How ahead of his time he was. You talked about,   we talked about him being this rock ‘n’ roll  persona yet at the same time, you know, sex,   drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, but he didn’t have the  drugs part, certainly, as far as we know.

He certainly had the sex part. Didn’t have the  drugs thing, he didn’t like it. And second,   and thirdly, certainly had the rock ‘n’ roll part.   But it needed to be adapted. And I think he  was a strong man, when he came to negotiate.   And I don’t think he wanted any,  $1 more than he basically agreed.

And, you know, there were a lot of things going on  in the 60s and 70s. That, and pressure put on by   artists that had become successful on promoters  demanding more money, because they didn’t trust   their gate percentage. You know, we we’re not  going on them, and then be right, and the promoter   would buckle in.

I’ve seen that happen many  times. Interesting. Now, of course, we discussed   earlier on about the selling of tours, selling  merchandise, and, you know, artists basically get   their money way before they even start. So that’s  a big headache that they don’t have to deal with.   So that’s something.

I’ll tell you why I took  that approach. There are, there are several   versions of this film. But I wanted to get rid of  what everybody thought I was going to talk about   and paint. And that was, oh, he was a criminal. He  basically had the misfortune in one way of being   put in reformed school.

But the truth that  he was, he was a criminal. He actually did   hold up grocery stores and various other  stores. Why? Because he wanted to get a home.   You know, they went to California, and ran  out of money, and they had to get a home.   Now, you don’t, I don’t suppose that everybody  should say as soon as you run out of money,   you should either get on to your folks  and get some money sent out to you.

If you and I have done it, well, that’s probably  what we’re gonna done. But you got to know   where he came from. His father was a very senior  member of the church. And, you know, he was very   religious at the beginning. He reckoned he was  saving up to basically the very, very end, need   done is religious giving at the beginning, which  I always thought was an interesting statement.

Oh, I gave too much to my whoever. And at  the end of the day, he said, you know, I’ll   leave that up to the end. But I think that he  realised that money could be made. And he was   interested in making money, but he also wanted  people to dance and he wanted people to basically   jump around with his music, and he certainly got  that going.

I mean, if the Stones, if we never   had Chuck Berry, the stones would probably be  around, but we’d have a very different band.   And it would be a very different band. So  you know, I think, when you went into prison   for the Mann Act, which was after he done  some, at a reformed school that he was in,   he done time.

And I think it really annoyed  him. But there’s another thing, when you went   to the tax problem, he was offered  another deal. And he worked it out.   That allowed him to close the deal, but  the deal meant that he would have made,   would be losing a lot of money. So going in and  writing the book, and sitting in this very sort of   not prison, but sort of open prison was a better  deal.

As a businessman that, that sums it up. Well, as the former economist, to me  is like he obviously didn’t value his   free time highly enough, I think if he … Which is an interesting concept. Why now? Why have you made this film now? Because, it would never have been made if he was  alive.

I tried to make it. I tried to go down   there. Security was a big, big problem. Because  I was told that if he didn’t like what you did,   he will shoot you. And I said, well, I don’t think  that’s a good idea. I put it off until I was,   I’ve put it off till sorry, I put  it off till I was near, in the area.

And I’ve done, sort of in the area, in  New Orleans. And everyone said he had,   he’d made the other film. And the problem  was, he was so seriously a problem.   Because I think it started at  $80,000 for Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll. And   he ended up taking just under a million, because  he kept rewriting his contract every day.

Which wasn’t normal for him. Because when  he came to a deal, but he used to say, well,   in making a film, we have to rehearse. So every  time they did a take, he said, that’s more money.   And eventually, they said, look, you can’t go on  like this, we got people out here, but we can’t   work like that.

And he used to literally, and I  saw footage of it, he gets to say, you’ll ought to   stay over there until I’ve got my money. And  that can be produced every day on the set.   So, you know, day would go by, half a day would go  by, and it’s costing them hundreds of thousands. And they already had all  these sunk costs in there.

That’s right. For you to, and I’ll say  something about Stones, you or Keith, rather,   you basically understand that the studios,  Universal was really seriously a problem.   So for me to come down there and try and get  out of Chuck, you would have got nothing.   I got more, Themetta’s interview is the  only interview she’s ever done in her life.

That is absolutely amazing. And I think that’s  something for our listeners to keep in mind   because she was, I mean, I just found her  incredibly compelling. She’s so eloquent. So   regal. One thing you did at the doc, it was  interesting, was you did these reconstructions   or dramatisations.

But they’re not just your  average reconstructions or dramatisations,   aren’t they? I mean, they’re kind of very  stylised. I don’t know a better way of putting it. Let me tell you why they’re  stylised. The situation was that   I wanted to know about Chuck Berry. And I  wanted my audience to know about Chuck Berry.

To make a film about being thrown into jail   as a kid, coming out and then seeing and meeting  your wife take you out to the local fair,   ground or what they had in those days, and meeting  her there and eventually starting out life.   And of course then having children, was a  wonderful situation.

It was very romantic.   Because there were two people  that really loved each other.   And it was a strange situation because all that,  you know, he was very upset the first time he was   unfaithful to her. And he eventually got over it.  But he felt that he was in two different worlds.   And she was oblivious to it all.

I’ll tell you a  little story which basically I told the other day.   Really had eliminated his, this isn’t  in the movie but, had eliminated his,   he sort of came of a certain level of a  musician and artists, even though he was still   pursued by the press and various other, I suppose  wracked by racism to a certain point.

So, at the   end of the situation, his lawyer, who appears in  the film, said, he’s also his personal friend, one   of his lawyers anyway. And he felt that he should  get Chuck out into society. So he would meet him   once a week. And what he also did was invite him  round to his home, to have a dinner party for him.

Because he’d never been to a dinner party. And  so his lawyer says my wife’s going to cook and   we’re gonna have friends there. And he said,  Oh, okay, fine. I don’t know. I’ll let you know.   And he arrives. And dinner has been  made and there’s several parties there,   man and wife, and instead of coming with his wife,  he came with his mistress.

And as he came in, he   had this little sort of picnic box that had  been made, and that had been made by Themetta,   who knew he was going with this woman  who was his mistress. And not only had   she made his dinner, but she’d made it for two.   And Charles, when he got there, he basically  said, I brought the dinner and he said,   No, no, no, you don’t have to have dinner.

We’re having dinner. We’re giving it to you.   And he said, well, I brought  my friend, and for her too,   in fact, I think if my wife knows about this,  she’d be very upset. And things like that, that   we all would be, come on, he must know what a  dinner party was. And he didn’t.

And you know,   but he wasn’t whatever he made up, to be  a violent man in any way, shape, or form. This must have been, I mean, at least for me, this  must have been a really fun doc to make. I mean,   you’ve got a veritable who’s who of 60s, 70s and  80s, rock ‘n’ roll stars that have appearances.

We got the Springsteen,  you know, Stevie Van Zandt,   Alice Cooper, who I’d love to talk to one day,  Gene Simmons, George Thorogood. It’s just amazing. Again, that was my choice,  because we all heard from Keith,   we all heard from Keith and various other  people, we refer to why I made these   cutaways, as I call them.

If you watch  the film again, you will find that,   as in baby driver, there was a  technique that was used where (claps)   it all is to a beat. So that when the actor or the  artist was conveyed in the cutaway that there’s   music, but they walk, even the police raid, and  FBI’s raid that took place at Berry Park was   literally in time, synchronised.

Totally in time.  And the colour is over the top, like Sin City. Yeah, exactly. And so all of this was fun. Making  fun of that scenario. It wasn’t really   a fun scenario to make fun of. But I thought it  would take away the seriousness of making a story   of what everybody expected, which was he went to  jail and he did this and he did that and then he   got arrested again, everything.

Because Themetta  said to me – please don’t make a fool of him. And   at why there was some criticism of the beginning  from the family. He never danced like that.   I said well, that wasn’t meant to be him really.   It was the time that that took place. And  it was the synchronisation that took place.

Sound wise, it’s a very interesting piece. I don’t  know, it’s my piece, but it’s very interesting.   And that’s why I wanted to do a bit of tongue  in cheek. That’s why when they left one of the   places they had robbed. They were dancing and to  give it a little bit of, you know, in the cheek   laughter.

Because really, it was all very stupid  really. It wasn’t big things. It wasn’t, you know,   first degree murder. It was like, basically, just  like, well a kid would get into trouble for… I thought it was very interesting, cause you know,  the film starts off that way. And you’re just   like, wait a minute, I thought this was gonna be  a doc.

But I agree, it’s very effective. And the   way, like you said, it’s not literally him dancing  out the door, but it’s these he and essentially,   three black youths coming out. But they obviously  wouldn’t been dressed that way. Like you said,   the over the top colours, the reds, the blues  of the cops, you know, in an otherwise sort of   black and white scene.

It is very atmospheric  too. It kind of throws back to that 1950s. It was meant to be because I wanted to get away  from the desperation of the old racist story.   And the fact is that the list of  things that he did wrong, apparently,   but he wouldn’t have normally gone to prison. And  it’s a sad old story that basically they tried to   knock him down.

And I suppose in a way they get to  a certain extent. Affected his writing, I believe. It’s interesting, because you have, as you’ve  already said, 50 years of experience in the   music industry. You’ve worked with a lot of  famous people, I suggest people check out,   I don’t know how accurate it is.

But  I’m assuming it’s pretty accurate,   your Wikipedia page and other places where they  can find information about you. How would you put   Chuck Berry in the context of other artists you’ve  worked with? I mean, not so much even the music… Jimi Hendrix would be one. The Legends of the  Canyon, which extraordinary enough has come,   I did a documentary called Legends of the Canyon,  which is Laurel Canyon.

It’s just released in a   series version. Which was very much, I grew  up like listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash   when I was in California. When I discovered  LA, which was actually about three miles   by three miles wide, which of course was Beverly  Hills and Laurel Canyon, right.

And LA is a very   much bigger place, but whenever I used to go  there, I didn’t get to get out of that area.   Sometimes to the beach. And that to me was  LA, but I was talking in my stories. I knew,   my stories were very similar out there, because  there are no pavements in Laurel Canyon.

And people walking around and people wanted to  get to the bottom of Laurel Canyon on sunset and   go up to the top. That hitch a long ride. After  the Manson murders, nobody would hitch a ride.   And somebody had forgotten by that time to put  pavements in. Walking on the side of the road,   now on the side of the road, as you will  know, water runs down, and water runs down   the canyon.

And what happened was that people  couldn’t walk on pavements, so nobody went out   when it rained. And believe me it does rain in  Southern California. And basically mudslides on   Laurel Canyon to this very day are very common.  But taking what they were taking in those days,   and literally disappearing into the clouds,  didn’t make any difference.

So there are these   people like Henry Diltz, who’s a fantastic  photographer who knew all of the boys,   taking pharmaceutical drugs like LSD and stuff.  Basically we’re sitting, you know, in the   flowers and bushes in the side  of the hill or whatever it was,   and seeing all sorts of things.

And they never to  this very day build pavements on Laurel Canyon.   And I did a film about those guys. I got Crosby,  Stills & Nash involved and I got various other   people. And people who still would love to  still live in Laurel Canyon, but of course   now have either made it, made an awful lot  of money and decided to leave LA altogether.

Drug problem. But Jimi Hendrix, another one.  I knew Jimi Hendrix very well. And well I said   very well, as well as I could have done. He  was the reason I got into the industry really.   And I managed no reading after Jimmy had gone.  And, you know, there have been quite a few artists   I’ve been involved with.

But, I think that, I  don’t want to compare them and say, I like doing   this one or not, but I think there was some very  exciting documentaries. BB King, of course, was   my calling card. Before they called me the God  of rock ‘n’ roll doc. And, to tell you the truth,   BB king opened my eyes.

Because I never, ever,  being English, experienced, even on the road,   first time I saw the Ku Klux Klan when I was  out in the road, was really quite extraordinary.   And I made a film called Monochrome. Actually is  now basically so true, as a series. And it just   told the story of blues, and how that was  mingled in with music, and how blues came about.

And the war going right the way through to all  sorts of music, and to, “I can’t breathe” days.   And it’s quite extraordinary. After I did that, it  was a little self indulgent. But for a white man,   an English white man that  couldn’t believe the amount of   prejudice even now, it’s quite extraordinary.

And  we’re forgetting, forgetting the big cities now.   Out there in America, it’s quite extraordinary  how many problems are still happening. And,   of course, now we see it all on the streets again.  And we’ll be seeing it for many years to come.   It’s something that has never been forgotten  and is still happening.

So after that, I started   looking at doing more story like documentaries.  And that’s what I’m now doing again. Well, thank you. I haven’t had the  pleasure of watching the Monochrome. And   did that come before BB King or? No, no, it’s after, because BB opened my eyes. He is the one opened your eyes.

That’s right. And BB, I became a very close friend to. Took him  two years to trust me. And when he trusted me,   I mean, now I hear the stories that… I  got a call earlier today from his drummer.   And he said, Jon, you know how much BB loved  you. And I said, no, I knew there was love there,   and I didn’t look for very long.

He asked me  to film his funeral. Which I thought was most   extraordinary thing any man could ever ask you to  do. And there was a lot of prejudice against me.   That’s extraordinary. I thought, you know, it was  all the other way around. But there was a lot of   prejudice. And there comes a white man to tell our  hero, our story of our hero.

And after we buried   him, that came out. I was terribly upset about it  emotionally. But I learned when I went back out   there. And if you ever get a chance to see that  film, watch that film. It’s quite amazing. Quite   amazing. But I never really, I’m now doing, if  you want to know about doing a film on Link Wray.

Okay. The photographer, is that the photographer? No, no, he was, 1957 he had a massive hit  called Rumble. First man in black. He looked   like Marlon Brando on a bike. And he created this  sound, which was a confused sound. And it’s played   on so many advertisements today, on both sides of  the Atlantic, everywhere in the world.

And he was   a Native American Indian music,  as we refer to. Basically he was,   when he died, Bruce Springsteen  stopped his set and played Rumble. Amazing. Jimmy Page has gone into and quoted, just done  a documentary a few years back, where he plays,   with several other guys, the Edge  of the U2, air guitar to the Rumble,   and Keith Richards.

All of these guys, lot of them  saying, I would never, Pete Townsend said he never   would have picked up a guitar if it hasn’t been  for Link Wray. And yet you go ask anybody who’s   not involved in the music business, or basically  in a Safeway supermarket or wherever it is,   have you ever heard of Link Wray? No.

How come all these successful guitarists,   now everything. Bob Dylan, he’s stopped, when  he heard he just died, stopped in the middle of   a show. And I’m telling this story of who actually  he really was. And he was an incredibly successful   person, as far as superstar guitarists are  concerned with, but nobody really knew who he was.

It’s like they say about some  bands that sold maybe 500 records,   but everyone who bought those 500 records  went on to become mega stars, you know. Sort of. I mean, I know lots of people who  basically, in the industry, know who he is,   or was because he died. And I know a lot of people  also in the industry who don’t know who he is.

It’s extraordinary. Because if people never would  have picked up a guitar become who they were.   Right? You know, it’s just. If he hadn’t  happened, a lot of people we wouldn’t have had.   And basically still enjoy. So I’m making a film  about Link Wray. And, there’s, I’m also making   a film about the sixth stone, the sixth Rolling  Stone, who actually was the first Rolling Stone,   who formed a band with Brian Jones,  that became the Rolling Stones.

And that’s very interesting, because he got fired   from the band, really from the manager  of the band, because he didn’t look right   And he became the reason the Rolling Stones are  here today, still performing. He died in 1986.   But he was at every concert, because  they wouldn’t go on stage without him.

Not to get him to play. Although he  played with them. He was one of the   best keyboard players that I’ve known. And he  played when he wanted to play in the wings, but   the show would never happen if he wasn’t there.  He was the guy that solved every problem, and kept   that band together.

And nobody really knows about  him, except the Stones. And what Keith says, which   he recently did, hey, when I go on the road, I’m  still working for Stu, because that was his name   Ian Stewart. He says I’m still working for Stu,  it’s his band, that’s how I feel. And I’m telling   the story of that.

Because that’s an interesting,  ask anybody how many Rolling Stones there are?   And all the others? Mick Taylor? Cause I presented  him to. But no, how many Rolling Stones are there?   The original Rolling Stones, and they will never  mention Ian Stewart, who was the guy that put the   band together.

And most of those people that  you know, we know the Beatles had a different   drummer. We know this and that. But how many  people knew that the Rolling Stones had somebody   that was asked, would you mind if you play  off stage because you’ve got a big chin? It’s horrible, but… It’s horrible.

But it’s also the fact is the  guy stuck with that band. And managed to keep   them together. You know, they had all the noise in  the world and everything, but what Stu said, goes. Those are two amazing, you must have  just a backlog of ideas that you could   bring to the screen of this sort of thing.

Yeah, but we don’t have. I’m afraid  I don’t have that much time. So   we pick and choose quite carefully right now. Yeah. And also, it takes a hell of a lot out of your  time and energy. Because people have created,   especially in film, film and music is now coming  very much more together.

If you met somebody in   the 70s and 80s who was in the film business,  they had no idea about the musics business and   vice versa. Now it’s coming together. It’s quite  an interesting time. And more so than ever. And   you, it takes so much, you know, to clear  this, to clear that, to keep going and   not being able to clear certain stuff.

You know,  it takes time. And I’ve got to get my thinking   over to my editors and my people. And that  takes time too. So, it’s a good year, it takes. Well, and if, do I understand correctly,  there’s also a narrative film in the works   on Chuck Berry’s life? Is that still  ongoing? Is that’s something that.

..? I’m pretty Chuck Berried out, as Ketih Richards  said, I’m pretty Chuck Berrin’ out. There’s,   you know man, he’s punched me out twice. And he  didn’t mean once he swung around or something,   a guitar or whatever it is and it came wooow.  And there was another time in backstage when   Keith put his arm around him,  and he didn’t see who it was,   and he’d just turn around and punched him out.

And you saw a bit in Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll.   I mean, yeah, I’m Keith Richards, for God’s sake,  Keith Richards and you’re telling me how to play.   Oh, you’re so right. That’s right. Okay.  It’s a funny situation, but he was very   Chuck Berried out, as he would say.

I’m pretty  Chuck Berried out. But it would be nice to,   I have the rights to do it. But, what we’ve got to  do is to find. It’s too early now. It’s too soon.   But there’s lots of other things, just talk  of BB King. Then I think it’s too soon again.   You know, Nat King Cole could do it.

I  think you could take a film on Nat King   Cole. I have those rights, too. But, you know,  there’s so much to do. And so little time. And in those instances, because we had someone  who also was involved with the Johnny Cash biopic. Yeah, great. Yeah, exactly. Walk the Line.  So he’s done a documentary about   Linda Ronstadt.

But is it about finding the  right person to play that role? Is that,   I know you’ve already mentioned the time  and all the demands and what it takes. I remember watching something, I won’t name it.  But, there are a lot of artists, there’s Bowie,   who I managed, of course, and the fact is I’d  be super critical of that.

But at the, you know,   all of a sudden, there’s lots of people, and  they don’t quite look right. And in this film,   Robert Plant didn’t look right. I just went, I  don’t like that. And I think you’ve got to find   the right actor. And, you know, to play a BB King,   there’s only one BB King, I’m afraid.

And he’s  either got to sing right or you’re gonna use   the original music. If you can afford to use  the real. But if it is the original music,   and you start going to, he’s got to really  be able to act the man. And BB was, you knew   BB was in the room and you knew BB talked and you  knew BB – “son!” he says “son!”.

I am gonna stop.   But yeah, it just I think it is something to do  with finding the right character. Jamie Foxx was   right to do Ray Charles. And I just think  that it came over great. James Brown,   I don’t think came over great. And I think that  they’d lost a lot of money. And I think people   want to relate.

But it wasn’t  a particularly good script. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it depends on a lot of things. I would be remiss, if I didn’t ask you,   is my understanding you were involved with  producing Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street? Yes, I was. So that’s my wife’s favourite, one of her  favourite songs.

So when I said I was going   to be meeting you, you know, meeting  you virtually, she was like, Oh my god. What would she want to know? Well, I wish she was here to ask the question,   but, you know, I don’t love it as much  as she does. I think it’s amazing song. I’m probably gonna scatter her dreams.

Well, then we’ll cut it and  I’ll never share it with her. Let me tell you about Gerry Rafferty, Gerry  Rafferty came to me. And I was a great fan   of Stealers Wheel. And “Stuck in the Middle With  You” was a song written about A&M Records and him   and the management. And the management went  bust.

And I was, unfortunately, with them,   the week in a club in London, with the manager,  and I said, this is a great record, you know.   We were dancing to it, on the dance floor.  And I never thought in a million years,   I was going to represent this man. And there  was him and Joey Egan. And basically when   the company, management company went bust, and   no one bailed him out, and they should have  done.

And, of course, they were bust, owing   money to Jerry, who had no money. Jerry was from  a mixed family, religious family out of Glasgow.   And you didn’t get told to do something and if  you didn’t do it the first time, you certainly got   whatever it was coming to you. Because they lived  down the docks and were very poor.

I’ve been in   my lifetime to Glasgow, when basically, I  went in tenements that didn’t have doors.   People lived with a curtain across the front door.  And there’s no story why I was there, but the fact   is, it’s now completely changed. It’s been really  beautifully done up.

But you didn’t go to a pub,   and hang around after the pubs closed in  Glasgow. So you live pretty rough. And   he came and had success with Stealers Wheel.  And he didn’t get on well with people.   And he fell out with Herb Albert and Jerry  Moss, who were the A&M. And he hated it, and   wouldn’t go on the road.

So they had one of the  biggest records of all time, which is “Stuck in   the Middle”, and he wouldn’t go on the road and  they fell out. And I said, why are you asking me?   These things happened, I was introduced to him and  this and that. And they wouldn’t introduce me to   him until they sussed out for him what he  wanted.

And I didn’t get to see him because   I probably would never have been involved  although I became very rich because of it.   He said that he wanted to write songs for his new  kid, baby. And that’s all. He doesn’t want to be   exploited. He doesn’t want record companies  to exploit him.

And I must have misheard this   because it’s totally absolutely ridiculous. Then  how is he gonna have a payback what it costs to   record. Because he was standing there without  diapers or nappies for his kid. And I signed him   and gave him money. And then I produced, I was  executive producer there, I didn’t physically   produce it.

And I made Baker Street and  City to City, the album City to City. Amazing. Now, City to City was going to be the first single   and was the main track on the album. And  I heard Baker Street. And it was nowhere,   it was not with the sax. And it was with a  guitar riff and the lead guitar riff, and   there was a demo.

And I said, City to City is  definitely the hit. And before I used to make   albums, I wanted three hits of the album. It  could be demos, but that’s how was rule of thumb.   And I said now, what’s the second one? Mattie’s  rag, which Mattie was his daughter, of course.   And the other one was this  song called Baker Street.

The guitarist who was supposed, so it goes,  the guitarist who was supposed to play   where we are, we’re down in the Cotswolds. So  basically, between Oxford and Cotswold. And   we had to find him a recording studio  that was in the country, that was   fashion in those days, where you could  stay over, and the guitarist who was   a session guitarist, was late for his session.

And so, Ralph Ravenscroft, who is in fact sax   player said, I can give you a lead, I’ll give  you a lead on to it, and he wrote the riff.   Well, Jerry denied that, although through his  life, and it caused me a lot of aggravation.   Which is another story. But what happened was that  he put this session so good that everybody went,   that’s it.

But he puts it into city as the first  single and it died. It was a hit in Holland.   And then what happened was, they  heard Baker Street, of course, and   Baker Street put out, and of course  it became number one in America,   number one in the UK and everywhere. And,  to this day, every year, it’s number one   a song featuring saxophone.

They have  charts for different instruments. Interesting. And it’s been number one since  it came out. All these years. Amazing. I have to tell you that, it was a wonder, when I  hear that record to this day, I think I’m gonna   have a very good day or week something special’s  gonna happen.

But the stories around that,   everyone hated Gerry Rafferty in the industry.  Other than the guitarists or musicians.   I shouldn’t say everyone. But every  record executive couldn’t stand him.   And the story goes, this is a story  that you can tell at your wife,   cause I was getting very upset because I  introduced Jerry to Chris Blackwell, to   various people who are head away, head of record  companies.

And they all came to the conclusion   that they thought the record was a hit, but  didn’t want to put it out because of Jerry.   I would say are you interested, sort of a deal,  setup Jerry to come in, see them on their own.   And I got the call afterwards, we think the  records are hit.

But he is totally not coming   on this record, label or not coming in this record  company. And I’ve asked why? Why wouldn’t you want   a hit on your record label? Can’t cope with  him. And of course, he’d go along to these   interviews or talk, chat. First of all, he would  never sit in an office, he had to meet in the pub.

So you had to get the record company executive  out of their office into a pub. Secondly,   halfway through, and I eventually didn’t go,  because it was so embarrassing. Halfway through,   he says, I don’t want your record company  exploiting and sending records. And of course,   they’re like says, What do you mean, what  are you here for? What can we do then?   And he said, no, I’m just writing for my kid.

And that’s it. And I had to patch that up.   So I go on and I wonder why A&M records let him  go too? They would made millions from him. Because   they just took a point of what I got. I did  negotiate on Christmas Eve, I never forget,   they wanted to get home. And I wanted to get  home.

But we eventually got him off the label.   And then what happened to us, I went to  Los Angeles, and there was very famous guy,   he’s dead now, but he’s a lovely guy, was a  lovely guy. I’m sure he still is. But he said,   Jon, I can only meet you at 830 in the morning.  I said why? I’ll tell you, explain to you when I   see you.

So off we went at 830 in the morning  thinking I gotta playing the album. I’ll just   play him one or two tracks. So I came in. In those  days, we used to take seven the half inch tape,   the stuff that plays on that archive. And we  would go in and put it on their tape recorders.   And as I told you, most of them didn’t  know how to use their tape recorders.

But   this guy, he said to me, Jon, is  this Gerry Rafferty from the Rumbles,   not the Rumbels, Stealers Wheel?  I said yes. He said, I’ll give you   75,000 now. And that was the actual  figure. If I don’t, I don’t listen to him,   or I’ll give you 50,000 if I have to listen to  it.

Well, I have a lawyer with me, who’s kicking   me under the table, take the 75,000. I’m saying  I can’t go back to my artist and say the man   that’s going to put it out on his record label  gave me an offer of 75,000 if he didn’t have to   listen to the music. I can’t do that.

So I said,  I said 75,000. I said can you tell me something,   the next day when I went in because they had to  draw up the agreements, why couldn’t you listen   to it? And why did you give me more money if  you didn’t have to listen to it? He said, well,   I’ve just bought this company.

And my partner  is having a house built in Beverly Hills.   And I’m having a house built in Beverly Hills.  And my builder is the same man as his builder.   But I have to get there by 930, otherwise, my  house will be built second. So I knew that I had   a problem and 25 grand, believe me, when they’re  building houses in Beverly Hills is nothing.

And that is the true story of how he landed up  on United Artists. And that record came out.   And he was one of the most despicable people  that I’ve ever had to manage. And one of the most   difficult people in the world. Talking  about Chuck Berry. This guy, unfortunately,   had a terrible demon of  becoming a terrible alcoholic.

And eventually, I said to his lawyer,  he said, will you sell? And I said, yes.   A lot for the figure you’re talking about. And  then Capitol Records, EMI wanted to buy me out   and I turned that down. And then the only reason  that I got out was it was quite a good deal.   And that’s how I left the Gerry Rafferty camp.

But there’s one thing I haven’t told you, which   you can tell her. He had a glass eye. And he used  to walk up and down that famous street in Glasgow   with Billy Connolly. And, you know, they’ve  got these little old ladies that used to go   up and down with their little baskets.

And when  it rains, it always rains in Scotland up there,   in Glasgow, and he bumped into one of these  women’s umbrellas because they were made   giant and quite tall. And as he went down  on, he fall on the pavement, and the eye   would roll out onto the pavement. And the dear old  girl that basically run into her little umbrella,   basically screamed, and they used to have a little  sort of game of how many of them would pass out,   while he was walking up and down this street.

And basically when Billy Connolly came up to me,   he said to me, Jon, whatever happened to Gerry  Rafferty? And I said, well, I don’t know, but…   and he told me this story of what they used to do.  And I said to him, when you looked at his eyes,   he looked foresight. So David Frost was in New  York during the show, at night.

And he’d fly in   for the day, you could do that on Concorde. He  was one of the biggest travellers on Concorde. And   I said if he goes on that show, which is  something he wanted to do, and agreed to do,   but would not go on tour, he will lose the whole  of his audience, because he didn’t look any good.

It’s only for three minutes. I said, if you go  on that TV with David Frost, it’ll be over in   three minutes. So he went on, and it was over in  three minutes. He never ever repeated that success   of City to City. And it really sort of, but I  told the truth. I told the fact. And I said,   your image is completely wrong.

Your whole thing  is totally wrong. You went on David Frost and   said, I’m never coming on tour in America. That  was it. All over. Because American audiences,   worship their stars, their people. And if you  doing all of that by going on tour, you might   as well basically packed your bag and left on the  last train.

And that’s a true story. So I hope,   and I’m very grateful to your wife, being a great  fan. But unfortunately, Jerry has now left us. Yes. I don’t know what’s happened to Joey Egan.  Must briefly look at that. He’s probably,   he really wrote a lot of the stock  songs with Gerry for Stealers Wheel, but   he’s never done anything on his own.

Okay. Well, I mean, I could ask you so  many questions about so many different   people that you’ve worked with.  I think we’re going to give you,   let you go. Because we’ve  already had so much of your time. Jon, write a book, they say. Yeah, you should write the book. I saw some  reference to you working with Gene Clark.

My God, Gene was so close to me. You know, I had a  whole night and I want to tell you what happened.   But Gene was another one, Laurel  Canyon. Basically, Laurel Canyon.   I was after a girl. I was invited to  dinner. I thought, that’s interesting. So   I came up. And the girl introduced me  to a roommate, lived in Laurel Canyon.

It was painful getting to the house, because  the stairs went round and round around,   a wooden cabin. And I sat down with this guy all  night. And he knew I looked up to hour with Lee,   the guitarist, and he said to me one night, I  said, Oh, my God it’s so nice to basically relax.

without pressure of being on  the road and everything else.   At the end of the day, and end of the  night, probably very much in the morning.   I had no idea who he was. And he asked me to  manage him, about 930. I’ve been there all   night. And it went gone so well and I said,  What’s your name? And he said Gene Clark.

And I ended up managing him. And it was just a  remarkable night. And, unfortunately, there again,   another problem came about, nothing to do with  me. Unfortunately, he got problems with heroin.   He was just coming back and he had a fatal heart  attack. But what a man he was, what a writer? Indeed.

Nothing like, you know, I met all the birds  and I met all of it. I mean, he really,   really could sit down and write a song.  And it’s prolific. And that big 12 string   just came through. Anyway, don’t ask me  any more questions. I’m going home now. Okay, go home. Whatever you want.

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Roy Orbison

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas. Professionally, his parents – a nurse and a worker – had nothing to do with music. But in his free time from work, he loved to play the guitar and sing with friends. On his sixth birthday, along with the harmonica that Roy dreamed of, his father gave him a guitar.  That predetermined the fate of the guy. The boy quickly learned to play and soon took part on an equal basis with adults in impromptu home concerts. At the age of eight, Roy wrote his first song called “A Vow of Love.” A year later, he won the city’s young talent competition and received an invitation to perform on a Saturday show on local radio. In late 1946, the Orbison family moved to Wink, where, a few years later, Roy formed his first group, the Wink Westerners. The frontman was then barely 13 years old. The venture turned out to be surprisingly tenacious.

Three years later, the group, playing other people’s country songs, was invited to perform once a week on the local radio station KERB. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work.

In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work. In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team. Over time, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, performing instrumental compositions and big band standards. Roy Orbison was an unusually active and energetic teenager. During the summer holidays, he worked part-time as a laborer, taking on the hardest work. In parallel with his studies at school, he managed to play in the orchestra, which performed marches, sang in the octet, learned to play the trumpet. And in his senior year, he even became the manager of the school football team.

The Wink Westerners

In 1953, the Wink Westerners began working part-time in city clubs and soon embarked on their first modest tour of West Texas. After graduating from high school, Roy Orbison moved to Denton, where he entered college. Together with two fellow students, he made his first professional recording, “The Ooby Dooby.” True, the young musicians did not wait for the promised contract with Columbia Records. In 1955, Orbison entered the two-year college in Odessa (Odessa Junior College). At first, he intended to study geology but preferred history and English. Over time, other members of Wink Westerners gathered in Odessa. Having slightly updated the lineup and changed the name to The Teen Kings, they took up the old one – they performed in clubs with a rock and roll repertoire. The musicians have their Saturday show on local television, the guests of celebrities who came to the city. Roy Orbison has interviewed even Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Weldon Rogers, who has just created his own record label, Je-Wel, has agreed to lend studio time to Roy Orbison. Accompanied by The Teen Kings, Roy recorded two songs – “Ooby Dooby” and a cover version of Clover’s “Trying to Get to You.” The double single was released two weeks after the studio sessions, t. The record fell into the hands of Sun Records boss Sam Phillips, who immediately tracked down the musicians and invited them to Memphis, where they recorded three of their compositions. And at the earliest opportunity, he went on a test tour of the southern states, supporting Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other famous artists. Tours were not in vain – single “Ooby Dooby” appeared on the 59th line of the pop chart; however, the following singles, published by the label Sun Records, did not receive any response. In December 1956, The Teen Kings disbanded, and Roy Orbison decided to help develop his composing skills.

A new chapter in the musician’s biography began in 1958 when the Everly Brothers recorded his composition “Claudette,” which Roy dedicated to his wife, Claudette. Released as a B-side, it rose to the American Top 30, while Orbison’s songs appeared in the repertoire of Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, and Jerry Lee Lewis. This significantly raised his prestige as a composer. The tracks “Uptown” performed by the artist himself and especially “Only the Lonely,” which were distinguished by an unusual orchestral and allowed the singer to shine with his charming baritone, felt more and more confident in the charts. The single “Only the Lonely” quickly finished on the second line of the American rankings and became a number one hit in the UK.

Monument Records

Roy Orbison Album
Roy Orbison’s first album from Monument Records featured “Only the Lonely.”

During this time, the artist began recording for the new independent label Monument Records with producer Joe Melson. Orbison is incredibly lucky with the record bosses. The head of the label, Fred Foster, was not chasing quick success.. He gave the singer studio time with no guarantee of future profits, allowed to experiment, and ignored the market demands. Ultimately, he won. Roy Orbison grew into a unique artist, performing a one-of-a-kind repertoire, original in structure, sound, and style. Orbison himself began to dictate the fashion of music, creating fresh, quasi-symphonic orchestrations. Roy’s characteristic vocals and guitar along with thrilling strings, sinister drums, and magical backing vocals were amazed the studio. The hits followed one after another: “Crying,”

In May 1963, Orbison accepted an offer to tour the UK to support the Beatles, who were just beginning their stellar career. Tickets sold out tickets for all concerts in a few days. On the first evening, the audience did not want to let the singer go and called him for an encore 14 times. John Lennon later admitted that when he wrote songs for the first Beatles album, “Please Please Me,” he set himself to surpass Roy Orbison.

Orbison could compete with the Beatles, and he was one of the few who withstood the wave of the so-called British invasion.

Oh Pretty Woman

In 1964, the artist released the biggest hit in his creative biography – the song “Oh Pretty Woman.” It was co-written with new partner Bill Dees. The composition “Oh Pretty Woman” is the pinnacle of a single biography and one of the most famous and iconic songs of the rock era. In August 1964, the single was released in the United States, followed a month later in the UK and dozens of other countries. It consistently became the number one hit in every country it was published in. In a matter of months, even before the end of 1964, the single “Oh Pretty Woman” fell into the hands of seven million music lovers around the world.

The musician consolidated his studio success with regular and extremely successful tours, which allowed him to show live all the power and beauty of his magnificent voice. In 1964, Orbison undertook an Australian tour with the Beach Boys, and in 65, he shared the stage with the Rolling Stones and visited Europe many times.

When his contract with Monument expired, Orbison was an ace target for record labels. The head of MGM offered him a million-dollar contract. His debut on a new label, the single “Ride Away,” only peaked at # 25 on the pop chart.  But time has shown to be the musician’s most successful release in the States in the next twenty years. Unfortunately, the million-dollar contract took away the singer’s creative freedom. For the label, MGM, one of the market leaders, Roy Orbison, was just another artist who was subject to the general rules.  Tops was the pursuit of quantity at the expense of quality. The musician was forced to release the agreed number of singles and albums, for which he paid with the level of records and then popularity.

Roy Orbison with sunglasses
Roy lost his glasses before a concert and went on stage wearing sunglasses. He wore them from then on.

A very difficult period began in the life of Roy Orbison. Professional failure is only half the trouble. In 1966, a much more terrible blow fell on him.  His wife Claudette, with whom they lived for nine years, died in a car accident. Two years later, a new tragedy struck.  Two of Orbison’s three children died during a fire, and his house burned down. For several years, the musician could not write music but kept himself in shape, continuing to tour and act in films. In particular, he played the main role in the film “The Fastest Guitar Alive.”

A young German woman Barbara Anne Marie Wilhonnen Jacobs, whom he met in England, helped the artist get out of the crisis. Barbara moved to America, and they got married in May 1969.

In 1974, the artist moved to a new label, Mercury Records. This did not return his former popularity. True, as Orbison liked to repeat, his songs were necessarily present in the charts somewhere in the world. For example, the single “Penny Arcade” hit number one in Australia.  The track “Too Soon to Know” hit Top 3 in the UK.

Monument Records Again

In 1976, the musician returned to the Monument label in hopes of restoring his reputation as a hitmaker. In the United States, he did not manage to revive his former popularity for a long time. For more than twenty years, from the late 60s to the late 80s, his albums and singles were sold so sluggishly that they almost did not appear on the charts. But the world is big, and the artist found a place to turn around. The busy concert schedule included lengthy tours of the Far East, Australia, Asia, and Europe. A grueling life on wheels, plus excessive smoking, were quick to take their toll on Orbison’s health. In January 1978, he underwent open-heart surgery. But after three weeks, he played the first concert, proving to everyone and himself that he would still fight.

Meanwhile, a glimpse has been outlined in America. Unaclaimed as a performer, Roy Orbison has always remained a fairly popular composer and one of the most beloved authors. Cover versions of his songs became hits one after another. The single “Blue Bayou,” released by Linda Ronstadt, has sold 8 million copies. Van Halen’s new version of “Oh Pretty Woman” was a huge hit. The song “Crying” became one of the biggest hits in Don McClean’s career.

With the beginning of the 80s in Orbison’s career, there was an obvious turning point.   It gradually restored his reputation as an actual artist, keeping up with the times. In 1980, he won his first Grammy for Best Country Performance (track “That Lovin ‘You Feelin’ Again”). He shared it with Emmylou Harris. The beautiful song “Wild Hearts Run out of Time” sounded in the famous film “Insignificance.” In 1986 a long-play “Class of ’55” was released, recorded with colleagues on the Sun Record label. For the interview disc “Interviews From The Class Of ’55 – Recording Sessions,” Orbison again became a Grammy winner in the category “Best Non-Musical Album.” The composition “In Dreams” played an important role in the new surge in popularity.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In January 1987, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him. At the same time, a new contract with Virgin Records provided for the publication of a collection of hits, “In Dreams-Greatest Hits.”  The musician prepared several fresh tracks, written together with new co-authors, including Jeff Lynne.

Among the live albums released by Orbison over his 25-year career, there were many successes, such as “Roy Orbison at the Los Angeles Country Club” or “Live in Birmingham, Alabama.” But none of them could compare with the disc “Roy Orbison and Friends – A Black and White Night Live” (1989). A chic lineup recorded the album: Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Bonnie Raitt, T-Bone Burnette and Jackson Browne ), and even accompanied by a backing band Elvis Presley with James Burton (James Burton) on guitar. He released a separate single on the album’s track “Crying,” a duet with Ki Dee Lang (KD Lang), which Orbison won him another Grammy.

The Traveling Wilburys

Collaboration with Jeff Lynn, certainly interesting in itself, had even more important consequences. Lynn has simultaneously produced George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. This is how the composition of the participants of the future Traveling Wilburys super-project was outlined.  It was managed to attract Bob Dylan. The first album of this brilliant team (Lynn, Orbison, Harrison, Petty, and Dylan) climbed into the American Top 10.

In the meantime, Roy Orbison finished work on a selection of new material. The release was scheduled for January 1989, followed by a tour of America and Europe. In November, the musician performed as a headliner at the Belgian Diamond Awards Festival.  There, he performed a wonderful new composition, “You Got It.”

On December 6, 1988, in Nashville, where the singer came to visit his mother, he felt unwell.  A few hours later died of a heart attack after a shopping trip. He was only 52 years old.

Within a month, the name of Roy Orbison returned to the first lines of the charts. The single “You Got It” skyrocketed to the 9th position on the Billboard Hot 100. And the new long-play “Mystery Girl” hit the Top 5 of the pop albums rating.  It became the best-selling disc of Orbison’s career. In 1992 Virgin released the “King of Hearts” collection of unreleased material.  “The Very Best of Roy Orbison” came in 1996. The releases did not go unnoticed. His wife Barbara manages his legacy and prepares new releases on the specially created Orbison Records label.  She has done and continues to do a great job of popularizing Roy Orbison’s creativity.

We still love Roy Orbison, and we still listen to him. Regularly reissued compilations of hits are also regularly noted in the charts. The new “Virgin Platinum Collection”, was released at the end of 2004, nearly 15 years after the musician’s death.  It started in the US charts from the 16th line right away.

Fats Domino -One of the First Rockers

Fats Domino recorded his first Top 40 hit in December of 1949. Some consider his hit, “The Fat Man,” to be the first Rock and Roll recording.  Over the years, Fats sold over 65 million records; a number surpassed only by Elvis for the 50’s era.

Fats Domino singing "Blueberry Hill" on the Alan Freed Show 1956.
Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill” on the “Alan Freed Show” 1956.

His records scored in the Top 10 of the pop charts ten times during the fifties, and he went on to reach the Top 40 Pop Chart 37 times in his career.  And that was only Pop.  Add in his R&B charted songs and Fats Domino hit the Top 100 an amazing 84 times.

His signature song and my favorite, Blueberry Hill hit #2 on the Pop Chart and #1 on R&B in 1956.  It wasn’t a new song.  Blueberry hill started out a Swing tune recorded by Sammy Kaye in the 40’s, and later covered by Louis Armstrong.  Fats added his special juice, a bit of Creole influence, and his special back beat and made it a classic.

And we’re still singing along to his other hits:  Ain’t That a Shame, Blue Monday, I’m Walkin’, Walking to New Orleans, I’m In Love Again, and much more.

Fats Domino co-wrote many of his hits with his longtime friend Dave Bartholomew who also served as his producer.  Dave Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Their creations often used what they called “The Big Beat”.  It was a combination of Domino’s boogie woogie style and a strong backbeat.  Add in a bit of Domino flair, and it was Rock.

Throughout his career, Domino insisted that he was still true to R&B.  He said “Everybody started calling my music rock and roll.  But it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”

Fats Domino Honors

With his success, it’s  not surprising that there were a lot of awards and recognition along the way.  Major awards include the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and The National Medal of the Arts awarded by Bill Clinton in 1998.

Fats Domino home after Katrina
Fats Domino home after Katrina

In 2005,  Fats was presumed lost in Hurricane Katrina.  His New Orleans home was found heavily damaged and empty.  He had stayed behind to care for his ill wife.  “RIP Fats.  You will be missed” was spray painted on the house.  It wasn’t until several days later that he was found safe after being evacuated.

Fats Domino was one of the charter inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Billy Joel presented him as part of the first group of inductees in 1986.


Little Richard

Little Richard earned his spot here by being one of the pioneers or Rock and fathers of The Golden Age of Rock.  He was a first generation rocker.

Born in 1932, Little Richard was a teen when the boom time of music expansion hit the world.  With WWII and the great depression behind, the 50s were times of new technology, increased leisure time, and a growing economy.

Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.
Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.

Little Richard, birth name Richard Wayne Penniman grew up in Macon Georgia.  Like many Afro-Americans, his first music performance experiences were at church. When he was 14, Little Richard performed with Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Tharpe was another of the early rockers.  She started in gospel and moved towards what was soon to be known as rock.  Along the way, she earned the titles of “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll”.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe was also noted as an influence on Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.


His family had strong rules prohibiting singing or listening to R&B (rhythm and blues) music; they called it “devil music.” It wasn’t until 1948 after his family kicked him out of the house that he performed his first R&B song. It wasn’t a happy time for Little Richard, but it was a great time for the music world.

Little-RichardHe worked his way through several bands, building his talents and skills along the way. As he gained musical experience, he learned how to read the audience and tailor his songs to their likes. This may have been what led him into morphing his musical style towards early rock. He’s quoted as saying “A lot of songs I sang to crowds first to watch their reaction. That’s how I knew they’d hit”.Du Noyer 2003, p. 14

By 1955, Little Richard had recorded a couple of demo records and had his first big hit with Tutti Frutti late in the year. It hit #2 on the Billboard R&B chart and surprisingly also crossed over to reach the top 20 on the pop chart. His next hit single “Long Tall Sally” reached the top ten on the pop chart. Both singles sold over a million copies.

45 rpm record Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard
1958 release “Good Golly, Miss Molly”, 45 rpm recording on Specialty Records Krächz

Launched to fame from his hit records, Little Richard went on tour with his trademark high energy stage performance. He’s known for running on and off the stage, pounding on the piano, shouting lyrics, and sexually suggestive lyrics.

He’s also known for having some of the earliest mixed-race audiences. During the 50s, and especially in the South, public places were divided into “white” and “colored” areas. Audiences were still split. Usually white’s on the lower level and blacks in the balcony, but it was a start. Little Richard was often booked as the last act of the show because, by the time he was through, people would be out of their seats with whites and blacks mixed on the floor dancing. And it was probably also because no other act could catch the audience’s attention after him.

Little Richard, Richard Wayne Penniman was one of the ten original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his recording of “Tutti Frutti” is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, with the note “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music”.

Ben E King

There’s an interesting interview with Ben E King posted at WGBH Open Vault. Digitalized from the original Beta-max format, he talks about his music roots in the South starting in the church and supplemented by country western (he called it hillbilly) sounds. Then at the age of 10, his family moved to New York City and into a new world of music. His family became heavy duty into Jazz, and he got the music bug from them.

Spanish Harlem album cover by Ben E King
Spanish Harlem album cover by Ben E King

As a young teen, Ben E King made a couple of friends that would sing on the street corners. It was called street corner harmonizing, do wop in street slang. The music was fun, but as he explained, it didn’t start out as being completely for the music. As he explains it, if you sound good, you attract girls. So they challenged other street corner groups up and down the avenue, and at each corner, the gathered a few more girl followers.

One day, while working in his dad’s restaurant, he was approached by a neighbor that managed a local group called The Five Crowns. Ben E King turned them down and recommended some of the other members of his street corner group. A week later, he came back and tried again. This time, Ben E. King accepted and joined the group, squeezing in practice time around working in the restaurant.

He joked that he liked singing Baritone.

Soon, The Five Crowns found themselves performing at the Apollo Theater as an opening act (it happened to be for Ray Charles). There the group was approached by the manager for The Drifters, by then an established group that was breaking up. Members of the Five Crowns replaced the departing Drifter cast, took up their name, and took off musically.

Ben E King Recordings

Their first recording was “There Goes My Baby”, a song that Ben E King wrote. It was his words, but the musical arrangement was done by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a duo that was soon to become Rock music powerhouses themselves. Lieber and Stroller added strings, kettle drums, and all sorts of instrumentals that were very foreign to a street corner do-wop oper. Charlie Thomas was supposed to be the lead singer but couldn’t handle the lyrics and Ben E King was given a stage promotion to lead singer.

He said that he liked being the baritone singer, because as a baritone, he just “did the steps and watched the girls while the other guys had the responsibility of making the song happen.” He did pretty good as the lead singer, and the rest is history.

Ben E King had had five No. 1 hits: “There Goes My Baby”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Stand By Me”, “Supernatural Thing,” and the 1986 re-issue of “Stand By Me.” as a Drifter and solo artist. Add to that another dozen Top 10 hits and 25 Top 40 hits during his long career. The Drifters are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he has also been nominated as a solo artist.

Ike Turner

Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm "Rhythm Rockin' Blues" album cover
Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm “Rhythm Rockin’ Blues” album

Ike Turner makes our list of founding fathers of rock and roll for his 1951 song Rocket 88. It’s considered as possibly being the first rock and roll song. There are several other contenders for this title as rock and roll wasn’t a new “out of the blue” type of music but rather an evolutionary change from Rhythm and Blues.  Many of the experts though credit Rocket 88, or Rocket “88” as it was originally known, as being the first true and pure, through and through, rock and roll record.

Turner’s music career started in high school where he joined a band called The Tophatters.   This was in the late 40s, and The Tophatters specialized in Big Band music.  The Tophatters eventually broke up with the band splitting in two directions.  Some of the originals stayed with the Jazz based big band dance music, and part was going towards blues and boogie-woogie.  The blues and boogie spinoff was led by Ike and named itself the Kings of Rhythm.  Ike kept the Kings of Rhythm name for his band throughout his music career.

Turner and his band found some influential friends along the way. B.B. King already had a recording contract with RPM records.  King helped them to get gig dates and introduced Ike to his producer at RPM, the legendary Sam Phillips, who later went on to found Sun Records.

Rocket 88

Label from Rocket 88. Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.
Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.

While driving to Memphis to meet Sam Phillips at Sun Studio, he and his band wrote Rocket 88.  It wasn’t Ike but Jackie Brenton, the band’s saxophonist that did the vocals.   Sam Phillips sold the record to another studio, Chess in Chicago, where it was released as coming from “Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats”.  Delta 88 sold somewhere around a half-million copies, a big number for a new band, and it became part of rock and roll history.

Rocket 88 launched the careers of two rock and roll giants.  Ike Turner and Sam Phillips. Sun Studios went on to record several of the other founding fathers of rock: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins.  Ike Turner didn’t fare so well at first.  Different accounts show him selling the rights to Rocket 88 at alternately $20 and $40.  And Jackie Brenton didn’t handle fame well.  He and several of Ike’s musicians went off on their own, soon went broke, and faded from the scene.

Turner spent the next several years as a session musician, songwriter, and producer for Sam Phillips and the Bihari Brothers while he rebuilt his band.  The Bihari’s were notable because they were white businessmen in a predominately black R&B world.  They had substantial success in crossing R&B, over to the white audiences of rock and roll.

Two big changes happened in the late 50s.  Many say that the musician lifestyle finally caught up to Turner.  The former clean-as-a-whistle star had his first couple of run-ins with the law.  It was the start of problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.  Later on, he would miss his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he was in jail.

The second change was in 1958 when he was introduced to Anna May Bullock.  Anna was eventually given a tryout and joined the band as a singer.  She started as “Little Ann”, but eventually changed her first name to Tina, and later took the last name of Turner.  It was only a stage name at first, although Tina says that they were eventually married in 1962 (Ike disagreed).

The Ike and Tina Turner Review was a big success until 1976 when they broke up for good.  Details of their rocky times together were made into a movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.

Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.


Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly wasn’t with us for long, yet he helped shape rock and roll into what it is today.    With just four years of full-time music performances out of his 22 years total, he earned his spot as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.

Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover
Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover

In the early days of rock where most songs were borrowed from R&B, Country, or other genres, Buddy Holly was one of the first that wrote, produced and recorded his own materials.  The results were unique and spectacular.

It seems like it’s always been that way, but music historians credit Buddy with defining the setup of the traditional rock band.   Most bands were still transitioning from the big band or jazz mix with orchestral instruments, pianos, horns, and woodwinds.  Buddy Holly set rock and roll standard setup: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums.

Music Career

Any band coming from Lubbock, Texas in the 50s had to feature country music, and Buddy’s was no exception.  Somewhere along the way he caught the R&B bug, probably from late night radio.  AM radio reception during the day was so-so, but at night, distant stations came through, and Buddy was hooked.  His style slowly changed.  Mix Country with R&B and you get rock.  Buddy was good at it; he rocked!

After high school, Buddy’s band was chosen to open for Elvis at several local concerts.  That led to a gig opening for Bill Haley & His Comets where he was noticed by a Nashville scout that led to a recording contract and an unplanned name change.  Buddy Holley’s name on the contract was accidentally misspelled as Holly, and that became his professional name.

The hits started coming from there.  “That’ll Be the Day” hit the charts and soon climbed to the top.  A contractual dispute prevented Buddy from putting his name on it so “That’ll Be the Day” is credited to just The Crickets.  Other hits soon followed as the problem was cleared and  “Peggy Sue” and “Oh, Boy” were released as coming from Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

By 1958, Buddy Holly was an international star after having toured England and Australia, mixed in with a couple of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Arthur Murray Party.

The Winter Dance Party Featuring Buddy Holly

Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly
Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly

Alan Freed’s Winter Dance Party was a high point of rock and roll history.   A group of the best of the early rockers toured the Midwest.  It was the first of it’s kind tour being dance music set in traditional concert theater settings.  The rest is the downside of the history.  The weather was terrible, and the tour buses had heat problems.  Buddy Holly charted a plane to skip the bus trip and fly himself, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper)to the next stop.  The plane crashed, killing all three, on the day immortalized by Don McLean’s song as “The Day the Music Died”.

Buddy Holly was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of its first class of inductees.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan at Washington protests 1963

It’s difficult to identify which branch of the rock and roll family tree Bob Dylan comes from.  As a folk singer, his early works were always on the edge.  He brought the protest to protest songs, nasty lyrics to rock’s vocabulary, deep poetry to style, and the electric guitar into the mainstream.  Some say that he even brought us The Beatles greatest works by introducing them to pot.

Dylans early work was definitely folk.  His first album, named Simply Bob Dylan, was mostly covers of folk standards.  Mixed in with the reworked songs were two original works.  “Talk’n New York” was his story of how he didn’t fit in as a mid-westerner singing in Greenwich Village coffee houses.  His second original release was “Song to Woody”, Bob Dylan’s tribute to his musical hero, Woody Guthrie.  The album sold very few copies and just barely broke even.  Yet the two original gems that it contained were  Dylan’s announcement that he was going to write and sing about what he wanted to.

His second album is where he broke loose.  “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” from 1963 was almost all original works and strongly anti-war.  It included “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Masters Of War”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”  The album soon became a best seller and is included in most surveys of the top albums of all times.

New albums followed soon after his Freewheeling’ success, and as Dylan matured, his musical scope expanded.  Many of his songs strayed from the traditional folksy and protest styles as they became more personal.  His musical style changed to and moved slowly towards rock.

Bob Dylan Shocks the Newport Folk Festival

It was a black day for folk and a big day for rock at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  Bob Dylan was one of the biggest folk stars and one of the festival headliners.   The crowd cheered him as he opened with three of his folk standards:  “All I Really Want to Do”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”.  Then he crossed the folk and rock line by plugging in a Fender Stratocaster and launching an amplified electric set backed by Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

They cranked out 3 amplified numbers before they left the stage.  Some say they were booed off the stage, others say it was planned to play only the three numbers and then go back to traditional folk. Whatever it was, there was no going back.  Bob Dylan had announced that the music world was going electric, and he was crossing the line as a rocker.

In 2008, Bob Dylan received a special award from the Pulitzer Prize committee for, as they worded it, “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”  It was well deserved.

The Electric Guitar Inventors

Think of a rock and roll band and what musical instrument comes to mind?  For most it’s the electric guitar, and it’s big cousin the electric bass.  It just isn’t rock and roll without the driving beat.  Rock wouldn’t be what it is without these electric guitar inventors.

Earliest History

Patent application for one of our electric guitar inventors, Adolph Rickenbacker's electric guitar.
Patent application for Adolph Rickenbacker’s electric guitar.

Guitars had been with us for a long time.  Its predecessors have been dated back to the 9th century or before.  But acoustic guitars didn’t put out enough volume to work well in a band until these electric guitar inventors came along.  Early efforts to mount a microphone in the guitar didn’t work well. Mikes of the time didn’t handle a full range of tones and picked up a lot of background noise, scraping sounds, and worst of all, feedback.

George Beauchamp was a guitarist in the 1920s who experimented with amplification for his Hawaiian guitar.  In 1931, Beauchamp partnered with Adolph Rickenbacker, an electric engineer, to invent what is considered to be the first electromagnetic pickup that produced clear sound.  Their invention was first mounted in a Hawaiin lap guitar.  The induction pickup directly sensed the vibration of the strings and wasn’t affected by ambient sounds or feedback.  The guitar was known as the “frying pan” for its shape and aluminum body.  Rickenbacker’s company manufactured them, and the electric guitar was born.

Hawaiin music was big in the 20s and 30s, and the guitar caught on quickly.  Musicians in other types of bands soon took a liking to it, and the need for more traditional electric guitars followed. Rickenbacker was the first of our big hero electric guitar inventors.

Electric Guitar Inventors: Les Paul

Les Paul was the next big electric guitar inventor hero.  His style was a mix of jazz, blues and country and the Hawaiin lap guitar didn’t quite fit in.  Les Pauls tinkering with electric guitar design led to a model he called “the log”.  Initially, it was little more than a 4-foot piece of lumber with hardware attached.  He later added the body of a sawn away Epiphone guitar for looks.

Patent application for one of our electric guitar inventors, Leo Fender's Bass Electric Guitar
“Fender Bass Guitar Patent” by C. Leo Fender, inventor – US Patent Office, Patent D187001.

Electric Guitar Inventors: Leo Fender

A few years later,  Clarence Leonidas Fender, better known as Leo Fender, improved on the basic design with a solid body.  His Fender Telecaster became the first successful mass-produced solid body electric in 1950, followed by the Fender Stratocaster in 1954, just in time for the birth of rock and roll.  The Stratocaster featured three separate pickups and a string bending tremolo bar.

Along the way, Fender also introduced the Fender Precision Bass and Fender Bassman Amplifiers that replaced the stand-up bass used by most groups with what we recognize today as the Bass Guitar.

Early rock bands had a piano or sax at as the lead instrument, a stand up double bass, and a drum set.  The guitar guys changed everything but the drums in most modern rock bands.   Leo Fender and Les Paul are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.