BIRMINGHAM RECORD COLLECTORS
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THIS MONTH’S MEETING
MEETING THIS SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14TH @ FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF FULTONDALE 1PM
It’s Valentine’s and we will spend some time spinning tunes about being in love and that special someone. Not many songs speak specifically about Valentine’s Day but plenty speak about the feelings we have. Also, it’s February and that means remembering February 3, 1959. The music world lost three of the special ones of that era. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson, aka The Big Bopper all died in a tragic plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Known at the time as The Day The Music Died, people still gather at the Surf Ballroom to commemorate their death. We’ll play some of their music as we remember them and what they did for rock.
THE BIRTH OF ROCK & ROLL PROJECT CONTINUES
Over the past year I have used segments from a project BRC member, Mike Maddox shared with me. We are coming to the end so let’s see what’s next.
PART 21: Rock & Roll songwriting, Rock & Roll guitar and piano: Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson
‘Maybellene’, recorded 5-21-1955 at Universal Recording Studio in Chicago. Chuck Berry, vocals, electric guitar and songwriter. Johnnie Johnson, Piano. Sound engineer and producer Bill Putnam. Maybellene was Berry’s first recording, his first experience inside a recording studio. He was 29 years of age.
This recording was released by Chess records. By August of 1955, it had reached the #5 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. None of Elvis Presley’s Sun records ever reached the top 40 of the Billboard charts. Elvis’ RCA Victor 45 “Heartbreak Hotel” was his first Billboard top 40 hit. It reached the #1 position in March of 1956. Carl Perkins’ Sun 45 “Blue Suede Shoes” reached the Billboard #2 position in March of 1956, its distribution made possible with the $40,000 Sam Phillips had from his sale of Presley’s contract to RCA Victor in November of 1955. Bo Diddley, who recorded for the Chess subsidiary Checker records, did not have a Billboard top 40 hit until October of 1959 with “Say Man”, the only top 40 hit he ever had, which reached the #20 position.
It is unknown whether Berry heard any of Elvis’ or Carl Perkins’ Sun releases before he recorded on May 21, 1955. Before Maybellene, Berry was a St. Louis R&B/Jazz Guitarist playing small live dates in a small combo (Guitar, Piano, Bass & Drums). We can be sure, however, that he had been listening to honky-tonk country and western swing records on the radio and/or the juke boxes, because it shows up in the vocal and guitar phrasing and the song structure of Maybellene. Maybellene is similar to an earlier country honky-tonk hit by Bob Wills called “Ida Red”. Several days prior to May 21, 1955, Berry traveled to Chicago to see the Chess Blues vocalist and guitarist Muddy Waters perform live. He was able to talk with Waters after his show. He introduced himself as a St. Louis guitarist and asked Waters who he needed to see to make a record. Waters gave him Leonard Chess’ name and location. He auditioned for Chess, playing three R&B numbers and Maybellene. Maybellene was the only tune Chess showed any interest in. Berry was signed on the strength of that tune. Chess sent him to Bill Putnam’s Universal Studio to cut the song, and the rest is Rock & Roll history.
It is reasonable to infer that Berry spent his musical time and effort developing Maybellene because he wanted a bigger audience, an integrated radio audience, a crossover audience. So did Leonard Chess. So did Elvis , Carl Perkins and Sam Phillips. So did Bill Putnam.
Sound men like Phillips and Putnam took the talent and creativity of musicians like Berry, Perkins and Presley and produced records that were altogether new and different, and the post-war teenagers and young adults living in the mid-1950s were ready for it. In 1956, they and their followers began to turn the recording industry upside down. In 1956, there was plenty of amplified echo, reverb and boogie rhythm jumping out of juke boxes and car radios.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry, born 10-18-1926, St. Louis, MO; died at age 90 on 3-18-2017, Wentzville, MO. Berry was among the first musicians inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame in 1986. He received the American Music Award of Merit in 1981 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984.
Johnnie Clyde Johnson, born 7-8-1924, Fairmont, W. Va.; died 4-13-2005, age 80, St. Louis, MO. Inducted into R&R Hall of Fame in 2001.
Johnson served in the U.S. Marine Corp during WWII. After the war he played Jazz piano with Bobby Troup and other Jazz musicians in Chicago and St. Louis. He founded a Jazz combo in St. Louis and gave Chuck Berry his first steady job as a professional jazz guitarist in the early 1950s. Johnson and Berry were in the vanguard of musicians who created the first R&R music in the mid-1950s.
PART 22: Lee Hazelwood, Sanford Clark and Al Casey – ‘The Fool’
The recording date of “the Fool” is uncertain, but we can be sure that it took place in Phoenix, Arizona in late 1955 or early 1956. The singer is Sanford Clark, then 20 years of age, who was back in Phoenix, the city he grew up in, on a short leave from the military. The guitarist is Al Casey, a friend of Clark, then 19 years of age. The record producer, songwriter and sound engineer is Lee Hazelwood, a 27-year-old Arizona D.J. It is evident from the sound of “The Fool” that Hazelwood had been listening to the records produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, and by Bill Putnam for Chess and Checker Records in Chicago.
The record was released on Hazelwood’s tiny CBI label and sent to selected radio stations out west. It was largely overlooked and did not sell. However, Randy Wood, the founder, producer and president of Dot records, heard the record somewhere in early 1956, liked it, and entered into a contract with Hazelwood to release it on Dot. By this time Clark had returned to active duty in the military, stationed in San Diego.
Dot released the record in June of 1956. Randy Wood had a hit making track record and good connections with radio people across the USA. D.J.s started to play the record. Clark had no clue that the tune had become a hit until he heard himself singing on a San Diego radio station. “The Fool” entered the Billboard top 40 chart on August 11, 1956, spent 15 weeks on the chart, and peaked at position #7.
After “The Fool”, Hazelwood was not able to replicate for Clark the success he had with this record, but he became a very successful hit making songwriter and producer for others, including Duane Eddy, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra and many others. Al Casey became a first call session guitarist in Los Angeles.
This record influenced future Rock & Roll vocalists like Ricky Nelson and Johnny Rivers. Al Casey’s repeating guitar riff heard on this recording was taken from Howlin’ Wolf’s riff on “Smokestack Lightning”. Casey smoothed it out, laid it back, and made it fit into the boogie shuffle rhythm heard on the record. It is easy to hear that Hazelwood has the echo and reverb turned all the way up throughout the recording. The echo percussion comes from Hazelwood beating on a hard-shell guitar case on 2 and 4 with a drumstick.
(1956 – #5 R&B chart, #7 Pop chart, #14 C/W chart)
Once again, thanks to Mike for his research on this project. Lots of new info.
Check out our latest shows at birminghamrecord.com. Click on ‘RADIO’ and listen to some long-lost music.
HEY! HAVE YOU HEARD THESE?
(1965 – Dee Gee label)
Love Those Beach Boys
(1964 – Goliath label)
The Sea Shells