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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Berry’

The new album is called ‘The First Rock and Roll Record’. It’s a huge 3CD set which presents    recordings that may have been considered the first rock record by someone at some time in rock history.

Of course, Hank Williams has to be on this record. The company has chosen ‘Move it On Over’. Scores of commentators and critics through the years have identified Hank as a founder of rock and roll, and ‘Move it on Over’ is often mentioned because Bill Haley’s seminal ‘Rock around the Clock’ sounds so much like Hank’s very inventive  witty and funny story about a man who’s locked out of his house by his wife and moves into the dog house for the night.

Readers will remember that I wrote a lengthy and I must say very thorough and quite brilliant article called ‘Hank Williams writes all time greatest rock lyric’. In that essay I argue that ‘Hey Good Lookin’ is a rock lyric and led directly to the later work of Buddy Holly, Faron Young, and  Chuck Berry. In that essay I also talk about ‘Move it on Over’ ‘Honky Tonkin’,  ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ and ‘Mind Your Own Business’.  That essay is here.

Although there are 82 tracks on this album there is only the one from Hank Williams. I would think ‘Hey good Lookin’ should have made it, and if only one Hank recordings could be included I would take ‘Hey Good Lookin’ over ‘Move it on Over’.

Here are some of the artist names from the record just to shake up your memories and curiosity:

Trixie Smith, Charlie Patton, Boswell Sisters, Benny Goodman, Robert Johnson (of course), Ella Fitzgerald, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Bob  Wills, Big Joe Turner, The Andrew Sisters, T-bone Walker, Arther ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith, Delmore Brothers, Pee Wee King, Muddy Waters,  Fats Domino, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Big Mama Thornton, Arthur Crudup, and Jackie Brenston (Famous for Rocket 88 considered by many the first rock record)

The last part of Disc 3 contains recordings that are already considered rock and roll by Carl Perkins, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. The last track is ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

The details about the record are on Amazon UK, and it will be available on Amazon US and Canada by the end of November.

Please feel free to used the comments section to submit your own ideas on the first rock and roll record, and which Hank record made the greatest contribution to rock music.

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Wonderful news!

An essay on Hank Williams is featured as one of 216 in a new history of American literature from Harvard University Press. The ‘ A New Literary History of America’ was edited by Greil Marcus who is a well known writer on popular music topics, and Werner Sollars a professor at Harvard. They were assisted by a 12 member advisory board. The history covers the period from 1507  to 2008. Three other popular music figures are covered as well, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and Billie Holiday, as well as early Jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.

The essay focussing on Hank Williams is called ‘The Song in Country Music’. It is written by Dave Hickey, a noted arts and culture critic  and a Professor of English at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Hickey has written for major American magazines such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Harpers. He has been profiled and interviewed in a number of major newspapers such as the New York Times. He has  written several books including  ‘Air Guitar’, an examination of  23 love songs.

Hickey’s essay examines Hank Williams’ influence on later song writers.

I tackled this topic in an earlier post in which I discussed the Hank Williams’ rock masterpiece ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and the  influence of Hank Williams’ attitude and language on later  rock songwriters such as Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. It’s here.

Among song writers  quoted by Hickey are Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Harlan Howard, and Waylon Jennings. They speak in detail about the specific elements of Hank’s work and specific passages that  inspired, and more importantly taught them about song writing. Maud Newton has an excerpt from the essay in her review here.

This is an emotional moving day for Hank Williams’ fans. Indeed it is one of the most significant events in the Hank Williams’ story. He truly is immortal now.

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This claim may seem audacious to some, but might be more acceptable if the claim was “most important rock lyric of all time”, or “most influential rock lyric of all time.” 

Certainly people who are familiar with the work of Hank Williams will soon guess the lyric I’m referring to. The song ‘Hey Good Lookin’ was recorded in 1951. Every word in the song links directly forward to the musical form that would break on to the world’s consciousness in 1954, 1955, and 1956.

But the portion of the lyric that embodies the spirit, attitude, and style of Rock and Roll comes here:

I got a hot rod Ford
And a two dollar bill
And I know a spot
Right over the hill.

There’s soda pop
And the dancin’s free
If  you want to have fun
Come along with me.

Everything that rock and roll  became, aside from the protest phase,  is right there.

This is youth culture. This is mobility. This is freedom. This is rebellion. This fun for its own sake pure and simple. Its soda pop not beer. The dancin’s free. There’s escape. But at the same time innocence, youthfull exuberance and and joy.

All of these elements were captured and expanded by artists in just a few years down the road. Listen and remember: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard.

Of course many other commentators including Colin Escot in his biography and in various liner notes have mentioned the pure rock nature of  ‘Hey Good Lookin’. In the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame article on Hank who was admitted in the 1987, several artists are mentioned as having:

adapted elements of Williams’ persona, especially the aura of emotional forthrightness and bruised idealism communicated in his songs. Some of Williams’ more upbeat country and blues-flavored numbers, on the other hand, anticipated the playful abandon of rockabilly.

For some reason the Rock Hall doesn’t mention Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry two of rock’s most important innovators. In a later post, I will take a look at some of their lyrics and styles and how they lead back to to Hank’s work even if only subconsciously.

Its interesting that Elvis Presley did not grab on to this type of song in the music he chose to record and unlike Holly and Berry did not write his own material. To his immense credit he mined the rich veins of black R and B, Blues, and Gospel. That music was important to Hank ,but not at the very centre of his contributions to the history of rock and roll.

The rock and roll spirit in Hank Williams is also found in many songs other than ‘Hey Good Lookin’.

One lyric I like comes from ‘Mind Your Own Business’ from 1949:

I got a little girl
who wears her hair up high
The boys all whistle
When she walks by.

This little snipet is pure genius. It says teenager in every precious word. It’s simple, not the complex painful look into depth of despair of a Cold Cold Heart. Pure fun and  teenage pride of first love.

Back to ‘Hey Good Lookin’ where in the last verse Hank introduces the quintesential mid 50’s teen idea of going steady:

Im free and ready,
So we can go steady,
How’s about saving
All your time for me?

No more looking
In know I’ve been tookin,
How’s about keepin
Steady company?

(I think the power of Hank Williams language and rhythm is better conveyed by keeping the lines short in setting the lyrics on the page.)

A reminder that I am reviewing some of the lyrics of famous Hank Williams’ songs that seem to point ahead to the spirit of rock and roll as represented by so many rockers including Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and many others through the years.

There was something in rock and roll that reflected the urbanization of American life, both the excitement and fear:

We’re going to the city
To the city fair.
If you go to the city
Then you will find me there.

And we’ll go Honky Tonkin
Honky Tonkin round this town.

Of course we know that Hank Williams was troubled by modernization:”We took the night life off the streets and brought into our own homes”, he said.

In ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ he serves up a line reminiscent of Chuck Berry to come.

Went out last night,
I wore out my shoes,
Woke up this morning,
Wishing I could lose,
Those jumping honky tonk blues.

I’m gonna tuck my worries
Underneath my arm,
And scat right back
To my pappy’s farm,
And lose the honky tonk blues.

One of Hank’s greatest songs in my opinion is ‘Baby We’re Really in Love’. This song rocks both lyrically and musically. In this the first of four verses each one of which shows Hank’s love of the playful fun loving use of language. He even gets in a little double entendre which is one of the most persistent features of rock music. One line, two meanings, one of them a little, just a little bit off color.

If  you’re lovin’ me like I’m lovin’ you
Baby, we’re really in  love
If you’re happy with me like I’m happy with you
Old cupid just gave us a shove

If you’re thinkin’ of me like I’m thinkin’ of you
Then I know what you’re thinkin’  of
If you’re lovin’ me like I’m lovin’ you
Baby, we’re really in love.

“Then you know what I’m think of.” In the ‘Live at the Grand Old Opry’ album you can hear the crowd go crazy on this line as its clear that Hank has winked or wiggled or done something to get the meaning of this line across.

‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ is another Hank Williams song that explodes with the spirit of rock and roll. Remember how it jumped out of the speakers at the end of that great motion picture, ‘The Last Picture Show’?

There are four verses and a chorus in this wonderful song about losing a lover. I could pick any verse to quote here and all would fit into my thesis. But I like this one:

Why don’t you spark me like you used to do
And say sweet nothin’s like you used to coo
I’m the same old trouble that you’ve always been through
So, why don’t you love me like you used to do.

I picked the verse with the “sweet nothins” line bacuse it reminds me of the great Brenda Lee hit from later in the 50’s decade.

All of these examples of Hank Williams writing from the late 40’s and early 50’s show that the essential elements of the coming rock and roll revolution were already rolling around in the soul and mind of Hank Williams. More than any other country star of his time, Lefty Frizzel, Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, or even Hank Snow who had rock rhythms in his style for sure , Hank Williams was thinking about changes in the air. And he got that into his music. A playfulness of language and freedom of expression which was different than the typical so called “novelty”  songs of the period.

This dog house here is mighty small,
But it’s better than no house at all,
So ease it on over (move it on over)
Drag it on over (move it on over)
Move over old dog cause a new dog’s moving in.

And then the last verse of ‘Move it All Over’:

Remember pup, before you whine,
That side’s yours and this side’s mine,
So shove it on over (move it on over)
Sweep it on over (move it on over)
Move over cold dog cause a hot dog’s moving in.

There’s not much like it in all of country music. And it taught the coming generation how to write songs that were loose, and fun, and youthful, and playful, and joyful and full of life  and imagination.

Songs that expressed the power of youth, the rebellions to come, the mobility, the triumph of fun over duty, life with more than drudgery, life on the road, a girl and guy, goin’ steady, the new wealth and youth culture of the 50’s. Not to say Hank Williams perceived these things consciously or intellectually. But he felt it in his bones.

I got a hot rod Ford,
And a two dollar bill,
And I know a spot,
Right over the hill.

There’s soda pop,
And the dancin’s free.

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What to do about that  insipid, heartless, watered down version of rock and roll that has taken over country music?

Not much I fear.

Marty Martel has written an essay on the survival of traditional country especially as it relates to the Grand Ole Opry and country radio. I guess a popular DJ at WSM has been sacked and the Opry itself has created ‘one hit wonder’ members who are part of the Nashville soft rock version of country. Martel’s essay was released through the Doug Davis’ County Music Classics email.

Hard to find any acts with a country music sensibility among today’s so called country music stars. Maybe an Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and Alan Jackson sometimes have something going, but lets face it George Jones, Willie Nelson  and Merle Haggard are the last of the late golden age  of country music which could broadly be defined from 1945 to sometime in the mid to late 50’s.

And really Little Jimmy Dickens is the only surviving star that I know of from the real heart of that golden age when Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzel,  ruled the charts and concert stages. I know I have left out some names, but I’m just mentioning favorites and the first ones that come to mind.

 A real good definition of traditional country music or what is a traditional performer is hard to nail down. George Jones, for example, did quite a few pop sounding records in his career. Johnny Cash was pretty traditional but flirted with rock and pop in his early days. Not many remember, ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’.

Amplification was certainly part of traditional country, as were drums.

Finding a pure traditional country performer who is not bluegrass or a tribute artist is is pretty tough. You have to stretch the definition of traditional pretty thin to include even the alt country and so called purists who generally use a lot of amplification, drums and heavy rock beats.

I suppose traditional country could be defined as a form of folk music employing string instruments in simple musical forms which often feature a solo composer  singer who expresses heartfelt and sincere descriptions in love, religion, life and death,  and other philosophic concerns  and real life issues.

One of the difficulties I have in the attempting  to defend and protect traditional country is that in the case of this blogs subject, Hank Williams, a great deal of his influence on subsequent music history can be found, not in Nashville style country or so called traditional country, but in rock and roll.

Take the style, attitude, rhythms, and words of  Hank Williams’ songs such as ‘Mind Your own Business’, ‘Move it on Over’, ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, ‘Baby We’re Really In Love’,  and of course ‘Hey Good Lookin’  and trace their influence. Who would you find? Well, for starters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and a host of other early rock stars.

Take Hank Williams solo ballads by the author or his alter ego Luke the Drifter, trace their influence and who would you find? James Taylor? John Denver? Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, a musician who refuses labels? Oh yea! Billy Joe Shaver too.

Sure Hank had a tremendous influence on more traditional country stars such as Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Stonewall Jackson, but if you want to look where Hank really lives, he lives in rock and roll.

The solitary lonely figure at the centre of a stage, projecting a soliloquy like singing recitation of the deepest feelings and thoughts of a character outside of himself was the creation of Hank Williams and survives today in all musical genres.   

The current project to record some Hank Williams’ lyrics is under the direction of Bob Dylan and Jack White. And fittingly so.

So as much as I sympathize with  those who bemoan the loss of traditional country music in the modern country music industry, I don’t see it accomplishing much. What we have to do is make people aware of great legacy of not only Hank Williams but a host of other country greats who have passed:Roy Acuff, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters,  Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzel, Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, Stonewall Jackson, Faron Young (a bit of a rocker in the Hank tradition) Patsy Cline, and we could go on and on.

Worrying about who’s on the Opry is a lost cause, and the Hall of Fame pretty much the same, and country radio.. If you wish to direct your attention in a worthwhile direction I would say the museums devoted to country and various artists which seem to do do a pretty good job.

Pop fans aren’t hearing too much Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee,  Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters either, so I guess it’s a universal problem.

I’m not expecting a new Hank or Lefty, Bing or Frank on the scene anytime soon.

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