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Posts Tagged ‘Patsy Cline’

Here we are at the last of the three posts which highlight worthy candidates for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s auxiliary categories. I have for your consideration a dozen picks for the now seldom-used Early Influence category. One problem is that the past keeps catching up to us: artists like Wanda Jackson and Freddie King were given a backdoor induction into the Hall through this category after failing to get enough votes as performers on the ballot. It’s problematic, partly because our criteria for “early” keeps changing.  The Nom Com grows less likely to pick artists from rock and roll’s infancy and voters are less likely to choose them when they do.

  1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: This gospel blueswoman has become a cause célèbre among Rock Hall followers. Listen to her music and you can hear the blueprints of rock and roll being painstakingly drawn up. While the blues and country are important strands of the story, both are riddled with loss and lamentation. Where does the joy come from? I think it’s the gospel influences, and their call-and-responses, their profound hope are a large part of the answer.  Tharpe had all that in spades, and had all the marks of authenticity classic rockers love: she played the guitar, and she wrote her own music. She helped bring gospel into the mainstream, merging the genre in a convincing synthesis with the jump blues. Sister Rosetta was all about rock and roll’s paramount mission: finding a meeting ground of the sacred and the profane. She helped usher Little Richard into fame, and was listed as a major formative influence for artists as varied as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. There’s even hints of social conscience to come in her music– listen to her admonition to “study war no more” in the gospel classic “Down By the Riverside.”
  2. Patsy Cline: You can certainly make an argument for Patsy Cline to get in as a performer rather than an influence. The chronology is right, but for me, the genre isn’t. She was a Nashville-centered country-and-western artist who recorded material almost wholly from that milieu. Maybe if she had lived longer, she might have done a trio with the Everly Brothers, or gone on tour with Linda Ronstadt or something, but we’ll never know. What we do know is how Patsy Cline is one of the most articulate and resonant popular music vocalists of the 20th century, and her contralto sound looms large over a throng of vocalists. To listen to her songs is to know loneliness and loss intimately.
  3. Ivory Joe Hunter: Fellow Rock Hall guy Charles Crossley recently came up with a master list of 1,100 artists for Cleveland’s consideration that puts my list of 100 to shame. #1 on his list is Ivory Joe Hunter. My own philosophy is that artists who peaked artistically before 1954 should be “early influences”– and Hunter would be a very fine addition in that category. His work in the late 40s and early 50s found a way to merge blues and country- two of the “primary color” genres that created rock and roll. While other artists in these genres were ragged, Hunter was often smooth and soulful, and his “Landlord Blues,” “Since I Met You Baby,” and “Pretty Mama Blues” are essential listening.
  4. The Carter Family: The Carters lit up the country circuit as far back as 1926 and remained a presence on the American music scene well into the 1950s and 1960s. Maybelle Carter was one of the first country singers to use a guitar, and with the help of Leslie Riddle, they scoured the countryside for the music of the South, Appalachia, and the Ozarks. In doing so, their songs, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Wildwood Flower” remain standards to this day. June Carter, of course, was part of this family line.
  5. Roy Brown: Dave Marsh, in his book of rock lists, went to town trying to list over 100 candidates for the very first rock and roll song. Quite a few of them were Roy Brown’s- no doubt, you’ve heard “Good Rocking Tonight,” and maybe “Rockin’ at Midnight” and “Hard Luck Blues” as well. Rolling Stone’s Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll notes that he was a fundamental part of shaping the New Orleans sound, and that B.B. King and Bobby Bland modeled their singing style after his enthusiastic jump blues vocals.
  6. Charlie Patton: Tom Lane has brought Patton’s name up on his own blog as a possible Early Influence nominee. And since Patton is widely regarded as “The Father of the Delta Blues,” it’s hard to deny him that honor. His epic “High Water Everywhere” told the tale of the devastating 1927 Mississippi floods. Temperamental, wild, and dying at the age of 43, leaving a trail of wives and girlfriends in his wake, he lived the quintessential blues life.
  7. Sonny Boy Williamson I: The blues changed the moment Williamson stepped forward and used the harmonica as a lead instrument. His output shaped the Chicago blues scene, and he even served as a mentor to Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. His murder at the age of 34 ended the life of a great artist. It’s not his fault that another harmonica player purloined his name and made a career out of being a Sonny Boy imposter.
  8. Lonnie Donegan: The fate of the world changed unexpectedly when Lonnie Donegan became the face of the skiffle craze in Britain in the 1950s. All across the British Isles, youngsters imitated Donegan’s use of homemade instruments like tea-chest basses and washboard percussion as he performed Jimmie Rodgers and Lead Belly songs in a fast, fervent style. It’s well known that the Quarrymen began as a skiffle group, unskilled even by the genre’s undemanding standards- but Ronnie Wood, Graham Nash, Roger Daltrey, and Robin Trower all started out as British skiffle devotees. It introduced a generation of schoolchildren in the U.K. to Americana.
  9. Harry Belafonte: It’s hard to believe- but Harry Belafonte vs. Elvis Presley was a legitimate teen idol debate in 1956. At the same time as ElvisMania began, the calypso craze engulfed America. Belafonte was its herald, as his album Calypso stayed at #1 for 8 weeks. Belafonte’s music tried to find points of connection between the folk music ethic and the music of his Caribbean ancestry. In the process, Belafonte developed a profound social conscience. He was a strong celebrity presence in the civil rights movement; how many people know that he paid for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral out of his own pocket? His battles blazed a path for future rock and roll entertainers. When Petula Clark touched his arm when they sang “On the Path to Glory” on Clark’s television show, it ignited a national controversy. No white woman had touched a black man on national television. When Southern television stations threatened to not show the program, Belafonte told Clark, “let’s take ’em on.” Clark’s producer destroyed all other takes of their duet without touching, and the show was broadcast to rave reviews. Belafonte, I might add, is also on good terms with the Rock Hall. He helped induct both Pete Seeger and Public Enemy.
  10. Tom Lehrer: This Harvard-trained mathematics professor was also one of the greatest satirists of the 20th century. When Borscht Belt foolishness like Allan Sherman dominated musical comedy, his dark, cynical perspective skewered Cold War nihilism with such numbers as “We Will All Go Together When We Go” and “So Long Mom.” In an age where cloying numbers about halcyon days past were topping the charts, Lehrer turned The Browns’ “The Old Lamplighter” into “The Old Dope Peddler.” Any time a rock and roller uses satire to skewer a social problem, they owe Lehrer a debt- whether it’s Randy Newman songs, Weird Al’s sharper material (“Whatever U Like,” “Skipper Dan”), Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia” or Faith No More’s “We Care A Lot.”
  11. Odetta: Folk met the blues with this singular talent. Folk music could at times be wearily NPR-ish and insistent on authenticity, but Odetta made sure it had the blues’ naturalism and rhythm intact. The folk revival of the 1950s and early 1960s laid the groundwork for rock and roll to address the great struggles that would face the nation in the Vietnam era, and Odetta was one of the most crucial figures in that movement. Like recent Rock Hall inductee Joan Baez, she sang at the March on Washington and was a steady presence at civil rights marches. Oh- and Bob Dylan credits her as the person who piqued his interest in folk music.
  12. Django Reinhardt: Behold- Europe’s first guitar hero. His gypsy stylings worked beautifully with jazz, and everyone from Chet Atkins to The Allman Brothers have imitated his fluid stylings. The photographer Harry Benson once remembered from his time with The Beatles: John loved talking about the intellectuals he had met. Paul loved talking about the movie stars he’d met. Ringo loved talking about the royalty he’d met. George talked about Django Reinhardt. “I’ll never be as good as he is,” Benson recollected Harrison saying, “but that’s what I’m aiming for.” Or consider Jerry Garcia’s praise: “His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has.”
  13. Ah, what the heck. Let’s make it a baker’s dozen and include Wynonie Harris. His profane variations of the jump blues had the swing and verve that is identifiable as protean rock and roll. Even a young Elvis Presley watched him, and incorporated his vocal stylings and physical presence into his own act. With songs like “I Like My Baby’s Pudding,” you can see where Big Joe Turner and others got the idea of lacing their songs with delicious innuendo.  Harris helped bring “race music,” as it was called back then, from the (relative) margins and into the public consciousness.
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