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Posts Tagged ‘Sister Rossetta Tharpe’

Now we have had a few days to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees percolate a bit, and we’ve had some time to reflect on their merits. I’d like to continue my coverage, as is my tradition, by looking at each of the nominees in turn, and evaluating them in three areas: one is my simple, highly subjective ranking of how much I like them, which I will call preference. I’ll also attempt to more objectively evaluate each nominee on their worthiness to join the rock and roll greats in Cleveland. Finally, I’ll weigh in on the likelihood of their induction this year. Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout-out to Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors- I heavily borrowed this format of discussing the nominees from him.

With 19 nominees again this year, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get down to it.

Bon Jovi (Preference: 11, Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 3) Well, the weird extended feud- which seems to have included Bon Jovi pulling their swag from the Rock Hall- seems to be over. Bon Jovi was nominated before- for the Class of 2011- but fell short. The fact that, say, Darlene Love, got in that year and they didn’t speaks volumes. The voters didn’t like what they were selling. But that was before the fan vote. As long as the fan vote has been there, its winner has gotten in- even if, in the case of KISS, we couldn’t track down an actual Rock Hall voter who picked them. I’m not saying it’s rigged or anything- I’m really not- but let’s just say the Hall has an incentive to induct Bon Jovi. The bad publicity of the almost inevitable fan vote winner failing to get inducted is one reason. The good publicity of uniting the band with estranged guitarist Richie Sambora is another. Still- if there was ever a time that a fan favorite might not get in- this would be the one. I still think they are a near-lock. Journey got in- but they weren’t on the same level of hackery and critical hatred and contempt from their contemporaries as Bon Jovi. We’ll see.

Kate Bush (Preference: 6, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 16) I think I predicted her a few years ago, never taking that prospect very seriously. Well, here we are! Kate Bush is one of the very best songwriters of her era, and has a place in British pop history as having performed the first #1 both written and sung by a woman (“Wuthering Heights”). Her oeuvre, very much like an avant-garde playlet set to music, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. (It is my cup of tea, though. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks by any performer.) Yet, she stands out as an artist among the artists listed here. Unfortunately, she was much bigger in the UK than in the USA, and the Hall’s voters definitely tilt American. Moreover, the Hall must be aware that she will almost certainly be a no-show to the ceremony: she is a famously unwilling traveler, and took 35 years between concerts prior to her 2014 engagements in London. Moreover, she’s competing with Eurythmics in the arty new wave women category- and frankly, she’s just not the icon that Annie Lennox is.

The Cars (Preference: 4, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 5) With the exception of Chaka Khan, this is the only act on here that has been placed on the ballot each of the last three years. The Cars are in a sweet spot: lots of classic rock staples, but lots of critical love. Later baby boomers love them, but whichever Gen X music writers are voters probably view them highly as well. There’s also no shortage of modern acts who are fans of their work, keeping them relevant today.   But they might face the same issue that plagued them the last two years: being the sixth or seventh favorite act of too many voters, and not quite getting their box ticked.

Depeche Mode (Preference: 19, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 13) I’ll say this for Depeche Mode: they probably had more influence on what music sounds like today than anyone else on this list. Taking Kraftwerk’s embrace of electronica and achieving top 40 success, they were a major stadium act of their day.  They are fully deserving of Rock Hall induction, even if their music is much darker and not quite as melodic or organic as what I would prefer in my own listening habits. Acts of their caliber, though, have trouble getting in. While Depeche Mode isn’t quite alternative, the fact that The Smiths or The Replacements didn’t get in sniffing distance of induction doesn’t bode well, nor does Nine Inch Nails’ failure to get in during their two nominations.

Dire Straits (Preference: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 6) Well, here was a surprise! Dire Straits were one of those acts that fell under the radar, never really coming up in any list of egregious snubs. And yet, now that they are up for consideration, the case for them seems evident. Mark Knopfler was one of the great rock guitarists of his era, they made some pioneering music videos, and- frankly- they stand out for me in terms of crafting fine rock and roll more than any other act on the ballot. Listen to their songs, and you get poetic slices of life with first-rate musicianship: “Espresso Love,” “Telegraph Road,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sultans of Swing.” And come on…you know you want Sting to come out and do “Money for Nothing” at the ceremony. This was a great, great choice, and they just might make it through, even on a competitive ballot like this year’s.

Eurythmics (Preference: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 7) I knew if I kept predicting them, I would eventually be right! Eurythmics have a number of qualities that commend themselves to an easy induction process. The hall loves soulful singers, and Annie Lennox is probably the best singer on the ballot, depending on your feelings about Chaka Khan. She took the sonic palette of new wave and infused it with depth and humanity. Dave Stewart, for his part, has worked with the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hall, and plenty of others. The hall has also given VH1 and MTV veterans a stronger presence on the Nom Com (and presumably the Voting Committee too) in recent years, and Eurythmics certainly made the most of the music video format.

J. Geils Band (Preference: 17, Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 11) Ah, geez. Someone on the committee loves these guys, because this is their fifth appearance. By all accounts they were a very fine live band and I’m willing to look past their somewhat embarrassing string of 80s hits. I don’t think they suck or anything, but in my own judgment, they just don’t clear the bar of excellence or influence or even record sales to have even the remotest case for the Rock Hall. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to write off their chances. They have a “your favorite band’s favorite band” thing going for them, and voters loved blues acts enough to induct two of them in 2015. But J. Geils- essentially Chic without the charm or the pity votes- probably isn’t joining Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield in the hall this year.

Judas Priest (Preference: 13, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 12) It seems like just last year, we were debating who would be next metal act now that Deep Purple was in. Some said Iron Maiden, some solo Ozzy, others noted Dave Grohl’s affinity for Motorhead. Instead, it was Judas Priest, in my opinion the most deserving of that lot. Judas Priest has been safely in my top ten Rock Hall prospects in both the 2015 and 2017 itinerations. But look…it took Deep Purple three tries to get in and they were considered the most egregious Rock Hall snub in some quarters. Hardly any one outside the metal community feels that way about Priest. They are an eminent metal band, and unlike others on this list, they are genuinely honored and delighted to have been nominated. I hope they get in one day, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. I’m sure they have Eddie Trunk’s vote, but it isn’t going to be enough.

L. L. Cool J (Preference: 18, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 8): Well, LL Cool J has the rap and hip-hop genres all to himself on the ballot this year (although Rage as a foot in that river). He has been feted by the Kennedy Center, but will it be enough? Two rap acts have gotten in during the last two years, but NWA was a proud iconoclast benefitting from a bestselling movie, and 2pac was a cultural icon in the conversation for the best rapper of all time. LL Cool J seems a little…safe after these two. And there may very well be “rap fatigue” among the voting body that still isn’t 100% sold on the genre. Having said that, LL Cool J has to be considered a contender on any ballot he’s on, but his chances seem a bit middling this year.

MC5 (Preference: 15, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 18) Tom Morello’s influence surfaces here as well, with one of his favorites earning their third nomination. This band is very much like a secret handshake among rock nerds and political iconoclasts. Despite a short heyday, they made history with their notorious manager John Sinclair, and their rough-hewn records and performances influenced everyone from My Chemical Romance to Sonic Youth. Don’t expect an induction this year, though: if it took several nominations for The Stooges, for example, to get in, MC5 isn’t making it with this many classic bands on the ballot. Plus, they are competing with RATM and Nina Simone as the most politically charged act on the list this year.

The Meters (Preference: 10, Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 19) My respect for The Meters has grown exponentially since the day they were last nominated four years earlier. I hadn’t even heard of The Meters at the time, and therefore assumed that they didn’t deserve to get in. I was mistaken. Although they rank only 17th in terms of deserving nomination, I can’t say enough how much respect I have for their funky beats, halting and jerky rhythms and distinctive New Orleans sound. Having said all that, if Chic couldn’t get in under any number of scenarios, don’t expect The Meters to fare better.

The Moody Blues (Preference: 7, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 1) When I declared The Moody Blues as my #1 Rock Hall prospect back in 2015, that was probably…too much. I felt like I needed to put a ~real~ rock and roll band in the top spot, and so didn’t consider Janet or Kraftwerk or Carole King or someone for that honor like I should have. Nevertheless, The Moody Blues are one of the most famously egregious Rock Hall snubs ever. Even ten years ago, people were listing them alongside Chicago, Kiss, Genesis, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, and the like. Well- those artists are now in. And it’s the Moody Blues’ turn to join them.

Nina Simone (Preference: 2, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 4) Some people think she’s not quite rock and roll, or that she would be more fitting in an Influence or Musical Excellence category. I sort of understand, but ultimately come down strongly on inducting Nina as an artist. Like Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, she was a bridge between genres. She readily covered rock and roll standards in a jazzy nightclub style, and rock and rollers covered her songs too (most famously, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) In her career, she branched out to record some of the most direct civil rights anthems of her time. While, say, Odetta’s songs prayed for peace, Simone pointed fingers and demanded justice in “Mississippi Goddamn” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To be Free.” It’s no wonder that her influence continues through such figures as Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige- any of whom would happily drop everything to help induct her in Cleveland. Dave Davies from The Kinks publicly tipped his hand with an enthusiastic “for God’s sake” preceding his intent to vote for her. I think that’s prescient. Do you honestly think the surviving Animals won’t pick her? Do you honestly think Paul McCartney- who credits her “I Put A Spell On You” for the sultry “I love you, I love you, I love you” bridge in “Michelle” won’t find a spot for her? Or Elton John, who named his damn piano after her? Or Mavis Staples? Or surviving members of the Family Stone? Or the Furious Five? Or the social justice-friendly critics and executives who put Joan Baez in last year? Don’t be silly. Nina Simone is getting in.

Radiohead (Preference: 9, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 2)  Back in the late 1940s, William Randolph Hearst gave a famous directive to his vast media empire: Puff Graham. A network of radio stations and newspaper outlets then spent months establishing Billy Graham as the nation’s evangelist par excellence, handing him fame and success- albeit in recognition of his considerable skills as a revivalist. That’s not unlike the relationship between the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex and Radiohead. For years, they’ve told us that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the greatest albums of their time. They found a space for them among their 100 Immortals (and believe me, they were very stingy about including post-1970s acts.) All of this was deserved, no doubt- but it didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Their acclaim has translated to some of the most well loved records of the late 90s- and if the voters could put Green Day in during their first year, Radiohead should be a piece of cake.

Rage Against the Machine (Preference: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 9)  I appreciate Rage Against the Machine, which gave my generation a hyper-politicized group as earlier generations had MC5 or Country Joe and the Fish. Rage was far more popular than either- to the point of developing a near sub-culture around themselves, and any discussion of great albums from the turn of the millennium will have to include The Battle of Los Angeles. In a different year with different contenders, I would be optimistic about their prospects. But now? They face competition from Radiohead for the “newbie who has to get in on the first ballot” stakes. They face competition from MC5 and Nina Simone as the most “woke” act available. Morello is an amazing guitarist, but he’s up against Mark Knopfler and Link Wray. Too much pressure from too many quarters- an unlucky ballot for RATM.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Preference: 12, Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 15) I’m curious how Rufus got tied to Chaka Khan again- the last two years, it was just Chaka by herself. If anything, this makes Khan’s prospects even more unlikely- people don’t really remember Rufus, and they are more tied to the funkier end of disco, while Khan’s solo career put her into more favorable diva territory. It’s distantly possible they’ll get in, but if it took Donna Summer five tries before her death made her nigh-inevitable, I can’t see Chaka Khan having better luck. It’s a shame- Rufus and Chicago collaborated frequently, and I’d love to hear Danny Seraphine make another profane induction speech.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Preference: 8, Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 17) I’m still a little puzzled by Tharpe’s inclusion on the ballot. She is, beyond dispute, a key piece of rock and roll history– but her heyday was in the 40s and early 50s. I’m not exactly sure what the Nom Com is up to– are they greasing the skids for an Early Induction award (of which Tharpe is wholly deserving?) Did someone else get the Early Influence slot and this was a consolation prize? Some other folks have said “nobody will vote for her, because they know she’ll get in as an Early Influence.” I don’t agree–it’s giving Rock Hall voters too much credit for knowing how their institution works. I doubt very many rock legends have the brain-space to remember Freddie King and Wanda Jackson’s backdoor inductions between touring, buying HD televisions, and remembering to give their former mistresses hush money.

Link Wray (Preference: 16, Worthiness: 14 Likelihood: 10) Link is back! His family has been great to me over the years, and I am delighted for them. His case may be helped by the recent documentary (I’m not sure how many people knew he was part Native American when he was last nominated for the Class of 2014). Nevertheless, like that ’14 ballot, he’s up against A-list 90s acts, and a bevy of never-before-nominated classic rock favorites. Yet as a 50s guitar hero whose stock and trade was rough and ragged instrumentals, he might very well sneak in by virtue of his uniqueness- there isn’t anyone like him on the ballot this year.

The Zombies (Preference: 1, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 14) Look, I’m in the tank for The Zombies. They are one of my favorite artists. Odessey and Oracle is one of my ten favorite albums of all time. If I were starting a superband, I’d pick Rod Argent as the keyboard player and work backward from there. I want them to get in, and in a different year, they’d make it. Put them on the ’15 ballot instead of Paul Butterfield, and I have a hunch they’d earn enough votes to get inducted. It’s unfortunate, because they are more musically excellent and more significant in the long term than either The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies- each of whom has been in the hall for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, last year they were up against fellow psychedelic keyboard-heavy act Steppenwolf. And this year, they are up against their contemporaries The Moody Blues, who are more famous and had more longevity. (To emphasis the point of them being contemporaries, remember that “Nights in White Satin” and “Time of the Season” were recorded within weeks of each other.) Maybe someone like Terry Sylvester of The Hollies will vote for both, but I’d imagine most people will diversify their ballots a bit more– which puts The Zombies in a precarious place.

So…where does this go from here? If I had to predict the Class of 2018, I think Moody Blues, Radiohead, and Bon Jovi are gimmes, although I’d love to be proven wrong on Bon Jovi. I’m pretty confident about Nina Simone for reasons I detailed in her section. And I’ve got a good feeling about The Cars. For a radio-friendly, critically-acclaimed group, I just can’t see them falling short a third time. But that sixth spot, assuming there is one, is giving me fits. Dire Straits and Eurythmics seem like the two most logical choices. But I would give an outside chance to LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Link Wray. The others strike me as very long shots. In a contest between Dire Straits and Eurythmics, I’d have to predict the former. Knopfler is a top-shelf guitarist, and his songwriting and storytelling is their secret weapon. The hall loves those features, as the relatively painless inductions of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Bill Withers all suggest. the problem is that this gives us a class very similar to last year’s: a bunch of classic rock mainstays, a first-year-eligible act or two, and just one woman and one artist of color. (In fact, in this case, they would both be the same person- Nina Simone!)

Who am I voting for on the rockhall.com fan vote? Well, The Zombies and Nina Simone are two pet projects of mine, and two of my favorite artists of all time. Of course I’m voting for them. I want to usher The Cars in after three tries, so they are in, too. I would round it out with Dire Straits and Eurythmics, two of my favorite artists who are also among my top 15 Rock Hall prospects. While I really appreciate The Moodies, I’m so confident of their chances that I don’t think they need my vote. Kate Bush and Sister Rosetta were in contention as well. I’m fine making Radiohead and RATM wait another year. That’s not a very balanced vote on my part- too many acts that peaked in the early 80s- but I can live with that. (For comparison, my votes last year went to: Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, and The Zombies.)

What do you think? Am I on the right track with my directions? Have a pegged your favorites wrong? Let me know in the comments- until then, we have two and a half months of speculating to do!

 

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The news leaked a little early, but around midnight on 5 October, we learned the identity of our nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2018. There were plenty of returning nominees: The Cars, LL Cool J, Link Wray, The Zombies, Depeche Mode, MC5, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, J. Geils Band, The Meters, and Bon Jovi. We also have a collection of snubs receiving their first nomination. Two of them- Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone- were theoretically eligible for the Rock Hall’s first class back in 1986. They are rounded out by Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, and Kate Bush. Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine earned a nomination on their very first year of eligibility.

Wow! That’s quite a group. First impressions? It’s hard to go wrong with any of these. Almost. J. Geils is a joke, and I’m not fond of the Bon Jovi pick for reasons I’ll get in to…but you could make a fine class out of this batch if done properly. Lots of longtime snubs are addressed in acts like The Moody Blues. Metal-heads will be vindicated by Judas Priest finally earning a nomination.

A few things stand out, though. Others have noticed this- but this ballot is very light on R&B. (Remember, R&B is narrower than “black artists who don’t rap.”) Simone and Tharpe aren’t really in that genre, as jazz and gospel performers respectively. That leaves  Rufus/Chaka and The Meters. That’s…pretty astonishingly low, especially since these are two of the least likely acts to actually get enough votes. Compare that to the ballot for the Class of 2015 where Chic, War, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, and Bill Withers all vied against one another.

Two other omissions strike me as odd: Nine Inch Nails and Janet Jackson. I would have bet the farm on the Rock Hall moving heaven and earth to induct Reznor in Cleveland, a town he is deeply rooted in. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Janet was also passed by- an odd choice given how well her nomination was received during the last two years and the guaranteed ratings boost she would give the HBO special.

And then there’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m thrilled that she’s now on the Rock Hall’s radar; she was listed as #1 when I ranked Early Influence candidates this summer, and that’s just the issue. Her best work was in the 1940s and early 1950s– an Early Influence by any fair assessment. The prospect of her getting in as an artist isn’t unprecedented- Muddy Waters is in as an artist too, and he peaked during that same period. But it’s very weird, and raises questions about whether this nomination is a bad faith effort to just grease the skids for an Early Influence or Musical Excellence nod. In fact, it was unusually ballsy for the Rock Hall to nominate a total of three acts whose first record came out before 1960: Tharpe, Nina Simone, and Link Wray.

And, frankly, I’m not thrilled with the Bon Jovi pick. I’m talking an awful lot of smack, given that I included them in my 100 Rock Hall Prospects, but this continues a depressing trend of choosing uber-commercial acts who don’t clear the Musical Excellence bar.  The Journey nomination seemed just a bit fishy to me last year, and Bon Jovi coming back- suspiciously after mending ties with the Rock Hall and re-donating their swag for exhibition- also raises concern. Look- if you like hair bands, great. Good on you. But musically, Bon Jovi is not in the same class as the other 18 musicians on this ballot. It’s true. And yet, they are currently leading the Rock Hall’s fan poll. That poll didn’t exist when they were first nominated back in 2011. But since it was initiated, the winner of the fan poll has always been inducted. In fact, at least three of the top five artists who win the fan poll get in. That’s disconcerting when black and female artists with greater musicianship tend to sink like stones in the public poll as hoards of suburban baby boomers vote for their favorites- look at the Meters and Rufus and Kate Bush rounding out some of the last places. If the trend holds and Bon Jovi gets in, who is next– Duran Duran? Def Leppard? Foreigner? Do they all get in before Kraftwerk and The Smiths too? Where does it end?

Finally, it’s hard to see who had the most influence on making this ballot. Tom Morello’s hand can be seen clearly in MC5 and Judas Priest’s nominations- both artists the RATM guitarist advocated for. But Questlove’s involvement cannot be readily perceived, nor can David Grohl’s. Those expecting a Soundgarden nomination were disappointed.  Similarly, my theory about Paul Shaffer nominating Warren Zevon also turned out to be bunk.

But let’s re-examine my predictions. I am proud to say that I got nine right: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Zombies, Eurythmics, LL Cool J, Link Wray, Nina Simone, J. Geils Band, and Moody Blues. Irritatingly, lots of artists I’ve predicted in other years showed up this year when I didn’t pick them: Judas Priest, The Meters, Kate Bush, Dire Straits, and MC5 all fell into that category. Troy Smith got an impressive ten right- congratulations!

For all my complaining, my two pet favorites, The Zombies and Nina Simone, are both nominees this year. If nothing else, I’m very grateful for that.

Hopefully this weekend, I’ll flesh this out, as is my custom, by rating each of the nominees on three scales: 1) how much I personally like them; 2) how deserving they are of induction; 3) how likely they are to be inducted.

Oh, and as a point of trivia- the top ten artists in my 2017 update to my Rock Hall Prospects have all now been nominated at least once: Moody Blues, Kraftwerk, Nina Simone, Carole King, Janet Jackson, Judas Priest, The Spinners, Dire Straits, and The Smiths. In fact, everybody in my top 15- with the sole exception of Mariah Carey- has  been nominated as well.

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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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