Tag Archives: paul mccartney

The Day Movies Learned to Speak

A quick glance at the calendar will reveal that I’m a bit late in pulling the “Welcome to August” trigger, but better late than September.

So let me be the last to welcome you to the eighth month of the year. (And as the eighth month, shouldn’t it be called Octo-ber? The answer is yes. It would have been had a couple of megalomaniac Roman emperors named Julius and Augustus not inserted months named after themselves into the middle of the summer, thereby messing up the calendar forever.)

There are dozens of Deadwrite’s Dailies anniversaries worthy of a blog post during the first half of this month, including: August 1 – Concert for Bangladesh (1971); MTV’s debuts (1981); August 2 – Wild Bill Hickok gunned down (1876); August 3 – Wings formed (1971); August 4 – President Obama’s 50th birthday; August 9 – Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics (1936) …

Lucille Ball would have turned 100 on the 6th of August, something a good chunk of the world (and Google) seemed to remember. But also on that date back in 1926, a little remembered film debuted that changed the world. Today’s post is about that.

On August 6, 1926, Warner Bros. taught movies to “speak.”

On that day, WB first brought sound to movie audiences with the premiere of Don Juan. Before that night, filmmakers had essentially ignored the sense of hearing, relying on live accompaniment for their presentations.

Don Juan, starring John Barrymore, premiered at the Warners’ Theatre in Manhattan to a packed house that paid the record-setting price of $11 per ticket for the night’s entertainment.

Don Juan’s sound came from a 16” phonograph that was synchronized to the film in a complicated process called “Vitaphone.”

Vitaphone was the brainchild of Sam Warner, the second youngest of the four Warner brothers. Sam felt that the studio he and his brothers created would never rise to the highest rung of the Hollywood ladder unless they took a bold step. That bold step was sound.

Sam loved tinkering with technology and had previously worked alongside Western Electric technicians setting up WB’s radio station KFWB on their Sunset Boulevard studio lot. It was here that he learned of a process Western Electric had developed to synch sound to movies. Sam talked his brothers into purchasing the system which was named Vitaphone to capitalize on WB’s recent purchase of Vitagraph Studios.

Don Juan was still essentially a silent film with all the dialogue written on cards. What is most notable about the movie is that it added the sound of an orchestra (along with some special effects), which removed the need for live musicians.

In spite of its huge opening night receipts, Don Juan couldn’t recoup its budget and WB was left seriously in debt. But Sam Warner pressed on in the development of sound, much to the chagrin of his brother Harry – the keeper of the company’s accounts.

Don Juan would prove to be the warning shot fired across the bow of silent films. The genre would be effectively killed fourteen months later by WB’s release of the first “talkie,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer.

Sadly, Sam Warner wouldn’t live to see its release. The stress of overseeing its production ruined his health, and he died 24 hours before The Jazz Singer’s premiere from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Vitaphone itself would pass away by 1930 (the process anyway, the name would survive until 1959) when improved sound-on-film technology replaced it.

The huge profits that WB reaped from their pioneering efforts into sound gave them the funds to purchase the First National Studios in Burbank in the late 1920’s, which remains their headquarters to this day.

(And if you want to see the place, stop by the studio this summer and I may be the one giving you a tour! www.wbstudiotour.com)

 

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"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 2

Rock and roll pioneer and “permanent” Newhall resident Gene Vincent was instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together.

As the story goes, in July 1957, 15-year-old McCartney was talked into visiting a church festival to audition for the band The Quarrymen, which was led by 16-year-old John Lennon. McCartney reportedly played a 10-minute medley of songs by Gene, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard. Lennon was so impressed with the younger McCartney that he asked him to join the band. Later, just before “Beatlemania” was to wash over the world, the Beatles met and befriended their idol in Hamburg where Gene helped them craft their sound.

Gene still had lots of fans stateside as well, including Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the Doors.

Gene was on tour in England in April 1960 when a taxi he was riding in hit a cement post. The crash seriously injured Gene and killed his cab-mate Eddie Cochran, who had made a name for himself with Summertime Blues.

Gene spent most of the next decade flitting between London and Hollywood, while recording and touring sporadically. Years of heavy drinking, bad relationships, and poor management compromised his finances and wrecked his health. He was with his parents in Saugus in 1971 when he was rushed to what was later called the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where a bleeding ulcer took him away from a world that had largely forgotten him.

But Gene could never be completely forgotten. Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was released 55 years ago this week, still garners airplay – either in its original version, or as covered by such performers as Gary Glitter, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Stray Cats, Queen, and not surprisingly, both Lennon and McCartney.

Gene has won some posthumous acclaim as well. Rolling Stone magazine once called Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps “the first rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” and Be-Bop-A-Lula was listed as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where Gene was inducted in 1998. More recently, Guitar Edge magazine voted Gene onto its list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time,” (although, in all fairness it should have been Cliff Gallup being honored, as he was the true master guitarist of the Blue Caps).

Gene was laid to rest at Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. French-born fan and Newhall resident Chris Bouyer hopes to see the city where Gene is buried to pay tribute to their permanent resident with an annual music festival.

“I would love to see the city of Newhall host a yearly rockabilly festival in February around Gene’s birthday,” says Bouyer. “There is a huge rockabilly underground, and I know that a festival like that could draw thousands of fans from all around the world. I imagine the festival as something that would start small and then grow big,” says Bouyer. “All it will take will be work, dedication, and passion. But that’s the story of everything worthwhile. That’s the story of rock and roll. And that’s the story of Gene.”

“Be-Bop-a-Lula … She-e-e’s my baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll.”

 


"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 1

(Since today is the 55th anniversary of the release of the epic rock and roll classic Be-Bop-a-Lula by local legend Gene Vincent, I’ve decided to reprint a two-parter on this underappreciated rockabilly pioneer.)

If you’re a fan of 1950s rock and roll, or if you just happen to be over 40, try taking this test.

Sing the following opening lyric without singing any of the rest of the song. Ready? Here goes.

“Be-Bop-a-Lula…”

Be honest. You couldn’t stop yourself, could you? Try as you might, some dormant synapse in your brain fired off the second line “… She’s My Baby …” straight to your vocal chords.

Don’t feel bad. Since June 16, 1956 – 55-years ago this week – when Be-Bop-A-Lula first hit the airwaves, so many millions of people have sung along to the tune that it has entered the world’s musical collective unconscious.

While the song may be familiar to most, the story of rock and roll legend and permanent Santa Clarita Valley resident Gene Vincent, the tune’s singer and co-author, who would have turned 76 in February, has largely been forgotten.

If asked to select likenesses for a Mount Rushmore of 1950s rock and roll legends, most Americans would showcase the images of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. But another face would likely be added by Europeans where Gene Vincent’s popularity was on par with Presley’s near-godlike following.

Gene Vincent, whose real name was Vincent Eugene Craddock, was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1935 and began playing guitar at the age of 12. He left school early to join the Navy where he was stationed in Korea. On returning to Norfolk in 1955 he was involved in a very serious motorcycle accident that shattered his left leg, leaving him with a permanent limp and chronic pain for the rest of his life. Legend has it that he wrote Be-Bop-A-Lula in the hospital while recovering from the injury.

During the frantic months after the songs’ release, Gene and his band the Blue Caps – which featured legendary guitarist Cliff Gallup – recorded an album, played numerous concerts, and appeared in the first rock and roll feature film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. The pace quickly took its toll on Gene and the band and before long several members of the Blue Caps exited for good.

Gene had a few follow-up hits in America after that, but nothing to approach Be-Bop-A-Lula in popularity. With his career stalling in the States, he toured Japan and Australia with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard. Afterwards he went to Europe where he was greeted as a hero by his legions of fans.

Among those fans were some lads from Liverpool.

Paul McCartney wrote in “The Beatles Anthology” that Be-Bop-A-Lula was the first record he ever bought, and in fact, the song was reportedly instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together in the first place.

(More on this tomorrow.)


Britain’s “Soul”

This time of year is always a somber one for Beatles fans. With the anniversary of George Harrison’s passing on Monday, followed by next week’s 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, millions of people around the world are especially aware of their own mortality during these two weeks.

Today marks another milestone in Beatles history that’s also bound to make fans feel their age. It was on this date in 1965 – 45 years ago today – that the Beatles released their epic Rubber Soul album in England.

Rubber Soul, which got its title from an expression Paul McCartney used to describe English soul music, was the band’s sixth English album. The record reflects the group’s growing sophistication, marking a clear departure from their earlier Merseyside sound. It was recorded all at once during the months of October and November 1965, rather than in fits and starts between other commitments, like their previous records. This schedule gave them the freedom to experiment with new subjects and sounds, heard most notably in George Harrison’s use of the sitar in Norwegian Wood, and producer George Martin’s harpsichord-sounding piano in In My Life. This record set the stage for how the Beatles would function for the remainder of the 1960s, with the group becoming more of a studio band, and soon discontinuing touring altogether.

When you look at the lineup of the fourteen songs on the record, it’s hard to believe this isn’t a greatest hits album:

Side 1

Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, You Won’t See Me, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself, The Word, Michelle

Side 2

What Goes On, Girl, I’m Looking Through You, In My Life, Wait, If I Needed Someone, Run For Your Life

Couple this with the fact that Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were released at the same time as a double-sided single, and left off the record, and you realize that December 1965 was a great month for popular music indeed.

The album was a huge success, hitting the top of the charts on Christmas Day in England, knocking the groups’ previous record, Help!, out of the top spot. The American version of the album came out three days after the British record with a different lineup of songs, and sold over a million copies in the states in only nine days.

Nowhere on the cover of the album was the group mentioned by name. Yes, they were that big.


Buddy Holly: Rock’s First Martyr

For the want of clean underwear, rock and roll got a legend.

Legendary rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly boarded a small plane in Mason City, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, along with fellow rockers J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens. All three musicians were part of a rock and roll tour which some fool thought was a good idea to schedule  in the upper Midwest during the winter.

The musicians usually travelled in a bus with faulty heating, which resulted in one tour member being hospitalized with frostbite. Holly wanted to get to the tour’s next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota ahead of the bus so that he would have enough time to do his laundry, so he chartered a plane after the show in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Future country music superstar Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the flight, but gave his seat to Richardson, who had the flu.

Holly kidded Jennings on departure by saying, “I hope your ‘ol bus freezes up.”

To which Jennings playfully replied, “Well, I hope your ‘ol plane crashes.”

Jennings would be haunted by his words for the rest of his life after learning that his friends had died minutes later in a crash eight miles north of the airport.

The wreckage of the plane that killed the pilot and rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper” on the “day the music died.”

Charles “Buddy” Holley, who would have turned 74 this week, was only 22 years old the night he died. Although his recording career lasted only 20 months, he has been called “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.”

Holly (he dropped the “e” in his stage name) began performing as a boy in Lubbock, Texas, and by the age of nineteen was opening with his band, the Crickets, for the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, and a newcomer to the scene named Elvis Presley. The multitalented Holly played several instruments and sang with a distinctive “hiccup” style that was his signature. He was a rarity among performers in the early days of rock in that he also wrote his own songs.

The groups he influenced are a veritable “who’s who” of rock and roll history, including the Beatles, who recorded Holly songs on their records, and actually took their name in tribute to the Crickets. Paul McCartney is such a fan of Holly’s music that he purchased the rights to his catalog of songs.

There are lots of sad stories in the rock and roll “what might have been” files – tales of performers whose lives were cut down before their time – but perhaps no entry is as tragic as Buddy Holly. We can only mourn the great future songs that were lost that night, and speculate on how history might have been different had Holly only packed an additional change of clothes.

Click here to see Buddy Holly perform Oh, Boy on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” (BTW, my beautiful wife Kimi was one day old when this was broadcast.)


John, Paul, George … and Andy?

In mid-August 1962, the three senior Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – fired drummer Pete Best and replaced him with a chap they knew from their Hamburg days named Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey).

On September 4, 1962 – forty-eight years ago tomorrow – that new lineup went to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London and recorded together for the first time.

The Beatles were initially signed to a record contract by legendary producer George Martin on the strength of their personalities rather than on the quality of their original songs. He intended for the group to record a song called How Do You Do It?  by songwriters Adam Faith and Mitch Murray as the band’s first single. The Beatles had other ideas, and chose to record an original McCartney composition, which Paul wrote as a sixteen-year-old while playing hooky from school.

Their song was called Love Me Do, which was an Everly Brothers-influenced, three-chord Bluesy number that featured Paul on lead vocals, and John mouthing a harmonica that he had swiped from a music shop in the Netherlands. (The band did record a version of How Do You Do It?  that day which can be found on their Anthology I album. Gerry & the Pacemakers took the record to number one the following year.)

Martin didn’t much like what he heard that day out of the new drummer and called the group back into the studio a week later. This time, Ringo was relegated to playing the tambourine while session drummer Andy White laid down the beat. Both versions of the song were eventually released, with the White version rising to number 17 on the UK singles charts. (Ringo’s version can be heard on the Past Masters, Volume One album.)

There was actually a third version of the song recorded three months earlier as part of the Beatles’ audition at EMI, which featured Pete Best on drums. For years this version was thought lost, but reappeared, and can be heard on Anthology I.

Best was devastated by the firing, which depressed him to the point of a suicide attempt. He later became a civil servant in Liverpool and eventually formed a series of bands that capitalized on his association with the Fab Four. He was finally able to earn some royalties from his days with the Beatles (somewhere in the range of £1-4 million) from the sales of Anthology 1.  

Andy White was paid £57 for his session with the Beatles. He later played for several acts, including Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, Herman’s Hermits, Rod Stewart, and Marlene Dietrich. He moved to New Jersey in the 1980s, where he still teaches Scottish pipe band drumming at the age of 80. His car sports a bumper sticker that reads, “5th Beatle,” which was given to him by one of his students, in reference to his one-and-only recording session with the band.   

Ringo recovered from the slight (but resented George Martin for years because of it) and ended up manning the skins for the Beatles until their breakup in 1970.