Tag Archives: rock and roll hall of fame

"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.”

 


Here’s to you, Joey Ramone

(Here’s another offering from my all-time favorite guest blogger – my soul mate Kimi!)

“The Eagles and the Captain and Tennille ruled the airwaves, and we were the answer to it.” ~ Joey Ramone

A happy childhood may keep the psychiatrists at bay, but it may work against you if your dream is to be a rock and roll star.

Take for example the story of Joey Ramone, who was born Jeffry Ross Hyman in New York City 60 years ago today. Despite being raised in a dysfunctional family, afflicted with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and branded a social outcast, he would become one of the founding members of the ground-breaking punk rock band, The Ramones.

Hyman, along with high school pals John Cummings (Johnny Ramone) and Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone), is credited with giving birth to a new and explosively influential musical genre – punk rock.

Originally the group’s drummer, Joey later became lead vocalist when Dee Dee discovered he couldn’t play his bass and sing at the same time. Though he had no formal training, Joey’s youthful vocal style – which included hiccups, crooning, and snarls – made his voice one of the most recognizable sounds in punk rock.

It wasn’t long after taking over the role of front man that he became a countercultural icon, earning him the nickname “The Godfather of Punk Rock.”

Inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym “Paul Ramon” when checking into hotels, the band members each adopted the surname “Ramone.”

The Ramones made their debut in front of a live audience in 1974 at Performance Studios in New York. The band’s signature style was considered unorthodox for the times.Their songs were very fast and very short – most under two minutes long. In sharp contrast to the disco look of the 70’s, they each wore long hair, leather jackets, t-shirts, torn jeans, and sneakers. While the band enjoyed popularity with their rabid fans, they remained outside of rock’s mainstream.

Tensions between Joey and Johnny negatively colored much of their career. They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and Joey’s liberal beliefs clashed with those of arch-conservative Johnny, often on topics such as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Johnny would regularly torment Joey with anti-Semitic comments, and later stole his girlfriend Linda, who he would later marry. This caused a fatal rift between the two, and even though they would continue playing together for several years, they never spoke again.

Joey went on to record one solo album, Don’t Worry About Me (2002), released after his death in 2001. Ex-Ramone Marc Bell (Marky Ramone) played drums on the record.

In 1996, after completing a tour with the Lollapalooza festival, the Ramones disbanded. Less than nine years after the breakup, the three founding members – Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee – were all dead.

Joey Ramone died at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital on April 15, 2001, after a seven-year battle with lymphoma. He was reportedly listening to the song In a Little While by U2 when he died. From that point on during live performances, Bono would introduce the song as a tune that was originally about a love-struck hangover, but that Joey had turned it into a gospel song.

Soon after Joey’s death, The Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite the fact none of their singles ever cracked the top forty.

Joey’s contribution to music was commemorated with a sign at the corner of Bowery and 2nd Street (now known as Joey Ramone Place) in New York, close to where he once lived with band-mate Dee Dee Ramone.


Birth of a “Runaway” Hit

“Me and Del were singin’ “Little Runaway,” I was flyin’”

Runnin’ Down A Dream, Tom Petty

When you do the math, it all adds up, but it’s still hard to believe that 50 years ago this week, the entire country was singing Runaway by Del Shannon.

In one sense, the song seems younger than that; in another, it seems much older. That’s because a song like Runaway seems to have existed forever.

It didn’t, of course. Like everything else, the song had a birthday, and that day was January 24, 1961, the week of JFK’s inauguration, when it was recorded at Bell Sound studios in New York.

The story of the song, and of it’s creators, begins three years earlier in “Cereal City” – Battle Creek, Michigan (so named because it’s the headquarters for Kellogg’s and Post).

Charles Westover had returned to Battle Creek a few years earlier after being drafted into the service. He started playing guitar with a band at a rowdy establishment called the Hi-Lo Club, and eventually became its leader.

Needing a keyboardist, Westover, now using the stage name Del Shannon, tried out an organist from Ann Arbor named Max Crook. Crook auditioned on his own hand-made early synthesizer, which he called a Musitron.

Del and Max hit it off immediately, and began writing songs together. After cutting a couple of unsuccessful singles, the band was back at the High-Lo Club, where one night in October 1960, Max began bouncing between the “A-minor” and “G” chords and the group followed. For the next twenty minutes, the band experimented while the crowd looked on dumbfounded. They ended the impromptu jam session when the owner of the club insisted they play something else.

The next day, Shannon wrote the lyrics for the song between tending customers at the carpet store where he worked. The band performed the completed song live that night for the first time.

The song became an immediate local hit, and the band obligingly played it several times a night during their sets.

Soon, they were on their way to New York for the recording, and Del and Max, along with their wives, drove the 700-mile trip together in the dead of winter in Shannon’s 1957 Plymouth. The four had to be layered in blankets, as the heater didn’t work, and the windows didn’t roll all the way up.

On arriving at Bell Sounds, electronics-whiz Crook annoyed the seasoned technicians when he set about rewiring the studio to achieve the sound he desired.

The men, accompanied by a couple of session musicians, completed Runaway and three other songs in only three hours. Shannon’s falsetto on the take was later enhanced when it was discovered that he was singing flat on part of the recording, and the tape was sped up.

(During the session, Shannon’s wife Shirley and Crook’s wife Joann left to see the sites in Manhattan. The ladies poked their heads onto the set of the game show Beat The Clock and Joann got chosen to be a contestant!)

After the session, the four piled back into the Plymouth and made the icy trip back to Battle Creek. On arrival, Shannon presented the first copy of Runaway to the owner of the carpet store for letting him write the lyrics on company time.

Within three weeks the single was released, and on April 24 it reached the top of Billboard’s charts where it would remain for a month.

The single would eventually sell millions of copies, and secure a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Shannon in 1999 (Crook, one of the true pioneers of the synthesizer, has inexplicably been overlooked so far).

On a more personal note, Del and Max had an additional reason to celebrate, as both their wives gave birth to babies on the same day – nine months after their husbands had given birth to Runaway in New York!


The Devil and Robert Johnson

His guitar wizardry made folks in the Mississippi Delta believe he had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his talent.

When Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones first heard one of his recordings, he couldn’t believe it was only one guy on the guitar and asked, “Who’s the other guy playing with him?”

Blues guitar great Robert Johnson, who was born 100 years ago yesterday in Mississippi, is truly one of the “legendary” founders of blues and rock and roll; a legend that is based as much on his flimsy biography as for his guitar proficiency.

Although he was later one of the founding inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was almost completely unknown during his lifetime. What is known is that he was born in Mississippi and spent some time in Memphis as a boy, where his father moved after separating from his mother.

As a young man he played harmonica and jaw harp in the Delta, where musicians claimed he was a terrible guitarist at the time. He reemerged a short-time later as a beast on the strings, birthing a myth that he had entered into a pact with the Lord of Darkness at a crossroads at midnight.

Were it not for a handful of poor recordings made in San Antonio in 1936 and a year later in Dallas, his name and image would most likely have been forgotten forever.

Instead, when his recordings resurfaced in the early 60s, he was able to influence several soon to be rock guitar gods, like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimmy Page.

In August 1938, Johnson was playing shows around Greenwood, Mississippi, when he died from poison said to have been administered by the jealous husband of a woman he was seeing.

His death at the age of 27 began a dark tradition later continued by Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain.


Eternal Sounds

It’s one thing to achieve success in music, but quite another to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of a genre (at least it was until they put Madonna in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s another story).

Today we’ll pay a visit to the three Hall of Fame musicians who are housed at Eternal Valley Cemetery in Newhall.

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After entering the gates, we climb the hill, passing by the final resting place of giant Tor Johnson from Plan Nine From Outer Space along the way.

Near the top, at the upper end of the Garden of Prayer rests musical legend Cliffie Stone. Stone, born Clifford Snyder, was a country singer, musician, disk jockey, record producer, author, and music publisher.

As the host of the Hometown Jamboree radio program from 1946-1960, he helped launch the careers of dozens of country musicians. The multi-tasking Stone was signed by Capitol Records in Hollywood as both an artist and as head of their Country & Western division. At the end of his life, he kept busy directing Gene Autry’s vast publishing empire.

Stone was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the corner of Sunset and Vine, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989.

On the far south side of the cemetery in the Garden of Meditation rests singer Roy Brown.

Roy James Brown was born in New Orleans in 1925 and began his career as a gospel singer. He later switched to the blues, and is now considered to be a pioneer voice in rock and roll history.

 

Brown recorded his most famous song, Good Rocking Tonight, in 1947. The song was later covered by Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and a host of other performers. A dazzling showman, Brown helped pave the way for later performers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

His fortunes declined during the 1960s to the point that he was forced to sell encyclopedias to make ends meet. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, which was the same year that he died.

Down the hill in plot 91 of the Garden of Repose rests rocker Gene Vincent, Eternal Valley’s most famous resident.

Eugene Vincent Craddock was born in Virginia in 1935. He got his first guitar at the age of 12 and dropped out of school to join the navy a few years later.

While in the navy, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and while recuperating, wrote the classic rock and roll song Be-Bop-A-Lula.

This song, which was later covered by everyone from Queen to John Lennon, quickly went gold and led to Vincent and his band, The Blue Caps, earning a spot in the landmark rock and roll film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield.

Vincent continued to perform until his death, but never equaled the success of Be-Bop. He died from the effects of alcoholism in 1971, and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Along a line of shrubs in the Zane Grey Gardens is the grave of Tex Williams. While not a Hall of Famer (yet), Williams had a long and successful career as a country singer/songwriter. During the 1940s and ’50s he also starred in a series of low-budget western musicals for Universal, known as “oaters.”

Williams first struck musical gold in 1945 as the lead singer of the Spade Cooley Orchestra when their single Shame On You became a smash hit and stayed on the country charts for 31 weeks. Eternal Valley neighbor Cliffie Stone later offered Williams his own recording contract and Tex left Cooley to form “Tex Williams and His Western Caravan.”

In 1947, their single Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) topped both the country and the pop charts, becoming Capitol Records’ first million-selling record.

Not surprisingly, the singer died of lung cancer in his Newhall home in 1985.

 


Sam and Otis

Sam Cooke

Any way you slice it, the first two weeks of December were historically tragic ones for popular music. Already this week we have chronicled the anniversaries of the dark days of Altamont and the death of John Lennon. There were two other significant passings that occurred during this time in the 1960s. Rock and roll and soul pioneers Sam Cooke and Otis Redding both died violently at young ages during early December only three years apart.

The first to go was Sam Cooke, who was gunned down under mysterious circumstances on December 11, 1964. Cooke was born in 1931 in the hotbed of the blues, Clarksdale, Mississippi, but grew up in Chicago where his father was a respected minister. He first got notice as the vocalist for the legendary gospel group The Soul Stirrers, who had several hits during the early 50s. Later that decade he broke with his gospel roots to become a secular singer. Over the next seven years he had nearly 30 hits, including Another Saturday Night, Cupid, Chain Gang, Twistin’ the Night Away, You Send Me, and A Change Is Gonna Come, which became a soulful anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Cooke was shot and killed in a South L.A. motel by the establishment’s female manager who claimed he was threatening her life. A coroner’s inquest later ruled that the killing was justified. He was only 33.

Sam’s widow Barbara created a scandal by marrying soul artist Bobby Womack only three months after his death, thereby becoming one of a select group of women (Patty Boyd is another) who married two men that are today in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooke’s daughter later married Womack’s brother, making the family tree a bit more interesting.

With Sam Cooke’s talent and good looks, I am stunned that his story has never been brought to the screen in a major way. Hollywood, get on this.

Three years and one day later, twenty-six-year-old soul singer Otis Redding perished, along with most of his backup band, when the plane they were flying in crashed into a lake in Wisconsin.

Redding spent most of the 60’s building a fan base through electric performances of his hits Try a Little Tenderness, Mr. Pitiful, and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

Today he is best remembered for the single, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, which he recorded only three days before his death. It was Redding’s only number one hit, becoming the first posthumous chart topper in American history.

Incidentally, the whistling that you hear in The Dock of the Bay was never meant to stay. Redding used it as a place holder for more lyrics that he intended to insert later.

 


Damn the Torpedoes! Tom Petty is 60!

Tom Petty, who turns 60 today, from 1976.

Some memories seem encased in temporal bubbles that keep them outside the normal flow of time. For me, this usually seems to be events that happened during high school. One of them was the appearance of Tom Petty on the music scene. It seems like yesterday, but when you do the math, you discover that it was over 30 years ago.

How can that be?!

Wasn’t he just “damning the torpedoes?” And howling to “Full Moon Fever?” And traveling with the Wilburys?

Nope. All those things were decades ago. As was Petty’s birth. Six decades ago, in fact, on October 20, 1950.

If you have ever wondered which current rock and roll superstars decided to go into music careers after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the answers is Tom Petty. This happened four years after Tom, as a 10-year-old, met Elvis Presley on the set of Follow That Dream near his home in Gainesville, Florida. These two events made a lasting impression on young Petty, who went on to form bands with a few fellow Gainesville residents, including Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, that would later morph into the “Heartbreakers” when Tom went solo in the late 70s. Their first album was called simply Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976, which produced the hit singles, “Breakdown” and “American Girl.” The group has been going strong ever since.

Along the way, Petty, with the Hearbreakers and occasionally as a soloist, has sold over 60 million records and woven his sound into the fabric of American pop radio. In 1988, Petty was able to repay former-Beatle George Harrison for helping forge his future all those years ago, by joining Harrison’s supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.

Petty, along with the Heartbreakers, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and is currently on tour promoting Mojo, the group’s twelfth studio album, which debuted in June at #2 with 125,000 sales its first week.

Not bad for an old guy.