And a Consuls' performance was always coloured by the humour that was part of that early rock, r and b culture in my part of the world, more like "Hair Spray", "Bye Bye Birdie" or even "Father Knows Best" than the aggressive sexuality of the rock and roll scene in "Grease". For our imaginations had been provoked by the kind of rock and roll parodies that were integral to that "beat". Our performances brought to audiences the fun spirit embodied in the lyrical mimickry of that early r & b r & r bump dee doody doody bump dee doody doody rhythm like the parodying of a menacing news report of a cell block riot in "The Robins' "Riot in Cell Block#9 that stereotypes the names of inmate rioters, like the names of jail house revellers performing at a party thrown by a warden in a county jail in Elvis' "Jail House Rock". Similarly in their"Smokey Joe's Cafe""The Robins" parody preconceived attitudes about smoke-filled bar rooms and their patrons. Buddy Hacket's "Chinese Rock and Egg Roll" achieves humour through egg roll playing on the words rock and roll as he stereotypes the banter of proprietors of Chinese restaurants to satirize how the rock and roll craze was making everyone, even parents think they were 17 again. "Stranded in the Jungle" also pokes fun at preconceived notions like fear of the unknown in the jungles of Africa compared to the familiar back in the USA through juxtaposing Africa's ominous jungle drums with the familiarly comforting rock-rhythmed pop music sounds back in the "States". This stream of humour continues in rock and roll through Elvis' early performances when even his overtly sexual gyrations notoriously banable by some media were performed as self-mocking teasing to elicit his audience's screams. I remember as he was about to begin a tune at the Gardens he'd throw a hip to begin a gyration, stop in response to screams; walk up to the mike and drawl y'all like that? Similarly the Beatles on that same Gardens stage some 8 years after seemed as preoccupied with having fun, and joking as with their music; conveying not a whiff of sex real or pretended.
The sexual context that everyone by the 1970's had come to associate with rock and roll though obvious in the Midnighters 50's "Annie had a Baby" "Work for Me Annie" and "Annie's Aunt Fanny"express a factual, fatalistic dimension an everydayness not usually associated with lyrics of sexual fantasy, For in reality sex stripped of the pleasures of romance is work. The Midnighters tell us that "Annie had a baby Can't work no more" and "That's what happens when the gettin' gets good". For in real life there are consequences to pay for the good times that came to be associated with sex and rock and roll; here the baby, like "Annie's Aunt Fannie" comes between Annie and her lover's instinct to work. Unlike Ben's dad's depiction of the child produced by Ben's mindless sexual encounter in the 2007 movie "Knocked Up" as the best thing that could have happened, just as Ben was the best thing that happened to his father. For in 2007 sex is not work and an unplanned birth is not a restricter but an unforseen liberator.
This matter of factness was made palatable by the surprises and humour of early rock and roll, rhythm and blues that attracted so many young people. It was like taking the tinsel off the tree to see that it was the tree of life. My favourite Christmas pop tune is "White Christmas" by the Drifters from a time several years before I got on stage. Free of Crosby's predictablely melow baritone, it was sung in a falsetto so near the upper male range that it crackled then fell back to the almost comical limits of the bass singer's range, less refined; less predictable than the traditional "White Christmas" that Bing Crosby used to croon; yet it opened to a surprisingly bigger and brighter vista.
For years my awareness of the R&B sound that preceded and inspired my first efforts at drumming caused me to overlook the undercurrent of country sometimes disguised as rockabilly always waiting in the wings long after Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins accompanied the blues in the birth of Rock and Roll. And for me Perkins' greatest tune was Matchbox. The tune's self deprecating lyrics highlight the humble background of many early rock and rollers who preceded the heroic "rock star" and political power of "the boss". But Matchbox's unique rhythmic sound is what won't go away, its non stop rolling guitar shuffle-strumming,akin to the blues' elementary chord sequence that almost hides the drum off beats, shuffling with the full handed boogie woogie piano. I'm now certain that the Hawks newly arriving from the U.S. south sounded something like this, especially their guitar solos, solos that seemed to echo the structural simplicity of the ones Perkins used to play. Though I've heard that both he and Elvis were contracted to Sun records, it's been rumored that he was expected to supersede Elvis with his cheerful a-sexual style, happily stepping about while playing his own guitar solos on a solid-bodied guitar. And the solos on both his 50's performance and in the later one with trumpet and sax sound exactly like they sounded when I started drumming, and when I first heard the Hawks some years later.
"Matchbox", Carl Perkins early in 1950's The image and sound of acoustic bass, rhythm guitar and drums with 4 bass drum beats to the bar make a sound typical of what one heard in the early days of rock and Roll. This performance, unlike the later sax-trumpet version and today's electrified pop performances, seems to have a counterpoint-like audible depth permitting each instrument to be listened to separately.
"Matchbox" Carl Perkins, caption says 1958, late 1950's Here sax and trumpet are added; electric bass resembling a guitar replaces the more picturesque acoustic dog house bass with its player holding it in a kind of wrestling embrace requiring strength and the kind of stretching flexibility to slap its thick strings along its frettless neck.The boom-slap pulse of that big hollow chunk of wood could always be heard. Presley's instrumentation was just like that in Perkins' early Matchbox performance. In "Heart Break Hotel" the persistent walking bass holds the simple chordal blues progression solos together . As the guitar and piano take turns with the guitar's chordal soloing they seem to create a choral echo of the tune and each other.
Bopin' The Blues, Carl Perkins
The Perkins late 50's "Matchbox" performance introduced by an MC seems connected to a series of Perkins performances (the links have shifted;I've lost the performance with the MC's introduction; if I relocate it,it may shift again, sorry). That MC introduces one of those performances by describing Perkins' group as having been be bopping down south for some time. So the term "be bop" associated with ethereal progressive jazz must have been absorbed by or even originated with the earthier style of down home country music with a beat, rock-a-billy. Hence Gene Vincent's "Be Bop-a- Lu-La". Just below the Perkins video is a file of Gene Vincent, whose sound seemed similar to Perkins' and which I experienced in person at the Casino theater not long after Johnny Ray of "Cry" fame. That was before I played drums. The Casino theater has been replaced by a grim, hulking hotel across from Toronto's newer city hall on Queen Street, down from the no-longer-there, Shay's theater where Elvis first movie, " Love Me Tender", got its Toronto debut. And of course, Elvis appears in the distance pushing a plow in keeping with those early rock/ rockabilly beginnings working the land down south, that Perkins shared.
Yet I am still trying to make sense of my seeing Elvis for the first time on television as a guest on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey show. By the time "Love Me Tender" was released everyone knew who Elvis was and had forgotten that he'd been introduced by a swing orchestra leader of a band whose uptown style was sophisticated compared to Elvis down home group of guitar acoustic dog-house bass and old fashioned upright piano. And I don't even know why I viewed that big swing band show then, a remnant of the fading past named after Tommy Dorsey whose name symbolized the tail end of a pop music era with names like Glen Miller, Sammy Kay, Harry James. Maybe that was what pop music was like back then. I remember my old Ralph Marterie 10 inch "Dancing On The Downbeat" record released in 1953. I remember the jacket notes said something like those on the 'Rock'n Roll' Red Prysock record jacket confirming the fact that music with a "beat" was attracting college kids just as the hard swinging Prysock sax whose explosive beat is identified as the Rock and Roll that kids are dancing to from Hoboken to Main. But Marterie's and Prysock's orchestras with their varied instrument sections resembled the Dorseys' big bands and not the simple rhythm section-like group of guitar bass drums and piano that accompanied Presley and Perkins. But back then those distinctions were not an issue; I guess because we were used to seeing big swing bands backing Rhythm an Blues stars like Frankie Lymon and the teenagers; and George Lorenz', The Hound's theme. "The Big Heavy", recorded by Onzy Mathews' orchestra was about as R&Rolly/R&Bluesy as you could get. Still what did I know; at the time of the Dorsey show and the Gene Vincent Casino performance: I had no idea I'd play drums, and even though I had for about three years been listening to rhythm and blues records, maybe my trumpet playing and that old Harry James trumpet method book I used to practise with and the sheet music I bought so that I could trumpet "Cherry Pink and Apple Blosom White" like Prez Prado's mambo kept me in touch with that fading dance hall style of the previous pop era. Or maybe it was the musical eclecticism that pored out of the radio during the early 50's: big band swing, fox trots and mambos, semi classical songs, country tunes, but no rhythm and blues.
So when I first saw Elvis the only way I could identify his music, utterly unlike the Dorseys' "up town" swing, was by categorizing his performance as country with country's plaintive "down home" guitar pickin' and strummin' twang. It's taken me years to understand that Elvis Presley, humanity's most influential rock and roller, was in fact also a country performer who seems to have been a regular on that weekly country music show, country music's home, The Grand Old Opry. And in his very first movie, Love Me Tender, Elvis slowly plods into focus out of a distant field pushing a plow to his audience's excited shrieks. When Max Falcon's band played Flint Michigan, I remember that the bar's clientele used to call him the hill billy. I used to think it strange that a Canadian from New Brunswick via Toronto could appear a hill billy to an American audience. But Max imitated the antics of Ronnie Hawkins who used to say almost as frequently as "racket tine"; they took us from the hills and put us on the pills; and less frequently but maybe more significantly, Elvis showed us all the way.
Country finally "came into its own"; though it was always there when Ray Charles gave it a legitimacy for people, like me maybe, who weren't country fans. Toward the mid 60's Charles' "Born To Lose" and other country hits performed in his soulful style and in the less soulful performances of Roy Orboson for a time masked our first Rhythm and Blues musical motivation; though I should have been aware that country- pop hits had existed since before I began playing, and that country had permeated Elvis' early style in tunes like, "Mystery Train" and "Milk Cow Boogie Blues", and by his regular appearances on the Grand Old Opry. What further demonstrates the closeness of blues' and country's Rock and Roll/Rhythm and Blues relationship is that those Elvis tunes were written by blues singers Junior Parker and Kokomo Arnold. Though I've always been aware of Elvis' influence on my urge to get on stage, I'd never thought that country was part of what I and The Consuls were playing. I've only recently come to realize that our guitarist Gene MacCellan's style of singing and playing were imbued with a country-folk like character which his daughter, Catherine MacLellan continues online.
Once our early Toronto groups abandoned our local halls and auditoria the style of Ronnie Hawkins and his Hawks seemed to reignite that old country/rockabilly element that some of us had ignored in our neighbourhood onstage forays. The Hawk's peculiar style, at least peculiar to me when I first heard the band's U.S. originated musicians on Yonge Street, was formed by its rhythm, a kind of gallop that accelerated at the height of every instrumental solo as Ron got beside the acoustic piano to krank it up like a giant music box as Will Pop Jones sped along with Levon on the other percussion instrument, the drums, and its galloping fills on a padded snare like a horse out of a barn accelarating in a kind of rising robato (without tempo) unexpectedly reigned in by the tune's usual tempo as though the snare drum fills surging beyond control were recaptured and forced to return. That sound, that style was exactly like the sound Jerry Lee Lewis made in Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'. The snare is padded; its fills gallop almost a-tempo as the acoustic piano rides along almost conspiring with the drums to rip the tempo beyond its boogy bass rhythm. And that's the sound I heard before I played drums when I saw the Blue Bops, with Smitty playing that whispering Levon Helm-like galloping snare on Queen Street above a store east of Dufferin Street right here in Toronto before I knew there was a Le C'oq D'Or or a Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks.
Whole Lotta Shakin' Jerry Lee Lewis"
Since You've Gone, Ferlin Husky, (I remember this one from probably before I played drums; country was an important ingredient in the early pop Rock, R and B, Rockabilly puzzle: I think Elvis, and Bill Halley contributed some of the country elements.
Searchin, The Coasters
In The Still of The Night,The Coasters
Be My Baby, The Ronettes next: "The Suedes"
My Yonge Street Stories