16 October 2014

Who Was The First Rock and Roll Band Ever?

alan lomax photo: Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook g04675h3au91.jpgIn the summer of 1941 Alan Lomax went to the Mississippi Delta searching for a ghost. When he came upon an old man in worn out clothes and a moth-bitten hat, he asked the man if he knew the whereabouts of the Blues man Robert Johnson. Johnson, a notorious womanizer, had been known to use his guitar and music to woo women. In fact it was said that he had made a deal with the devil so that he could play his guitar so well. Lomax, a historian on a mission to put together an archive of unknown American blues and folk musicians, had spent years traveling the country making field recordings, traveling back roads, dirt roads, searching shot gun shacks. The old man informed Lomax that Johnson was dead, poisoned by a jealous husband, but that there was a 19 year old cotton picker that went by the name of Muddy Waters who sounded just like Robert Johnson. He could be found at Stovall's Plantation on up the road a spell.  Lomax thanked the man, loaded his stuff back in his automobile and headed for the cotton fields. It was there that he found Muddy and had him play into his recording machine. As Lomax played his song back to him, it struck Muddy. This was his future.

When World War II came, millions of young American men left their manufacturing jobs in the cities to go off and fight Hitler. This left gaping manpower shortages in urban factories in cities like St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago. Black men from the Mississippi delta, who had spent their entire lives shackled by the machinations of southern manual labor, traveled north to fill these jobs. Muddy Waters was among these men. He made his way to Chicago and found city work, but when the war ended, he found something else. As the white soldiers returned to sweet home Chicago they saw that their city was now populated with black folks. In the more ethnic neighborhoods, it wasn't so evident and the soldiers returning to those areas stayed. But thousands more decided to take advantage of their G.I. benefits and start fresh, new lives in the bright, clean suburbs – it was called “white flight”. In the urban decay that they left behind, Muddy Waters and dozens of black blues players from the south, lived worked, ate, drank and created an American monster. It was Rock and Roll.
maxwell street chicago photo: sweet home chicago sweethomechicago.jpgOn a overcast, chilly day in March of 1948 a musician, whose name has been lost to history, canceled his recording session with Leonard Chess. Chess ran a fledgling record label in Chicago called Arista. Chess had never heard Muddy Waters, but on the advice of his scout Sammy Goldberg, Leonard sent word to bring Muddy in to record some songs. Muddy was at work, on a delivery truck somewhere, anywhere, bouncing among the city streets but when word got to his cousin, his cousin found a car and began racing all across the city to find Muddy. Eventually the cousin's zig met Muddy's zag and Muddy got the news. Muddy put in a call to his boss, the white man who owned the deliver truck and he made up an excuse. Muddy told his boss that his cousin had been hit by a truck and was dead. With that Muddy raced off to Chess Studios where he recorded “Feel Like Going Home” and “I Can't Be Satisfied”, two songs he had also recorded for Alan Lomax over a half decade earlier back at the Mississippi Delta. There was one big difference though: electricity. Electric Muddy was Rock and Roll. Putting the Delta Blues to urbanized electric guitar, that was the conception of Rock and Roll. The electric guitar came in fast and furious like a hyper-natural sperm coming to fertilize the egg that was the Delta Blues. 

On the day after it was released, the original pressing of “I Can't Be Satisfied,” immediately sold out. Leonard Chess had to print up more copies and send them out. These also sold out. Soon the single reached the Billboard Top 20 and overnight Arista, a little ma and pa operation, was transformed. Arista would became Chess Records, the label that came to define the down-home electric blues of Chicago's south side. The label that documented the birth of a new sound, “The sound of the dives – a sound that evolved from the Delta Blues, that picked up the steely jump of the city as it moved north, the rattle of street corners and stoops, the slaughter yards, the loading docks, the assembly lines.”*

bo didley photo: Bo Didley BoDidley.jpgIt was the sound that would years later spawn the Rolling Stones, who named their band after Muddy Water's song "Rollin Stone", and whose most recognizable song, “I can't get no satisfaction” was a reworking of Muddy's “I can't be Satisfied.” The Rolling Stones would form a decade after “I Can't Be Satisfied” was recorded when Keith Richards accidentally bumped into Mick Jagger and noticed he had a stack of Chess Records under his arm. When Keith, awed by Mick's records, explained how much he dug the Chess Sound as well, one of the most prolific partnerships in Rock history was sparked. Many of the Stone's original recordings were remakes of the early Chess records, many of which were by Chess's house writer/bass player Willie Dixon. Years later when the Stones finally made it to America (1965) they booked time and recorded several songs at Chess Studio, including the song “2120 South Michigan Ave” the title of which was the address for the famed building in Chicago that housed Chess Records. While the Chess sound went on to spawn the Rolling Stones, it would also provide the mojo for nearly every Rock guitarist who created the Rock landscape of the 60s and 70s. Jimi Hendrix, who was just a small boy at the time that “I Can't Be Satisfied” came out often told folks that Muddy Waters was the first guitarist he was ever aware of. He “scared me to death,” Hendrix explained. The Chess sound also spawned the British Blues that was spearheaded by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. It would inform nearly everything they and every other blues-based guitarist of the Classic Rock era. Even David Bowie, who named his first rock band The Mannish Boys, after the song by Muddy Waters, was influenced by the Chess Sound.
Not long after Muddy's fateful first recording with Leonard Chess on Chicago's south side, Muddy formed the first Rock and Roll band in history. The band came together on Maxwell Street and included 25 year old Jimmy Rogers – who would play rhythm guitar with Muddy through thick and thin over the next 20 plus years – and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Little Walter, the impresario of the amplified harmonica. Little Walter would give Rock and Roll an eeiry, bedeviled tone that would nearly scare the death out of white America of the 50s and 60s. Little Walter was just 16 years old when Jimmy Rogers introduced him to Muddy. The band was rounded out with Otis Spann on upright piano. Lenard Chess began recording Muddy's band in 1950. Cuts like “Honey Bee,”  "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and “She Moves Me” became local hits, then regional hits, then national hits, eventually even finding their way overseas, to port cities like Liverpool and London. In America, especially throughout the Midwest, where these songs took flight across late night air waves, up to the north country, where young Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing Minnesota heard them, and down south to Saint Louis, where young Chuck Berry heard them, the Chess sound was beginning to speak to something inside the souls of the American teenagers who heard it.

rolling stones chess records photo: The Best of Chess Records 61dQTJzAQiL__SS500_.jpgBy 1955 these sounds had so inspired the teenage Chuck Berry that he traveled up to Chicago to meet with his idol Muddy Waters and see how he could get in on this thing. Muddy sent the ambitious young man to Leonard Chess and Chess recorded Berry's “Maybellene”. To make sure that “Maybellene” hit it big, Chess gave half the writing credit to Alan Freed, the Cleveland disc jockey who first popularized the term Rock and Roll. “Maybellene” immediately became the biggest selling record Chess had ever had up to that point. At that same moment, a Chicago kid named Ellis McDaniel changed his name to Bo Didley, after a song he had written called “Bo Didley” which he recorded for Chess. “Bo Didley” became a huge hit as well. With “Bo Didley” and “Maybellene” Rock and Roll had finally climbed out of Chicago's Southside and made its self know to popular American culture.
Today, nearly 60 years later, at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, the building where Rock and Roll was cradled, there is a museum for Chess Records. Compared to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or the Museum in Seattle, it seems underrated. Chicago has never seemed to want to give itself too much credit for founding Rock and Roll. Cleveland's Alan Freed (who was on Chess's payroll) may have been the one to popularize the term “Rock and Roll” but Chess Records was where it was discovered, recorded and nurtured. Chess records continued to be run by Leonard Chess into the late 1960s until he sold the company to a communications corporation in 1969. Shortly afterward he had a heart attack and died. His son Marshall continued at the company, for a few years, but eventually Chess Records folded. The last song ever recorded for Chess Records was Chuck Berry's 1972 live recording of “My ding-a-ling” – a song about a black man's penis and perhaps the most fitting metaphor for Rock and Roll there ever was. Robert Johnson must have looked down from the heavens above and gave a little chuckle.
willie dixon photo: Willie Dixon WillieDixondesdeafuera.jpg

*From Rich Cohen's Machers and Rockers

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

28 August 2014

Johnny Unite Us?

three stooges photo: stooges stoogesux2-1.jpgOne of the strangest interpretations of a song lyric I've ever heard was that John Lennon's “Come Together” was all about Superbowl III.  The theory came from Harper, a middle-aged white guy who looked like an overwieght Larry from the Three Stooges.  Harper worked at a second-hand record store in my small hometown in Central Illinois.  I was perusing records there one day when he laid this theory on me.  He was a bit of Rock conspiracy theorists -- he got into stuff like the Paul is Dead theory and the Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Rainbow theory.  His theories were always entertaining and often informative and he liked to keep his source material at his side whenever he was explaining one of his bizarre theories.  In fact he had a large stack of books and magazines at his side as he explained his theory that“Come Together” was about Superbowl III. 

Timothy Leary photo: dr. timothy leary leary_1.jpgLike most Rock geeks, I had already known that “Come Together” had been written for Timothy Leary in his campaign to run against Ronald Reagan for the office of California Governor in the late 1960s.

“Yes, initially it was, but look here,” Harper said, handing over an article that explained Leary and Lennon had not been in communication with each other for awhile after Leary was sent to prison for possession of marijuana.  Lennon kept the song, continuing to work with it and it took a different direction.  “The lyrics were written during the spring of 1969, shortly after Joe Namath had won the Superbowl for the Jets.”

“Okay?” I said cautiously, not seeing the connection.

Harper was one of these “read between the lines” thinkers.  Everything that existed had some tangential connection to something bigger, you just had to look under the surface.  His mind was always racing to figure these connections out.

“Okay, look at the lyrics,” he said as though he was a lawyer making his opening statements.  “It starts out with 'Here come old flat top' which is a reference to Johnny Unitas, the quarterback that Nameth beat in Superbowl III.  Unitas was famous for his flat top hair cut.”

I nodded, like I was mulling this possibility over in my mind, as I recalled an episode from The Simpsons where Grandpa Simpson described Johnny Unitas's hair cut as a "hair cut you can set your watch to".
johnny unitas photo: Johnny Unitas 10.jpg  
Harper continued going over the lyrics, “He come groovin up slowly, he got juju eyeball, he one holy roller.  Ju ju eyeball was 60s slang for 'television' and Superbowl III was one of the biggest TV events ever at that time, it had more viewers than the moon landing, just a few months later.  Everyone was watching it after Nameth made his famous guarantee that his team was going to win.” 

Again Harper pulled out an article, this time from a Sports magazine that gave a summary of Superbowl III.  An estimated 50 million people had watched the game (an astronomical market share of 71). The cost of a 30 second commericial went for an outrageous (for that time) $55,000.

“What about holy roller?” I asked, encouraging him.

“Holy Roller is Johny Unitas's coach, Don Shula,” he declared.  “You were too young to remember this, but the media had a field day with Namath's antics, playing the young brash QB against the stiff-upper lip conservative Shula, who was well-known as being very religious.  It was reported that he attended mass every morning and that he had considered becoming a Catholic priest, but was directed by God to become a football coach instead.”

Harper was just getting into his groove.  For arguments sake I decided to concede these points to him, but I still hadn't heard anything to convince me.  “Okay, okay, what else do you have?”

Harper went back to the lyrics, “He got hair down to his knee, this is obviously about Namath who was not only known for his long hair, but he also famously wore full-length fur coats on the sidelines, that came down to his knees. And the use of the word knees, has a double meaning concerning Nameth, because Namath's knee was a huge part of his whole story since he had suffered a serious knee injury in his senior year in college that caused him to drop down in the NFL draft.  Every conversation about how well Nameth was going to play always revolved around his bad knees.” 
joe namath photo: Joe Namath tumblr_mf51pqkOhn1qbuy6oo1_1280.jpg

Harper then stopped to look down at the lyric sheet he had in front of him. “Got to be a joker he just do what he please, obviously about Nameth,” Harper added, holding his hands out to his side, and shrugging to emphasize how obvious that line is. 

As Harper ran through the lyrics, he found some connection between each line in the song that related to Superbowl III. The lyric “He wear no shoeshine he got toe jam football” referred to how Namath stood out from other pro players by wearing low-cut white shoes rather than traditional black high-tops.  Harper pointed out that Namath’s shoe wear was deemed so outrageous that it led to the NFL instituting fines for players not wearing shoes that match those of their teammates.  As a response, the entire NFL eventually switched to Namath-styled white shoes.  This controversy led to Nameth getting tagged nickname Joe Willie Whiteshoes.  After that Harper went on to explain that the lyric “Got feet down below his knees - Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease,” was about Nameth's bad knee again and how it had been the talk of all the armchair quarterbacks .  Also, the term 'armchair quarterback' was, according to Harper, a new term that became popularized for the first time during that Superbowl.  It would have been an especially interesting term for Lennon, who was well known for picking up on new and interesting idioms. 

mark david chapman photo:  johnmark.jpgI imagined Harper did a lot of drugs in the Sixties.  I imagine like Charles Manson and like the “Paul is Dead” believers and like Mark David Chapman, he thought Lennon and the Beatles were beaming out subliminal messages through their lyrics.  Still, every time I hear "Come Together" I think of Harper's theory and I even listen for clues to support it - even though I don't believe it.  Although, one and one and one is three... as in Superbowl III?

15 December 2011

The day that disco died

Disco Rock

At the 21st Grammy Awards in 1979, Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Soundtrack) was named Album of the Year.  The album's featured group, the Bee Gees, received the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. By the end of 1979, the disco industry was estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, that meant that it was generating more money than the movie industry, television or professional sports. It was so big that The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added Disco as its own category for the 22nd Grammy Awards. Nominated works for the award included "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? by Rod Stewart, and "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer.

An anti-disco sentiment had been building for sometime however.  By early '79 this sentiment was witnessed in the "disco sucks" and "death to disco" T-shirts and graffiti seen around the towns and cities of the USA.  Rock fans were particularly fed up with watching one "Rock" act after another fall to Disco's influence, from the Rolling Stones to Rod Stewart to David Bowie to Kiss

The anti-Disco movement hit critical mass on the night of July 12, 1979 (just weeks after Newsweek had declared that Disco had "taken over" the music industry) when a promotional event called Disco Demolition Night was held at Chicago's Comiskey Park.  It took place during the intermission of a  double header where a young local radio disc jockey named Steve Dahl set ablaze a bin full of disco records and thereby ignited complete mayhem. The Chicago Police were called in with riot gear as 50,000 rioters took over the field, the ball park and an entire city block, forcing the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of the double header.  An excellent discription of the Disco Demolition at Comisky Park is given in Josh Wilker's book Cardboard Gods, where he writes:

That night, in Chicago, the sky had rained flat black discs and lit M-80s. By the late innings, the visiting Detroit Tigers outfielders were wearing batting helmets in the outfield. A vendor reported selling forty-nine cases of beer, more than double the number he’d sold on any single night in his many years on the job. Smoldering bongs were passed from hand to hand like change for a hot dog, giant glossy airplanes made of promotional posters featuring a sultry blonde model known only as Lorelei swooped and dove amid the hail of explosives and Frisbeed LPs and 45s, and inebriated throngs in the parking lot jumped up and down on cars and set fire to white-suited John Travolta dolls and searched for illegal entry into the slightly more focused mayhem inside the packed stadium. As game one of the scheduled doubleheader progressed, this search gained urgency, for between games a local 24-year-old disc jocky named Steve Dahl and the aforementioned Lorelei were going to detonate a mountain of disco records.
Almost immediately after this detonation, a stream and then a gushing wave of longhaired attendees flowed onto the playing field…The revolution, the pointless, hysterical revolution, had come. Some lit bonfires in the outfield. Some wheeled the batting cage around like it was a stalled car that needed a running start. Some performed hook slides and headfirst Pete Rose plunges into where the bases would have been if they hadn’t already been ripped from the ground and stuffed between giggling rib cages and the fabric of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith T-shirts. More than one person reported seeing couples fornicating…”

The Disco Demolition garnered national headlines that seemed to unleash a backlash against Disco.  Public support for disco music faded alarmingly fast.  At the time of the Disco Demolition (July 21, 1979) the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs. By September 22, just two months later, there was not a single disco song in the U.S. Top 10 chart. Within months the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (that had just added Disco as it own category) reversed itself and eliminated the award category all together. Disco was officially pronounced dead and July 12, 1979 has forever since been known as "the day disco died".

30 April 2010

What Elton John song were you listening to when you realized he was a homo?

PhotobucketThe question seemed strange.  It came from a young girl I had a crush on (who we will just call Betty) while sitting on her couch watching Mtv--circa mid 1983.  The video on the screen was called something like “I guess that’s why they call them the blues”.  I’m not going to go back and look up the video to verify the details, but I seem to recall that Elton was sashaying along a boardwalk somewhere, making strange gestures with his eyebrows and lip-synching lyrics like “…rolling like thunder, under the covers…” while dressed in a purple top hat and a cane, and I think there were feathers involved in there somehow also.

I was 14 years old at that time and, as strange as it may seem, I didn’t fully know what being a homosexual entailed.  All I knew was that calling someone a “faggot” was the worst insult possible—maybe even worse than being called a “nigger”.  At 14 years old, those were the only two insults that automatically provoked a fight. And actually, in the case of “nigger”, it only applied if you were black; and since I grew up in a very rural Midwestern small town where there was only one black family in the entire population (plus one kid who was of mixed race), that meant that “faggot” was really the sole trigger call for automatic fisticuffs. Dickhead was acceptable, Stupid Asshole was fine, even Dirty Motherfucker wouldn’t necessitate a fight. But Faggot?  That was it: the shit was on. 

Needless to say my idea of what a homosexual was at that time was somewhat undeveloped, so when Betty asked me that question and it first dawned on me that Elton was a stick-eater, I kinda panicked.  The timing of this possibility couldn't have been worse.  I mean what the fuck was happening to the Rock Gods of my youth?  John Lennon had been gunned down on the streets of New York.  Bob Dylan had become a bible-thumping Jesus freak. Neil Young was making electronic music and being sued for it. And now Elton John was a homosexual?  Seriously, what was next? A god-damned family TV show starring Ozzy Osbourne? This just could NOT be happening. There must be some kind of mistake.  After all, I had grown up listening to, singing to, and *gasp* even dancing to Elton John songs.  How could he be gay? 

PhotobucketMaybe it was just some kind of mistake, I thought. Maybe I was falsely accusing Elton simply because his video seemed to be in line with the New Romantics (a fancy British term that meant “music for really, really gay people”) that was so in vogue at the time.  That must be it, some kind of mistake.  So that afternoon when I returned home I decided to do some research.  I gathered all of the Elton John records that had been in heavy rotation on my parents' turntables during the mid-to late 1970's and put them into a stack next to the stereo. Certainly the lyrics from those records would provide the answer, for there was one thing I knew about Elton John: he had a huge Beatles fixation. For example, Elton copied the idea of his fictional rock band “Bennie and the Jets” from the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", going as far as even editing canned audience applause into “Bennie and the Jets”, just like the Beatles had done on Sgt. Pepper’s.  Therefore if Elton was really gay then he would have put hidden messages in his songs—just as the Beatles had been known to do (and don’t dispute this—just ask Charlie Manson if you dont believe it).

So I began thumbing through my parent’s record collection, pulling out every Elton John album and single and given it a good hard look.  The very first one that I randomly plopped the needle onto and began listening to was "Rocketman":

"I’m not the man they think I am at all…" (Roh-roh Shaggy).

"Oh no, no, no, I’m a “rocket man". ....

Rocketman? What the hell was a Rocketman? That’s when it dawned on me. A rocket, of course, is a classic phallic symbol. Elton is telling us that he's a rocket man. In other words, he's a penis man. Just like some guys consider themselves to be a leg man or a titty man or an ass man, Elton is a Penis man. He prefers penis. And where is it that Rockets go? To the moon, of course. And the moon is an obvious reference to the butt. So the entire song is one big homoerotic musical fantasy, detailing how Elton wants his butt to be probed by a space-penis-rocket-ship. This realization made me a bit sick to my stomach and then I started thinking of "Benny and the Jets" again, for a jet was just as phallic shaped as a rocket. The jets, in other words were penises.

I decided to lift the needle again, and my next random selection landed on a nice slow love ballad about..."Daniel"...a dude! The lyrics were revealing:

"I can see Daniel arriving tonight on a plane..."
(Oh Christ, wasn't there a single song of Elton's that didnt conjure up airbound phallic-shaped projectiles?!?)

"Lord, it looks like Daniel, must be a cloud in my eye... " (A penis-shaped cloud I bet). 

Next I scooped up several of the Elton John 45s my parents had and began dropping the neddle on them.  The first lyric I heard was:

"Don't let the sun go down on me!"

No, I quickly replaced that and heard:

"Philadephia freedom took me knee-high to a man!"

Knee-high to a man.  This was too obvious. It was too much...Dazed and confused, I noticed a 45 that my mother bought in the early 80s, a tribute Elton had done to John Lennon called "Empty Garden". Certainly this couldn't have any secret homosexual-coded messages in it, could it?  But halfway through the song I realized that Elton's obsession with John Lennon had huge homoerotic undertones. The garden, after all, is a common metaphor for the vagina; but Elton, of course, doesn't have a vagina. He has an "empty garden"-- in other words...a mangina...in other words, his ASSHOLE!!!  So basically, Elton is singing to a dead John Lennon, "Won't you come out and play in my butthole, Johnny..." 
Oh God, I felt as if I was going to be sick.  Yet I still forced myself to find just one shred of proof that this was all just in my imagination. So I pulled out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in which the title track once again referenced the phallic-shapped projectile motif:

What do you think you'll do then, I bet that'll shoot down your plane

But then there was also this:

Back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad...

What the fuck, right?  But then, get this:

You can't lock me in your penthouse, I'm going back to my plow...

Howling owls hunting horny toads in the woods?  Locking people up in a penthouse? What kind of perverted shit is this sickfuck into???  And by 'going back to his plow' ofcourse he meant penis.  In otherwords, he's going back to a penis.  

By this point I had had enough. The evidence was overwhelming. Every Elton John song I listened to was nothing short of perverted homosexual propaganda cloaked in Soft Rock melodic stylings. How could Elton spread such gayness to the youth of America?

PhotobucketMy curiousity for an explanation led me to the liner notes.  My first clue was that the actual song lyrics were not written by Elton, but by some guy named Bernie Taupin. That meant there were two of them! Suddenly this was all something more sinister. It was a full on homosexual conspiracy. The panic was starting to set in and an urgent need to go take a shower and cleanse myself of all the homo-ness that I had just been exposed to built inside of me. And the scariest part of this conspiracy was that I had been a victim of it. I mean, if I was listening to, and singing to these songs throughout my youth, then what did that say about me? I had even danced to these songs—and as every 14 year old will tell you, dancing is the closest thing you can do to sex, without actually having sex. So did this mean that I might be gay, too? Had these subliminal homoerotic/phallic symbols from Elton and Bernie's perverted imaginations brainwashed me into being a homo? Did I now have hidden homo-urges bubbling down in the deepest recess of my adolescent psyche? 

I vowed there and then to never listen to another Elton John song as long as I lived.  This vow became severely tested however when a few years later Princess Diana was killed and it became virtually impossible to turn on a TV or radio without hearing Elton's “Candle in the Wind” every five minutes. And every time this song came on, instead of thinking of Princess Di, all I could see was Elton John’s little candle (penis) dangling in the wind as he sashayed a boardwalk somewhere on that purple-pink landscape from the “I guess that’s why the call them the blues” video.  So to further distance myself from all of the Elton John homo-ness I decided I would only listen to the most masculine, non-homo Rock I could find. That ofcourse meant large doeses of heavy metal ala Freddy Mercury's Queen and Rob Halford' Judas Priest. Certainly that would rid me of all the homo-ness. And thus began my Summer of 1983 Hair Metal phase... * 

*Ironically, not long after my short-lived Summer of '83 Hair Metal phase Elton (perhaps realizing that the Betty's of America were catching on to his gayness) went out and got married to a female.  The marrage didn't last of course and by the late 80s anyone who didn't realize that Elton was in fairy land had to be deaf and blind and Republican.

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: ED WAGEMANN
©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

The Worst Mustaches In Rock History

The mustache plays an important role in Rock History. In fact the mustache was so integral to mid 1970s Guitar Rock that the genre was at times referred to as Mustache Rock (mostly just by hipsters though). When done right the mustache serves a purpose that goes far beyond simply keeping the upper lip warm. The mustache is able to make a statement. What kind of statement, you ask? How about this kind of statement:

...or this:
Or even this kind of statement (known as the French Tickler):

Or this (one ming AND one french tickler all in ONE band):

But inevitably there would be "those" who got it all wrong. Here are some of "those" and their sorted stories:

Exhibit A:

Prince played guitar leads that would have made any lead axeman in any 80s Hair Metal band proud. He also was very short, and short men naturally have a Napoleon complex and therefore must compensate by displaying their manhood in the form of facial hair. His first attempt was the ever-famous 'chocolate milk mustache' or just simply the 'chocolate milk'. This didn't last long, and by the early 80's, when Prince inherited the wardrobe from The 1976 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, he also streamlined his mustache into an elegant, pencil-thin, Little Richardesque piece which began referring to itself as the "mustache formerly known as the Chocolate Milk".

Exhibit B:
This one really needs no explanation. The classic "porno stache" that was all the rage among every Debbie Does Dallas Porno-star-wannabe of the late 70s. Perhaps the only time in the history of Western Civilizaton that this stache could have been taken seriously was the late 70s/early 80s. But when sported along with the 'Brady Bunch fancy-boy perm' and 'jazz hands', you have a walking, breathing, living douchebag.

Exhibit C:
Q: What do you do when you are an internationally famous singer-songwriter at the peak of your skill living during the long-hair 70s, but rapidly going bald as the nation turns their lonely eyes toward you? A: You grow a mustache. Actually, first you try hiding the baldness by wearing hoodies, cowboy hats or ballcaps. Eventually, you get so desperate to see hair growing somewhere on your head that you embrace the mustache. Simon decides to go with the "fluffer". Not quite as blatant as the Porno stache, but equally ridiculous. But by the late mid 80's, Simon saw the error of his ways and axed the stache, got a hair transplant, then married Edie Brickell (religion, is a smile on a dog...).

Exhibit D:
Known as the she-ming or the FeMing, the female "Ming" is one of the hardest staches to pull off (particularly for non-Hispanic womyn). If anyone could pull it off, it would have been the punk pioneer Patti Smith. But after rubbing our noses into her hairy, unkempt armpits all throughout the 70's, some see the mustache as a bit too much...follicle overkill. As we all know, the reason woman rockers grow 'staches or beards or let their armpit hair go, is to give a visual ''tease" to male audience members, as if to say, "Look, this is basically what the hair of my vagina is gonna look like--are you turned on?" Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

Exhibit E:

Known as the 'walrus' (sometimes also called the Wilfred Brimley) this stashe is uncommonly popular among recovering drug addicts whose best years are obviously a distant memory in the rear view mirror. This mustache says "I'm the kind of guy you would have liked smoking a doobie with and getting a little 'weird' with back in the day." It was first popularized after Dennis Hopper famously unveiled it in his portrayal of a free wheelin' hippie sidekick in his film masterpiece Easy Rider

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: Ed Wagemann

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Signature Rock Poses: The Frontman

Welcome to installment 3 of our five part series on "How To Be In a Tribute Band without having to mortgage your home". Today we look at the frontman -- the lead singer, and the signature Rock poses that he (or she...but mostly he) has to master in order to succeed.
One of the most important and often overlooked posing opportunities for any lead singer comes during that so-called 'downtime' when the frontman is not the focus of attention. It could be during a bass solo, or an intricate 3 part instrumental jam that the other band members insist on wallowing in for 5 to 10 minutes. But when that downtime comes, as a frontman you must be prepared.

So, how do you handle this? Do you shuffle off to the side and twiddle your thumbs? Hell, no. There are a myriad of ways to subtly give the audience a little eye candy (or in the case of David Lee Roth, actually steal the limelight) during these 'musical' moments.
Take for instance, Mick Jagger. Pretty much a total wanker, yet Rock fans pay hundreds of dollars to crowd together in sweaty, smelly, 20,000 seat arenas just to watch this 60 year old walking marvel of plastic surgery (who hasn't written a half decent tune since the Carter Administration) strut around like a rooster set loose in a hen house while Keith Richards stumbles over a guitar solo as if he were trying to climb a coconut tree. Why would any Rock fan do this? Mostly because they are idiots, but also because of the eye candy Rooster strut (and a few other reasons that I'll save for another time).

Fortunately for Mick, the Stones' guitar solos are basically short and sweet, but what do you do if you are in a Led Zep cover band and your Jimmy Page-wannabe is making a career out of the 'Dazed and Confused' solo? That's when you go to the tapes and study the master (Robert Plant) himself-- and you just 'groove, man'. Close your eyes, throw your head back, sway your hips, and throw in a few moaning, sexual, orgasm-ish sounds. It also doesnt hurt to have long, luscious, flowing, golden locks and an armadillo in your trousers as well...

You looked, didn't you? (freaking weirdo) Anyway, neither Mick's nor Plant's tactics are really that difficult to master, but if you are really lucky you will find yourself in a Ramones tribute band. The Ramones decided to bypass this entire guitar solo bullshit and blast out two-minute thrash-fests in which Joey barely had time to catch his breath and part his hair between choruses.
But even then, Joey had to rely on what all frontmen secretly need, and that's a good prop. Something they can fondle or twirl or rub their crotch against while the rest of the band is jamming away. Joey had his hair and his sunglasses. But other singers need bigger props. Roger Daltrey, for instance, was famous for his microphone twirl.
Axl Rose, of course, was known for using his mic stand to gyrate against. Elvis used a prop guitar to accentuate his pelvic liberations. Steven Tyler needed Gypsy scarves. David Johansen used 6 inch high heels. Alice Cooper used everything from snakes and straight jackets to electric chairs and guillotines. Then there was Gibby Haynes, who used an assortment of props (including a live nude female whose oil he would check right there on stage).
Let's also not forget Ian Anderson, who used his flute, which technically IS an instrument, but come on--its a fucking FLUTE! And what better classic frontman pose is there than the famous one-legged 'I gotta let one rip' flute-stance right before squeezing out a medieval flute solo?

But the all time master of the Rock pose had to be David Lee Roth. No frontman in the history of Rock ever had his work cut out for him more than Diamond Dave. Not only did he have to steal the limelight from a bass player who looked like an out of work plumber and whose guitar looked like a whiskey bottle, but he also had to outshine the Stravinsky of the stratocaster, the innovator of the axe, the Mammoth of the modded Marshall amp, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen himself.

But how exactly did David Lee accomplish this? Well, he actually used his entire body as a Prop. He studied martial arts and was an avid mountain climber. All of which came in handy when he'd be required to do his patented backward flips, or his head-cheerleader-esque "I've got spirit yes I do! I've got spirit how bout you!" high kicks, or his olympian somersaults and so on. And then, if that wasn't enough, he'd punctuate it all by fluffing his hair as if he were in a shampoo commercial or else holding his hands in front of his cock in a suggestive manner, as if he was offering it up for auction. All of which, by the way, makes Van Halen the most difficult band to tribute. There have been other physically active frontmen in Rock, guys like Anthony Keidis and Henry Rollins, but none of them really had the poses like Roth did. (Only Jim Morrison, who once whipped his wang out on stage just to see what it looked like in the spotlight, could possibly challenge Roth as the most commanding frontman in the history of Rock...but that's a debate for another day).

Since every frontman can't be a martial arts expert or whip out his wangdoodle on stage, there are other ways to compete with spotlight-stealing gunslingers who engage in gravity defying, high flying guitar leaps like this:

Or guitar smashes like this:

One thing you might do to steal the spotlight back is to bite the head off of live bats a la Ozzy.
Or stagedive into the crowd...

Or slice yourself up with razor blades...

Or maybe just throw your guitar player on your shoulders and go for a piggy back ride...

Or hell, why not just say fuck it all to hell, like Arthur Brown and go light your fucking head on fire (afterall the burns only last a few days but the memories last a lifetime)!
But for god sakes, whatever you do, Please don't burn off your penis--else you be doomed to a life as the frontman for an Emo/BritPop coverband, in which case you would have to learn the unfortunate 'little sister tattling on her big brother for blowing the head off her Barbie with a M-80, hands-tied-behind your back, deepthroat' mic sway, like this(tamborine optional):
Poor Freddy Mercury must be turning over in his grave...

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved