Sunday 20 June 2010

David Anthony: A rock book to Rave On about

CairnsBlog music reviewer, David Anthony writes that Dick Stewart’s rock book, Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll is to rave on about.

SUBTITLED Historic Contributions by Artists You Never Heard Of, rock musician/journalist Dick Stewart’s new book is my kind of read - and it should be all lovers of rock'n'roll.

Not only is it concerned with the golden era of rock, Eleven Unsung Heroes opens the vaults of history and retrieves authentic pioneers from that wonderful era.

While you may not have heard of the likes of Jack Ely, Keith McCormack, Sonny Curtis, Sonny West or Larry Knechtel, you will know the music where their creative contribution was significant.

If the titles of such old hits of the 1960s like “Louie Louie”, “Sugar Shack”, “Wheels” and “I Fought the Law” don’t immediately ring a bell, check them out on YouTube. You will know them when you hear them.

Perhaps the best known of the “Unsung Heroes” of the title is the King of the Fuzz Guiar, Davie Allan, who I have written about previously. A virtually anonymous session musician for Mike Curb’s record labels in the 1960s, Davie’s influential soundtrack for Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels set the standard for cycle cinema despite the fact he didn’t get an on-screen credit.

The film’s instrumental theme, “Blues Theme”, was a huge hit for Davie and his music was a mainstay on several iconic films of that time such as Wild in the Streets, The Glory Stompers and Devil’s Angels.

Influential rock producer Curb’s surname suits him for his has curbed Davie’s career for the best part of the past 50 years. Stewart acknowledges this, but tries to see things Curb’s way: “Curb was and still is a very busy man. And, like all record producers of note past and present who agonise over the very short life span of their product, he has focused from the very beginning of his career on projects that he feels best serves his needs monetarily, no matter how it might make others feel.”

Despite the setbacks, Davie is going strong with concerts and recordings to this day, most recently Retrophonic, and some of his ’60s tracks are used in Quentin Tarantino’s recent pictures.

Jack Ely from Portland, Oregon, the “home of frat rock” (think National Lampoon’s Animal House), was one of the original Kingsmen.

The band’s cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie”, featuring what Stewart describes as Ely’s controversial unintelligible vocalisation”, was a sensation. A huge hit, its cult status was enhanced when fans tried to comprehend the lyrics and imagined there was swearing and smut going on. Even the FBI investigated the lyrics during, one imagines, a brief lull in the Cold War.

Check out YouTube for a fairly accurate transcription of the songs nonsensical words.

Guitarist/singer Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly’s The Crickets wrote the Bobby Fuller Four hit, “I Fought the Law”, the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back” and, in the 1970s, the theme for the popular TV series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Jimmy Torres, a member of the almost forgotten guitar band, the String-A-Longs. Legendary record producer Norman Petty gave the band its awful name, but they were hitmakers in the 1960s, especially “Wheels” which is now a standard.

Singer/songwriter Robert Kelly, who wrote songs for Gene Vincent, performed between the strip acts at Jack Ruby’s nightclubs in Dallas. (Jack Ruby? Yes, Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer).

“He (Ruby) was a bisexual,” Kelly tells Stewart, “so he would bring the strippers from the nightclub so all the guys would come around, and then he would hit on them.”

Sonny West co-wrote “Rave On” and “Oh Boy!” for himself, but they become classics for Buddy Holly. Guitarists George Tomsco and Keith McCormack were members of the Fireballs, an early surf guitar band.

They hated the catchy riff producer Norman Petty added to “Sugar Shack” and thought the song would fail, but today it’s the riff we remember so well.

An interesting addition to the “Unsung Eleven” is country and western musician and music salesman Clyde Hankins who didn’t especially like rock’n’roll. He nurtured such talents as Buddy Holly and Sonny Curtis and probably sold Holly his first Fender Stratocaster.

Los Angeles keyboardist Larry Knechtel was a prolific session musician throughout the 1950s to the 1970s recording with Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Ventures, Simon and Garfunkel (on “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”), Nancy Sinatra, Jerry Garcia, Sting, the Dixie Chicks and many more.

If you ever meet this bloke, you will only be about two degrees from just about every rock star in America. Rounding out the book is Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ drummer Carl Bunch.

Eleven Unsung Heroes is the kind of book that will dog-ear quickly. I keep it handy when I surf through YouTube reacquainting myself with great old rock songs and discovering ones I didn’t know about.

It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, you can order a first edition copy of Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll from Dick Stewart’s website for the bargain price $25.

Not only that, Dick will personally sign it for you. Get rockin’ for a piece of unforgettable music history.

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