The Battle Of The Bands.
All my life I have listened to and enjoyed music. I saw “live,” just about all of the major artists of the seventies and eighties, however there is one thing which I have never been able to understand, the intellectualisation (my spell checker tells me that is not a word, never mind,) of various genres, styles or of vocal delivery, to me if it was something I liked, that was good enough.
When I was younger, there was a lot of talk about “modern” music being inferior to the music of earlier times, this mantra is now being repeated about “even more modern than that, music” which is in vogue right now.
This encouraged me to dig out my Guinness Book of Hit Records to check out this claim and I read a bit in my Encyclopaedia of Rock.
The first dispute which I came across, was not to do with whether music had deteriorated with the passing of time, it had more to do with who sang it better. The target at one time was none other than Elvis Presley versus Big Mama Thornton and their respective renditions of Hound Dog.
Well I could see no point in the comparison other than some sort of futile claim that only Black people could sing with feeling or “soul” however banal the song might be. The Presley version was in no way a copy of Big Mama and it introduced the world to the allegedly, first true Rock’n’Roll guitar solo.
Whether or not that be so, when the great Little Richard delivered his version of Hound Dog, he chose to present a Preslyised version, which was fantastic, but then he was a truly magnificent Black Rock’n’Roller who has been completely dismissed by the music snobs, who had no idea in which category he should be placed.
This denigration of White music and the obligatory lauding of Black music, appears to have been a huge distraction back in the day, whether it was Jazz, the Blues, Soul or whatever else was in vogue, while original White music was dismissed as trite or indeed a feeble copy of the Black original.
A careful study of the “Hit” music of the late 50’s and early 60’s illustrates the apparent acceptance of all sorts of music as being Rock’n’Roll, whatever commercial category in which they may be found these days. So top hits like Sea of Heartbreak, or Cathy’s Clown, which were in fact what is now referred to as Country Rock or maybe Alt Country and not as plain Country and Western, which they were, could be enjoyed for what they were, great songs. (in my opinion that is.)
I was recently involved in a little difference about an interpretation of “Dark End of the Street” by The Flying Burrito Brothers and the quality of Gram Parsons vocals. The critic expressed his preference for a version of the same song by a Black artiste of whom I had never heard. He carried on to explain his indifference to Parsons and his overall lack of talent. I have never heard such a complaint about a Black artiste, a White man is always the target.
I have never felt the need to attack Glen Campbell over his rendition of Southern Nights, compared to that of Toussaint’s original or vice versa, you just listen to the music, to suggest that nobody must attempt to sing a song that was originally recorded by a Black or a White is ridiculous.
This notion runs all through music. PersonallyI have never been too concerned about technique, so to be told that there is some huge difference between what Eric Clapton picks out on his guitar, compared to an old-timer like BB King, whom recently left the stage, is lost on me. As far as I am concerned, whether I be right or wrong and I am sure that I am wrong for many folk out there, Clapton is way better than most Black guitarists, whether it be the Blues or Rock, but what do I know.
Jazz is the same, you turn on the radio and there is a piece of jazz being transmitted, it may be a piece with which you are not familiar, if the Disc Jockey fails to name the tune and the artists, you have no idea whether you have just listened to perhaps Chris Barber or a New Orleans based Black Combo, so why all the fuss about Black or White, if it is good and you like it what else matters?
When Reggae popped up, any old Black, whether they were Black with a Yankee accent or came with a Scouser’s whine, suddenly generated a strong West Indian “Yah Mon” growl and nobody complained, that is until UB 40 came on to the scene.
Suddenly because there was a Black in the band the question became “why is the White guy trying to sound Black when there is a real Black standing beside him?” Maybe it was because the Black had a strong Scottish accent and he could not manage to sing with an assumed accent. Who cares?
Black musicians themselves could not care less, many of them have done very well out of the help of Whites. Many Reggae musicians were overjoyed when UB 40 recorded one of their tunes and they found themselves able to buy a small home with the royalties.
Groups like the original Fleetwood Mac did the same for many of the fading Blues musicians in the States by re-introducing them and their music to a new audience, giving them a, fame which they deserved, with a new young, appreciative audience. They brought the likes of Bo Diddley, BB and other members of the King family to the fore, along with Howlin’ Wolf and others.
So all in all, this would appear to be an argument which was deliberately generated in order to create yet another form of contention between the races, when in fact it is of great benefit to both. Who know how much Big Mama Thornton made out of the Presley version of the song which I believe she composed.
So let’s just enjoy music without all the bullshit.
By the way, just a little bit of musical history, I noticed that the backing band with Little Richard was an English group called Sounds Incorporated. In those far off days the Musicians Union would not allow foreign musicians into the UK.
It just happened that Little Richard was touring the UK, along with Sam Cooke and Jet Harris and Tony Meehan and I was there to see them. It was my very first concert and what a fabulous affair it was.