1959: The Year the Music Died

From Casey Miller - bopkings@yahoo.com - Posted November 25, 2002

           Most people know how the government felt about Rock-N-Roll in the 1950's, but do we know what lengths they were willing to go to in order to stop it? The fact is, that the music world was turned upside down in a matter of 18 months. In my opinion, the year 1959 should be is the year music died. Here is part of that story that has been lost in the History books. This article is based on facts.
           Elvis Presley's overseas tour with the U.S. Army took place in Germany during the period of October 1, 1958 - March 2, 1960. Elvis and his music were out of the public eye for the entire year of 1959. When Elvis returned, he was a different person. He had lost his Rock-N-Roll spirit. Perhaps he had "learned his lesson." Maybe he had heard some of the stories that you will read about in this report and decided that Rock-N-Roll just wasn't worth pursuing at that time.
           Jerry Lee Lewis was on top of the world until it all came crashing down in late 1958, a couple of months before 1959, due to the marriage of Jerry Lee and his 14-year-old cousin. This was a common practice in the region he was from and would, in all probability, have been no big deal if it weren't for this flamboyant rocker's choice of "artistic expression." Rock-N-Roll took a hard blow that day.
           By 1959, the time of The Winter Dance Party Tour, Buddy Holly's popularity was at its peak. Buddy exhorted a Rock-N-Roll attitude and America was watching AND listening. It looked like there was no stopping him, but that was just an illusion. You can stop anyone if you want it bad enough.
           In 1958, a 17-year-old rocker by the name of Ritchie Valens was already a veteran of the music charts with several hits and had become yet another public figure in the eye of America. That was bad news for a government that believed that Rock-N-Roll was destroying the country and corrupting its youth.
           J.P. Richardson, also known as The Big Bopper, was an ex-deejay from Texas who genuinely had a great fondness for Rock-N-Roll. By 1958, his popularity was soaring as his hit, "Chantilly Lace," was the third most requested AND played song of that year.
           In January of 1959, Buddy, along with Ritchie and the Big Bopper embarked on what would be their last tour. They toured the U.S. to huge crowds that confirmed that Rock-N-Roll was at the height of its popularity. The tour bus had been breaking down along the tour and Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper had become sick with colds. Buddy Holly booked a plane and the three rockers boarded it.
           On February 3, 1959, a four-seat chartered plane crashed shortly after take off from Mason City, Iowa. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper lost their lives in the tragic incident.
           In November 1959, there was a payola scandal that had erupted in radio. America's number one Rock-N-Roll deejay, Alan Freed, was forced to carry most of the weight on his shoulders for the entire industry. He was fired from his radio and television shows and lost his rights to the silver screen. Alan Freed died soon after. If he had played another format on his shows, he may still be deejaying today.
           On December 1, 1959, while in El Paso, Texas, Chuck Berry met Janice Escalanti of Yuma, Arizona. She was to be the hatcheck girl at Club Bandstand, which she agreed to do. Escalanti was terminated and called the Yuma Police Department in order to find a way home. This led to charges for a violation concerning the Mann Act, which stated that it was illegal to transport a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. The first trial held found Chuck guilty, but the verdict was overturned after the judge was found to have made racial slurs toward Berry. A second trial in October of 1961 arrived at a guilty verdict and Berry was sentenced to 3 years in jail and a $10, 000 fine. Once again, proving that you can be stopped if the right people want you stopped.
           With everyone now out of the picture and the teen idols firmly in place awaiting their takeover of the industry and the record companies ready to flood the market with them, there were just two more problems. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane, the two rowdiest rockers since the Burnettes, who had long since settled down to record more "radio friendly" music. Gene and Eddie were two men that were easily handsome enough to be teen idols, but refused to stop playing Rock-N-Roll.
           In early 1960 (a few months after 1959), Gene and Eddie toured the United Kingdom. The U.K. had already been into Rockabilly and real Rock-N-Roll for years, but this greatly successful tour just confirmed an international love for this form of frenzy and American rockers were now spreading the gospel of Rock-N-Roll all over the world. This could not have been pleasing to a government trying to keep good foreign relations with everyone, especially at that time in History. Gene and Eddie were on their way to the airport when their cab was involved in a fatal accident in Chippenham, Wiltshire. They were going to return to the United States that day. Coincidence? Gene was, under the circumstances, fortunate to have only sustained injuries that would leave him with a slight limp for the rest of his life. Eddie was not so fortunate. He lost his life that day.
           The Beatles set out on their first tour that year and Rock-N-Roll would never be the same again. Very few rockers would continue as soldiers, if you will, in the fight to preserve real Rock-N-Roll.
           Today, with the resurgence of real Roots Rock-N-Roll in America, we are seeing a lot of reluctance with the big record labels to record this wonderful music. It's as if they just do not want to associate their names with the likes of this wild, crazy music. The radio stations will not play it. Perhaps the overall attitude is "if we don't play it, no one will knows it's here." I hope they are wrong. Do the memories of the persecution of Rock-N-Roll in 1959 still haunt the minds of those that control the music industry? You be the judge.
           In place of Rock-N-Roll, boy bands and countless scores of teen idols are flooding the market. Sound familiar? It seems that the old saying is true - the more things change; the more they stay the same.
           The above story may or may not be true. If it is, I certainly know nothing about the logistics of the operation, only the reason. The article is meant for entertainment only and not to tarnish the good names of the abovementioned artists/icons. It's not meant to be a funny story other than sounding like the ramblings of a weirdo with a paranoid theory. I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the pioneers and creators of Rock-N-Roll and I hope that you do, too. Stay hep!
casey - www.bopkings.com - real texas rockabilly

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