1959: The Year the Music Died
From Casey Miller - email@example.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
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
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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