Rock 'n' Roll 39-59
A Great Exhibition in Paris, France

Posted July 12, 2007 - Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES

I HAVE A DREAM ... Nobody could have dreamt of a such exhibition, in Paris, or elsewhere, in that brand new century, way back in 1956 when Frank Sinatra or Ed Sullivan told that fad will be dead in few months. That brand new sound who mixed Boogie Woogie, Jazz, Gospel, R'n'B and Country music was a real threat for cultural reasons. I bet my blue suede shoes than many were more afraid by the mix of those American cultures than hurt by the rockin' rollin' sound of Elvis, Carl Perkins or Gene Vincent. Rock and Roll, far more than a musical craze, was a big social move and that why it took the whole world by storm and he's still alive. That music helped Teenagers to raise them own identity and to mix Southern and Northern culture, to blend Coloured and Hillbilly music and to open the way for the American conquest of the world. That music drove a major social transformation whose heritage remains vibrantly alive today.

That exhibition set by La Fondation CARTIER help to understand the genesis of Rock'n'Roll music, its evolution and history in the United States, from the explosion of Boogie-Woogie in 1939 to the events of the late 1950's who market the end of the music's first great era.

The first part of the exhibition is devoted to capturing the mood of age with a gold Cadillac Eldorado, bakelite radios like two Fada Streamliner (nicknamed "'The Bullet"), many Jukeboxes like a Seeburg P146 or 148 (often called Barrel, Trash can or Washing Machine) and few Wurlitzer, lots Śa heavy steel microphones (RCA, Shure), magazines in display like "Dig" (the coolest one in the 50's), Hit Parader, Rock and Roll or Song Hits. pictures of Brooklyn gangs or ballroom dancers. The spirit of rebellion is here with pics of Marlon Brando and James Dean, pictures of Brooklyn gangs, ducktailed cats or loose ballroom dancers. You can feel it before moving on a tiny studio recording that showcase Norman Petty's recording material. Here you can see the control room with tapes and acetate cutting machine. On that material was recorded Roy Orbison' first version of "Ooby Dooby" and Buddy Knox's all time classic "Party Doll". You can hardly imagine Buddy Holly and his band, in Clovis (New Mexico) cutting' "Peggy Sue" or "That'll be the Day" in such primitive conditions. Way back then you had to be good and to be able to cut a four songs session in a few hours. If not, you better move and forget about being a "Star". There's almost nothing to help you except a little slap back echo and a sparse overdubbing. In that little studio, you can hear from original speakers Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis at work with false starts, laughs and even arguments. Of course, both never recorded on Norman's studio but it help greatly to understand what a recording session until the late 50's was.

From there, you will find many pictures of Elvis taken by Alfred Wertheimer in 1956, many of them seen here for the first time. They are from March 1956 and often show a candid Elvis before he was crowned "King of Rock'n'Roll" and become to be too big to have a normal life. To see him jumping from the train and walking alone through the grass to get back home is quite funny. Many of those pics were printed in a book around 1980 but some are really never seen. Nice display for Elvis 30th passing anniversary.

Next room will bring you to a projection space with a movie (Rock'n'Roll: The Early Years), some great concert posters and, most of all, three guitars. Here you are in heaven looking those three legendary instruments. The first one is Carl Perkins Harmony "Stratotone" solid body guitar who's so small than Carl looked liked a giant. Carl used that legendary guitar on his early recordings. Next one is the famous Martin's D-18 guitar owned by Elvis Presley and used on studio/on stage in 1954/1955. It was the one he played on the Louisiana Hayride show on October 16, 1954 when Tillman Franks bring him there for the first time. That stringed box obviously had some hard times regarding all the belt buckle scratches on the back. If you look at Elvis pics from the time, you could notice he used to wear his buckle thin belt on his side, not in front like any pedestrian. Nevertheless, that guitar was hurt hard quite a few times. Around mid-July 1955, Elvis had that guitar clothed with leather just like the Buddy Holly's one in display. Here's a real gem: Buddy's Gibson J-45 guitar with his handmade leather clothe. Here Buddy made a fabulous work and even put his first record sides titles "Love"/"Blue Days Black Nights" recorded in January 56, in Nashville, for "Decca". But the most is probably to see embroided on the bottom of the guitar clothe "TEXAS". Yes indeed, Buddy was from Texas and you had to know it!

Now you're ready to go on the lower level and to discover Rock'n'Roll in a chronological and social perspective. On the walls are a series of photos that gives an insight into the social contest on the rough life of those sharecroppers and Southerners. For sure, on Saturday nite they needed enjoyment in Honky-Tonk, Juke-joint or Ballroom. These pictures recall the daily life of the people on them house too. News papers sheet as wallpaper, battery operated radio, barefoot childrens, back porch gathering, ball of cotton, fiddles and guitars. From the 50's came picture of a more wealthy America with great shining cars, new house project, TV factories, records shop, teenagers in them own room with telephone ... But still stay some misery and marks of segregation.

Then it's time to discover exhibit for each major style of music who gave birth of Rock'n'Roll in the 50's. First came Boogie-Woogie and a display of Lionel Hampton, Albert Ammons or Freddie Slacks records and pictures. By that time records were mainly 78 rpm's and if they carries a cover it's was almost everything a funny carton and great art design. That style of music was quickly adopted by white country singers like Merrill Moore, Moon Mullican or Roy Hall. You sure need a little of Boogie-Woogie to bread Rock and Roll!

Next came Gospel music and records by The 5 Blind Boys, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson or The Golden Gate Quartet. There are some fabulous sepia pictures and display and you can worries about saving your soul. Are you saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, Do you know it by God's words and spirit? Will you be on the Heaven bouncing chariot or aboard the Hell train? What you will do when the Saints go marching in? Those questions would often find them answer by Sunday morning on churches. Here are the music and songs too and you learn to shoot the glory of the Lord and get loose with soul. From there, getting older, you may be preacher, Jubilee singers or use your vocal abilities on a pop or R'n'B singing group. Little Richard, Clyde Mc Phatter, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke carries all heavy Gospel roots. Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis were at home with Hymns or Spirituals and can sing them heart out. Listen "The Million Dollar Quartet" recording done at the "Sun" studio in December 1956 and you will know you need some gospel to give birth to Rock and Roll!

Follow two spots about the Blues and Rhythm and Blues showing many records and beautiful pictures. You will see pics and records of B.B King, T-Bone Walker, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner or Roy Brown. Elvis borrowed "Good Rockin' Tonight" to the pen of Roy Brown but it's was probably the Wynonie Harris version he got in mind. Carl Perkins borrowed "Matchbox" to Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bill Haley get "Shake, Rattle and Roll", his first huge success on "Decca", from Big Joe Turner.

You need also some vocal group acrobatics or risky stories from The Midnighters , The Orioles, The Crows, The Clovers or The Dominoes. Them "Work with me Annie", "Gee" or "One Mint Julep" were pretty popular with white Teenagers when played on WLAC or WINS. They bring here smooth and heartfelt harmonies and can make you jump, jive and romancing. So you need a drop of Blues and Rhythm & Blues to make the Rock and Roll cocktail perfect!

Last collective exhibit is about Western Swing, Hillbilly, Bluegrass and Country music. Great display of records and memorabilias about Bob Wills (Tulsa, Oklahoma, Western Swing King), The Delmore Brothers (Hillbilly Boogie ­there's yet some blending here), Hank Williams (Honky Tonk Blues ­ same thing), Roy Accuff or Bill Monroe. Elvis borrowed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" to Bill Monroe and made it a brand new attractive style of music in 1954 for his first "Sun" record. Carl Perkins was heavily influenced by Bill Monroe too and Elvis used to nick name Carl "Champion" when they worked together. Gene Vincent covered Hank Williams "The Waltz of the Wind" on his first "Capitol" LP and Jerry Lee Lewis followed with "You Win Again" for "Sun". Buddy Holly tried his hand to "Have You Ever Been Lonely" from Ernest Tubb songbook, Wanda Jackson covered Charline Arthur's "Heartbreak Ahead" and Bill Haley made his own the Roy Accuff classic "Wash bash Cannonball" nicely retitled "Jukebox Cannonball" for "Essex". So there's no doubts you need a pot of Country music to have Rock and Roll!

Opposite to the musical style displays are individual display cabinet presenting the great performers of the era and it start with the very influential Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. Louis Jordan, a great sax player and showman, gave us the classics "Caldonia", "Choo Choo Boogie" or "Saturday Night Fish Fry". Each cabinet is shaped the same way and offer pictures, rare records, and memorabilia, video and audio animation. One every cabinet you will see fabulous placards with them typical 50's design.

Next performer featured is Bill Haley whose "Rock Around The Clock" gave to Rock and Roll an international audience even if "Decca" marketed his records as "Fox Trot". "Rock Around The Clock" was recorded in April 1954 and should be considered as one of the first, if not the first, Rock and Roll record. Since long Bill Haley had an eyes on R'n'B and his first success came with a cover of "Rock the Joint" and with an original "Crazy Man Crazy", both for "Essex" records. But, then the blend was not matured! His move on "Decca" was the good choice and he was first Rock'n'Roll icon until Elvis came in light nationally. Bill Haley deserve a better recognition for his innovative work with The Comets and as one of the earliest R'n'R pioneers.

Follow a fabulous Elvis display with his 5 "Sun" singles and many others records. Many great memorabilias and, most of all, a grey jacket (from the Lansky Brothers, if I am right) he wore on the Ed Sullivan show and for the March of Dimes in March 57. That Tupelo born Cat was a good boy, that's a fact. There are many great items to watch here like Sam Phillips letters and shows posters. Won't tell more about Elvis Ścause I will never finish that work!

Next came a Fats Domino cabinet, a Jerry Lee Lewis one with a publicity letter from "Sun" stating Jerry Lee complexion as "fair". Quite funny! Wandering through the stands you will find Buddy Holly with some very rare pictures and one hand made belt, Eddie Cochran with a sport jacket in display, Little Richard with his crazy hairdo and a 1953 placard show, Chuck Berry with a great "You can't Catch Me" video, Bo Diddley with his strange guitars and his so personal rhythm. At every stand are many rare records, posters, video and audio animations.

To close some special exhibs to me are Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent. The Johnny Cash display cabinet offer a black suit with silver stripe on collar and pant and a embroided Marshall Tie from his "Sun" days. I have often seen that suit on pictures and what a shock to see it in perfect condition. Johnny Cash was a real innovator and laid us some fabulous songs like "Get Rhythm", "Big River" or "Luther's Boogie", kind of tribute to Luther Perkins his guitarist. Things rarely told Luther was a great friend of Tommy Tomlinson, Johnny Horton's guitarist, who taught him some guitar licks. Some may have complained about Luther sparse technic but Johnny knew he was essential part of his "sound" and never would he leave. Those guys were trusty, knew about friendship and were faithful. May all of them rest in Peace!

Follow a display about another great "Sun" performer and a wonderful human, Carl Perkins. Born in Tennessee in 1932, he lived the hard life of sharecropper soon and enjoyed the wild life of Honky-Tonk around Jackson (Tn). He taught guitar from a coloured neighbour call Uncle John and, until his death in 1998, he played tribute to that long forgotten teacher who brings the blues on his young soul. Carl learnt soon and quick than you had to let vibrate your soul through the guitar strings. You can't cheat with those Honky-Tonk tugs who want a strong beat to dance or a heart full weeper to cry in them beer. Carl is the God Father of Rockabilly music and set the way for many others unknown like Jackson's own Kenny Parchman or worldwide stars like The Beatles. Carl, who doesn't wanted to sing in the early 50's, was the first to climb with "Blue Suede Shoes" at the top of the three major Billboard charts in USA. He had the first ever "Sun" record to be issued in England in April 1956 and was here on the charts before Elvis was. Carl Perkins, who blended perfectly the Blues with the Appalachian music, had a major influence on the rockin' music and on every guitar picker then and now. Would like to be able to say he was my friend!

Gene Vincent, better know as "The Black Leather Rebel" in the early 60's, was born in February 1935 in Norfolk (VA) and spend few years in the Navy before a motorcycle wreck put him out. That shy skinny guy was a frequent visitor to WCMS radio studios until Sheriff Tex Davis, with Carl Perkins blessing, decided to record some demos on April 56. A band was assembled with the station musician crew and "Be Bop A Lula" was sent to Ken Nelson who was in need of a new "Elvis Presley" for Capitol records. A recording session was set in Nashville, on May 56, and "Be Bop A Lula" quickly skyrocketed the charts. Gene and his band wild stage act was quite threatening for the common people and many DJ's were afraid by that Wild Cat. Drummer Dickie Harrell had just turned 15 years old but laid a definitive drum sound complete with screams. Cliff Gallup will have a strong influence on every rock and roll guitar picker with his precise, almost jazzy, picking. Unfortunately, the success vanished quickly after his last hit "Wear My Ring" and the original band was long disbanded. Anyway, Gene had one of the most finest voice of the 50's and could handle wild Rockabilly songs as easily as ballads like "Over the Rainbow" or jazz stuff like "Summertime". He was the original "Cat Man" and was the closest to Carl Perkins and Johnny Burnette Rockabilly style. It's great to see him in his better day and to watch his great stage act on Town Hall Party video in display.

Before close on individual display cabinet just want to add there's a lot of stuff about Alan Freed, the Pied Piper from Cleveland who helped greatly to promote Rock and Roll. Like Gene Vincent his last days went sour but his contribution was essential and he will be always remember worldwide. On a mural screen you can see often his face in movies such "Rock Around The Clock", "Mister Rock and Roll", Go, Johnny, Go" or "Don't Knock the Rock". Parts of "The Girl Can't Help It", the only Rock'n'Roll colour picture of the 50's, and "Blackboard Jungle" are also screened.

Now it's time to leave the exhibit in your two tones Chevy Bel Air with sparkling eyes and wonderful memories. Get back in a hurry to your house and spin some old 78 rpm's to make that experience last longer. But not before buyin' the fabulous book about the exhib who bring you 415 pages of wonders and very accurate liners notes. Here you will have several thousand $ stuff for 39.50 Euros. Stuff you could never dreamed to see or to own. I tell you it right again ... I HAVE A DREAM.

You could share that dream, if in Paris, visiting La Fondation CARTIER pour l' art comtemporain ­ 261, boulevard Raspail ­ 75014 Paris ­FRANCE. You can have information about the exposition on 01 42 18 56 50 (phone), 01 42 18 56 52 (fax) or The expo will last until 28 octobre 2007 and, if you can't make the trip, BUY that coffee table book. You can't be musician, songwriter or journalist and miss that holly book of Rock and Roll. An essential reading for every American ... rockin' cat or square! Here's 20 years of fabulous music who changed the world and my own life.

That exceptional event needed a such long report ... Hopefully it doesn't take me 20 years to write!

Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES
Brest R'n'R Appreciation Society ­ FRANCE

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