This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Sometime in the second half of 1948 I turned three years old so I don’t actually remember any of this music from the time. I’ve since come to appreciate it.
Already by 1948 the seeds of rock & roll were starting to spring forth out of the ground and wave their hands saying, “Here I come, ready or not”. One of those shoots is WYNONIE HARRIS.
Wynonie was known for amusing and risqué songs but he also sang straight blues and rhythm and blues material. One such is Good Rockin' Tonight, written and first performed by Roy Brown. Oh, course it was later famously covered by Elvis.
The other stream of music that contributed to the genesis of rock and roll is country music. One of the purveyors of this style was JIMMY WAKELY.
The song One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart) became a staple in the heartbreak country genre. Incidentally, the female harmony singer is Colleen Summers, who would later become better known as Mary Ford.
Getting back to rhythm and blues, AMOS MILBURN was one of its major exponents.
Amos was a singer and pianist and he was a major influence on Fats Domino. He wrote and recorded the song Chicken Shack Boogie, which was originally the B-side of the record but outsold the putative A-side.
Continuing the flip flopping between R&B and country, we have the biggest name in country music, HANK WILLIAMS.
For someone who was so influential, it’s instructive to note that he had only two songs that made the main charts (as distinct from the country ones) in his lifetime and none that got anywhere near the top.
I could draw a parallel with Vincent Van Gogh, but that would be crass. This song didn’t even hit the top of the country charts (although his son’s version did), Honky Tonkin’.
BOB HOPE is neither R&B nor country.
However, his song is from a western film he made, one of his more famous – “The Paleface” with Jane Russell. Bob laments that he should have stayed in the city, rather than traveling west in the song Buttons and Bows.
DooWop music was starting to make an impression on the charts by now, especially thanks to one of the earliest and longest lived group THE ORIOLES.
This was due in no small part due to their having one of the finest lead singers in the genre, Sonny Til. It's Too Soon To Know was their first song to make the charts, peaking at the very top. It was covered by many other artists, including Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington.
Cajun music rarely makes the charts, at least not without being watered down somewhat. One performer who made it without dilution is IRY LEJEUNE.
Iry brought the accordion back into Cajun where it’s been prominent ever since. For a couple of decades before that, the music mostly leant in the direction of western swing. Iry was killed at the age of 26 by a hit and run driver while he was changing a flat tyre on his car. He performs Evangeline Special.
Around this time EDDY ARNOLD had many songs on the charts; several that went to the top.
He was managed by someone you may have heard of, “Colonel” Tom Parker. Old Tom might have had something to do with his success, but I’d like to put it down to Eddy’s talent (rather like Tom’s more famous acolyte).
Anyway, Eddy’s song in 1948 (or one of them) is Bouquet of Roses, a tear jerker if ever there was one.
There are songs that were fine at the time, but aren’t particularly P.C. these days. This is one of them. The singer is PEGGY LEE.
I won’t say another word and just let you listen to Peggy singing Mañana.
JOHN LEE HOOKER was definitely the real thing.
He’s also quite unlike anyone else featured here today. His songs were often built around a single note and he relied on his singing and the lead guitarist to supply color and movement. So it is today on one his most famous early songs, Crawlin' Kingsnake.
For a complete change of pace, here is BUDDY CLARK.
Buddy had a short but successful career after the war until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949. His wasn’t the first version of Ballerina to make the charts, or even the most successful, but it was very popular in its day.