This blog is devoted to the story of My Rock and Roll Journey to Georgia; both to the state and my adorable life partner of the same name. It’s a story that demands to be told in more than just text. It needs music to do it justice.
Thank God for YouTube. I hope they won’t close me down for copyright infringement. I’m not posting video links in this blog for commercial gain, but out of an undying love for the music and the artists performing it. Also, to tell a story that doesn’t belong just to me; it belongs to a whole generation of fellow Brits. It can’t be told without also tracing the history of rock in Britain. Since the story is personal, it won’t be a definitive history of the British music scene, but the two story-lines are inextricably linked.
I need to start with a caveat. You will hear about, and see, a lot of geezers in future postings because you can’t recount part of the history of classic rock without featuring the generation who started it all way back in the fifties and the early sixties. Just remember that these players were once young and grew old playing and living the music from the inside out. I respect many contemporary artists, but if you’re expecting to see and hear the likes of Bieber, Perry, One Direction, or Gaga, you’re in the wrong place. We’re talking history here.
I’m from the same generation of Englishmen as The Stones, The Beatles, The Who, The Animals, Cream and a host of other British bands that spearheaded the so-called “British Invasion”. That term makes me smile, because my British rock rebel generation had the audacity to export back to the USA music that was first created by many fine American musicians.
My life is inextricably bound to the history of a quintessentially American music genre that shaped a whole new generation in Britain; music that has continued to influence generations ever since.
So let’s start where all good stories start – at the beginning. And the story of my journey begins with the blues. Without the blues there would have been no such music as rock. A similar argument can be made for other genres of American music, such as gospel and jazz, but I believe that the Blues were the primary influence in the evolution of British rock, directly and indirectly.
The history of the blues has been lovingly chronicled by people far more knowledgeable than me, so I won’t attempt to deliver a Blues history lesson. What I can tell you is that the blues influenced the first generation of American rock artists who then irrigated the musical desert that was Britain in the 50’s; artists that I and my contemporaries grew to admire, such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and, of course, Elvis.
In turn, these American rock pioneers influenced a whole generation of British performers, as I mentioned before. I can’t explain how, but the blues touched something in the soul of my generation and began a love affair that lasts a lifetime. It may have had something to do with the post-World War Two depression that lingered in Britain until the early 50’s. Or it may simply have been a reaction against the “white-bread” crooner’s music that dominated pop culture at the time, with artists like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. I have since developed great respect for these old-school singers but, at the time, they were anathema to a generation of Brits hungry for something to get excited about.
Ironically, when young bands like The Stones and The Animals exported the music of American blues artists back to the USA, it re-invigorated the careers of superb musicians such as Muddy Walters, Buddy Guy, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker and my personal favorite, Otis Spann.
In Britain, two musicians in particular were rightly considered to be the “Founding Fathers” of the British Blues Movement. The first is Alexis Koerner (also spelled Korner), who touched the lives of many of the British rock musicians who emerged in Britain in the 60’s, most notably The Stones. Sadly, Alexis died in 1984 at the relatively young age of 56.
The other major influence was John Mayall, who was guided into a career in music by Alexis Koerner, and became a mentor to many of Britain’s finest musicians.
Many now-famous artists played in different line ups of Mayall’s band, The Bluesbreakers. Among them were Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Mick Taylor, arguably the best guitar player the Stones ever had (sorry Keef and Ron).
In presenting the blues to you, I don’t want to go back to dusty archives and scratchy recordings. The blues is not an embalmed music form – it’s alive and kicking ass today. So here’s a couple of links to a relatively contemporary introduction to the blues.
The first video features a coming together of an original American idol, Chuck Berry, and two artists he influenced: Keith Richards of The Stones and Eric Clapton, of too many bands to mention. It’s from the movie Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, arguably the best movie about rock & roll ever made. It also features my personal piano hero Johnnie Johnson, whose piano work helped to shape Chuck Berry’s signature musical style and inspired a generation of piano players. It’s memorable for one other thing: Keith Richards, who was the musical director, wearing a sequined tuxedo. Who would’ve thought it possible!
The second video features two of the artists I mentioned earlier: John Mayall and Mick Taylor, playing at Mayall’s 70th birthday celebration. (Well, I did warn you about old farts)! This is the man who started the London blues movement. Listen and enjoy.