Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Big Joe Turner - “Shake, Rattle and Roll”
At some point during quarantine, I decided that it would be a good idea to get reacquainted with some of the classics. So I grabbed Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years before Elvis by Nick Tosches, first published in 1984. I have the 1999 reissue from Da Capo Press. The book covers R&B and country artists in the forties and early fifties, some who recorded things that could be considered rock ‘n roll before “rock ‘n’ roll” had become the term for this music. Tosches confides in the introduction, ”You and me, pal, in our mutual quest for worthless knowledge,” Not all of it worthless, of course, as among others this Tosches insight is brilliant:
“Within a year, Bill Haley had gone from being one of the first blue-eyed rockers to the first decadent show-biz rocker. In other words, he played out the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll about two years before anybody ever heard of rock ‘n’ roll.”
The lockdown-pertinent song I came across was Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, with its Fauci-endorsed opening line of : “Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands.” It is regarded as one of the first big rock ‘n’ roll hits, but Turner later stated: “It wasn’t but a different name for the same music I been singing all my life.”
So it’s been enjoyable the past few weeks to grab this Tosches book, pick out an artist, and fire up their music on Apple Music and get a glimpse into those wild years before Elvis. Faves have included R&Bers The Clovers and the smooth blues of Charles Brown. Recommended reading also: Any Tosches you can read, but if you’re looking for music books Country and Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story are both breathtaking. The Nick Tosches Reader gives a great overview of his writing up until 2000.