Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jesse Stone Helped Create Rock & Roll

"He stole my music. But he gave me my name."
--Muddy Waters on Mick Jagger

When they get you in the record business, someone gonna rip you anyway so that don't bother me... people round you gonna rip you if they can."
-- Muddy Waters
"If you tried to give Rock & Roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
--John Lennon

Listen up. The daddy wants to ask you a question. Have you heard of Jesse Stone? If you haven't, don't worry about it. Most people haven't. Most musicians haven't heard of him. In fact. most so-called musicologists, who are mostly white males who see music only through white lens, haven't heard of him. Those who have see him as a man on the margins and not a central character. They see rock & roll as a music birthed principally by Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records, made popular by deejays like Alan Fried, Wolfman Jack, and marketed and sealed into white, energetic teeny bopper memory by television hosts like Dick Clarke and Ed Sullivan. Yes, all these guys contributed mightily to the development of rock & roll, especially Sam Phillips. However, what's left out of this white-washed history are the groundbreaking contributions of African Americans, the people who made the music and sometimes developed the white musicians to sing and play it.

You hear about Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records. You hear about the famous deejay Alan Fried. But rarely do you hear about African Americans who understood that, due to the racism in this country, black music was not going to go far in America, unless it was first performed by white artists and promoted by white people as a new genre for white America-- unless it was due perceived as white music. Let's face it, it was due to nothing less than straight-up white racism that rock & roll became a genre in the place. It was, in actuality, little more than a weak derivative of blues and gospel music, two genres of popular music that already had accomplished, seasoned artists going back to minstrel shows and field songs of slaves on southern plantations.

You want a great example of such a black person who understood this racism, who found white musicians to play black music, and who wrote and composed many of the songs they sang? Look no further than Jesse Stone.

Born in 1901, the grandfather of slaves, Stone began singing and performing at the age of five in minstrel shows. In the 1920's, he lead a jazz band whose saxophonist was none other than the great Coleman Hawkins. A few decades later, he was the arranger, composer and comedy writer for those exciting shows at the Apollo Theater. Around 1940, he joined Atlantic Records. As a songwriter, arranger and producer, he found that he could make good money writing for whites. For example, he wrote "Idaho." It was sung by Guy Lombardo and sold three million copies. But he should be remembered most for his work in finding and developing white musicians to play black music and promoting the songs they sang.

In 1954, recognizing that the songs he composed wouldn't go very far if performed by whites, he hooked up with Alan Freid and traveled towns big and small throughout the South, looking specifically for white musicians to sing black music. It was Stone who chose a group called Bill Haley and the Comets for this purpose. And it was Stone who picked out the songs for the group. It was "Shake, Rattle and Roll," a song originally recorded by the great blues shouter Big Joe Turner. It sold a million copies, peeking at #7 on the Billboard's chart, and setting the stage for white teeny boppers to sing and dance to black music.

In 1958, R&B singer Epic Records star Roy Hamilton recorded a Stone tune called "Don't let go." It went to #2 on the R&B charts. Two decades later, the late great Isaac Hayes , working out of Stax Records, with his soulful voice, disco strings and luscious horns, recorded the song. It went to #11 on the R&B charts. Stone also wrote "Flip, flop and Fly," (another song originally made a hit by Big Joe Turner) and "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash," all big hits.

Today, November 16th, is the birthday of Jesse Stone, one of the greatest producers, songwriters, and composers in American history, and a black artist who achieved success despite white racism.


Mad Hatter said...

daddybstrong, don't under estimate us, some of know the history of rockabilly (rock n roll) as Sam later labeled it. you fail to mention boogie woogie, black swing and jump blues, Hersal and George Thomas.

Sam Phillips came late.

MacDaddy said...

Madhatter: Welcome. You say I didn't mention boogie woogie, black swing or jump blues, Hersal and George Thomas. That's true, but please consider that I'm writing a post about a particular person on his birthday and not a feature article for the New Yorker (Hey, that sounds like a good idea!)

Second, it sounds like you and perhaps your friends know this history. Great. My point was that MOST Americans don't. If you know of any studies that say something different, please share it with me and the readers. Everything I've read says we Americans don't much about our history, including our musical history.

One interesting thing I've experienced is that Europeans I've met seem to know quite a bit about American music. Whether from Britain, Germany, even Spain, they seem to have in-depth knowledge of American music, especially blues and country and western. It's pretty cool sitting in a cafe with students from Europe discussing the Carter family, Charley Christian or T. Bone Walker. But I'm only speaking of the Europeans I've talked to, most of them students and musicians. Still, it's pretty cool thinking about music as a gift we Americans have given to the world. Thanks for coming.

rainywalker said...

Your right daddyBstrong, I have never heard of Jesse Stone. But burned up a lot of wooden floor with his songs. Love the history....

Christopher said...

This is great stuff.

I love learning the history of American music and I too, had never heard the name Jesse Stone till now.

Did you know when Aretha Franklin came along and John Hammond signed to Columbia, they didn't know what to do with her?

They dressed her in chiffon drag queen dresses and relaxed her hair and had her sing Judy Garland songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody."

Fortunately for her and for us, "Ree" left Columbia and signed with Atlantic where she hooked up with Jerry Wexler and then arranger, Arif Mardin. These cats "got" Aretha and took her to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she sometimes recorded in the dark (she was that shy) and where she accompanied herself on the piano and recorded classics like "I Never Loved a Man."

Mad Hatter said...

oKaaaaay, I just jumped the gun here.
If that is his photo, he looks alot like David Porter (soulman)

MacDaddy said...

Rainywalker: Yes, a lot of the songs he arranged for Bill Haley & the Comets and other groups were dance songs. Yes, I find the history fascinating. I have a bunch of older musician friends who tell me a lot of stories. Then I go online to find out if it's true. It almost always is. Thanks.

Christopher: This is stuf I love. It was amazing how shy she was! Her father, C. L. Franklin, a well-known minister, shielded her from people, especially from guys. She basically only interacted with people in her church in Detroit, Michigan. And you're right: They really didn't know what to do with her. I, too, loved the music that came out of Muscle Shoals. It was a great story about music bringing people together from different cultures and from different regions of the country. Thanks.

MacDaddy said...

Madhatter: He does look like Dave Porter. By the way, I'm going to be posting on him. I'm kind of biased toward people who work behind the scenes and don't get the respect he deserves. In Porter's case, Isaac Hayes got most of the credit for songs that they collaborated on: "When something is wrong with my baby;" "I'm a soulman;" "You don't know like I know;" Come again and let me know what you think. Blessings.

Stella said...

I haven't had the opportunity to listen to Jesse Stone, but I agree 100% with John Lennon. At 82, Chuck Berry can still rock the house down. He's ageless.