Years Active: 1953-1985
Listen up. This post is not about white males. But it is about a particular white male and the few self-centered and arrogant white guys left like him. Beyond him, it's about a subject that we really don't want to discuss--about black music and the people who straight-up stole it from innovators who were nothing less than geniuses, about cultural expropriators who,were, essentially, nothing more than thieves. Shall we?
We were sitting in an Expresso Royale coffee shop. It was about 10 African Americans (two musicians), 1 Somali, 2 white guys (professional local musicians) and 2 Latino guys (1 a professional loyal musician and 1 a student in music at the University of Minnesota). We were talking about Big Joe Turner. It was his birthday, and the daddy and the two local musicians were talking about Joe Turner and the music that came out of Kansas City that influenced music throughout the world.
The white guy came over, sat down and immediately tried to change the subject. “Hey, have you guys heard of Bill Haley? Man, he was great..." We all looked around at each other, asking each other with our eyes:
"Who the f**k is this guy doing coming here without pulling up a chair and trying to preach to us?" "What makes this guy think that, as soon as he sits down, everything has to revolve around him? This asshole didn't even say what's up or hello!"
So what bothered the daddy about this guy? A white guy came to the table? No, there were already two there. That he sat down and tried to change the subject? Partially. He sat down and tried to change the subject from Big Joe Turner to Bill Haley, the guy who stole Big Joe Turner's music ON JOE TURNER'S BIRTHDAY! Folks, this is like changing the subject from courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to that obese druggie Rush Limbaugh. What bothered the daddy is that Bill Haley is about as good an example of any of folks who stole black music, and not an example of a great musician.
This particular guy has done this before. And the daddy has noticed a pattern-- that he only "chats" to us predominantly black folks about sports or music. Secondly, he only talks sports or music that happened long time ago, thinking that we will not know about it, that he will then have the opportunity to wax poetic. Apparently, this guy thinks that, if a sports activity occurred before Michael Jordan, we wouldn't know about it. And, if music was played before James Brown, we wouldn't know about that either. So, as far as this guy was concerned, music for the daddy and his homies begins with “I feel good” and ends with Fitty at the candy shop.
And what a perfect opportunity to school the maddening, unwashed, black guys and two white but wanna-be-black guys and other non-white hanger-ons at the yuppie coffee shop.
Well, school was in session, alright, because the daddy comes from a musical family (gospel, blues, and jazz); because the daddy, in no uncertain terms, took this arrogant white expert and homie-wanna-be to the inner-city proverbial woodshed.
Arrogant white expert:
“Have you guys heard of Bill Haley? Man, he was great…”
"Excuse me. We were talking about Big Joe Turner. You’re talking about Bill Haley and the Comets. He was born in
Before hooking up with three other dudes to make the Comets, he was in a group called the Four Aces. That's when Haley met a producer for the Decca label, who told him to stop playing swing and play what he called jungle beats. He told him to find some black music.
That’s how he came to make “Man Crazy,” which was the first so-called rock and roll record to make the billboard charts. But it was straight-up black music. But after his success with Man Crazy, he went whole hog, so to speak, and did nothing but black music: “Shake, rattle, and roll,” “See you later, alligator,"Flip, Flop and Fly," “Rock around the clock.”
He faded from the scene around 1957, when younger, more exciting guys came along like Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, and when racist, white American media finally let white girls go to shows where black men were performing like Little Richard, Chuck Berry. and Chubby Checker.
Bill Haley stole Big Joe Turner's music. Turner was the first to sing all those songs. We were talking about him because today is his birthday. Do you have anything to add about Big Joe Turner?
The white expert said he had to get going. Everyone at the table said, “Have a good one,” smiling and trying hard not to laugh out loud as he walked toward the door. The daddy was thinking, "I'm going to feel bad about this tomorrow...honest!"
Know your musical black history. Know Big Joe Turner.
Note: The five professional musicians in the group said they were more disgusted with this guy than me. They said he was talking about something they make a living playing all the time; and they didn't need him to tell them about music. If the daddy hadn't said something to him, they would have.