Monday, February 10, 2014

Fifty Years After the Fab Four Ruined American Music

The British Invasion Ruined American Music
I often ask Fab Four fanatics, how can you compare the Beatles to the much more talented American performers whose careers they didn't necessarily ruin but drove them lower in the charts and drove down their record sales?

I've often said that the Beatles were the White American record promoters' "Great White Hopes" against the domination of American music by an onslaught of innovative and overwhelmingly better Black performers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Larry Williams (from whom the Beatles ripped off "Slow Down"), Paul Williams (the man who made "the Huckle-buck") (who?), B.B. King, the Howlin' Wolf (who when he recorded with a Brit band in England said on hearing the results, "That's dog shit music"), Sonny Boy Williamson #2, the great Muddy Waters (one of the most embarrassing idiot performances I've ever seen is when a stone junked up Mick Jagger gets up on stage with Muddy and tries to out-Black him (and, folks, I met Mick Jagger once and he was a damn nice guy)), Ruth Brown, T-Bone Walker, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Redding, Billy Preston, Bo Diddley, Little Johnny Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, the great Jimmy Reed, the overwhelmingly great Ray Charles (a versatile blues, r and b, rock, and jazz musician and entertainer), the ultimate great James Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson ("The Gangster of Love"), the great songmaster and musician Stevie Wonder, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker (one of the great songsters and one of the best guitar players ever), Jimi Hendrix (I know, he had to go to England to find fame), Patti LaBelle, Fontana Bass (who?), The Mighty Hannibal ("Hymn #5), Solomon Burke, Frank Motley (the cat who played two trumpets at once), Lightnin' Hopkins, Manse Lipscomb, Mercy Dee Walton ("One Room Country Shack"), Ike Turner, Sly Stone, King Curtis, Gatemouth Brown, Charles Brown ("Driftin' and Driftin'"), Prince, Larry Graham ("Release Yourself" one of the greatest albums ever recorded), Al Green, et. al.

Here's something on this subject I wrote back in 2002:
November 24, 2002, Interesting discussion between an older musician and a couple of musicians from the Detroit, Michigan, area--it had to do with influences, the old musician talking about purity, nurturing a seedling garden of musics that came about in the US of A full force right after World War II. Kids in the late forties and early fifties were of a special generation. That generation had no designation, like the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, or Generation X; in fact, a good designation for that generation would be the Forgotten Generation, or for an even crueler appellation, how about the Never-Heard-of Generation. The old musician's generation, a generation that turned its back on Swing, Jump, Boogie, a generation like the Beats there when Be-bop up and changed the mainstream of jazz, which is all Swing was, a white interpretation of black jazz out of New Orleans, Harlem, Chicago's Mafia jazz clubs, and the Middle American big band jazz coming out of the Midwest, especially Kansas City, truly out of which came Charles Parker, Junior, and in New York advanced by a bunch of super musicians coming out of the Deep South, like Dizzy and John Coltrane, though their southern-style of music learning had been heartily refined after these geniuses settled in the confines of the New York City scene during and after WWII. Miles was from the Midwest. What a gathering. And it happened at the same time the old musician was learning music, taking piano lessons and being classically trained in the rudiments of ancient music. Listening to the early bop was quite a revealing experience. Some of the Swing charts had been hairy, sure, but the bop charts were head arrangements, spontaneous blowing, taking off on a riff and improvising through measure after measure of crescendo and diminuendo--oh, the freedom of it--blow, man, blow, that was the order of the day in jazz. Just blow. Yeah, you knew all the notes, the chords, the forms, shit, those were engrained in your head--everybody had music lessons in those days--if you were into music. Most homes had pianos. Guitars were not yet the most dominant omnipresent instruments they are today. Bands had guitars but they were chordal strummers. Even the earliest be-bop guitarists started off the chordal strum, evolving single-note lines as they had to revamp to catch up with the horns and pianos, fuck the bass and the drums, though they were fighting for attention, too, to fit into be-bop, like Max Roach, a very young man, figured it out; then Blakey, Philly Joe, dudes like that. Jo Jones with Basie had the right idea, but he was a foundation on which Roach and the other boppers built a whole new music of the drums. The old musician could go on for decades describing growing up musically at such a time. Such an all-American time, too. Music right out of the American soil and soul. Black origins, yes, but whites gloriously favoring it, even though they made a minstrelsy mess out of it when they made a mockery out of the music while at the same time being madly in love with it [Bing Crosby, for example; minstrelsy in order to make a living, but enchanted by the black aspect of the music at the same time]. It's like when one day you would as a white man have to take sides, say in another Civil War--either stay with the blacks and face annihilation, or get behind the whites you basically despise and save your ass. Artists can't save their asses no matter the color of their skin. Art exits the human soul as art, no matter the race of the artist. Art is universal. Life is universal. It was only natural that this pure American music as art would become universal.

It was hard for the old musician to admit such a point. He was progressive, so he had to admit it, was hard. He was a purist when it came to American music. That was his bias, his ethnocentric bias. He was extremely jealous of the way others learned his precious music after the music did become universal.

One of the guys from Michigan said, "Hey, I understand what you are saying, old dude, and I must admit I never considered the subject from your point of view. I assumed all guys my age learned jazz and blues and such the same way I did." The other Michigan guy agreed. "What he means is, at least I speak for myself being from the same hometown, you dig, I came to jazz through bands like the MC5, or the Detroit Wheels. I heard the Beatles before I really knew jazz. I accepted the Beatles." The old dude growls. "God, the Beatles...shit, they ruined jazz especially. They did respect our black rhythm and blues and rock. Their first album was a rip off of all American black tunes, like 'Slow Down,' a tune by Texan Larry Williams that really flip-flopped-and-flew, man, whereas the Beatles did it like a kids tune. They turned our classical music into children's tunes, like Barney...I mean, you ever watch Barney, man, play the piano?--hell, yeah, Barney plays hinkity, rinky-dink, sloppy jazz piano, man--a child's respect for jazz. Am I making sense? The Beatles, hell, as Ray Charles said, 'I had to do their tunes because of their popularity, but I never did dig their music.' Their music changed the modal aspects of rhythm and blues and rock. Took it out of the traditional homemade mode or whatever blues idiom you were coming to the music from...and you had to know the blues in order to properly construct say a be-bop tune. An old original type blues guy, John Lee Hooker, was one of the best at it; he could hold a measure open for what seemed like minutes, getting the full flavor out of a line, out of a musical point, their guitars as much a part of their voice as anything, their pianos jumping and dancing with the vocals--12/4 times, 32/4 slow draggy hully-gullies and things. Fuck the Beatles. I never listened to 'em, never studied them, though I admit, I did do their stuff when I was a piano bar pianist, or playing once in a bowling alley restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had to play what bowlers wanted to hear."

One of the young guys said, "Come on, Mr. History, the Beatles wrote some good tunes." The old musician pondered. "Wanna know the truth, and this applies to classical music as well as pop, everything that is British is stolen--when they were an empire, they stole all of the musics from their colonies, or they Anglicized them like they did American music in the sixties. Boring fucking modes. Boring fucking music, like Sir Eddie Elgar. Benjamin Britten stole everything American. Hell, at one time, St. Martin of the Fields was doing more American stuff than American orchestras, certainly the boring New York Philharmonic, which since Lenny Bernstein was their most famous conductor, they haven't hired an American-born conductor, preferring instead the rigorous Nazi conduction of guys like this last Viennese dude, Kurt Von something or the other. I remember when Pierre Boulez, who thought he was so fucking modern, came here--he was a total flop. And this is the guy who found errors in Stravinsky's scores."

Peter Pounder [not his real name]
for The Daddy O'Daily

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