Radio

COVERING R&B MUSIC

Black artists and white singers, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

At the dawn of Rock and Roll in the 1950’s and even into the early 1960’s, it was not uncommon for white singers to cover African-American singers.  Black artists did not get radio play on white radio stations.  That shut them out of a lot of markets and kept much of America from hearing their songs.  This opened the door wide for white singers to record songs heard only on black R&B stations, leaving the impression in many areas that they were the original artists.

The Memphis area, Tennessee label, DOT, founded in 1950, became big by hiring white singers to cover black songs.  Indeed they made stars out of some of these singers.  Among the biggest was Pat Boone.  The crooner recorded Fats Domino’s 1955 song “Ain’t That a Shame,” which became a big hit.  It had been suggested that Boone change the lyric to “Isn’t That A Shame,” perhaps to sound more “white.”  Fortunately they resisted that bad idea.  Boone followed with a number of covers that made him a household name.  His next success was the Little Richard song, “Tutti Fruitti,” which Boone did not want to record.  To Boone “it didn’t make sense” but he was talked into it and it went to number 12.   A song that went all the way to the top was “I Almost Lost My Mind,” originally by Ivory Joe Hunter.  Nat King Cole even covered the song, but Boone had the hit.  The main reason was Boone got a lot of radio play.  The others did not.

DOT also made a star of Gale Storm when she covered the Smiley Lewis R&B hit, “I Hear You Knockin.”  She also recorded “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”  Snooky Lanson and The Fontane Sisters also benefited from the era of covering other artists.  Eventually DOT cashed in off admitting to the practice with an album of 30 of these songs.  “Cover to Cover,” includes 7 recordings by Pat Boone alone.  It also includes a mediocre version of Chuck Berry’s Rock Classic, “Maybelline,” by Jim Lowe.

The white versions were generally slower and toned down in comparison to the R&B versions.  They were playing to a different audience so they produced versions they thought would be more appealing to that audience.  It was a sign of the racially segregated times and something that would not happen now.  Of course there are still many covers, but for various other reasons.

When Elvis Presley hit the scene, he also brought with him cover versions of other songs.  His 1956 hit “Hound Dog,” was originally by Big Mama Thornton, but Elvis may have been influenced by the 1953 novelty version by Jack Granger and his Granger County Gang, aka Homer and Jethro.  The 1954 hit, “That’s All Right,” belonged to Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and was originally called “That’s All Right, Mama.”

One of the consequences of all these cover songs was they helped pave the way toward acceptance of this genre of music and eventually of some of the black artists who originated the songs.   Little Richard is said to have claimed that while teenagers and young music lovers may have had Pat Boone on top of their dressers, but they had “me in the drawer ’cause they liked my version better.” 

By the late 1950’s, with the segregation of music dying out, the Doo-Wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials came along and started to hit the big time.  While many of their early songs found great success for other artists, they found wider radio and television play than earlier Black R&B stars.

For a look at the Linda Ronstadt version of this song, see this past article.

ON THE WAY TO OUR DREAMS

He wanted to be a movie star, on the silver screen. I wanted to be an author. Somehow on our way to our dreams, we found our way to the college radio station. A puny thing, just 10 watts when Garry and I met in the tiny studios under the Little Theater. I was 17, Garry 22. He was a little older than most of the undergrads because at 17, he’d enlisted in the Marines and by the time he got out, a few years had passed.

Garry Clean Harbors-SMALLWe found the radio station by accident, but it fit. Garry stayed and became its Program Director. I hung around and began dating the Station Manager, who coincidentally was Garry’s best friend. Which is where our personal history gets a bit tangled and hard to explain, so I won’t. I was the Chief Announcer. Even though I knew I wanted to be in print, not electronic media, the radio station was a great place to try out new skills. There were scripts to be written, newsletters to create. And I had my own radio show and a whole bunch of great friends, most of whom are still great friends.

We were all oddballs. Creative and talented. Almost all of us went on to careers in media and the arts. We turned out a couple of authors, audio engineers, talk show hosts, DJs, TV and radio producers, news directors, commercial writers, college professors and Garry, a reporter whose career spanned 45 years, 31 at Channel 7 in Boston.

Surprisingly little footage of Garry’s on the air career  survived and until someone found this clip, we had nothing from his years at ABC Network. An old friend of Garry’s sent us this footage from 1969, the last year Garry was at ABC before he jumped to television. It’s a promotional piece for ABC News and features faces and voices from the past … and one young up and coming fellow, Garry Armstrong.

Let us return to those days of yesteryear, when television cameras used film and there was a war raging in Vietnam. 1969, the year my son was born, the year of Woodstock, the end of an era, the beginning of everything else.

Look at the equipment circa 1969. Antiquated by today’s technical standards, but the standards by which the news itself was gathered and reported were incomparably higher than what passes for news reportage today.

WHAT’S THE SCOOP?

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It seems to me the importance of whatever is going on in the world has an inverse relationship to the amount of attention it gets in the press. By “press,” I’m referring to newspapers, radio, television and other traditional news outlets, newer stuff like social networks, websites and blogs. Plus even newer sources of information such as newsletters and email. “Press” is the collective dissemination of information from a wide variety of perspectives and mediums. These days, it’s a free-for-all. If you care about truth and facts, you will need to do some independent reality checking.

News is loosely defined as whatever news people say it is. Whether or not this actually is news is subjective. The control of news content is not, as many people think, in the hands of reporters or even editors and publishers. Whatever controls exist are defined in corporate boardrooms run by guys like Rupert Murdoch who have no vested interest in keeping us well-informed. The news biz is about power, politics and money. Mostly money. It’s business, not public service.

That would, in theory, make “independent” sources — bloggers, for example — more “honest” … but don’t bet on it. Everybody’s got an agenda. Independence doesn’t equate to accuracy or honesty. They may not be beholden to a corporation or sponsors, but that doesn’t make them neutral or fair. They may be … but then again, maybe not. I’ve read blogs so blatantly lacking in any kind of journalistic ethics it shocked me. I am not easily shocked.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Pri...

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure exactly when news stopped being stories about important stuff going on in the world and became whatever will generate a big audience likely buy the sponsors’ products. Money has always driven the news to some degree, but not like today. Now, everything seems to be driven by the bottom-line. It hasn’t improved the quality of the news. Once upon a time, important issues and stories got a free pass, an exemption from needing to have “sex appeal.” Significant news got on the air even if it wasn’t sexy or likely to sell products. Not true any more.

For a brief shining period from World War II through the early 196os and perhaps a bit beyond, the “Ed Murrow” effect was a powerful influence in American news. Reporters were invigorated by getting respect for their work and tried to be “journalists” rather than muckrakers.

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite was The Man. He carried such an aura of integrity and authority I thought he should be president not merely of the U.S., but of the world. Who would argue with Walter Cronkite? He sat next to God in the newsroom and some of us had a sneaking suspicion God personally told him what was important. If Walter said it was true, we believed. Thus when Cronkite became the guy to get Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sit down and talk — the beginning of the Camp David Accords — it seemed natural and right. Who was more trustworthy than Uncle Walter? Who carried more authority? He walked in the glow of righteousness.

UncleWalterOld

He always made my mother giggle. It was not Walter, the reporter or man who made her laugh. It was his name. “Cronkite” in Yiddish means ailment, so every time his name was announced, my mother, who had a wild and zany sense of humor, was reduced to incoherent choking laughter. It was a nightly event. Eventually she got herself under control sufficiently to watch the news, but the sound of her barely contained merriment did nothing to improve the gravity I felt should surround the news.

To this day, the first thing I think of when I hear Walter Cronkite’s name — something that less and less frequently as the younger generations forget everything that happened before Facebook — is the sound of my mother’s laughter. That’s not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Walter was one of Ed Murrow’s boys, his hand-picked crew at CBS News.

murrow

I can only wonder what the chances are of any of us living to see a return to news presented as news and not as entertainment. Where reporters and anchors check and doublecheck sources before broadcasting a story. Today, Jon Stewart’s comedy news The Daily Show gives us more accurate news than does the supposed “real” news, I like Stewart, but I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

For a look at the how we got from there to here, two movies spring instantly to mind : Network — a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet starring Faye DunawayWilliam HoldenPeter Finch, and Robert Duvall. Its dark vision of the future of news has turned out to be very close to reality. Too close for comfort.

The other, for veterans of the TV wars, is Broadcast News, a 1987 comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by James L. Brooks. The film concerns a virtuoso television news producer (Holly Hunter), who has daily emotional breakdowns, a brilliant yet prickly reporter (Albert Brooks) and his charismatic but far less seasoned rival (William Hurt). When it first came out, it was almost too painful to watch.

And finally, Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom …the HBO series that gives the most realistic look at how it works and sometimes, how it fails … and why it matters.

The world goes on. We think we can’t survive without this or that. We think the world will go completely to Hell without real news and serious reporters but we survive. Maybe the worse for wear, but trucking along. Nonetheless, I’d like real news back on the air. I’d like to see a return to fact-based reporting. I know how old-fashioned that is, but I wish I could believe what I read, what I see, what I hear. I miss being able to trust the information I get. I would like to be less cynical or at the least, discover my cynicism was misplaced.

Just saying.

Ours was the last generation …

I get a lot of posts about things that were common when I was a kid that you don’t see anymore. Rabbit ear antennas for televisions. 45 RPM record players. Vinyl records. Tape recorders that used actual mylar tape. Dial telephones. Galoshes. Roller skates that fitted your shoes and needed keys to adjust. Rabbit ear […]

You’re ALL out of order! Historically speaking.

MAD-Magazine-Anthony-Weiners-BackMy husband is astounded the people of New York could really seriously consider electing Anthony “The Peter Tweeter” Weiner. How can people be so dumb? Of course he knows the answer. He’s just in denial.

I reminded him how the good citizens of Washington DC elected Marion Barry, Jr. multiple times, even after he was arrested, convicted and served time for cocaine. And he’s by no means the only known criminal to be elected after being convicted and serving time. Sex scandals, corruption, bribery, extortion, armed robbery, witness intimidation, drugs, embezzlement, murder. You name a crime and we, the American people have elected someone who committed it. Was known to have committed it. Was convicted in a court of law for committing it. And we elected them anyway, frequently more than once.

And then we have the gall to complain about the poor quality of our elected representatives? And demand term limits?

We have term limits. They are called elections. If you don’t want them, don’t elect them. It’s not as if foreigners sneak over the border and vote for their own candidate. We nominate and elect them. It isn’t the Russians, the Pakistanis or the Mexicans. It’s us. And we keep doing it. If ever a nation has the politicians it deserves, it’s the USA.

It’s funny, if you’ve got the right kind of sense of humor. The Hall of Shame list is broken down by presidency, governmental branch and by scandal, many of which have cool names that resound through history. Watergate. Teapot Dome. Iran-Contra. Koreagate. Only the juiciest scandals get really good names.

The number of indictments does not represent the number of crimes. It just shows who got caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Keep in mind many people convicted under one administration were actually appointed or elected during (or by) preceding administrations. They just didn’t get nailed until years later.

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My vote for top scandal of my lifetime: Watergate. I doubt I will live to see anything that can touch it for sheer bizarre excitement. Watching it unfold was a total reality show immersion experience. Nowadays, they try to create reality, but that was reality. Everyday, some totally weird new stuff showed up on TV. I used to carry a transistor radio with me so I wouldn’t have to miss the daily hearings. (Note: Transistor radios were predecessors of computers. You turned them on and live sound came out, but no pictures.) I turned on the TV as soon as I got home to watch the day’s events unfold. Crazy stuff! The best live continuing series ever.

I can’t believe I’m waxing nostalgic for great scandals of the past. With all the hoopla during the Clinton and Bush administrations, nothing matched Watergate. But that was just the big one in my lifetime. Historically, although there was no electronic media to cover the event, the biggest government scandal in American history? Take a guess. Let’s not always see the same hands.

It was the Whiskey Ring scandal. It took place during the massively corrupt administration of President Ulysses S. Grant’s (R) and involved whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks. It ended in 1875 with 110 convictions. That’s the record, folks. Hopefully, it will never be matched, much less beaten.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Most crimes, serious or minor, were punished by slaps on the wrist. A couple of months, a small fine, probation or community service, most of which was made to “disappear” by a pardon from the next occupant of the Oval Office. Without regard for party affiliation.

In case you are detail-oriented, I put together a list of most of the elected and appointed officials on the Federal level who were convicted while holding office. It’s in a separate post, The American Hall of Shame. Originally part of this post, it was huge, so I gave it its own space. Wow, eh?

More than a few of the people who were convicted of crimes while in office were subsequently re-elected, some while still serving time. The list goes all the back to … well … George Washington. It doesn’t start to get really intense until the Reagan administration, not because there weren’t many criminals, but the because officials were virtually untouchable for many years. Everybody knew they were criminals, but no one was willing to point a finger.

Somebody might cut that finger right off. No, really.

See The American Hall of Shame for delicious details of the America’s elected and appointed criminals and scandals. History can be fun!

 

Daily Prompt: Party Animals on the Radio

We don’t go to parties often nor do we give parties any more. Garry can’t hear at most gatherings and I always wonder why I’m there. But … for everything I say that’s true, there’s an exception. Also true, just completely the opposite of what I just said.

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Last night, we were on the air on WBZ 1030AM, gabbing about movies with a bunch of other movie-centric folks and it was, as usual, a whole lot of fun. Some good arguments  on the role of movies in cultural and social change. The odd warm interchange about remakes and franchise movies in particular, the quality of horror movies and movie monsters.

75-GarNK-83My opinion? On monsters, if you can’t see the seams, they’re cool. And as for remakes and franchises, isn’t there something new worth doing?

Then, there was the sad death of Harry Reems, star of Deep Throat, the first genuinely funny porn movie. Talk about cultural influence! A whole generation … never mind.

So we talked about movies, laughed about movies, made valid points about movies, a few on and off target comments on The State of the Art and Arts, American culture, took some call ins, did a bit of trivia. Jordan gave away WBZ pens (with ink!).

By the middle of the night, when I took a few in-studio shots, we were all looking pretty scruffy. You can’t tell about a few of us because I was holding the camera (yay, me) and the nature of shooting pictures in a studio is that there aren’t a lot of angles from which to shoot. Small and cluttered is never a great photo venue. But, at least you get a sense of the studio, its size and us. In the middle of the night, sans snacks or coffee.

Jordan Rich, our gracious host

Jordan Rich, our gracious host

It was fun. It’s always fun. It’s easy to forget that you are not just hanging out and whatever you say is actually being heard by a lot of people across the country. WBZ has a very powerful signal. The show is also simulcast in Cincinnati and everywhere in the world by live Internet feed.

It was my first time on the air in a year or so. I haven’t felt up to overnighting, but this time, I vowed I was going to make it.

So that was the party and I got to be one of the animals. Tomorrow, I’ll feel inspired. Today, I mostly need a nap.

Staring at the radio

Last night when Garry came into the bedroom, I was staring at the radio. Garry takes his hearing aids off at night, so we have our bedtime conversations at high volume. Shouting, really. So please imagine the following dialogue with both participants talking very loudly.

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“Why are you staring at the radio?”

“I’m trying to figure out if it’s on. Oh, it just started to make noise. It’s on.”

“It’s all the same to me. But why are you staring at it?”

“I figured if I stared at it for a while, it would start to play. Or not. One way or the other, I would find out what the red light means.”

“But … why are you STARING at it. How will staring at it help?”

“That’s how I figure things out. It didn’t come with instructions.”

Pause. “Have you taken any drugs?”

Philco Clock Radio CD

“No. See, there’s a red light. I didn’t if know the red light meant the CD player was on or off. I had to wait and see if it started playing. I was pretty sure a blinking red light meant pause, but I wasn’t sure what a steady red light meant. So I was waiting. I tried waiting when there was no light. Nothing happened, so I tried it the other way. Since it’s making noise, the red light must mean on. It’s kind of slow getting started.”

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but Garry started to laugh and couldn’t stop. “That’s the sort of thing I would do,” he said,

“Well, how else would I know what the red light means?”

He laughed some more.

Garry thinks I know a lot of stuff I don’t really know, especially about technical stuff. I have a simple methodology. Push a button. If it doesn’t do anything or solve whatever problem I’m trying to solve, I push another button. Or push the same button again or hold the button down for a couple of seconds. While I’m waiting, I watch. Intently. Maybe I’ll get a message. Isn’t this how everyone fixes stuff?

My husband finds this hilarious.

I spend a lot of time staring at computers. I’m waiting for something. An idea. For the system to reboot. To see if a blue screen is going to recur. To figure out if the diagnostic will tell me there’s no problem even though I’m sure there is. For a message to appear.

I must be doing something right. Beethoven is playing on the CD player/radio. And most of the time, the computers work.

- – -

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