Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wimps and Rockers

Lots of rock and roll birthdays today. Consider this the greeting card, sent so you don't have to.

Russell Thompkins, Jr., of the Stylistics is 55. Owner of one of the greatest falsettos in R&B history (perhaps the greatest--I can't decide between Thompkins and Clyde McPhatter), he gave the Stylistics their one-of-a-kind sound. As critic Robert Christgau once said, "If James Taylor is a wimp, then Russell Thompkins is a wimp god."

Roger Hodgson of Supertramp is 56. Hodgson had a falsetto of his own, taking the high lead vocals on tunes such as "Give a Little Bit," "The Logical Song," and "Take the Long Way Home," which he also wrote. More than 20 years removed from his last hit ("Sleeping With the Enemy"), he's still soldiering on, playing summer festivals like the one scheduled for suburban Milwaukee this summer.

Eddie Money is 57. I think I have mentioned here before that one of my few claims to fame is that I once interviewed Eddie Money before a concert in Macomb, Illinois, back in 1986. The inestimable Jefito wrote about Money last week as somebody who "honestly seems to totally fucking get what rock & roll is all about." (Italics his.) Money certainly burned the place down the night I heard him.

Ray Dorset is 60. You may not know his name, but you know his one-and-only American hit--"In the Summertime," with the group Mungo Jerry.

Rosie Stone is 61. Sly and the Family Stone were a groundbreaking act in a number of ways--chief among them their integration at a time when "integration" was a major cultural buzzword. The group was made up of both men and women, and of people from various races. Rosemary was the group's keyboard player--and sister to both Sly Stone and guitarist Fred Stewart.

Viv Stanshall would be 63 today, had he not died in a house fire in 1995. Most biographies of Stanshall mention his membership in the satirical British group the Bonzo Dog Band, which brought him into contact with both the Beatles and the Monty Python troupe. Americans might know him better as a collaborator with Steve Winwood, especially on Arc of a Diver, and perhaps as the narrator on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Maybe.

Solomon Burke is 67. One of the underrated masters of Southern soul. Burke could sound country, as a listen to his most famous song, "Just Out of Reach (of My Two Empty Arms)" will tell, but he could also be an uptown R&B showman. He's still recording, and playing out on the road.

Some people might tell you that rock and roll itself is celebrating a sort of birthday today. Fifty-four years ago tonight, DJ Alan Freed hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland, which is recognized today as the first rock concert in the modern sense of the term. Several popular R&B acts, whose records Freed had been playing on his radio shows, were scheduled to appear. Twenty thousand kids showed up at an arena capable of holding only about half that, and after one song, the fire marshal shut it down. The mythology of the Moondog Coronation Ball includes the belief that the audience was made up largely of white kids who had discovered R&B and were thus helping to create rock and roll. That's not true--most of the kids in the audience were black, although there were white kids in attendance,too. The interracial nature of the crowd may have made Cleveland authorities more eager to shut the show down--although they deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, the windows and doors of the theater were smashing under the strain of people trying to get in.


At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great line from Roger Hodgon's "Sleeping With The Enemy": "Had a dream...it was war, and they couldn't tell us what it was for..."
(and to think he recorded that in 1984)


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