Depending on which day I go shopping for groceries at our local supermarket, I am greeted by one of the musical themes with which I literally grew up. Some days it’s the early 1950s, the early days of our music. Others progress through the British invasion, soul, Motown, folk, harder rock and the terrific musicality of the ’70s and ’80s. It must seem funny to today’s kids seeing all these gray-haired and limping shoppers bobbing their heads to The Temptations’ "My Girl" or singing along to Bob Dylan’s "The Times They are a ’Changin."
I grew up in and around Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1940s-1960s. I know why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was built there. I saw and listened to the cornerstones of the genre being laid every day on the radio and in the record shops. Ah, the record shops… We could go in and select demo records and listen to them in little audio booths before we bought them.
That certainly helped separate the junk from the good stuff.
The radio innovator Alan Freed came to Cleveland from New York and started playing “alternative” pop music. We know this music today as rhythm and blues. But the real designation was Real Black.
Thus ensued the battle between my generation of white kids and our parents. Our folks didn’t want us to have anything to do with “those” people or “that” music. They didn’t use “those” or “that” when searching for adjectives. We, of course, rebelled. We became the James Dean, "Rebel Without a Cause" generation.
The “cause” came later.
Freed became very popular with his “Moondog” radio show that came on 11 p.m. Most of us hid our radios under our pillows to listen to it without the parents interfering with what was rapidly becoming rock ‘n’ roll.
By the way, legend has it Freed coined that phrase at Elvis Presley’s breakout concert at the LaSalle Theatre on Superior Avenue near Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
He wrote a review that said something like, “That kid Presley had the old LaSalle rockin’ and rollin’" — or so goes the legend.
Freed also organized and held the first rock ‘n’ roll concert in the Cleveland Arena in 1952. It was a huge hit with kids, but about half-way through it the police came and shut it down. It was simply too much too soon for the ruling generation. We knew, however, the change was coming and rock ‘n’ roll music was our vehicle for generation identity and our message for the future.
The first rhythm-and-blues record that hit the charts was made by none other than Antoine “Fats” Domino in 1949. The Fat Man kicked off a transit of this very rhythmic music up from New Orleans past the Mississippi delta region, where it received another blues injection.
From the Deep South the music kept traveling north past St. Louis, where a country kid who “could play a guitar just like ringin’ a bell” wrote 56 songs that found their way into every rock ‘n’ roll hit for the next 40 years.
Chuck Berry’s sound enthralled every “sweet li’l 16” from Bangor to L.A. and the movement became unstoppable.
The rust belt cities of Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland all became hubs for the growth and development of early rock music and artists before it went to New York and became THE musical expression of the late ’50s and beyond.
But down in Memphis a branch of this budding genre got “Hill Billied” by not only white musicians but black as well until there was hardly a distinction.
Stax, Sun, Atlantic and eventually Motown became the record labels that produced all the songs from all the people who became the permanent “guests” of that museum up on the shores of Lake Erie.
The best part of this nostalgic walk for me reminds me how my generation broke down racial and discrimination boundaries that had existed for more than a century. We did it! It is our gift to subsequent generations to keep doing it for the sake of all the people of our nation.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.