People from all walks of life will try to tell you there was no golden age for anything – that it’s all just false memory and nostalgia. “Ohh, it was all better in my day dearie” like your grandma used to say about the 1940’s, when in reality the night sky was full of falling bombs, your neighbour’s house was no more than a pile of bricks and the kids were living with strangers in Cornwall. At least that was my Granny’s experience, in east Dulwich, South London.
But for us, the guitarists, it’s not just nostalgia – there really was a golden age of the Electric guitar. And coincidentally it largely coincided with the golden era of the Long Playing record.
But let’s go back further, to April 12, 1954. To a second take at the end of a recording session, where Danny Cedrone laid down what is arguably the opening 16 bars of the electric guitar era. Bill Hailey used Rock Around the Clock as a B-side to ‘Thirteen Women (and only one man in town)’, a totally forgettable piece of 1950’s pap. And that was the last anyone thought about it for a while. Cedrone went away and subsequently died on 17th June that year. He apparently stopped off for a quick bite to eat in an upstairs restaurant in Philadelphia and slipped on the stars as he left – the fall breaking his neck and killing him instantly.
The guitarist everyone has seen playing the famous solo is Franny Beecher – there’s no footage of Cedrone (above) making that historical recording. And the record was largely forgotten for another year until it was picked up for the movie ‘Blackboard Jungle’ – and suddenly the rock’n’roll guitar solo was born.
I’d bet that most of the guitarists reading this article can either hum that lead break, or moreover, tried to play it. If you haven’t, go learn it!
Of course, by the time Rock around the Clock was a hit, Hailey was seen as very much yesterday’s man. Over the hill. There was a new kid on the block – and he had his own guitar, and his own hot shot guitarist, Scotty Moore! That man was of course Elvis Presley. Elvis ignited the imaginations of millions of teenagers, and Scotty was his main man.
Scotty’s style was instantly recognisable, a thumbpick and fingers style that came from a mixture of country and folk, electrified to a new level. He played on all the early hits.
But when Elvis was drafted, that was pretty much it for Scotty – he worked for Sam Philips at Sun for a while, made a solo record (which Sam subsequently fired him for having made), and then played on one more moment of Rock, and indeed televisual history – the 68 comeback Special. He didn’t play live again for 25 years.
Scotty changed the public persona of the guitar player in a rock band. Suddenly the guitarist was a star too and not just some anonymous or interchangeable side man, (though in Scotty’s case a reluctant one, his personality being much more reserved and shy).
But at the same time as all this was going on, the Blues guitar was on the rise in the form of Chuck Berry, BB King, Freddie King, Muddy Waters and John lee Hooker. However, Blues guitar was not a mainstream art form in the land of its inception. It wasn’t until it was discovered across the Atlantic in Britain that it really found a wider audience.
American forces radio had played Blues music in the UK in the 1940’s and beyond. But it wasn’t until London had it’s own venue – Alexis Korner’s ‘London Blues and Barrelhouse Club’ that the scene started to explode. American blues artists, (notably Muddy Waters in 1958), came to the UK to play to mixed audiences. White London got the blues. But not only that, they had the electric blues. And they didn’t just leave it where it was – they ran hard with it.
Korner formed ‘Blues Incorporated’ in 61. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played with Korner, so did Mick Jagger. John Mayall started his Bluesbreakers. More clubs opened up and down the country, and while Rock n roll was considered finished in the USA, nothing more than a passing fad, Blues became the staple of the new young British Guitarist.
And it spawned a whole generation of guitarists who were both technically gifted, and inspired by the blues.
Britain has probably never had a better generation of blues guitarists: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Eric Clapton, all inspired by the blues, all made their names in the 60’s electric blues scene.
See you for part two…..when the volume really starts to rise!