Column #27 - published November 5, 1999
AN UPDATED IMPROVED SOUND?
Forget About It!!!
Even before I got into rock'n'roll, when I was about 10 years old, I had discovered Jazz, New Orleans Jazz, Dixieland Jazz, to be precise. I had heard it on the radio, seen it in American movies, and my mother owned 78s of Louis Armstrong.
GENE VINCENT: his sound was "updated" and "improved" already into the next century. Are you gonna try to modernize this? photo by Diane Kaslow
What struck me about this music is that it was red hot, it was sensual, it had a rockin' beat that you couldn't resist, you had to move your feet! Unlike much Italian music of the time which was sugary and "sensitive", Jazz kicked ass!!
So one day, at the tender age of 11-12, I walk into a record store looking for Jazz records to buy. I find this album by.....I dont remember his name. I plunk 3-4 months of savings for this LP, and, to my eternal shock, when I get home to play this.....it's crap!!!! There is no red hot swingin' Big Beat, no blaring saxophones!!!
It's all: "bbbbbblllluuurrrrideeelybeerurrreee", indeed some idiot showing off his guitar skills for some other highbrow musician like him!!! No recognizable melodic riffs, no Big Beat!!
I later find out that I had bumped into "Cool Jazz", very uncool stuff indeed! See, this was an "updated", "improved" version of Jazz which appealed more to snotty Harvard College professors, Paris intellectuals, and moody Greenwich Village beatnicks!! They had taken the Soul and the balls out of Jazz and made it palatable for snobby intellectuals!!!
Little would I know that later I would discover Rock'n'Roll, which would undergo the same miserable fate!
The last casualty of this "updated improved" cancer has been Country & Western Music, which now sounds either like sissified slush, or like 1970s "Rock", which was not "Rock" in the first place!!! (See my previous column!!)
Some of you might say-- but Ronny, things gotta change, they cannot always stay the same, can they?-- well, I agree and disagree, some things not only gotta, but must change, and the quicker the better!!!
When it comes to faster computers, higher resolution TV sets, more variety of foods available (as we have today as opposed to the 1950s), I WELCOME change!!! It cannot come fast enough for me!!! Change for the better, always, always!!
Change for the worse: NEVERRRRRR!!!! There is no voice around today that has the Soul of 1950s LITTLE RICHARD or GENE VINCENT or ELVIS PRESLEY!!
LITTLE RICHARD: improving on his stuff is like trying to improve on the Grand Canyon!!
No cartoons today match the outrageous excitement of TEX AVERY.
No car today comes close to the styling of those 1950s beauties.
TEX AVERY: hundreds tried over the last 40 years to "improve" on Tex Avery, yet nobody has come close!!
And rare is the Western Wear which can compete with those unbelievable 1940s and 1950s masterpieces!!
The "Improvement" Of Rock'n'Roll
You might be able to "improve" on this classic 1950s Western shirt, then again ... I think not!!
When "Sargeant Pepper" came out, and George Harrison was squatting on the floor wearing a loin cloth and a turban, it hit me that rock'n'roll had undergone the same fate as Jazz!! I could not quite understand how we had gone from AMERICAN cowboys, greasers, cotton pickers, hot rod racers, boogie woogie pianists, teenage rebels, Alan Freed and Elvis tearing down segregation, to guys preaching Hindu ways (which included extreme segregation, the practice of satih--burning women on the stake--, the caste system, and other such unsavory practices).
What the hell happened??
Rock'n'Roll was being "updated" and "improved"!!
Then finally the whole Hindu thing disappeared, but some new "updating" came along in the early 1970s: guys wearing ridiculous effeminated Beatles haircuts, polyester jump suits with bellbottoms, playing fuzz guitars, thin drums, obnoxious organs, and muffled electric basses, doing "updated" versions of the "oldies"!!! Arrrrrghhh, puke!!!
More "progress" was just around the corner when Disco gave us drum machines and synthesizers!!! And Techno Crock couldn't be too far away!!
Safety pins through your cheecks and big rings through your nose were another sign of "progress" in the late 1970s.
Why is it that nobody talks about "updating" and "improving" Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Shakespeare or Michelangelo??? I guess the Media doesn't give Rock'n'Roll the same consideration. Well, I do, and categorically state that nobody will ever improve on Elvis Presley or Little Richard or Hank Williams or Sam Cooke!!
And now to the present day, to some of our rockabilly bands who are trying to "modernize" their sound: answer me this, cats, why do you think that by adding a fuzz tone to your guitar (a la 1960s Woodstock), or monotone vocals ( a la 1970s Punk) you are "modernizing" your sound?? You are really dating your sound by 25-30 years!! What's "updated" or "modern" about that?
Has anybody ever considered that instead of adding "punk" or 1960s influences into rockabilly, why not open your minds and look the world over for possible influences?
There is African musics, Irish limericks, Italian Canzonettas, French street singers, Cajun/Zydeco from Louisiana, Israeli Folk Music, Klezmer, Mexican Mariachi & Norteno, Cuban Mambos, Brazilian Sambas, Congas, Chinese, Japanese music, and so on and on, ad infinitum!!!
But always remember never to dilute the driving Big Beat and the emotional Soul of Rock'n'Roll (like George Harrison did) regardless of what influences you try!!
Forget the Woodstock Sound, and welcome the World Sounds into your musical arsenal of possibilities!! Now that would be a "modern" idea!!
But as far as "improving" on perfection: it can't be done, leave the Mona Lisa alone!
Whaaaaaat - Who wants to "update" MEEEEEE??
Always Rollin' The Rock,
Rockin' Ronny Weiser
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