Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On This Date...

Sorry for the long layoff.  I misplaced my computer.

Several interesting music-oriented things happened on this date in history.  Let's check some of them out:

1.  Chuck Berry's birthday.  Chuck Berry was born today in 1926, so that makes him 85 years old for those of you looking around for your calculator.  He was born in St. Louis, MO.  A lot of historians put Chuck at ground zero for the birth of rock and roll.  His mixture of country music (as it sounded in the early 1950s) and T-Bone Walker-style blues guitar licks created the classic 1950s rock and roll sound.  His biggest hits came in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Sadly, he has been pretty much a nostalgia act since the 70s.  His last true studio album came out in 1979.  Chuck often toured by himself, and arranged to be paid in cash and for a local band in each town to back him in his concerts.  The primary benefit of this is that he got most of the money and didn't have to deal with a band touring with him.  The downside was varying quality to his concerts and that he eventually did a few months in prison for tax evasion.  He still occasionally plays live and still lives outside St. Louis.

Chuck Berry in 2007

2.  Gary Richrath's birthday.  Who, you ask?  Gary was the original and long time lead guitarist for the band REO Speedwagon.  In the early 1980s REO was one of the biggest bands out there.  By then, however, I had already quit listening to them.  Most of their huge 1980s hits were power ballads, a genre that didn't interest me.  If you back the clock up a few years, though, REO were rockers. Not heavy metal, but more of a fast boogie-woogie party rock and roll with a great guitar sound.  I first took notice in 1977 with the song Riding the Storm Out.  It was off their new live album "You Get What You Play For".  I bought that album and wore it out, mostly focusing on Gary Richrath's guitar playing.  Unfortunately they followed that up with the album with a cheap pun in the title- "You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish" which ushered in the song "Time For Me To Fly".  This was a big power ballad hit, and unfortunately distorted everything they ever recorded from that point on.  They lost me.  They lost Gary Richrath, too, in 1989.  He quit the band because he wanted to get back to playing rock songs, while lead singer Kevin Cronin preferred the overwrought emotional stadium rock songs.  Gary was born on this date in 1949, and he's now 61 years old.

Gary on the "You Get What You Play For" album cover

3. Paul McCartney's first performance with the Quarrymen:  Before the Beatles, there was the Quarrymen.  This was a musical group made up of John Lennon and several other kids from the neighborhood.  They were called the  Quarrymen after Quarry Bank High School where Lennon attended school.  Paul first saw the Quarrymen perform at a churchyard picnic in July, 1957.  He later joined the group, and played his first show with them on October 18, 1957-exactly 54 years ago today.  By 1960 most of the Quarrymen had quit the group, George Harrison had joined, and the Quarrymen chose a new name- The Beatles.

John Lennon and the Quarrymen on the day Paul McCartney and Lennon first met

4. Video Killed the Radio Star-  Today in 1979, this song, by the Buggles, was number one in the U.K.  The Buggles were Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes  They were basically a studio-only band and did not perform concerts.  They recorded and released the single "Video Killed the Radio Star" right at the end of the 70s, with lyrics that looked back nostalgically at radio and the worry that radio as a star-making source was losing it's power and being taken over by television.  With a hit on their hands, Horn and Downes quickly wrote and put out a Buggles album in February, 1980 called "The Age of Plastic."  It had a couple of other minor singles but no additional hits.  The duo next spent a year with the band Yes before releasing the second Buggles album in 1981.  This album went nowhere, and the Buggles came to an end.  On August 1st, 1981, "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the very first video played on the brand new MTV (back when they played videos).

The Video Killed the Radio Star single

5. Julie London- On this day in 2000 Julie London died at age 74.  Most people know her as nurse Dixie McCall on the tv show Emergency! from the mid-1970s.  What many don't know is that in the 1950s she was a very popular singer.  She was working as an elevator operator when she was discovered, and ended up recording 32 albums in her career.  She was Billboard magazine's most popular female vocalist in 1955, '56, and '57.  She was married for a while to Jack Webb of Dragnet fame.  Later, after divorcing Webb she met and married Bobby Troup, a bandleader who wrote the popular song "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66."  In the 1970s Webb created the tv show Emergency! and cast both Julie London as Nurse Mccall and Bobby Troup as Dr. Joe Early.  They remained married until Troup's death in 1999.

Julie in her 1950s singing heyday.

With husband Bobby Troup in the Emergency! days

This concludes today's history lesson.  Now go and do something productive.

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