February 26, 2016

195 The Platters “The Great Pretender” 1955

The group’s manager, Buck Ram, had worked as a songwriter and arranger since the 1930s and was in his late forties as rock and roll began to dawn. Yet, unlike so many of his peers who resisted the new music, he was able to write songs with a feel for the musical present using a craft steeped in the past. In the songs he wrote for the Platters, which included 'The Great Pretender' … he managed to marry a straightforward harmonic-phrase design with a melodic elegance and lyrics that appealed to an all-ages romantic sensibility” (Albin Zak, I Don’t Sound Like Nobody, 2010)

The Platters “The Great Pretender”

194 The Platters “Only You (and You Alone)” 1955

In the film Rock Around the Clock, the Comets starred alongside the Platters, a mixed-gender vocal group as silken as the Comets and Little Richard were brash. The Platters’ 1955 hit, “Only You (And You Alone),” was the first in a series of twenty top-forty hits they scored over the course of six years, almost all of which were ballads” (Albin Zak, I Don’t Sound Like Nobody, 2010). 

The Platters “Only You (and You Alone)”

193 Muddy Waters (1913-1983) “Mannish Boy” 1955

He listened to a new performer, Bo Diddley, auditioning a song, “I’m a Man.” “He figured, ‘This guy is nothing, give me that song…Then I go on it with ‘Mannish Boy’ and just drove him out of my way’” (Can’t Be Satisfied).

Muddy Waters “Mannish Boy”

192 Little Richard (1932- ) “Tutti-Frutti” 1955

“’I think my legacy should be that when I started in show business, there wasn't no such thing as rock & roll,’ Richard says. ‘It was “swing and sway with Sammy Kaye.” It was John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and then after a while, here comes Chuck Berry. And when I started with “Tutti Frutti,” that's when rock really started rocking, with wop-bob-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom, you know?’” (Rolling Stone, 2013). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Little Richard “Tutti-Frutti”

191 Smiley Lewis (1913-1966) “I Hear You Knockin’” 1955

“His best songs were often covered and sanitized by white artists, and he died before the Jazz Fest generation could discover his music. Plus, the fact he sang about getting his head bad, hard work, womanizing, going to jail for hitting his wife and cheating on his wife kept his singles out of the mainstream and the charts” (Offbeat, 2010).

Smiley Lewis “I Hear You Knockin’”

February 19, 2016

190 Johnny Ace (1919-1954) “Pledging My Love” 1955

Born John M. Alexander, the “short, tragic life of Johnny Ace was played out in two arenas: Memphis, where the blues were born, and Houston, where rhythm plus blues mean a full house and money in the bank.” He was an enigma, “a moody man who drank and cried alone.” After performing a duet with Big Mama Thornton, he shot himself playing with a pistol (Ebony, 1955).

189 Bill Haley (1925-1981) and his Comets “Rock a-Beating Boogie” 1955

he was lost in thought, …passing the time in a Sambo's on Tyler Street in downtown Harlingen…Bill Haley was making rock and roll records when Elvis was still in high school. For that matter, he was playing rock and roll when Chuck Berry was working in a beauty parlor, Jerry Lee Lewis was studying at the Southwestern Bible Institute, and Little Richard was washing dishes in a bus station…Why didn't anybody seem to remember?” (Michael Hall, Texas Monthly, 2011).

Bill Haley and his Comets “Rock a-Beating Boogie”

188 Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller (1896-1976) “San Francisco Blues” 1955

He played a “ramshackle mix of pop, vaudeville, jazz, spirituals, fancy instrumentals, children’s songs, hillbilly, work songs and medicine and minstrel show material. A powerful, exceedingly expressive vocalist and extraordinary 12-string guitarist, he developed an incomparable one-man band approach around his fotdella and harmonica/kazoo gig” (Gary von Tersch, Sing Out, 2010).

187 Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) “Sixteen Tons” 1955

Ford joined the Air force and served as a bomber instructor during World War II. He returned to a singing career and “carved a niche in American popular culture in 1955 with his song ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett,’ which became the theme song of an immensely popular Walt Disney television program. But Ford had an even bigger recording hit that same year. ‘Sixteen Tons’ was a single that sold more than 1 million copies within three weeks of its release” (American National Biography). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.  

186 Lonnie Donegan (1931-2002) “Rock Island Line” 1955

Raised in London, Donegan “was the undisputed king of skiffle—a jazz-tinged hybrid of American folk and blues.” He formed a band with his former army buddies and recorded the Leadbeally song, “Rock Island Line,” “which became a major hit in Britain and America.” Even though Donegan disliked rock music, his imitators such as the Beatles “discovered that their skiffle skills prepared them perfectly to play amplified blues-based American rock ‘n’ roll” (Contemporary Musicians). 

Lonnie Donegan “Rock Island Line”

February 5, 2016

185 Fats Domino (1928-2017) “Ain’t That a Shame” 1955

“Well before the British Invasion reintroduced African-American music to white American audiences, Domino had been the harbinger: he crashed a host of mainstream venues (Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark, for starters) and played everywhere from the Apollo to all-white clubs. He was proud that his subversive, sensual music caused riots” (Kirkus Reviews, 4/1/2006).

184 The Cheers “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” 1955

Prior to his career as TV guest star and game show host, Bert Convy (1933-1991) achieved minor fame playing baseball and singing with the Cheers during his college years at UCLA (www.biography.com).    

183 Bo Diddley (1928-2008) “I’m a Man” 1955

“Diddley was born Elias Bates in December of 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. At age eight he was adopted by his mother's cousin, who taught Sunday school in Chicago, and changed his last name to McDaniel. He took classical violin lessons from O. W. Frederick at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but later switched to guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker on the radio. In his teens he started boxing and became known by his nickname, Bo Diddley (Contemporary Black Biography). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.  

182 Bo Diddley (1928-2008) “Bo Diddley” 1955

Diddley was invited to sing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s hit, “Sixteen Tons“ from cue cards on the Ed Sullivan Show. He sang “Bo Diddley” instead. Doug Pullen in MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide wrote “Diddley's distinctive ‘chunka, chunka’ rhythm guitar riff is the stuff of which rock's bedrock was made” (Contemporary Black Biography). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

181 Big Maybelle (1924-1972) “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” 1955

Influenced by gospel music at a young age, Mabel Louise Smith was dubbed “Big Maybelle” by producer Fred Mendelsohn. “Her mountainous stature matching the sheer soulful power of her massive vocal talent, Big Maybelle was one of the premier R&B chanteuses of the 1950s” (www.allmusic.com).