Rock’n’Roll Unravelled – by Derek Shelmerdine
An abridged review copy of this publication, with the front page caption ‘From its Roots to mid-1970’s Punk’ came to me from the author via a family friend who is a local radio DJ. The book is a combined ‘dip in’ events diary and pocket history melange which has self-evidently required a lot of detailed research-seemingly 7 years worth. It’s very interesting as one might expect and for Fury fans there is some information in Part 3, (pocket histories).
In Part 2 there is more detail related to or connected to Billy, some of it new to me; the duration of the Blue Flames as a backing group for one thing. I didn’t know that Them (with Van Morrison) were originally called The Gamblers either, which could have been confusing given the great Newcastle group of the same name. There is a fair bit of detail about the sixties bands and artists connected in some way with the Beatles era but to those of us who regard rock’n’ roll as a musical phenenomon from around 1954-60, (perhaps earlier at a pinch) it is strange to see the term covering the Who, Deep Purple, Hawkwind, Billy J Kramer, Hank Ballard, Springsteen and punk groups etc., which seems to be the way the USA sees it these days, and many in the UK. This modern view is confirmed by some of the real rock’n’ roll artists only recently included in the USA Rock’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, whilst mainstream Sixties pop artists and groups have inexplicably been inducted. For me it’s a bit like not seeing Slim Whitman mentioned in the Country Music Hall of Fame when I visited in 2007-how wrong is that.
To be fair-those of us who are more purist are really out of step with the way things are today (even Joe Brown says it’s all rock’n’ roll to him now although I suspect Marty Wilde may feel differently). Anyway, by setting aside for a while those narrower, but perfectly natural views for many of our generation, it is possible to really enjoy this book and to understand, if not to actually embrace, all kinds of ‘rock’ as being branches of the rock’n’roll tree. Let’s face it the line between rhythm and blues, rockabilly (actually categorised as such by some US reviewers of Elvis 45s in the fifties but not identified as such in this country until the late sixties or so), has always been blurred-take Fats Domino (first record made in 1949) and Bo Diddley as perfect examples. They are renowned as rock’n’ roll icons yet surely they played predominantly rhythm and blues-as did Chuck Berry on a lot of recordings. Even early Elvis was a mixture-I Got Stung and Jailhouse Rock were very self-evidently pure rock’n’ roll but One Sided Love Affair and many others were R&B and some Sun sides were pure rockabilly.
It’s never been that clear cut. The book does also set the scene by including some of the seismic events happening along the way, like the Vietnam War, thereby being a bit of a social history as well.
This is a book for serious music lovers with broad taste (but excluding Soul and Reggae etc.), and there are real nuggets hear such as the time Bo Diddley ‘went of script’ on a US TV show –and was never invited back! The formation of a ‘supergroup’ the Beatmakers in late 1961 with the Beatles and Pacemakers together with Karl Terry and Gerry on lead vocals, with John Lennon relegated to piano-who knew about that! The deaths of icons from our era such as Del Shannon are listed and it’s nice to see mention of the often neglected Ronnie Hawkins (a real rock’n’ roller) and fascinating to know that the first time Led Zeppelin played together was when recording the unusual PJ Proby LP Three Week Hero. Nothing really new about Billy Fury here, but he is done justice to, and it’s a nice reference book to dip into.
Published by DCA Rock’n’Roll Ltd 2016. Available on Amazon UK priced £24.95 with free postage.
Contact author via www.rocknrollunravelled.com