A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs

Episode 6: The Ink Spots — That’s When Your Heartaches Begin

00:0000:00

The Ink Spots: Left to right -- Bill Kenny, Deke Watson, Hoppy Jones, Charlie Fuqua

 

Welcome to episode six of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs. Today we're looking at the Ink Spots and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin"

Resources

As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. Unfortunately, listeners in the US may not be able to access this one -- Mixcloud doesn't allow USians to listen to streams when they have more than four songs in a row by the same artists, due to copyright restrictions (and it isn't set up to realise that in this case, all the music is in the public domain so those restrictions don't apply). I apologise for that, but it's rather out of my hands.

All the Ink Spots' music is now in the public domain, so there are a lot of compilations available. This one is dirt cheap, has decent sound quality, and has all the essential hits on it.

More than Words Can Say by Marv Goldberg is the definitive Ink Spots biography, but sadly it came out through an academic publisher and is thus grossly overpriced. You can buy it here, should you choose. Goldberg's website is also an invaluable source of information, not just about the Ink Spots but about forties and fifties vocal groups, and R&B.

Inkspots.ca  is a wonderful resource for detail about the band's career.

Before Elvisa book I've mentioned many times before, has a reasonable amount about the Ink Spots in it, as well as about almost all the other pre-1954 artists I'm covering here.

A resource I should have mentioned earlier, but one that's useful for all the pre-1952 music, is archive.org's collection of digitised 78 records. I'm using this a lot.

And finally, Deke Watson's autobiography is currently only available on the Kindle. It's credited there as by "Shirlita Bolton", but that's actually the name of Deke's widow, who owns the rights to the book -- it's definitely Deke's autobiography. It's very short, only seventy-three pages, and it's full of inaccuracies, but it's still the only autobiography any of the real Ink Spots wrote, and it's very cheap.

Clarification

At one point, talking about "top and bottom", I say "they first did it in the studio". I don't mean, there, that the first time they performed in this style was in the studio, but that this was the first time they tried something in the studio that they'd already done live. The way I say it makes it sound more ambiguous than I intended...

Transcript

OK, so we've covered the Carnegie Hall concerts of 1938 and 39 and the performers around them quite exhaustively now -- we had a bit of a diversion into Western Swing, but mostly we've stayed around there.
 
Now, we're still looking at New York in the late 1930s and early forties, but we're moving away from those shows, and we're going to look at the most popular vocal group of the era, and possibly the most important vocal group of all time.
 
We've talked over the last few weeks about almost all the major elements of what we now think of as rock and roll -- the backbeat, the arrangements that focus on a rhythm section, the riffs, the electric guitar and the amplification generally. We've seen, quite clearly, how most of these elements were being pulled together, in different proportions and by different people, in the late 1930s, almost but not quite coalescing into what we now call rock and roll.
 
There's one aspect which might be quite easy to overlook, though, which we've not covered yet, and that's the vocal group. Vocal harmonies have become much less prominent in rock music in the last forty years or so, and so today they might not be thought of as an essential element of the genre, but vocal groups played a massive role in the fifties and sixties, and were a huge element of the stew of genres that made up rock and roll when it started.
 
And the vocal group that had the most influence on the groups that became rock and roll was a band whose basis was not as a vocal group, but in coffee pot groups.
 
Coffee-pot groups were groups of poor black teenagers, who performed on street corners and tried to reproduce the sounds of the lush records they heard on the radio, using... well, using the equipment they had to hand. For string parts, you'd play ukuleles or guitars or banjos, but for the horns you'd play the kazoo. But of course, kazoos were not particularly pleasant instruments, and they certainly didn't sound much like a saxophone or clarinet. But it turned out you could make them sound a lot more impressive than they otherwise would if you blew them into something that resonated. Different sizes of container would resonate differently, and so you could get a pretty fair approximation of a horn section by having a teapot, a small coffee pot, and a large coffee pot, and having three of your band members play kazoos into them. The large coffee pot you could also pass around to the crowd afterward, to collect the money in -- though, as Deek Watson said about his coffee-pot group the Percolating Puppies "all of us had to keep our eyes on the cat who passed the collection for the evening, or else some of the money found its way from the pot to his pocket before dividing time arrived".
 
Other instrumental parts, of course, would be replaced with simple mouth noises. You can make quite an impressive collection of instrumental sounds with just your voice, if you try hard enough. 
 
The Ink Spots formed out of people who'd started their careers in these groups -- Charlie Fuqua (pron. Foo-kway, and yes I have checked) was in one with Jerry Daniels before they became the imaginatively-named duo "Charlie and Jerry", while Deek Watson was in another. Those three, plus Hoppy Jones, performed in a variety of combinations under a variety of names before they settled on calling themselves "King, Jack, and Jester" or sometimes "King, Jack, and Jesters".
 
In the early years of their career, they actually got themselves a radio show on a local station, where they were a fill-in for another band, the Four Mills Brothers. And the Four Mills Brothers were the people who influenced them the most.
 
The Mills Brothers had actually started out not so differently from the coffee pot groups -- they entered a talent contest, and John Mills had lost the kazoo he was going to play. He cupped his hands in front of his mouth and imitated a trumpet, and the brothers decided that they were going to start imitating brass instruments with their voices. And they got good at it. Listen to this:
 
[Mills Brothers: "It Don't Mean a Thing"]
 
There is no instrument on there other than a single acoustic guitar, believe it or not. They're imitating trumpets, a tuba, and a trombone with their voices, and they'd listen to instrumental musicians and copy their voicings. This is something  that a lot of vocal groups have continued to do, but no-one has done it better than the Mills Brothers.
 
The Mills Brothers became massively successful, and from 1930 through 1939 they were far and away the biggest black act in the US, making multiple appearances on Bing Crosby's radio show, appearing in films, and touring the world. It was the touring the world that caused their eventual downfall -- they went to play the UK in 1939, and discovered that with World War II imminent, the only ship away from the UK they could get at the end of their tour was one that went to Australia. 
 
Between that massive transport disruption, and then the further disruption caused by the war itself, it took them two years to get back into the US, by which time their popularity had faded somewhat (although they went on to have a massive hit with "Paper Moon" when they got back -- their career was far from over). They carried on having occasional hits into the late sixties, and carried on performing together into the late eighties -- and the last surviving Mills Brother carried on performing until his death in 1999, with one of his sons who carries on the family band to this day. 
 
But they'd lost their place as the top of the entertainment tree, and they'd lost it to people who'd been imitating them -- to the band we last heard of performing as "King, Jack, and Jesters".
 
By the mid 1930s, those four men were in New York and performing as the Riff Brothers, but not getting very far. They were doing a mix of Mills Brothers inspired stuff and more jive music, and were earning decent money but not yet massive successes.
 
In his autobiography, Deek Watson talks about how the Riff Brothers decided to change their name -- there were too many brother and cousin acts for the Riff Brothers to stand out, and the band eventually ended up in their booking agent's office, arguing for hours over what name they should choose and getting nowhere. Finally, as their agent toyed with a pen, a few drops of ink fell out. I'll read the next bit from Watson's book directly:
 
"To me, it seemed like inspiration. 'That's it!' I shouted. 'How about calling us the Ink Spots?'
 
The boys really yelled this time. 'There you go again Deek!' Charlie exclaimed. 'That's right!' agreed Hoppy, 'always wanting us to be something colored. Black Dots, Ink Spots, next thing you know he'll be wanting us to call ourselves the Old Black Joes'
 
They all talked at once. 'Man, you know ain't nobody wants to be no Ink Spot'."
 
Now, Watson in his book does seem to take credit for absolutely every good idea anyone involved in the band had (and for other things which had nothing to do with them, like writing "Your Feet's Too Big", which was written by Fred Fisher and Ada Benson). He also makes up some quite outrageous lies, like that this original lineup of the Ink Spots played at the coronation of King Edward VIII (anyone who knows anything about inter-war British history will know why that is impossible), but this does have the ring of truth about it. When he was in the Percolating Puppies, Watson used to work under the name "four-dice Rastus", and many early reviews of the Ink Spots criticised him for eye-rolling, hand-waving, and other minstrelly behaviours, which many black reviewers of the time considered brought black people into disrepute. It's entirely possible that his bandmates would be irritated by his emphasis on their race.
 
That said, I'm not going to criticise Watson for this, or repeat some of the insulting names he was called by other black people. Everyone has a different response to the experience of oppression, and I'm not, as a white man, going to sit here and moralise or pontificate about how black people "should" have behaved in the 1930s. A lot of much better artists than Deke Watson did a lot more to play along with those stereotypes.
 
Either way, and whatever they thought about it, Charlie Fuqua, Deke Watson, Jerry Daniels and Hoppy Jones became the Ink Spots, and that was the name under which their group would eventually become even more famous than the Mills Brothers.
 
But there was a problem -- Jerry Daniels, their main jive singer, was getting seriously ill from the stress of the band's performing schedule, and eventually ended up hospitalised. He couldn't continue touring with them, and so for a little while the Four Ink Spots were down to three. They had to change, and in changing their lineup, they became the band that would change music. 
 
In 1936 Bill Kenny, a twenty-one year old high tenor singer, won an amateur night contest at the Savoy Ballroom. Moe Gale, the Ink Spots' manager, was the co-owner of the Savoy, and Charles Buchanan, the club's manager, knew his boss' band wanted a new singer and suggested Kenny. Kenny was, by any standards, an extraordinary singer, and his vocals would become the defining characteristic of the Ink Spots' records from that point on. When you think of the Ink Spots, it's Kenny's voice you think of. Or at least, it's Kenny and Hoppy Jones.
 
Because as well as being an utterly astonishing singer, Bill Kenny was an inspired arranger, and he came up with an idea that changed the whole style and sound of the Ink Spots' music, and would later indirectly change all of popular music. The idea he came up with was called "top and bottom".
 
(Note that Deke Watson also claimed credit for this idea in his autobiography, but the story as he tells it there is inconsistent with the known facts, so I'm happy to believe the consensus view that it was Kenny).
 
Up until Bill Kenny joined the band, the Ink Spots had been a jive band, performing songs in the style of Cab Calloway or Fats Waller -- they were performing uptempo comedy numbers, and they were doing it very well indeed:
 
[excerpt of the Ink Spots singing "Your Feet's Too Big"]
 
When Bill Kenny joined the band, they continued doing the same kind of thing for a while -- still concentrating on uptempo numbers, as you can hear in their 1937 recording of "Swing High, Swing Low". 
 
[excerpt of "Swing High Swing Low"]
 
Sometimes in those performances Hoppy Jones would speak-sing a line or two in his bass voice, but it was mostly fairly straightforward vocal group singing. They were still basically doing the Mills Brothers sound. And that was fine, because the Mills Brothers were, after all, the most popular black vocal group ever up to that point. But if they were going to be really big, they needed their own sound, and Bill Kenny came up with it.
 
He refined the idea of Hoppy's spoken vocals and came up with a hit formula, which they would use over and over again. They first did it in the studio with their massive hit "If I Didn't Care", but the one we're going to look at is their 1941 record "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". They started doing ballads, usually introduced by an acoustic guitar playing what would become a familiar figure -- this one:
 
[excerpt of "That's When Your Heartaches Begin"]
 
We'd then get the whole song sung through by Bill Kenny, with the others singing backing vocals:
 
[excerpt of him singing]
 
Then Kenny would join in with the backing vocals, as Hoppy Jones repeated the whole song, speak-singing it in his deep bass voice
 
[excerpt of that]
 
And finally there'd be a final line with Kenny singing lead again.
 
When I say this was a formula, I mean it really was a formula. They'd found a sound and they were going to absolutely stick with it. To give you an example of what I mean, here's the intro to "We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me)"
 
[intro to that song]
 
Now here's the intro to "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire"
 
[intro to that song]
 
And here's the intro to "To Each His Own"
 
[intro to that song]
 
And to "Whispering Grass"
 
[intro to that song]
 
I could go on... if you don't believe that those are different songs, incidentally, check out the Mixcloud with the full versions of all these songs on. 
 
This was such a well-known formula for them that the Glenn Miller band did a dead-on parody of it:
 
[excerpt: "Juke Box Saturday Night"]
 
But the thing is -- all those songs I just played the intros of, they all went top ten, and two of them went to number one. This was a formula that absolutely, undoubtedly, worked. 
 
And when I say "number one" or "top ten", I don't mean on the R&B charts. I mean number one on the pop charts. They did sometimes deviate from the formula slightly -- and when they did, they didn't have hits that were quite so big. The public knew what it liked, and what it liked was a guitar going dun-dun-dun-dun, then Bill Kenny singing a song in a high voice, then Hoppy Jones saying the same words that Bill Kenny had just sung, in a much lower voice. And the Ink Spots were happy to give that to them.
 
That may sound like I'm being dismissive of the Ink Spots' music. I'm not. I absolutely love it. One of the great things about popular music before about 1970 is it had a lot of space for people who could do one thing really really well, and who just did their one thing. Duane Eddy, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, all just kept making basically the same record over and over, and it was a great record, so why not? 
 
The Ink Spots sold tens of millions of records over the decade or so when they were at their peak -- roughly from 1939, when they started making "top and bottom" records, until the late forties. Their manager Moe Gale was also the manager of most of the bands who played the Savoy, and so could put on package tours combining, say, Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots and Lucky Millinder's band, all of whom often played on the same bill together. This also meant that, for example, when Deke Watson took ill with pneumonia in 1943, Trevor Bacon from Millinder's band could fill in for him. Or when the Ink Spots needed a new pianist to back them in 1942, Bill Doggett, who had been in Millinder's band, was easily available.
 
But Gale  was taking the majority of the money -- Gale took sixty percent while the Ink Spots got the other forty between them, split four ways. But forty percent of multiple millions of 1940s dollars is still a lot of money, and with a lot of money comes the kind of problems you only get when you've got a big pile of money and think you could get a bigger pile of money if you didn't have to share it.
 
The Ink Spots' period in the spotlight was eventually brought to an end by personality conflicts, lineup changes, legal squabbles, and deaths. Four years after their career took off, in 1942, Charlie Fuqua was drafted, and that began a whole series of lineup shifts, as replacements were brought in to cover his parts for the three years he was away. But then, two years later, in 1944, everything started falling apart.
 
Deke Watson and Bill Kenny never got on very well -- Watson thought of himself as the leader, on the grounds that he was the one who'd put the band together, named it, and been the on-stage leader until Kenny came along. Meanwhile Kenny thought of himself as the leader, on account of being the lead singer and arranger. Hoppy Jones was the peacemaker between the two of them -- he'd worked with Watson for years before Kenny came along, but he also had an assured place in the band because of his spoken bits, so he took it on himself to keep the peace.
 
But Hoppy Jones was growing ill, and started missing more and more dates because of what turned out to be a series of brain haemmorages. Meanwhile, Moe Gale allegedly gave Bill Kenny a pay rise, but not Watson or Jones. Deke Watson quit the band as a result of this and went off to form his own "Ink Spots". Kenny and Hoppy Jones carried on for a month -- but then, tragically, Hoppy Jones collapsed on stage and died. 
 
After this, Deke Watson tried to rejoin the band, but Kenny wouldn't let him.
 
The result was a complicated four-way legal battle. Deke Watson wanted the right to rejoin the band, or failing that to form his own Ink Spots. Bill Kenny wanted to continue touring with his current Ink Spots lineup, Charlie Fuqua wanted to make sure that once the war was over he was allowed back into the band -- unlike Watson he hadn't quit, but he was worried that with Jones and Watson out, Kenny would see no reason to let him back in. And Moe Gale wanted to be able to continue taking sixty percent of what any of them was making. There was a whole flurry of lawsuits and counter-suits.
 
In the end, Bill Kenny more or less won. The courts ruled that no club could book an act called "the Ink Spots" which didn't have Bill Kenny in it, but also that Deke Watson and Charlie Fuqua continued to have a financial interest in the band, that Moe Gale was still everyone's manager, and that Charlie Fuqua would be paid a regular salary as an Ink Spot while he was in the army. The only real loser was Deke Watson. He continued to get some money for his share of the Ink Spots name -- although I've seen some claims that Bill Kenny bought him out totally. But he wasn't allowed to tour as the Ink Spots, or to rejoin the band he'd founded.
 
Fuqua came back, and for a few years a new lineup of Bill Kenny and his brother Herb, Fuqua, and Billy Bowen toured and recorded. Deke Watson, meanwhile,  had been performing with his own Ink Spots before the lawsuits, but once they were settled, and not in his favour, he said he was going to form a new vocal group based on "a completely new idea". 
 
This completely new idea was to have a vocal group made up of four people, which would start their songs off with a guitar going dun-dun-dun-dun, have a bloke sing the song in a high tenor, then have someone recite the same song lyrics, then finish the song off with the high tenor again. And called "the Brown Dots".
 
The Brown Dots actually made a record that would itself go on to be hugely influential -- "I Love You For Sentimental Reasons", written by two of their members. 
 
[excerpt of "I Love You For Sentimental Reasons"]
 
That's been covered by almost everyone who ever sang a ballad, from Nat "King" Cole to Ella Fitzgerald to Sam Cooke to the Righteous Brothers to Rod Stewart. It looked like Deke Watson had found himself a second great band to be with. But then the other band members realised that it was hard to get on with Deke Watson, and left him to form their own band without him. The Four Tunes, their new name, would have several big hits in the 1950s, without Watson.
 
Meanwhile, back in the Ink Spots, Charlie Fuqua returned for a while, but in 1952 he and Bill Kenny decided to part ways. The lawsuit from eight years earlier had said that both of them had an equal share in the band name, but had *also* said that only bands with Bill Kenny in could legally be presented as "the Ink Spots". Rather than reopen that can of worms, they eventually came to an agreement that Kenny and his band could carry on calling themselves "The Ink Spots" and Fuqua would tour as "Charlie Fuqua's New Ink Spots".
 
Except that Fuqua soon ended up breaking this agreement, and just touring and recording as "the Ink Spots" -- he even got Deke Watson back into his band for a while. 
 
There's one recording of that version of the band -- Jimmy Holmes, Charlie Fuqua, Deek Watson, and Harold Jackson -- live at the Apollo before Watson was kicked out again:
 
[excerpt of "Wish You Were Here"]
 
As you can hear, it sort of sounds like the Ink Spots, but not really. Meanwhile Bill Kenny was still making records as the Ink Spots, which still sounded like the old Ink Spots minus Hoppy's bass vocal:
 
[excerpt of "I Don't Stand The Ghost of a Chance With You"]
 
So there was one version of "the Ink Spots" touring with two original members, and another with no original members, but with the bloke who'd sung lead on all their hits and had the memorable voice that everyone wanted to hear when they heard the Ink Spots.
 
That wasn't a situation that was sustainable, so they went to court again -- and most people would have expected the court to make the same ruling it had before, that they owned the band name equally but that Bill Kenny was the only one who could tour as the Ink Spots.
 
Instead, the ruling was one that no-one had expected, and that no-one wanted.
 
You see, it turns out that the Ink Spots weren't a corporation, they were a partnership. And the judge ruled that, when Hoppy Jones had died, ten years earlier, that partnership had been dissolved. Since then, there had been no legitimate group called the Ink Spots, and no-one owned the name. Neither the surviving original members of the band, nor the man whose arrangement ideas and lead vocals had brought the band their success, had any claim over it. Anyone at all could go out and call themselves The Ink Spots and go on tour, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. 
 
And they did. Every surviving member of the band -- not just the three surviving members of the classic lineup, but anyone who had filled in in a later version of the band on guitar or what have you -- went out on tour as "the Ink Spots". At one point there were up to forty different "Ink Spots" groups touring, and many of them were recording too. Usually, at first, these bands would have some claim to authenticity, having at least one person who'd been in a proper version of the Ink Spots -- and indeed a few times in the fifties and sixties Fuqua and Watson would get together again and tour as "Ink Spots", in between bouts of suing each other. But more and more they'd just be any group of four black men, so long as you could get one old enough that he might plausibly have been in the band with Bill Kenny at some point.
 
The last actual Ink Spots member, Huey Long, who had been one of the temporary replacements for Charlie Fuqua in 1945 for nine months, died aged 106 in 2009. The last Ink Spots gig I've been able to find details for took place in 2013.
 
But the Ink Spots' career ending in legal infighting, arguments over credit, and disputes over the band name isn't the only way in which they were a precursor to rock music. Over the next few weeks we'll hear how, along with the jump band sound that was coming to dominate rhythm and blues, a new wave of Ink Spots-inspired vocal groups ended up shaping the new music.
 
And how, in 1953, shortly after the Ink Spots' final split, a young man walked into a recording studio in Memphis that let you make your own single-copy records. He wanted to make a record of himself singing, as a gift for his mother, and he chose one of his favourite songs, "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", as one of the two tracks he would record.
 
But we'll get to Elvis Presley in a few episodes' time...
 
Patreon
As always, this podcast only exists because of the donations of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy it, why not join them?

Episode 1: Flying Home

00:0000:00

Photo of Charlie Christian

Welcome to the first episode proper of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs! As this is the first real episode, you may notice a couple of flaws in the production -- those will hopefully get ironed out in the coming weeks. In the meantime, sit back and listen to the story of "Flying Home" by the Benny Goodman Sextet!

Resources

As always, I've put together a Mixcloud mix of all the songs talked about in this episode, which you can stream here. That mix has "Rhapsody in Blue" by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, "Memories of You" by Louis Armstrong, "Sing Sing Sing" by Benny Goodman, "Flying Home" by Benny Goodman, and "Flying Home" by Lionel Hampton.

For all the episodes on pre-1954 music, one invaluable source is the book "Before Elvis" by Larry Birnbaum, which goes into these subjects in far more detail than I can.

Lionel Hampton's autobiography is out of print, but you can find second hand copies very cheap.

This is the MP3 compilation I mention of many different versions of "Flying Home", and it has the Benny Goodman Sextet version on it as you'd hope. However, it doesn't have the classic Lionel Hampton version -- you can find that on the four-CD box set The Lionel Hampton Story, which is definitely worth getting.

There are various issues of the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall show -- here's a decent one.

 

Transcript

We have to start somewhere, of course, and there's no demarcation line for what is and isn't rock and roll, so we're starting well before rock and roll itself, in 1939.
 
We're starting, in fact, with swing.
 
Swing was a form of music that had its roots in 1920s jazz. It's hard to remember now, but when Dixieland jazz was first popularised, in the early 1920s, the reaction to it from "polite society" was essentially the same as to every other black musical form -- it was going to be the end of the world, it was evil "jungle music", it was causing our children to engage in acts of lewdness and intoxication, it was inciting violence... it was, in short, everything that was later said about rock and roll, about hip-hop, and... you get the idea. This might sound ridiculous to modern ears, as we don't normally think of the cornet, the trombone, and the banjo as the most lascivious of instruments, but back in the 1920s this kind of music was considered seriously arousing.
 
And so, as with all of the moral panics around black music, some white people made the music more appetising for other white people, by taking the rough edges off, cleaning it up, and putting it into a suit. In this case, this was done by the aptly-named Paul Whiteman.
 
Whiteman was a violin player and conductor, and he became known as "the king of jazz" for being the bandleader of an all-white band of musicians. Where most jazz bands consisted of eight to ten musicians, all improvising based on head arrangements and interacting with each other, Whiteman's band was thirty-five musicians, playing from pre-written charts. It was polite, clean, and massively popular.
 
Whiteman's band wasn't bad, by any means -- at various times he had musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Joe Venuti playing for him -- and as you can hear in this performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" they could play some quite exciting jazz. But they were playing something fundamentally different -- something tamer, more arranged, and with the individual players subsumed into the unit.
 
Whiteman still called the music he made jazz, but when other people started playing with similarly big bands, the music became known as "swing". And so from Whiteman, we move to Goodman.
 
Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing", was the leader of the most popular of the pre-war swing bands, as well as being an excellent clarinet player. His band hired arranger Fletcher Henderson (a black musician who led his own excellent band, and who had provided arrangements for Whiteman) to provide their arrangements, and managed to create music that had a lot of the excitement of less-formalised jazz. It was still highly arranged, but it allowed for soloists to show off slightly more than many of the other bands of the time.
 
This is partly because Goodman himself was a soloist. While Whiteman was a bandleader first and foremost -- someone whose talent was in organising a group of other people, a manager rather than a musician (though he was a perfectly serviceable player) -- Goodman was a serious player, someone who would later premiere pieces by Bartók; Poulenc, Aaron Copland and others, and who had, before becoming a band leader, been one of the most in-demand players on small group jazz sessions. Goodman's band was still a big band, but it allowed the soloists far more freedom than many of his competitors did -- and many of Goodman's band members became well known enough individually to go off and form their own big bands.
 
And because Goodman's band had a lot of great soloists in, as well as the thirty-plus-person big band he ran, he also had a number of smaller groups which were made up of musicians from the big band. These would play sets during the same shows as the big band, allowing the best soloists to show off while also giving most of the band a rest. Their performances would be proper jazz, rather than swing -- they would be three, or four, or six musicians, improvising together the way the old Dixieland players had.
 
And importantly, Goodman was one of the first band leaders to lead an integrated band during the segregation era. His small groups started with a trio of Goodman himself (white and Jewish) on clarinet, white drummer Gene Krupa, and black pianist Teddy Wilson. 
 
This integration, like the recruitment of Fletcher Henderson for the arrangements, was the idea of John Hammond, Goodman's brother-in-law. Hammond was an immensely privileged and wealthy man -- his mother was a Vanderbilt, and his uncle on his father's side was the US Ambassador to Spain -- who had decided to use his immense wealth in the service of two goals. The first of those was racial integration, and the second of them was to promote what would now be called "roots" or Americana music -- pre-bop jazz, folk, blues, and gospel. Hammond is someone we'll be hearing a lot more of as this story continues, but at this point he was a DJ, music journalist, and record producer, who used his wealth to get records made and aired that otherwise wouldn't have been made. 
 
Goodman certainly believed in racial equality, by all accounts, but it was Hammond who introduced him to Fletcher Henderson, and Hammond who persuaded him to include black musicians in his band.
 
Goodman wasn't the first white bandleader in America to hire black musicians -- there had been three in the 1920s -- but when he hired Teddy Wilson, no-one had led an integrated group for seven years, and Goodman was hiring him at a time when Goodman was arguably the most popular musician in the USA.
 
And this was a far more radical thing than it seems in retrospect, because Goodman was pushing in two radically different directions -- on the one hand, he was one of the first people to push for mainstream acceptance of jazz music in the classical music world, which would suggest trying to be as conservative as possible, but on the other he was pushing for integration of musicians. Lionel Hampton later quoted him as saying "we need both the black keys and the white keys to play music", which is the sort of facile comparison well-meaning white liberals make now, in 2018, so Goodman saying it eighty years ago is a genuinely progressive statement for the times.
 
Lionel Hampton was another black musician, who joined the trio and turned it into a quartet, He was a virtuoso vibraphonist who more or less defined how that instrument was incorporated into jazz. He appears to have been the first person to use the vibraphone on a jazz record, on a recording by Louis Armstrong of the song "Memories of You" from 1930. Before that, the vibraphone had only ever been used as a novelty instrument -- it was mostly used for radio intermission signals, playing a couple of chimes.
 
In fact, the vibraphone was so new as an instrument that its name had never been settled -- "vibraphone" was just one of a number of trademarks used by different companies making the instrument. The instrument Hampton played was put out under another brand name -- Vibraharp -- and that was what he called it for the rest of his life.
 
Hampton had trained as a drummer before becoming a vibraphone player, and was often billed as "the fastest drummer in the world", but he had a unique melodic sensibility which allowed him to become the premiere soloist on this new instrument. Indeed, to this day Hampton is probably the most respected musician ever to play the vibes.
 
By 1938 Goodman actually reached the point where he was able to bring an integrated band, featuring Count Basie, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton, plus other black musicians along with white musicians such as Goodman and Krupa, on to the stage of Carnegie Hall, at the time the US' most prestigious music venue. Like many of Goodman's biggest moments, this was the work of Hammond, who after the success of Goodman's show put together a series of other concerts at Carnegie, the "Spirituals to Swing" concerts, which are some of the most important concerts ever in bringing black American music to a white audience. We'll almost certainly talk about those in the future.
 
But getting back to the Goodman show, that Carnegie Hall concert is still one of the greatest live jazz albums ever recorded, and shows that it was entirely possible to create truly exciting music using the swing band template. One particularly impressive performance was the twelve-minute long version of "Sing Sing Sing". Obviously we won't hear that in full here, but here's a brief excerpt of that staggering performance.
 
You can hear the full performance, along with all the other songs excerpted in this podcast, at the Mixcloud page linked in the blog post associated with this podcast).
 
For US cultural context, it would be another nine years before Jackie Robinson was able to break the colour bar in baseball, to give some idea of how extraordinary this actually was. In fact Lionel Hampton would often later claim that it was Goodman hiring him and Wilson (and, later, other black musicians) that paved the way for Robinson's more well-known achievement.
 
The original Benny Goodman Quartet were an extraordinary set of musicians, but by 1939 both Wilson and Krupa had departed for other bands. There would be reunions over the years, but the classic lineup of the quartet had stopped performing together.  Various other pianists (notably Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson) sat in with the Goodman small groups, but he also realised the need to make up for the loss of two such exceptional musicians by incorporating more, and so the Benny Goodman Sextets were formed.
 
Those sextets featured a rotating lineup of musicians, sometimes including the great jazz trumpeter Cootie Williams, but revolved around three soloists -- Goodman himself on clarinet, Hampton on vibraphone, and a new musician, the guitarist Charlie Christian -- a musician who would only have a very short career, but who would come to be better known than any of them.
 
Christian is sometimes erroneously called the first electric guitarist, or the first person to play electric guitar on record, or even the inventor of the electric guitar. He was none of those things, but he was a pioneer in the instrument, and the first person to really bring it to prominence as a solo instrument. The electric guitar allowed a fundamentally different style of guitar playing -- before, the guitar had only really worked either as a solo instrument, as accompaniment for a single vocalist, or at best as a barely-audible rhythm instrument drowned out by the louder pianos and horns of jazz bands. Now the guitar could play single melody lines as loudly as any trumpet or saxophone, and could be used as a solo instrument in an ensemble in the same way as those instruments. This changed the whole approach to the guitar in popular music.
 
While Goodman claimed responsibility for the head arrangements the small groups used, a lot of people think that Christian was responsible for these, too, and certainly the sextet's music has a much more exhilirating feel than the early quartet or trio work.
 
The first song the new Goodman Quintet recorded, on October 2 1939 -- exactly seventy-nine years ago on the date this podcast comes out, if its release goes to plan -- was a pieve called "Flying Home".
 
"Flying Home" is a great example of the early work of the sextet, and quickly became in many ways their signature song. The story of its writing is that the band were on a plane from LA to Atlantic City -- the first time many of the band members had flown at all -- and Hampton started humming the riff to himself. Goodman asked "what's that you're singing", and Hampton said "I don't know, we can call it 'Flying Home' I guess".
 
Goodman and Hampton were credited as the writers, although John Hammond later claimed that he'd heard Christian improvising the riff before it was picked up by the other two men.
 
Before we start looking at the record, I want to address one problem you find with out-of-copyright jazz recordings, and that's that if you're trying to get hold of, or talk about, the right version of a track. Many of the musicians involved recorded multiple versions of songs, those tracks get released on multiple compilations, and tracks get released under different names. For example I have one compilation album -- one which says it's just sixteen different versions of "Flying Home" -- which has the Benny Goodman Sextet recording of the track *and* a "Charlie Christian" recording. Except, of course, the Charlie Christian recording is exactly the same one as the Benny Goodman one, although on that compilation it's taken from a different source as there are different amounts of tape hiss...
 
So it may be that at some point here I identify a recording wrongly -- particularly one of the many, many, Lionel Hampton recordings of the song. I am not pretending to be authoritative here, and I may get things wrong, though I'm trying as best I can to get them right.
 
But what I do know is what the Benny Goodman Sextet version of this song sounded like, and we can hear that now.
 
It's hard to emphasise just how strange this record must have sounded then, nearly eighty years ago, when you consider that electronic amplification was a new thing, that only one electric guitar had ever been recorded before the Sextet sessions, and that the record contained two separate electronically amplified instruments -- Christian's guitar and Hampton's vibraphone. 
 
Other than the vibraphone and clarinet, though, this small group was almost the prototypical rock band -- piano, electric guitar, double bass and drums would be the hallmark instruments of the genre a full twenty years after this record -- and the record seems to anticipate many aspects of the rock genre in many details, especially when Charlie Christian starts his soloing -- his playing now sounds fairly tame, but at the time it was astonishingly advanced both in technique (he was a huge influence on bop, which wouldn't come along for many more years) and in just the sound of it -- no-one else was making music that was amplified in that way, with that timbre.
 
The song, in this version, starts with a simple stride piano intro played by Fletcher Henderson, with Artie Bernstein on the bass and Nick Fatool on the drums. This intro is basically just setting out the harmonic structure, of the verses before the introduction of the main riff. It does a common thing where you have the chords at the top end stay as close to being the same as they can while you have a descending bass -- and the bass includes a few notes that aren't in the same key that the melody is in when it comes in, setting up a little bit of harmonic tension.
 
Once it does come in, the riff sounds *really odd*. This is a vibraphone, a clarinet, and an electric guitar, all playing the same riff in unison. That's a sound that had never been recorded before
 
We then have a very straightforward swing-style clarinet solo by Goodman. I like Goodman's clarinet style a great deal -- he is, in fact, one of the musicians who shaped my sense of melodic structure -- but there's nothing particularly notable about this solo, which could be on any record from about 1925 through about 1945. After another run through of the riff, we get Charlie Christian's solo, which is where things get interesting.
 
Punctuated by bursts from the clarinet and vibraphone, this longer solo (which includes a whole section that effectively acts as a middle eight for the song) is unlike pretty much anything ever played on guitar in the studio before. Christian's short bursts of single-note guitar line are, to all intents and purposes, rockabilly -- it's the same kind of guitar playing we'll hear from Scotty Moore sixteen years later. It doesn't sound like anything revolutionary now, but remember, up to this point the guitar had essentially only been a rhythm instrument in jazz, with a very small handful of exceptions like Django Reinhardt. You simply couldn't play single-note lead lines on the guitar and have it heard over saxes or trumpets until the advent of electification.
 
After Christian's solo, we have one from Lionel Hampton. This solo is just a typical example of Hampton's playing -- he was a stunning jazz vibraphone player, and at the time was on top of his game -- but it's not as astonishing as the one from Christian.
 
And then at the end, we get a whole new riff coming in. This kind of riff had been common in Goodman's work before -- you can hear something similar in his hit version of "King Porter Stomp", for example -- but it would become the hallmark of the jump band style a few years later. This call and response, repetitive riffing, would be the sound that would dominate dance music in the next decades.
 
The song would go on to have a long life after this recording. A couple of years later, Lionel Hampton left Goodman's band to form his own big band, and "Flyin' Home" became their signature song. That band would be one of the first bands to perform a new type of music -- "jump band" music -- which was rooted in swing but had more emphasis on riffs and amplified instruments. That jump band music is the same music that later became known as rhythm and blues, and musicians such as Louis Jordan were clearly inspired by Hampton's band. We'll be looking in future episodes of this podcast at the way in which jump bands became one of the biggest influences on rock and roll.
 
Hampton recorded the song multiple times, starting in 1940, but the most famous example is the version he recorded in 1942 for Decca (with "instrumental foxtrot" on the label. That version features Ilinois Jacquet on saxophone, and like the Benny Goodman version, it would introduce a whole new sound to people.
 
This time, it's Jacquet's tenor sax playing, which has a honk and skronk to it that was unlike anything people had heard before. There are predecessors to it of course -- as I said earlier, there's no "earliest example" of anything in music -- but this saxophone solo became the one that defined a whole new genre, a genre called rhythm and blues. Jacquet's solo was so exceptional that when he left the band, every tenor sax player who replaced him would copy his solo note-for-note rather than improvising their own versions as would usually be the case. 
 
There's another person involved in that recording of "Flying Home" who probably needs mentioning here -- Milt Gabler, the producer. Like John Hammond, he's someone we'll be hearing a lot more about in future episodes.
 
Hampton himself remained a respected and popular musician for many more decades. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the big bands lost a lot of their popularity, and Hampton started playing yet another style of music -- he became one of the greats of bebop music, and played in small groups much like the Goodman ones, just playing more harmonically and melodically complex variations of what he had played earlier. But he was also recognised by the rock musicians as a pioneer -- you can see him in the 1957 Alan Freed film "Mr. Rock and Roll", playing his vibraphone as the only jazz musician in a film which otherwise features Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter, and other rock and R&B stars of the time.
 
Charlie Christian, on the other hand, never even lived to see the influence he had. Even though he was one of the most influential musicians on both jazz and rock music -- Chuck Berry later said that Christian was one of the biggest influences on his guitar playing (though he wrongly said that Christian played with Tommy Dorsey's band, a rival to Goodman's) while Christian was responsible for the name "bebop" being given to the form of music he helped create in jam sessions after his regular work -- he was already suffering from tuberculosis in 1939, when "Flying Home" was recorded. And on March the second, 1941, aged only twenty-five, Charlie Christian died. He was buried in an unmarked grave, which was later concreted over. A memorial was placed for him fifty-three years later, but it was later discovered to be in the wrong place.
 
Patreon
As always, this podcast only exists because of the donations of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy it, why not join them?

Episode 0: Introduction

00:0000:00
Welcome to A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs! Episode 1, the first episode proper, is coming next week, but for now here's an introduction, laying out my plans for the series. As I say in the tag at the end of every episode, please, if you like this episode, tell someone about it -- word of mouth is important, especially with these early episodes.
 
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast
My book, California Dreaming: The LA Pop Music Scene and the 60s, available here.
 
Transcript
Rock and roll as a cultural force is, it is safe to say, dead.
 
This is not necessarily a bad thing, and nor does it mean that good rock and roll music isn't being made any more. Rather, rock, like jazz, has become a niche musical interest. It's a large niche, and it will be so long as there are people around who grew up in the last half of the last century, but the cultural influence it once had has declined precipitously in the last decade or so. These days, various flavours of hip-hop, electronic dance music, manufactured pop, and half a dozen genres that a middle-aged man like myself couldn't even name are having the cultural and commercial impact that in previous decades was mostly made by guitar bands.
 
And this means that for the first time, it's possible to assess rock music (or rock and roll -- the two terms are not quite interchangeable, but this is not the place for a discussion of the terminology, which will come later) in a historical context. In fact this may be the best time for it, when it's still interesting to a wide audience, and still fresh in the memory, but it's not still an ongoing story that will necessarily change. Almost all of the original generation of rock and roll musicians are now dead (the only prominent exceptions at the moment being Jerry Lee Lewis, Don Everly, and Little Richard, although numerous lesser-known musicians from the time are still working occasionally), but their legacy is still having an impact.
 
So in this podcast series I will look at the history of rock and roll music, starting with a few pre-rock songs that clearly influenced the burgeoning rock and roll genre, and ending up in 1999 -- it makes sense to cut the story off there, in multiple ways. I'll talk about the musicians, and about the music. About how the musicians influenced each other, and about the cultural forces that shaped them. In early episodes, you'll hear me talk about the impact the Communist Party, a series of strikes, and a future governor of Texas would all have on rock and roll's prehistory. But more importantly you'll hear me talk about the songs and the singers, the instrumentalists and the record producers.
 
I shall be using a somewhat expansive definition of rock or rock and roll here, including genres like soul and disco, because those genres grew up alongside rock, were prominent at the same time as it, and both influenced and were influenced by the rock music of the time. I'm sure we'll look, when the time comes, at the way the words "rock and roll" were slowly redefined, from originally meaning a form of music made almost entirely by black people to later pretty much explicitly excluding all black musicians from their definition.
 
But the most important thing I'll be doing is looking at the history of rock in terms of the music. I'll be looking at the records, and at the songs. How they were made and by whom.
 
I've chosen five hundred songs in total, roughly a hundred per decade from the fifties through the nineties. Some of these songs are obvious choices, which have been written about many times before, but which need to be dealt with in any history of rock music. Others are more obscure tracks which nonetheless point to interesting things about how the music world was developing at the time they were recorded. I say "I've chosen", but this is going to be a project that takes nearly ten years, and no doubt my list will change. I'll be interested to see what suggestions listeners have, once I get them.
 
Each podcast will be accompanied by a blog post, with a transcript of the episode (actually the script from which I'm working -- I won't be transcribing any of my mistakes) and links to sources, along with any notes -- for example, I've already noticed a mistake in episode two which I'll put in that episode's notes. I'll also be compiling an accompanying mixcloud post for each podcast. Those mixclouds will have the full versions of every song I excerpt in these podcasts, and I encourage you to listen to them.
 
The podcasts are planned to be about twenty-five minutes on average, with the occasional shorter one, like this, as a bit of housecleaning.
 
I'll also, every two years, be publishing a book based on these scripts, which will eventually become a five-volume work.
 
Anyone who backs me on patreon, at patreon.com/andrewhickey -- that's a n d r e w h i c k e y -- will get free access to those books, as well as backing my blog and my other podcast.
 
Those of you who have read my earlier work California Dreaming: The LA Pop Music Scene and the 60s will be familiar with this narrative technique I'm using here, and this series is in many ways an expansion of that book's approach, but it's important to note that the two works aren't looking at precisely the same thing -- that book was dealing with a particular scene, and with people who all knew each other, in a limited geographic and temporal space. Here, on the other hand, the threads we'll be following are more cultural than social -- there isn't a direct connection between Little Richard and Talking Heads, for example, but hopefully over the course of this series we will find a narrative thread that still connects them.
 
Obviously, just as there's no definitive end to the time when rock had cultural prominence, there's no definitive beginning either. The quest for a "first rock and roll record" is a futile one -- rock and roll didn't spring fully formed into existence in Sam Phillips' studio in 1951 (when he recorded "Rocket 88") or 1954 (when he recorded "That's All Right") -- music evolved, and so we'll look at R&B and country, at Merseybeat and punk, and try to find the throughlines. But to start with, we want to take a trip back to the swing era...