Through The Lens: Good Morning Rock and Roll
Thirty years ago a popular television series called, Quantum Leap aired an episode titled, “Good Morning Peoria.” The main character was played by Scott Bakula who leaps through time and enters someone else’s body. In this episode, he assumes the body of a disk jockey named “Howlin” Chick Howell. The premise of the episode is that a city has passed a law banning the playing of rock and roll. The DJ and the station manager decide to fight the law. Scott locks himself inside the broadcast booth and begins playing the banned music in defiance of the unjust law. Although this was a fictional story, it could have taken place at that time in music history.
Today, some of the modern generation believe music censorship could have never happened. But for those of us who are part of the baby boomer generations, we lived during America’s great music revolution. Researching the term “rock and roll”, I discovered it was first used by ocean going sailors. Then, in 1951 a disc jockey named Alan Freed began playing the new music he described as “rock and roll.” From this one DJ description, the world was about to be changed in ways our Glen Miller loving parents could never understand.
With the coming of the new music came a new language, “De bop a do wop” or “Doo ba dap ba do wop.” Or how about “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”. The music was loud and bold while the lyrics could not always be understood by those over forty. I will have to admit I didn’t necessarily understand them back then, but I knew they were cool.
The music was a radical change from the big band music of the 40s. It was the beginning of a clear divide in our country’s culture. The sounds of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Sam Cook and Carl Perkins broke all the standards by which main stream music had been known. It is true during the 40’s, southern rhythm and blues music were popular, but only when played in honky-tonks and bars. If you had listened to an old tube radio, you were not likely to hear the roots of rock and roll. In fact, when I went looking for rock and roll stars of the 40s, my computer search asked, “Do you mean list of the top 40 rock and roll stars of the 50s?” It didn’t understand the question in reference to the 1940s.
And if Do Wop wasn’t enough of a culture shock, along came something beyond anyone’s expectations, Elvis Presley. His movements on stage along with his music that was part rhythm and blues, rock-a-billy, country and even a bit gospel thrown in, earned him the title “King of Rock and Roll”. Boys greased their pompadour haircuts and girls went hoarse screaming as the new age of rock and roll teenagers appeared. Our parents and some politicians believed it was a communist plot or fall out from atomic testing. A new world order had arrived in the lyrics of a song, “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog.”
Then in the mid-1960s something else happened. A new style known as, “Beat Music” invaded our shores. Elvis and Do Wop took a back seat to a British group known as the Beatles. The invasion from across the Atlantic once again changed our understanding of music. Do Wop lyrics were replaced by, “I want to hold your hand” and we all live in a yellow submarine. Boys traded their pompadours for a mop top haircut and girls screamed even louder as Paul shook his head on stage.
At the beginning of this column, I reminded you about Scott Bakula’s character barricading himself inside the radio station, while playing rock and roll in defiance of the city’s new law. Well, that wasn’t so farfetched back in those days. Some stations refused to play the new music believing it was immoral and poisoning the youth of the country. I was one of those youth and I don’t remember any ill effects of the music. Did it change my lifeI don’t think so, I just liked the sound. I remember listening to my AM car radio in my old 56 Chevy to the only station it would receive, Radio WETZ. It was on the air only during daylight hours, with the music of Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Beatles and a good tradin’ deal on Swap and Shop.
The critics from the 50s and 60s proclaimed the music would never last. Yet today, if you go to a Do Wop performance, Elvis imitator or even a Beatles tribute concert, you will need to get your tickets early. I will have to admit, the audience is made up of people my age. Not old, just well preserved. In among those well-preserved rock and rollers is a healthy sprinkling of the modern generations. When all the baby boomers have passed into history, there will still be Do Wop and Elvis concerts. I don’t believe the centennial generation will be lining up in front of the Lincoln Theater waiting to attend rap or hip hop shows.
As I was writing this story well past my bed time, I paused in my tiredness wandering, what if Scott Bakula came back to the mid-60s and took on the identity of a local D-J with the radio name, Happy Hoyer. Would he have barricaded himself inside the WETZ studio refusing to go off the air at sunset while continuing to play, God Walks These Hills and On the Wings of a Snow White Dove? Well maybe, you would have to live around here back in the 60s to understand my fantasy amusement at this part of my story, as I remember it Through the Lens.