Sunday, January 2, 2011

Early Rock and Roll

Many polls and surveys have been taken in attempts to determine the "first" rock and roll song. Fairly predictably, they have reached a number of different conclusions. One poll resulted in a song from the 1920's.

Safe to say, however, is that rock and roll took off with the 1955 success of "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets. They had released it a year or so earlier and it had gone nowhere. Then it was used as the theme song for a movie about an inner city school, "Blackboard Jungle," and whoosh! Over the years it has sold more than 25 million copies.

Rock and roll was on its way, and soon there were road shows - "concerts" today - made up of a few different artists and groups. Traveling by bus, they hit all the major cities. When I was 15, one arrived in Boston.

Mechanics Hall, razed several years later, was then a 75 year old building that might today be called a "convention center." It was host to conventions, shows, exhibitions, and gatherings of all kinds. It was, however, on its last

A friend, I no longer remember which one, learned that a rock and roll show was coming to Boston and Mechanics Hall. We lived about 18 miles north of Boston, and one Saturday afternoon five of us, all boys, took the train into Boston. We haggled with a cab driver, who agreed to take us from North Station to Mechanics Hall for a flat fee a little less than his meter would run, and sure enough he had to turn the meter off a couple of blocks from the hall.

On the card were Fats Domino, Bill Haley and His Comets, Chuck Berry, Shirley and Lee, and the G-Clefs. Tickets were $5.00 apiece. At a guess, most of you over 40 have heard of the first three, and possibly the fouth.

The G-Clefs were a local group (Roxbury, a suburb of Boston) ranging in age from one to five years older than the five of us, at that time enjoying the success of the first of their two top 40 hits, an upbeat number called "Ka-Ding Dong." (On the recording, Freddy Cannon played lead guitar.) The song ultimately reached #24 on the pop charts.

(If this link goes bad - it would probably be from the video being removed from YouTube - please post a comment about that. The comment will trigger an email to me and I'll replace the video.)

Ka-Ding Dong

At the beginning of the show the MC mentioned the age of the building and asked that our enthusiasm be limited to clapping and cheering lest we bring the roof and walls down on our heads.

I no longer recall the order in which the artists performed. We thought they were all great, and I recall being much taken with Shirley of Shirley and Lee. But the G-Clefs stole the show, of course.

Not only did they have the advantage of being a home town group, but they were the *first* artists from the Boston area to have a rock and roll hit. When they left the stage everyone wanted an encore. We cheered and clapped and whistled to no avail. Then we remembered the MC's warning and began stamping our feet, roof and walls be damned. The MC came out in a panic and claimed that the G-Clefs had left the building. We'll never know whether that was true, but we calmed down and eventually made it home alive.