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Rock and Roll
Rock and Roll (RR)
Rock emerged through the combination of rhythm and blues, gospel and country music. The terms Jass and Rock and Roll were black American slang for sex. Both genres were dance music, featuring strong danceable rhythms. Jazz evolved into many overlapping genre and became more technical, intellectual... musician's music. RR had no pretentions to musical sophistication and became rooted within the dictates of the commercial recording industry, pop charts and fans. Some suggest that jazz remained adult music and rock and roll appealed to teenagers and young adults. In the best case, rock bands with more diversified and talented musicians moved in the direction of jazz bands and some moved to long pieces with more symphonic-style orchestration.
For a brief period in the 1960's a few rock and roll bands, including Bob Dylan in his rocker reincarnation with The Band led the protest against racial injustice in the US and the terrible depredations of the US military in Vietnam. I recall with considerable affection the music of Three Dog Night, Country Joe and the Fish, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Eagles. The Fish Cheer, I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag, Have You every Seen the Rain were anthems of the era. Folk singers also developed the social conscience of their audiences. Joan Baez lead anti-war protests. Buffy St Marie witnessed wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam and wrote the now famous song "Universal Soldier" released on the album, It's My Way in 1964. Musicians who are well established in one musical genre usually face criticism and degrees of rejection when they move in another direction. Bob Dylan, for example, switched abruptly from folk music to a rock and roll, electric band style, suffering angry criticism in the process. See Folk Music
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll revealed that the editors had a hard time deciding who was in and out of the RR genre. They included popular singers who sang ballads that became hits with only tinges of RR noise. Even Phillip Glass was included, but his quiet, thoughtful music is the opposite of RR. The rock and roll hall of fame lists 500 RR songs. Their selection includes such diverse performers and styles you wonder what really is the essence of RR?
For me, the most important distinction requires noticing the difference between music and noise. You could argue that rock and roll happens when bunch of people plug in their electric guitars, distortion pedals, microphones and make a lot of noise. Add some strobe lights and stage smoke and you are sure it's authentic RR. RR has evolved into a variety of subcategories, many of which feature shouting and other loud noises, odd costumes, body piercing, tatoos and antics that appeal to young niche groups with peculiar interests. There is a primitive sexual basis for most RR expressions.
Rolling Stone's JON PARELES reviewed the CMJ Music Marathon (NYT October 22, 2008) that featured concerts for more than 1,100 acts, most of them indie-rock with some hip-hop, bluegrass, funk and world music. Pareles Stated:” Sometime in the mid-2000s, the words indie-rock and blog became inseparable. Both are the province of self-starters, innovators, collectors, early adopters, volunteers and cranks… Some bands offered the kind of cleverly allusive music that bloggers convince themselves they enjoy, like would-be pop contenders …with love-struck lyrics, disco beats, U2 guitars and shrill falsetto vocals. And some were an out-and-out blast with whooping high vocals, galloping drums and frenetically consonant guitar crescendos in songs that veered between simple punk thrills and meter-shifting, guitar-meshing complexities."
In the Persona Recordings catalogue, arrangements of popular songs originally played by RR bands are included. These classics are notable for having good melodies, and meaningful lyrics. If there was a tendency to noise in the original, the drummer was usually responsible, the second most guilty musician tended to be an electric guitarist who used his distortion pedal and pitch bending lever too aggressively. The third most common RR noise makers were vocalists who shouted into the mike instead of singing. My strategy as an arranger and then as the studio engineer is to eliminate noise by giving the drummer some musical rules to follow. Sometimes, I commit RR heresy and leave the drums out altogether. The essential rhythms of an RR tune are created by the bass guitar, a rhythm guitar and electronic piano. I sometimes create rhythm parts with marimba, vibraphone and congo drums.
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Born on the Bayou
Gold Dust Woman
Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. Fireside Press. Third edition 2001 andBillboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Flame Tree Publishing 2003.