Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How I Came To Love Rock 'N Roll

I recall sitting in my grandparents' living room in Linden, N.J.  I was all of four or five years old.  It was the first time I played with a Victrola.

My grandfather had a box of records - old 78's and more recent 45's.  He showed me how to put the disks on the spindle, click the automated arm button, and let them miraculously drop and play.  Most of the vinyl was old.  Some of it was red, some green, as if printed for Christmas distribution.  Some of the 78's were very thick.  This was an eclectic collection of recordings that virtually retraced the history of the vinyl single through the early, early pre-Beatles 1960's.  There were works by Enrico Caruso, Country Joe Turner, Doris Day, Al Jolson, Fats Domino, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Sammy Davis, Glenn Miller, the Andrew Sisters and many more.  However, among the seven inchers there was one that delighted me and I couldn't stop playing it. It was, then, a more recent purchase, the 1957 Little Richard single - Tutti Frutti/Long Tall Sally.

I didn't understand a word on the A or B side.  "Tutti frutti, au-rutti." I had yet to start kindergarten. 

"Tutti Frutti" was originally a strip joint, grinder song penned by Mr. Penniman. He changed the lyrics when he recorded it to make the song more marketable to the sexually repressed white audiences of the day.  The repetition of the nonsensical chorus gave it meaning.  The wild, raw voice of Little Richard gave the original idea full expression in the watered down recording.  The frenetic sax and piano humping-based band sold it.

"Long Tall Sally," the "B" side, was no different.   It was about sex.  Back then I had no idea.  I was barely out of diapers.  It was vibrant, mysterious and fun, and my father hated it:

                        "Well, Long Tall Sally,
                        She's built for speed,
                        She's got everything that Uncle John needs."

I remember Dad yelled "turn that crap off."  It startled me, and Grandpa, and I cowered.  My father insisted on "something good like Stan Kenton or Ella Fitzgerald."  I recall how I listened dispassionately to the jazz as my feet continued to tap out Penniman's beats.  I received my father's stern look and a reprimand to sit still and listen.

Fortunately, I was with my grandparents because my parents were set to go out without me.  Grandpa and Grandma were my babysitters for the evening. As soon as my parents left, Grandpa again handed me the Little Richard single, along with Jerry Lee Lewis' 45 version of "Whole Lotta Of Shakin' Going On," Elvis's "Teddy Bear" and The Everly Brothers' "Bird Dog."  We played record after record until my bedtime. 

That is where my rock 'n roll love affair began.  Like then, usually, I still don't get the lyrics and it still doesn't matter.  "A whop bop-a-lu a whop bam bom."

- Old School

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