Page 83 - Cityview May-June 2017
P. 83

Pthe ioneersof
As I looked around the room,
it was obvious something
was wrong. Although I was only visiting the cardiopulmonary rehab center, I could tell the patients were just going through the motions and seemingly had lost interest and focus. Three old guys were walking
on the treadmills as usual, but they were not talking. No sports talk, no jokes, no laughter. One woman was lifting four-pound hand weights
alone and detached. These people
were contemporaries of mine and
were recovering from heart attacks
or surgeries, but they were moving slower than usual. They seemed quiet, depressed—like they were in mourning. That’s it: mourning. Of course, the breaking news of the day was that Chuck Berry had died. All of these 70-somethings had grown up dancing to Chuck Berry’s music and, like me, they were all pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll.
I was there from the very beginning, a soldier in the army of kids who reached their early teens in about 1954. Together, we had impulsively pushed aside the commercial and popular
music of Tin Pan Alley in favor of the independent, driving beat from the streets of Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. We were the first to accept rock ‘n’ roll. We bought it and promoted it against considerable opposition. We were the true pioneers of rock as it has developed and expanded.
Those that are between 73 and 79 years of age, people who walk slow
in the grocery store and don’t under- stand computers and show others photographs of their grandchildren, helped lay the foundation of what has become the long and wide highway of rhythm and blues, soul, funk, rock, and even heavy metal music. The explo- sion of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid 1950’s forced us to lose interest in Patti Page (“(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?”) and Eddie Fisher (“Oh! My Pa-Pa”). Instead, we turned to Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That a Shame” by Fats Domino. We carried the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis,
James Brown, and Elvis Presley to the pinnacle of stardom and changed
the way American music was made. My rebellious brothers and sisters gravitated to African-American artists and their soulful music and rejected artists like Pat Boone who attempted to repackage and sell something that did not belong to them. We were the trail- blazers and the guards at rock ‘n’ roll’s gate. Our children and grandchildren do not realize we were the original hipsters and head bangers. They owe us a debt of gratitude, and it’s time we receive the recognition for our impor- tant contribution to American music.
The recent death of Chuck Berry caused me to reflect on my early experiences with rock ‘n’ roll music from a front row seat right here in Knoxville. Those early 45 RPM records turned out to be the sound track of
our lives. Of course, Chuck Berry was the dominant singer/songwriter of that era, and his music has remained a part of us ever since we first heard “Maybellene.” For me, I was outside the gym at Christenberry Junior High School on Oglewood Avenue. Coach
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