Rock and Roll went mainstream tonight in 1956 when Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It wasn’t Elvis’s first TV spot, he’d already been on The Dorsey Brothers Show, The Milton Berle Show, and The Steve Allen Show. Ed had sworn he’d never have vulgar rock and roll acts on his family show, but Elvis’s appearance on Steve Allen had topped him in the ratings. A reporter had asked why he’d changed his mind, and Ed said, “What I said then was off the reports I’d heard. I hadn’t seen the guy…I don’t know what all the fuss was about. For instance, the business about rubbing the thighs. He rubbed one hand on his hip to dry the perspiration from playing his guitar”. As for the Milton Berle appearance, he said, “I don’t know why everybody picked on Presley. I thought the whole show was dirty and vulgar”. Urban myth has it that The King was shown only from the waist up, which isn’t true, but came from a comment Sullivan had made to TV Guide about how his supposedly lewd gyrations could be controlled with camera angles. At the time Elvis was in Hollywood filming Love Me Tender, so CBS set him up in their “Television City” studios, and planned for Ed to introduce him from what would be later known as the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, but Ed was recovering from a nearly fatal car crash, and the show was guest-hosted by British actor Charles Laughton, who introduced him as “Elvin Presley”. He would do the show two more times, getting the largest TV audiences of all time right up until The Beatles did the show in 1964.
The Beatles were at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios today in 1968 recording 18 takes of Paul McCartney’s Helter Skelter, the last of which was used on The White Album. John Lennon played bass and made honking noises on a saxophone. Roadie and friend Mal Evans made a valiant attempt at playing trumpet, while George Harrison ran around the studio holding an ashtray he’d set on fire over his head, mocking Arthur Brown’s stage antics for his hit song Fire. At the end of the take John can be heard saying “How’s that?” at which point Ringo Starr throws down his drumsticks and shouts “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” Paul later told Guitar Player magazine he’d named it after an amusement park ride, but the inspiration had come from reading an interview with The Who’s Pete Townsend, who’d said their latest single I Can See For Miles was the rawest, dirtiest thing they’d done. “And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and very sophisticated. It wasn’t rough and screaming at all..so I thought we’ll do one like that.”
Slade, who’d started out in the late 60’s as a “Skinhead” band (at the time associated with “football hooliganism”, not racism), but had adopted a “glam rock” image by today in 1972 when they had their 3rd #1 hit at home in England with Mama Weer All Crazee Now, but it would go relatively unknown in the U.S. until 1984 when buttrock band Quiet Riot covered it (they had an even bigger hit with Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize) and inspired hosts of other 80’s buttrock bands to spell poorly.
David Bowie appeared on ITV’s show Marc tonight in 1977, hosted by T Rex frontman Marc Bolan. He sang Heroes, and then a duet with Bolan Standing Next To You,which was cut short when Bolan fell off the stage much to Bowie’s amusement. After the show the two retired to a recording studio where they began collaborating on some never-finished songs as Bolan was killed in a car crash on September 16th.
Hot off their performance at England’s Reading Festival which that year had featured a lineup hand-picked by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana were in New York to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards tonight in 1992. Before they went on stage Guns-N-Roses frontman Axl Rose had challenged Cobain to a fight as Kurt had been making derogatory comments about his band in the press. Bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic along with his wife Courtney Love had egged him on, but Axl apparently backed down. MTV executives had begged them to do their hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, but the band wanted to do their latest single Rape Me, which MTV wouldn’t allow. Much to their horror, Kurt started in on Rape Me when the show went live, but quickly switched to Lithium. At the end of the song Novoselic threw his bass high into the air for dramatic effect, but being moderately drunken misjudged the catch and ended up being clubbed in the head as it came back down. As Kurt picked up on the cue and proceeded to trash their equipment, Dave ran to the microphone and repeatedly shouted “Hi Axl! Where’s Axl?!”
Guitar maker Ernie Ball died at age 74 after a long illness today in 2004. He’d opened the first music store in America devoted exclusively to electric guitars in the late 50’s in Tarzana California, and his Music Man guitars and amps were fairly successful, but after noticing in the early 60’s that players were having trouble with the heavy Fender strings used by most players, invented his “Slinky” line of lighter-gauge strings now used by more players than any other, including the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, The Edge, John Fogerty, and many many more.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
Soul singer Otis Redding would be 76. He was killed at age 26 in a plane crash that also took most of the band The Bar-Kays, but shortly afterward his song Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay became the only posthumous #1 hit in American chart history.
Iron Butterfly singer and organist Doug Ingle is 72.
Buffalo Springfield bass player Bruce Palmer would be 71 if he hadn’t died of a heart attack at 58.
Guitarist Freddy Weller is 70. He started out in Boise’s Paul Revere and The Raiders, playing his first show with them on their only Ed Sullivan Show appearance, then went on to a semi-successful career in country music.
John McFee, who replaced Jeff “Skunk” Baxter in The Doobie Brothers is 67. His musical career started playing Hawaiian steel guitar on a C&H sugar commercial, and he would lend his talents in the studio to Van Morrison, Steve Miller, and Elvis Costello.