A 26 year old Chuck Berry, five years out of prison for armed robbery, go his first paying gig today in 1952 when pianist Johnnie Johnson hired him for his band. It didn’t pay much, and Chuck kept his day job as a hair stylist for another 3 years.
The Beatles returned to London today in 1963 from a short tour of Sweden, their first outside England. They were greeted at Heathrow airport by photographers, journalists, and hundreds of screaming fans. American TV host Ed Sullivan was there headed back to the States after a vacation, and was impressed. He was fully aware that he had missed out on being the first to put Elvis Presley on television and determined not to repeat the mistake, had his people look into getting them on his show. The Ed Sullivan Show would offer Brian Epstein a huge pile of cash to appear on the show, but Brian cleverly countered that he would take less money, but wanted a contract for three appearances with top billing and two spots at the beginning and end of each show. The Fab Four would do three consecutive Sundays in February, with the first appearance drawing some 73 million viewers, the largest television audience in history until the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H, and then several Super Bowls.
Ray Charles was arrested at Boston’s Logan airport today in 1964 for possession of heroin. It was his third bust, but he managed to avoid prison by agreeing to check into a rehab clinic (yes they had those then) in Los Angeles and spending all of 1966 on parole.
The Who played the Cavern Club in Liverpool tonight in 1965, the only time they ever played there.
Proto-punk Detroit band The Stooges, fronted by the mild-mannered Iggy Pop, played their first live show at a Halloween party in their hometown tonight in 1967. The Stooges would mostly avoid fame during their first run, but influence many other performers, including David Bowie (who produced two Iggy solo albums in the mid 70’s), and though original bass player Dave Alexander died (at age 27), the surviving members reunited for a sold-out stadium tour (including a stop at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival) in 2003, and all were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 2010.
The Mamas and The Papas singer Michelle Phillips got married for the second time today in 1970, to Easy Rider star Dennis Hopper. Their marriage lasted all of 8 days. She’s been married three times since, and is the last surviving member of that band.
Led Zeppelin launched their own record label Swan Song tonight in 1974 with a massive blowout party at the Chiselhurst Caves in Kent England. Drinks in the former flint and chalk mines used as an air-raid shelter during WWII were served by women in nun habits, a naked woman lay in a coffin covered in jelly, and nude male greco-roman wrestlers did their thing in recesses of the caves. The guest list was a who’s who of the music industry, and included the label’s other signees Bad Company, The Pretty Things, and Maggie Bell.
Roger Waters filed a lawsuit in a London court today in 1986 to prevent David Gilmore and Nick Mason from using the name Pink Floyd on any future recordings or performances. The case wouldn’t be resolved for over a year, saw the release of the album A Momentary Lapse of Reason (for all intents and purposes a Gilmore solo album), the hiring of keyboard player Rick Wright as a Pink Floyd employee, and a U.S. tour that on several occasions stopped in the same towns Roger Waters was playing (in much smaller venues) with his Radio KAOS solo tour. Waters later filed another lawsuit, demanding that Pink Floyd stop using the flying pig he’d come up with for their Animals album, to which the band responded to by attaching a large set of male genitalia to the pig to distinguish it from Waters’ design.
MTV recorded it’s first-ever “unplugged” session at it’s studios in New York today in 1989 with British band Squeeze.
Practical jokes are a long-standing end-of-tour tradition in rock and roll, and because of our geographical location, Seattle is often both a launching and end point. Honoring that tradition tonight in 1990, Billy Idol dumped some 600 dead fish he’d bought at the Pike Place Market in opening act Faith No More’s dressing room. They retaliated by walking out on stage completely naked during Billy’s set.
Guns-N-Roses lead guitarist Slash issued a press release today in 1996 announcing that he was no longer a member of the band, and that he and singer Axl Rose had been civil toward each other all of two times since 1994….until 2015-16 when they reunited.
The white suit John Lennon wore on the cover of The Beatles Abbey Road album sold at an auction in Las Vegas today in 2005 for $118,000. Also sold at the Amnesty International fundraising event was an Austin Princess hearse driven by Lennon in the Imagine documentary, which went for $150,000.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
Argent guitarist and songwriter Russ Ballard is 72.
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. is 56. He famously placed an ad on a bulletin board at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin in 1976 that read “Drummer seeks musicians to start band”, and later said it was called “The Larry Mullen Band…for about 10 minutes…then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge”. They changed the name to Feedback, and then The Hype, before going with the name of the high-flying spy plane made famous by Francis Gary Powers at the height of the Cold War, U2.