Rolling Stones celebrate 50 years of raucous rock'n'roll


rolling stones
At the beginning of 1962, Britain barely figured as an influence on the rest of the world of popular music. By the end of the year the fuse was lit for an unprecedented explosion of creativity that would turn the entire music business upside down. At this stage, "pop music" - especially "pop music" in the shape of rock'n'roll - was still regarded as a second-rate and largely disposable noise, even within the entertainment industry itself. That year, a bunch of spotty blues, and rhythm & blues fans from Liverpool and London would set in motion a process of change that transformed this perception dramatically and swiftly. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones would create a new, artistic language uniquely suited to reflect the concerns, hopes, and fears of their generation.

Rolling Stones gather to plot 50th anniversary bash

In October 1961, nineteen-year-old father of three, Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones (born 28 February 1942), and a fellow blues enthusiast, Dick Hattrell, attended a concert by Chris Barber's Jazz Band in their sleepy, conservative hometown, Cheltenham. During the interval, one of the members of Barber's band - the guitarist Alexis Korner - gave his own blues performance. Such was the purist attitude amongst the small community of blues cognoscenti in Britain, that Korner and his previous outfit had been sacked from their regular gig at the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club when they dared to introduce electric amplification. According to Barber, ever the supporter of fresh ideas (Bill Wyman calls him "virtually a founding father" of the British rock scene), Korner was the only British blues player who was amplifying his guitar at the time. Brian Jones was blown away by what he saw. Already known around town as a bit of a lad and a talented guitarist, he had no trouble being admitted backstage to speak to Korner and exchange telephone numbers. Two months later, Brian descended on the Korners in London, staying several days and spending most of his time perusing the older man's record collection. Discovering, amongst others, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson, he purchased an electric guitar as soon as he was back in Cheltenham and began to practise with an obsession matched only by his pursuit of female companionship. Indeed, the influence he would later exert over the nascent Rolling Stones might not just have been in terms of music, but also in terms of attitude and lifestyle.

Brian Jones's father, Lewis, was an aeronautical engineer and his mother, Louisa, a piano teacher. He grew up in the quiet environment of a comfortably well-off family, whose attitudes had been shaped by memories of the War itself and the uncertainty of the post-War austerity years. He was clever, sporty and popular in school. Aged fifteen, he joined a skiffle band, playing washboard. He liked trad jazz -- aka Dixieland, the dominant style of dance music in Britain at the time -- until he discovered the saxophonist Charlie Parker. And then, Brian Jones went off the rails in spectacular fashion. Discipline became an anathema to him. Refusing to go to university, he was sacked from a long series of jobs, usually for helping himself to the contents of the till. Friends and acquaintances despaired of him, so wantonly did he abuse their generosity. He even featured in the national press as an example for the wayward and amoral ways of modern youth, when one of his underage lovers became pregnant. If Brian Jones cared, he certainly didn't show it, and he most definitely didn't change his ways. According to perspective he was a damned nuisance, a peril to society, or a charming, modern-day libertine.

Gallery: Stones in pictures

On the morning of 17 October 1961, eighteen-year-old Mick Jagger (born 26 July 1943) was waiting on the platform of Dartford railway station for the train to take him the 16 miles into central London, where he was a mediocre student at the highly respected London School of Economics. He was clutching a Chuck Berry album, Rockin' at the Hops, and The Best of Muddy Waters under his arm. Shortly afterwards, seventeen- year-old Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943) arrived on the same platform on his way to Sidcup Art College. The two young men recognised each other from primary school. Studying the records on the train, Richards became even more envious of Jagger when he heard that he had actually seen Buddy Holly live in concert.

Time: Celebrating 50 years since they "start it up"

Two years earlier, Keith had received his first guitar as a gift from his mother. He was the only child of Bert, a factory worker, and Doris, whose mother had been the mayor of the Municipal Borough of Walthamstow (which is now part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest). Keith was a loner who was often bullied and the older he got, the more difficult he found it to accept the teachers' authoritarian rule. Music ran on his mother's side of the family; his grandfather had toured Britain with a big band, Gus Dupree and his Boys. Bert, on the other hand, was not keen on his son's growing interest in the guitar, especially after he was expelled from school for a variety of misdemeanors. As in school, two different worlds came up against each other in the family. "My parents were brought up in the Depression, when if you got something, you just kept it and you held it and that was it." Richards wrote in his autobiography. "Bert was the most unambitious man in the world. Meanwhile, I was a kid and I didn't even know what ambition meant. I just felt the constraints. The society and everything I was growing up in was just too small for me." By the time Richards arrived at art college -- it was the inspired idea of an art teacher to send him there -- he was deeply engrossed in music. Having started with Little Richard and Elvis, he had moved on via Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Marty Wilde and the like, to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins. British art colleges, then as now, have always been a fertile breeding ground for musical ideas. It was the one side of his education Keith relished.

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