(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2022)
We, OK – I – probably stand accused of harbouring dinosaur tendencies when it comes to my music of choice. I regard the period of my youth, the ‘70s, as being a pivotal point in music, with so many new and exciting genres coming to the fore: from the tail end of Sixties psychedelia I enjoyed heavy rock; prog rock; glam rock; southern rock; funk, soul & disco; punk and the advent of electronic.
Yet through all that vibrant change there was one constant. It may not have been glaringly obvious, but would build momentum, reaching the crescendo of full-blown ‘Revival’ status at the end of the decade.
ROCK AND ROLL, baby! Hell yeah!
In truth, it had never been away. Throughout the Sixties, though Buddy, Gene and Eddie had either faded or indeed passed away, Elvis and Cliff Richard in particular kept the Rock ‘n’ Roll torch burning. Then, as The Sixties prepared to morph into The Seventies, in Woodstock, upstate New York, this happened:
Rather bizarrely, Sha Na Na were scheduled the penultimate band of the long weekend, warming up for the headlining Jimi Hendrix. Due to numerous delays, they hit the stage at 7:30 on the Monday morning. Much of the crowd had left for home. Many were asleep, having partied through the night to likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young); Blood Sweat & Tears; Sly & The Family Stone; Ten Years After …. and more.
Classic, ‘juke box’ rock ‘n’ roll couldn’t be further from the mood of those preceding bands. It was an odd mix, but one that proved there be latent rockers in everyone. Closing their set with this anarchic, almost proto-punk version of Danny & The Juniors’ ‘At The Hop’ they sure woke everyone up, and were subsequently called back for an encore. They would go on to tour extensively in their own right, make a cameo appearance in ‘Grease’ and host their own syndicated television variety show in the USA.
Around the same time (1969) in USA, Paramount Television began a long-running series of one-off romantic comedies under the umbrella, ‘Love, American Style.’ On 25th February 1972, the episode was entitled, ‘Love and the Television Set’ which centred around a character, Richie Cunningham, his family and friends. Its popularity led to the 1974 spin-off sitcom, ‘Happy Days’ and Ron Howard, who played Richie, being offered a lead part in the 1973 film, ‘American Graffiti.’
Although set in 1962 and given its UK release in March 1974, the film, and later that year, ‘Happy Days,’ itself, both gave prominence to Rock ‘n’ Roll music and the culture that surrounded it.
In UK, Dave Edmunds and Alvin Stardust were slightly ahead of the curve, but would be joined in ’74 by likes of The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy and Mud with a series of Rock ‘n’ Roll based hits and chart-toppers over the next few years. Confusing the issue a tad, those latter bands were labelled more under the ‘Glam Rock’ banner, but never-the-less, Rock ‘n’ Roll was being absorbed into the subconscious of the listening youth. On the innocent side of 1976, before ‘punk’ in all its glorious fury was unleashed on the UK, there were two re-releases that introduced Rock ‘n ’Roll in its more organic form to a wider audience; Hank Mizell’s ‘Jungle Rock’ reached #3 in March, while another Hank – Hank C. Burnette – peaked at #21 in October with the more Rockabilly based ‘Spinnin’ Rock Boogie.’
Coming into 1977, punk did show itself a force to be reckoned with; disco, funk and soul were also competing for radio airplay and record sales. Darts managed to maintain a R’n’R representation in the UK charts with four hits spanning November ’77 through May ’78. Three of these (‘Come Back My Love,’ ‘Boy From New York City,’ and ‘It’s Raining’) reached #2 while their debut, ‘Daddy Cool’ made it to a very credible #6.
Though in general, it may have been shrouded from the general public’s consciousness, Rock ‘n’ Roll still bubbled away in the smaller venues across the country. The bands and artists were practice, practice, practicing … biding their time.
That time arrived in September 1978, with the movie release of the stage show, ‘Grease.’ Overnight, Rock ‘n’ Roll was back in vogue.
Teen fashion would now reflect the musical’s popularity as youngsters re-imagined themselves as a Danny; a Sandy; a Kenickie or a Betty Rizzo. White sleeved, Baseball / College jackets would brighten up the cold, damp and dreich streets of cities up and down the UK. Brothel creepers and pedal pushers were commonplace. Drainpipe jeans would put up a fight, but eventually, from a horizontal position, be forced over calves, thighs and hips. Then of course there was the small matter of pulling up the zip fly!
A pal from my athletics club, Davie Geddes, was even more into the music and Teddy Boy culture than me. No half measures with Davie – he went the full hog and had two made-to-measure drape suits plus all the accessories.
Davie also had a top notch Pioneer turntable and amp stacked into a cupboard in his bedroom. Often on a Sunday, I‘d run the three miles to his house where we’d get changed into the drapes etc, open a few bottles of his brain-wasting home-brew, and bop away the afternoon. I have to say, his parents, sitting in the room below trying to watch the Sunday Western on television, were most understanding!
(The ‘run’ back home in the evening was often quite interesting and incident laden.)
Although Rock ‘n’ Roll was now well represented with radio airplay, it was not to the commercial sounds of Darts or Rocky Sharpe & The Replays or songs from Grease that we honed (?) our jiving skills (??) Rockabilly bands were now making their presence heard, and were signed up by enterprising labels such as Charly and Rockhouse. And so it was more the sound of Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee , The Flying Saucers or The Riot Rockers that shook the windows of Knightswood, Glasgow those Sunday afternoons.
Our favourite though, way back then as it still is today, was Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers. This was a band who had their own way of rocking. Too gritty and ‘real’ for mainstream success, they fused various aspects of Rock ‘n’ Roll from Rockabilly to Skiffle; Juke Box Rock & Roll to Country, and came up with a unique, brash, ‘in your face’ sound that would match any punk band of the day for energy and vitality.
Formed as far back as 1964 by frontman Cavan Grogan, lead guitarist Lyndon Needs and rhythm guitarist Terry Walley, they performed under the name ‘Screamin’ Count Dracula & the Vampires’ until drummer Mike Coffey joined in 1970 and Terry price took over on bass from Don Kinsella. Their loyal, almost cult-like, South Wales following expanded over the years and the band, unchanged in personnel, were still playing shows and recording right up to Grogan’s death in February 2020, aged seventy.
Incidentally, only 11 miles down the road from where the band were formed in Newport, another Rock ‘n’ Roll legend was emerging. Shakin’ Stevens was playing with his band The Sunsets from the late Sixties around the Cardiff area, gradually building a following of their own. I know poor Shaky is now often maligned for some of his well-dodgy, later solo recordings, but as Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets they truly were an amazing band. And credit where it’s due, he had, according to Wikipedia at least, the highest singles sales of any male solo artist in the 80s.
Through the tail-end of the ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly would continue to flourish. The Stray Cats and Matchbox would take the music further than any band since (possibly) Elvis & Co, and though not exactly household name, bands like The Polecats; The Flat Tops, The Jets, and Glasgow’s own Shakin’ Pyramids would sell out venues across the UK.
I may not be the first musical genre you think of when discussing the ‘70s, but Rock ‘n’ Roll sure did play a major part.
Turns out, Danny & The Juniors were 100% correct after all:
Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay.