As Little Richard’s drummer, Charles Connor, who later played with James Brown, put it, rock and roll is really just “rhythm and blues played with a fast beat.”
Now, however, black artists were sharing spaces formerly reserved for white artists, and were at the forefront of American popular culture.
In spite of the efforts of segregationists to ban this “licentious jungle music,” especially in the Jim Crow south,
a curious thing started to happen: Rock & roll shows became so boisterously biracial that it was sometimes impossible for officials to fully segregate them. Some recall the cops simply throwing up their hands. “A lot of places had the line when we first walked in, and after we started playing, they let them cross the line,” the Coasters’ [Leon] Hughes says. “It was beautiful.”
At the height of Jim Crow, young whites and blacks found ways to breach the separation. “After the first intermission, the kids were all dancing together,” [rock and roll singer Lloyd] Price says. “I just kept playing my music and the kids kept coming….They were rebelling through dance, through a beat I’d created….They start realizing we’re all human.” In his authorized 1985 biography, Little Richard gives himself credit for single-handedly bringing segregated audiences together. “We were breaking through the racial barrier,” he wrote. Richard’s producer, H.B. Barnum, recalled, “When I first went on the road there were many segregated audiences….And most times, before the end of the night, they would all be mixed together.”
The record companies were paying attention. So as to capitalize on the success of early (black) rock and roll, and to quietly influence white parents to lift their unofficial restrictions on the lucrative teen record-buying market, white artists were enlisted to cover songs first recorded by black artists.
The Chords, “Sh-Boom”:
The Crew Cuts, “Sh-Boom”:
Etta James, “Wallflower”:
Georgia Gibbs, “Wallflower”:
Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti”:
Pat Boone, “Tutti Frutti”:
Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog”:
Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog”:
The T.A.M.I. (Teenage Awards Music Intenational) Show was a concert documentary that combined footage from two concerts held in Santa Monica, California in October 1964. The concerts were attended mostly by local high school students, who had been given free tickets to the show, and were headlined by a mix of white pop and rock-and-roll artists and black R&B and soul musicians.
One of the most celebrated performances in the concerts was that of James Brown and his band, the Famous Flames. There had been a backstage conflict just moments earlier between Brown and the Rolling Stones over who would go last. The Stones prevailed, and Brown, before going onstage, supposedly said, “Watch this, y’all.”
Watch it here.
James Brown’s performance,
in its most thrilling, compressed, erotic, explosive form, just eighteen minutes long, is also arguably the most electrifying performance in the history of postwar American music.
. . . The Stones had come to the States from England determined to play black R. & B. for a mainly white audience that did not know its Son House from its Howlin’ Wolf. They were already stars, and the T.A.M.I. producers had them scheduled to close the show. James Brown did not approve. “Nobody follows James Brown!” he kept telling the show’s director, Steve Binder. Mick Jagger himself was hesitant. He and Keith Richards were boys from Kent [England] with an unusual obsession with American blues. They knew what Brown could do. In Santa Monica, they watched him from the wings, just twenty feet away, and, as they did, they grew sick with anxiety.
Brown, who had played the Chitlin Circuit for years, was genuinely incensed that the producers would put him on before pallid amateurs (in his mind) like the Stones. His performance, he later admitted, was a cutting contest that he refused to lose. As Brown puts it in his memoir, “James Brown: The Godfather of Soul,” “We did a bunch of songs, nonstop, like always. . . . I don’t think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don’t think they’d ever seen a man move that fast.” . . .
Brown [said] that the T.A.M.I. performance was the “highest energy” moment of his career: “I danced so hard my manager cried. But I really had to. What I was up against was pop artists—I was R. & B. I had to show ’em the difference, and believe me, it was hard. . . It’s a Holiness feeling—like a Baptist thing . . . It’s a spiritual-background thing. You’re involved and you don’t want to quit. That’s the definition of soul, you know. Being involved and they try to stop you and you just don’t want to stop.”
. . . [Keith] Richards would eventually say that the very idea of following James Brown was the biggest mistake of the Stones’ careers.
You can see the results here.
Some of you missed this in class yesterday: the great Muddy Waters at a Chicago club, being gracious enough to invite the Rolling Stones, visiting while on tour, up onstage with him.
More from the same evening: Waters invites bluesmen Buddy Guy and Lefty Dizz up onstage. Mick Jagger seems to silently acknowledge that he’s out of his depth.
As someone commented, Waters needed none of them, but they definitely needed him.