red guitars

Places We’d Never Been Before


The year 1956 saw the beginning of a new music form, RocknRoll, with first recordings by Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, and in the two years that followed, more first hits by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran and others. Unfortunately I was too young and too small-town Canada to be aware of the excitement. This initial energy was soon lost when three of these musicians died in the same plane crash and two others faced scandal and prison terms.  When I did become aware of Rock in the early sixties, the music I remember was often insipid, pretty boy croonings or novelty songs.


In 1964 the so-called British Invasion by bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones basically brought back to America a re-energized version of what had started 8 years before. Both those bands did early Chuck Berry, and for the first time groups like the Rolling Stones did the blues, the real blues, 12 bar blues Chicago style, covering numbers by men like Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters as close to the original as they could get. The Stones could be regarded as the first white blues band, and it seemed to need musicians from outside of America to accomplish this. I can remember listening to them every day for at least a year, in love with that incredible rhythm they created on their first four albums, largely unaware I was getting my first real exposure to black music.


In the eight years after 1964, RocknRoll saw an incredible transformation, fully realized by 1972.


Look at this partial list of artists, is it any wonder those years were so amazing…..


The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Traffic, Simon and Garfunkel, the Animals, Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker, Fairport Convention, The Who, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, the Mothers of Invention, The Grateful Dead, the Hollies, Steppenwolf, the Guess Who, the Pretty Things, The Kinks, Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann, Donovan, Bad Company, Free, Procol Harum, Velvet Underground,  Bob Dylan, King Crimson, the Youngbloods, David Bowie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, Jefferson Airplane, Spencer Davis Group, Moodie Blues, MC5, Jethro Tull, Captain Beefheart,  Janis Joplin,  the Doors, the Beach Boys, Country Joe and the Fish, Steve Miller Band, the Blues Project, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Spirit, Butterfield Blues Band, Santana, Ten Years After, the Allman Brothers Band, Leon Russell, Blue Cheer, Deep Purple, Dr. John, Mamas and the Papas, the Loving Spoonful, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.


In the midst of all this incredible talent some masterpieces went virtually unrecognized, as for instance the albums Music from a Doll’s House by the band Family, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, Electric Music for the Mind and Body by Country Joe and the Fish, Jesse Winchester's first.


And something was happening. The music was bringing us a new (old) wildness, a chaotic energy, an experience of raw joy that rendered our parents world pale and uninteresting.


Although there have been many amazing artists since 1972, there has really been nothing new, every piece of music can be traced back to some sound, some technique, some feeling that was created in those eight years.  If Rock was still simple enough in 1964, it soon expanded in all directions as musicians tried new things, new sounds, new instrumental combinations, oriental modalities, new blendings with folk, country, jazz, classical, latin, musicals, electronic and ethnic music, as well as the psychedelic dimension. The electric guitar was explored and its incredible potential realized. A new world was opened up of sonic textures and feelings. Consider the following list of songs as a small sample, each one of which has an unforgettable feeling and a sonic landscape superbly unique.


Gimme Shelter                                   Rolling Stones

While My Guitar Gently Weeps        Beatles

Heart Full of Soul                              Yardbirds

Eight Miles High                                the Byrds

Whiter Shade of Pale                         Procol Harum

Break on Through                               the Doors

Black Magic Woman                         Santana

The Weight                                         the Band

Green River                                       Creedence Clearwater Revival

All Along the Watchtower                 Jimi Hendrix


In those days we didn’t see how lucky we were. In one month there might be new albums by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Stones, Cream or any one of dozens of other amazing bands.  I remember looking at new albums in the Oshawa Shopping Centre in 1967. One lurid cover by a group I’d never heard of called the Jimi Hendrix Experience caught my eye.  I bought it, took it to a friends house and we put it on the basement stereo. Our jaws dropped when the first savage chords of Purple Haze came crashing out of the speakers. As the hyperbole on the back cover said, the music took us places we’d never been before.