I grew up with music in the house. My mom loved classical music and played it loud when she did housework. In my head are many classical pieces. I couldn’t tell you who the composers are or the names of the pieces, but I can hum along with the music. My dad loved music as well and whistled a lot when he puttered around the house. He liked popular music and that’s the gene I got. I loved popular music even before rock & roll, but it’s when I first heard Elvis that I discovered my music.
The first musician I identified with was Ricky Nelson. I watched him grow up on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Rock & roll began in our culture with Elvis. His way of interpreting songs became the standard. The problem was no one did Elvis better than Elvis, but everybody tried. His movements, his look and his inflections were all copied by other rock and rollers. Every one agreed he was the “King of Rock & Roll”. Even though Ricky idolized Elvis, he didn’t try to imitate him. Ozzie set him up with a top notch band (his lead guitar player, James Burton, would later become Elvis’) and Ricky sang the songs without theatrics. Like the old crooner, Frank Sinatra, Ricky showed restraint in his delivery and total appreciation of the music. I’ve always liked musicians who didn’t allow their egos to become greater than the music.
Frank was a musical force like Elvis, and a teen idol like Ricky, maybe the first teen idol. He chose his songs well and demonstrated an impeccable understanding and respect for the music and the musicians. He used his voice as one of the instruments of the band, even though it was the main instrument. Ricky had the same style. He didn’t put on airs, but sang the songs straight with feeling and as an integral part of the band. If you want to hear pure unadulterated ‘50s rockabilly rock & roll, listen to Ricky’s many hit songs.My favorite music, evolving from that era, was Folk Rock, a genre that doesn’t seem to be a category anymore in the music stores. Folk Rock was born when Dylan went electric and Roger McGuinn fused the Beatles’ sound with Dylan lyrics. The Byrds, the Turtles, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Lovin’ Spoonful were some early Folk Rock groups. Folk Rock dominated popular music in the ‘60s and ‘70s.. Folk music was forever fused with Rock and individual artists like James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown were at the apex. The group that ruled the genre was Crosby, Stills and Nash and sometimes Young. In the mid ‘70s the baton was passed to the Eagles who, like the Byrds before them, fused in country music as well. In the late‘60s Ricky formed the Stone Canyon Band with Randy Meisner, who later joined the Eagles, and they helped pioneer the Country Rock sound.
Every generation has its own music and the generation to follow usually hates it. I remember my mom telling me about seeing Frank Sinatra with my dad when they were young. She talked about it as if it were something really special. I was heavily into the Stones at the time and thought, “Who’d want to listen to that corny old fashioned music?” After mom died, I discovered a live Sinatra record in her collection. It was recorded in Las Vegas with Count Basie’s Orchestra and arranged by Quincy Jones. I put it away in my useless record collection. Sometime in the ‘90s my sister gave me a Frank Sinatra cassette tape for my birthday. It contained songs recorded with the Nelson Riddle orchestra during his comeback in the ‘50s. I must have been ready at that time, because I discovered great songs with impeccable musicianship. I bought CDs of the live Vegas performance and the Nelson Riddle years and I now cherish these two recordings along with a Ricky Nelson greatest hits compilation. I love those two guys, they stood up there and sang ‘em straight.