Rock ‘n roll burst into my quiet, western Queensland world in the ‘50s when one of the boarding school contingent arrived home from the big smoke for holidays sporting a Brylcreemed Fonzie-style hairdo, hot pink socks, narrow fluro tie and clicking his fingers to the sounds of Little Richard. My musical tastes were never the same again. Almost 60 years on I recalled those electric early days of rock while visiting Nashville, Tennessee, where I learned Little Richard was still alive and living in the top floor Hilton Hotel suite from where he can sometimes be seen on the balcony in his wheelchair. He retired just two years ago aged 81, a pretty good example of “keep on rockin” – also the title of a film of a 1969 Sweet Toronto Peace Festival Little Richard concert.
Nashville sits with New Orleans and Memphis in the Mojo Triangle, the compact slice of America’s south where country, rock ‘n roll, blues, jazz and zydeco miraculously emerged and mutated from a cultural stew of French-speaking Arcadians expelled from Canada by the British; Spanish and French national colonisers; Native Americans; African slaves; Caribbean migrants; and British, Irish and other European settlers. English and Irish fiddles and folk dances; African drums, rhythms and vocal harmonies; French accordions; European brass instruments; American Indian chants; Latin rhythms and guitars; Caribbean cadences and voodoo practices; and the despair of the enslaved; melded into an amazing, diverse musical mix. Then technology caught up with the music mid-20th Century and – boom! – the Mojo Triangle music industry erupted.
One of the most celebrated recording studio in the world.
Nashville, or Music City, is today at the centre of the international popular music industry. A pleasant, laid-back metropolis its the epicentre of this world because of its aggregration of recording ancillary services and the best session musicians around. Visitors can feast on music memorabilia and history at attractions such as RCA’s Studio B, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry. Or those seeking retail therapy can head downtown to possibly the biggest selection of cowboy boot shops in the world, with lots of buy-one-pair-get-two-free deals.
The piano that has recorded platinum hits than almost any other.
Some of Studio B’s famous clients.
Famous Hall of Famers.
New Orleans, the home of jazz and zydeco – a blend of French Creole, blues, R & B and Indigenous American music – still bears the mental and physical scars of Hurricane Katrina 10 years down the track but the essence and spirit of the city remain.It renowned streets are busy with construction and restoration with locals boasting their precious heritage is guarded with new buildings only going up on vacant lots. The celebrated and colourful French Quarter, with famous haunts such as Bourbon Street, still jump with revelry at all hours, and live jazz combos entertain in French Quarter market cafes and restaurants.
French Quarter New Orleans.
Another Famous jazz name.
Memphis takes its responsibilities as the epicentre of blues and rock ‘n roll seriously. The Sun Studio tour tells the city’s story as the birthplace of rock ‘n roll and of the legendary and prescient Sam Phillips, a local 1950s DJ who recognised an opportunity when he saw, or rather heard, one. Sun Studio is best known for the so-called “Million-Dollar Quarter”, a recording of an impromptu jam session in 1956 by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Today they’d probably be known as “The Billion-Dollar Quartet”. The famed Gibson guitar factory reminds of the brand’s pivotal place in blues and rock while fabled Beale Street remains at the heart of the action as a pedestrian mall lined with clubs, in particular the recently departed B.B. King’s Blues Club, a fitting reminder of the king of the blues. Memphis was also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King and is the home of Gracelands.
Birth of the Blues
Recreation of 50’s recording studio at Sun Studios.
King BB’s Blues Club.