View from the Stage: Beale Street Blues Had a Baby

Gary Wesselhoff
 


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Hey everybody… g-man here; just walked in the door from Memphis. I had a great time.

Wonderful place Memphis is. Good bar-b-q, brews, and blues. It’s a place to lay down some style between the downcast Mississippi Delta, and the smoky Chicago bars that I love so much. The heart and sole of Memphis is Beale Street-there are no words to describe Beale-you’ve got to play it like a tune. That’s what I did; I played there in a place called Dan McGuinness-it was way cool.

Beale Street is a world unto itself; Bourbon Street has nothing on Beale. Nothing. (Ok there are those chicks who've earned their beads but that's it. . . Ok, Ok, and there's those 190 proof slushy drinks too-but that's it. ). There’s every bit as much creativity, craziness, public boozing, and street artisans running tourist scams as Bourbon Street, but Bourbon can’t touch Beale’s Blues. Beale Street even has it’s own (self proclaimed. . ) Mayor: Rudy Williams-he plays a hellofa horn at that.

Well you know, I went down there looking for the root of blues, but was amazed to find the birth of rock and roll (and I thought it came from those frail guys from across the big pond). Very cool. Born in the USA-we got Jazz, we got Blues, we got Motown, we got Country, and we got ROCK—slam dunk baby! We got game. Who's got the BEST music on the planet? Who's your daddy?

Sun Studio Memphis 1951; a place put on the map by Elvis asserts sole heir to the claim that rock music indeed started in that very spot- - I’m not kidding, there is an electrical tape X on floor where rock started… right… THERE… ROCK STARTED RIGHT… THERE!

Rock ‘n Roll's ground zero.

Upstairs at Sun, behind a hand heel smudged glass case is a faded vinyl record by the fictitious band “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats". A 1951 tune called “Rocket 88" recorded at Sun. This is the very platter that started rock rolling. The rock history book cites that “In 1991, after a great deal of debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized this as the first Rock and Roll song ever recorded. " Right there on that freakin’ X! Can you believe it?

My tour guide at Sun (a guy named Eldorado) posed an interesting question: “What makes rock, rock? - - I mean why isn’t this song considered blues?

It’s attitude and feel. This song was about a car-the Oldsmobile “Rocket 88" just came out and was the fastest car on the road at the time. It was advertised as having a V-8 “Rocket" engine. Fast cars used for chasin’ fast chicks. That’s Rock in a nutshell.

Or perhaps it might help to think of it this way:

The Blues is Depression- - the past.

Rock is anxiety- - the future.

Take a valium and you have Pop Music. It's that simple.

Different sides of the same coin-you flip. It's my turn to call it.

Gary “g-man" Wesselhoff is an acoustic blues writer/performer woking the Chicago Metro area. You can contact him at: gman@gmanblues.com

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