Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bad Boys in Rock N Roll...

In the wake of the recent moral pronouncements regarding the singer and entertainer Chris Brown it brings to mind more than a few other artists with similar pasts and lifestyle discrepancies that are casually overlooked and in some cases actually go as far as improving a legacy/reputation of those involved showing the next generation the type of pirate living stylish gunslingers who came before.

Below are a few other musicians/artists who’s personalities, behaviour and outright foolishness leaves them on paper less than reputable as individuals but who’s musical output has put these minor details in the shade of their historical biography. Hopefully the questions will now be raised on whether “do you judge an artists by their work, or by their personalities and daily lives?”

Ike Turner

No point beating around the (nut)bush lets jump in at the deep end. The name itself is vilified beyond repair thanks to the 1993 movie ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ based on the book ‘I,Tina’ by Tina Turner. From that portrayal Ike is shown to be a hard nosed womanising, drug addicted bully who beat poor innocent Tina within an inch of her life most evenings due to his overwhelming jealousy of her talents that far outweighed his own, ending with him in jail and her beyond thunder-dome under the spotlight of her 1980’s AOR rock comeback. The film takes massive exaggerations with the truth and events and these have in fact been discussed at length by the individuals present and by Tina herself who later admitted some of the movie was sensationalised for the good of the script and overall movie. The truth sometimes isn’t as movie worthy and exciting as the reality so for drama and popcorn sales sake some peoples lives are bent all out of shape.

Nobody is saying that Ike Turner was a gentle soul that would never raise his hand in anger but this was also the same man that played piano on the very first bona fide Rock ‘N Roll song ‘Rocket 88’, the same guy that was a talent scout for Sun and Modern records and brought Howlin’ Wolf, B.B King, Bobby Bland and countless others to the forefront of music and gave them the platform to start their careers. He was a cornerstone and an innovator of electric blues who’s group The King’s of Rhythm were THE band to see on the R&B ‘Chitlin Circuit’ of the deep south. He employed future stars such as the teenage Jimi Hendrix in his group and behind the scenes financially assisting artist that had fallen off the radio’s top ten.

Rediscover the raw beauty of Ike & Tina’s early material such as ‘A Fool In Love’, ‘I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ and the beautifully sleazy ‘I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)’ recorded by Ike's backing singers The Ikettes and you’ll find that for real fans of R&B and Soul their 60’s soul revue couldn’t be matched and while Tina Turner’s 80’s solo career was as lucrative and MTV pop-lite to the masses how far it falls off the radar quality wise when put up against her early records and Ike Turner productions. She made him? Do me a favour.

Lead Belly

O.K so we’re going back old-school here but nether less the fact still remains that Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) performer of countless folk standards such as ‘Cotton fields' (later covered by The Beach Boys)’, 'Goodnight Irene' (recently covered by Jack White), ‘Rock Island Line’ (covered by EVERYBODY) and ‘In the Pines’ (later re-christened ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ by Nirvana on their ‘Unplugged in New York’ album) and many, many more was in fact a short tempered two time imprisoned murderer who had killed a relative in a fight over a women and knifed another in equally murky circumstances.

Hardly the guy you want your daughter bringing home for Christmas dinner but his legend still remains to this day in the archives music and within the very DNA of what would become Rock N Roll and popular music. His Library of Congress recordings by John and Alan Lomax remain undoubtedly some of the most important musical artefacts of the 20th century.

Jerry Lee Lewis

The ol’ 'Killer' himself. Everyone’s heard the stories, the fact that he was multi-bigamist, a member of a fire and brimstone church who’s preacher was disgraced evangelical spokesman Jimmy Swaggart (his cousin!), the fact he married a 13 year old teenage girl (another cousin!!).

The pills, the thrills and bellyaches of the early wild Rock N Roll. While stoking the fires of hell with his demonic piano assault and singing Rock n Roll classics such as ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ (once named the greatest Rock N Roll track by John Lennon) and ‘Crazy Arms’ he also found time to destroy multiple pianos, shoot his bass player Butch Owens point blank in the chest “by accident” while fooling around with a loaded gun one rehearsal and being wrestled and arrested by Elvis Presley’s home security guards after the severely drunk Lewis was seen climbing over the gates of Graceland armed with a loaded handgun demanding to see the boss. He’d still get a standing ovation if he took the stage today and quite rightly so.

James Brown

The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother Number 1!,The Hardest Working Man in Show business, Mr Please Please Please, The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk… could also be described as a man that was arrested multiple times for drink driving (including a two state full on police chase which ended after his tyres were shot out beneath his truck leaving him driving on the wheel rims!), spousal abuse and assault.

He is still remembered as a true great, musical maverick and someone who seemingly never had a bad word about anyone (I.e. when asked about The Mafia “I guess they are doing the best they can”). He also made Rocky 4 bearable.

Phil Spector

Phil Spector is probably the oddest of the odd one out in this list for the simple reason that his reputation and personality has overshadowed his great musical contributions of his early days. His run of hit records in the 1960/70’s with girl groups and artists such as The Crystals, The Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, John Lennon, George Harrison and Tina Turner can’t be viewed as anything other than a gargantuan achievement, although as he currently sits in a prison cell on a murder charge it swings the pendulum a little too far out of reach if he’s expecting a lifetime achievement award any time soon from his piers.

I’ve often thought about whether the term ‘genius’ is justified with Phil Spector as he was an all rounder hard working guy that managed the business side, production technique, song-writing and talent scouting, it wasn’t due to a natural ability but simply because of his own personal drive and ambition. His reputation as a nutcase appeared after his string of successes dried up as styles changed with him flat refusing to move an inch out of his comfort zone and instead took on the persona of a reclusive mad genius who preferred to be locked away in his haunted mansion rather than in the studio. It’s the reclusiveness and the ‘genius’ tag that got hung around his neck that I believe was the factor that pushed him off the path of normality. The studio horror stories about guns being waved, sessions lasting all night and the verbal abuse lashed at anyone that didn’t obey his orders are almost as legendary as the final records that he released.

The most famous of his ‘victims’ being his ex-wife Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Spector who reportedly spent her wedding night locked in the bathroom of their hotel suite while her new husband screamed obscenities and threats at her. Legend has it that he also told her that he had a solid glass Snow White-esque coffin in his basement for if she ever tried to leave him, the glass top was practical so “I can keep and eye on you”. Her opinion on him "I think Phil was a very normal person at the beginning of his career. But as time went on, they started writing about him being a genius. And he said, 'Yeah, I am a genius.' And then they would say, 'He's the mad genius.' And so he became the mad genius."

Musically, Phil Spector is a legend. He brought a new dynamic to POP music that has never been bettered , it’s an overall vision possibly closer to a movie director or a landscape artist, he has the ability to see the finished product before a single note has been recorded and like a sculpture he’ll keep chipping away until the end is finally revealed. The wall of sound has now for him been replaced with a wall of bricks and barbed wire but the records will last forever as perfect moments in POP music.

So do we all forgive Chris Brown? The answer is of course…NO. The reason? It's too soon. In the world of social media, immediate news 24 hours a day it's near impossible to quitely leave something like spousal abuse to the history books, especially when your spouse is one of the biggest pop stars in the world. He also needs a few more great songs under his low slung belt, a few Michael Jackson by way of Usher dance moves don’t cut it for me. Come back in a few years with a classic album or two under your wing then you’ll be assimilated into the living being of Rock N Roll where sins are forgiven, transgressions are washed away in a baptism of time, good feeling and rose tinted glasses.

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