Jan/Feb 2005


Fifty Years Ago

And what, after all, is New Year's Day for, if not for taking stock, and observing the passage of the years...

And if we were to gaze back, say, fifty years ago or so...

Man, what a year!

Fifty years ago...

World War II had been over for less than ten years.

Walt Disney had just broadcast the first of three television shows starring Fess Parker as Davy Crockett in December of '54, and Crockett-mania was already beginning to sweep the nation as 1955 dawned, spawning among other things scores of recorded versions of the theme song - four of which charted.

Which was somewhat unfortunate for Disney, as in the final episode, set to air in February, they'd already killed the character off.

Disney at this time was more preoccupied with a new vision, however - a half completed park in Anaheim that he'd sunk all his money into. Slated to open in July, the idea that people would trudge out to the middle of nowhere to see replicas of a turn of the century Main Street and a European castle was ludicrous to many, and Disneyland as '55 dawned was being referred to as "Disney's folly".

Again as 1955 dawned, Warner Brothers announced (January 4th) that they had just signed a young television actor from New York as the lead in the upcoming film "Rebel Without a Cause". James Dean immediately moved to California, to begin what was clearly going to be a long and promising film career. (He had made a previous film, "East of Eden", but that film was not scheduled to be released until March.)

Also in January of '55, a recently transplanted disc jockey from Cleveland held a Rhythm and Blues show in New York City. He dubbed the thing a "Rock 'n' Roll" show - a euphemism he'd been using for a couple of years by that time. His name was Alan Freed.

Down South, a young singing truck driver had just signed a one year contract with the Louisiana Hayride radio show. He was a country boy who belted out Rhythm and Blues songs, and as 1955 dawned it appeared likely that Elvis Presley was on his way to a reasonably decent career as a novelty Country & Western singer.

At the same time, a guy in Missouri had a similar novelty act, writing and performing Country tunes which he would perform with his Rhythm and Blues band. In early 1955 Chicago's Chess label saw potential in the act, and the future was beginning to look promising for Chuck Berry.

Out in California, shooting was wrapping up in El Segundo for a movie about juvenile delinquents. The producers needed a suitable opening song, and the son of the film's star suggested a little novelty record from his collection that had been released the previous year, and disappeared without much of an impact. It had been recorded by an aging Western Swing band who were something of a novelty themselves, as they specialized in taking Rhythm and Blues songs by Joe Turner and running them through the Country/Swing mill.

That song, of course, was "Rock Around the Clock", and by late Spring the term "Rock 'n' Roll" had gone from a regional catch phrase to an adolescent obsession, and Bill Haley and his Comets had become the first Rock Stars.

Fifty years ago . . .

Fifty years ago my parents were engaged.

Fifty years ago my grandmother was my age.