July 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part V

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Introduction

Okeydokey guitar and music fans out there. If you are reading this 5th part of the series of articles, I hope you know the routine by now, so I won’t bore you with any further preamble and we can get on with the latest episode.

If you would like to (re)visit the first four parts (covering 300 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Before we delve in to the Fifties, I was asked a very good question following the last article, which was…

Question(s): “A young Elvis Presley sang ‘Old Shep’ in a talent contest… he came 2nd. I would dearly like to know who beat the future ‘King’ of rock and roll. Do you happen to know if it was a fellow pop star?”

Answer: Many reports say that the young Elvis came 2nd. However, in a later interview, Presley said that he came 5th. The photograph of the prize giving presentation suggests that Presley may be correct in his recollection as three others are holding prizes while the young Presley, standing on the far right of the photo below wearing glasses, is standing empty-handed. The winners, as far as anyone knows, did not go on to become famous.

Elvis Presley Mississippi-Alabama Dairy Show Talent Competition

This also raises the point of illustrating the facts. I actually have some interesting images for each and every fact listed in these articles. While a picture can convey many words, to add that many photos, each publication would become humongous to wade through. I know people like to see pictures, rather than read volumes of sometimes repetitive narrative. On this occasion, it is probably better not to illustrate each fact. Apologies to all the picture loving people out there.

Once again, so much happened in the course of the 1950s that the decade demands a discrete article to itself. Let’s go…

The Story of Modern Music Part V 1950-1959

For many people, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll heralded a whole new era of popular music. So, as we get to the 1950s, this article will cover what was going on in the world that enabled such a musical revolution to take place and the fundamental cultural changes that went along with it. The world would never be the same again. It is worth remembering that, at the time, not everyone was excited about change and many conservative traditionalists fiercely rejected and resisted such a rebellious and irreversible transformation.

Historical Context 1950-1959

For most developed economies, the 1950s was a period of slow recovery from the severe consequences of WWII. However, the world was not without conflict and warfare in many other regions including in Asia, Africa and South America. The Cold War continued to fester, fuelled by intense competition between the democratic United States and communism Soviet Russia. The bitter rivalry included reciprocal nuclear weapons testing, military escalation and the start of the ‘space race’. The McCarthy ‘witch hunts’ of communist subversive and treasonous American citizens fuelled bitter political conspiracy and widespread public paranoia. The threat of mutually assured destruction maintained a fragile stalemate between west and east. By the end of the decade, as employment and income levels began to improve, individual freedoms and opportunities would lead to a paradigm shift in civilised countries including radical social, political, technological and cultural change that would set the dynamic scene for following decades.

Year

Global Events

1950

The Korean War started between the communist North supported by Russia and China, and the capitalist South supported by America – the war lasted until 1953 when the Korean Demilitarized Zone was implemented to separate North and South.

1951

The precursor to the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was formed when six countries signed the Treaty of Paris.

1952

British monarch, King George VI died and Elizabeth II became Queen of the United Kingdom.

Republican politician and army general Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected 34th President of the U.S.A.

1953

New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.

One of the first films to depict youthful rebellion and which would become a reflection on American social tensions, ‘The Wild One’ was released, directed by Laslo Benedek and starring Marlon Brando.

The scientific paper describing the double-helix structure of DNA was authored by Britain Francis Crick and American James Watson.

1954

The term rock ‘n’ roll was coined by DJ Alan Freed and the associated teen culture became hugely popular, particularly in America and Britain.

British athlete Roger Bannister becomes the first man to run the four minute mile.

1955

Renowned German physicist Albert Einstein died in Princeton, New Jersey, America in 1955 at the age of 76.

The Warsaw Pact defence treaty between Russia and seven neighbouring Eastern Bloc states was signed during the ‘Cold War’ standoff.

The classic film drama of teen alienation, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ was released, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Dean.

The phenomenally successful MacDonald’s fast food chain was established in America by Ray Kroc.

The Vietnam War between the Communist North and the Capitalist South started, which lasted until 1975.

1956

The Suez Crisis erupted following Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal, creating conflict in the Middle East.

1957

Russia launched the Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite into space, effectively triggering the space race.

The European Economic Community (EEC) was established when six countries signed the Treaty of Rome.

1958

The American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was set up in Washington D.C.

1959

Marxist leader Fidel Castro established the long‑standing communist dictatorship in Cuba after overthrowing the Batista regime.

The British Motor Corporation launched the revolutionary and hugely successful small family car, the Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis. The original model stayed in production until 2000.

Alaska and Hawaii formally become an integral part of the United States of America.

Musical Genre Development 1950-1959

The 1950s was a decade of innovation that saw the massive explosion of musical creativity across many genres, fusing influences and generating many new musical styles. Arguably, it was during the 1950s that modern music ‘grew up’ and any suggestions that the popular music crazes of the time were ephemeral ‘fads’ were finally dispelled. Country music remained popular with artists such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams at the forefront of a revival.

Johnny Cash

Possibly not a genre in itself but easy listening music became popular in the 1950s and lasted until the 1970s. A form of middle‑of‑the‑road (MOR) music, it found popularity on radio and then extended into various styles of background music, elevator music or ‘muzak’. Easy listening music was often instrumental or vocal interpretations of past popular music standards, rather than anything new in its own right. Some major artists tapped into the appeal, including Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Herp Alpert, The Carpenters and Richard Clayderman.

Burt Bacharach

In the post‑war years, modernistic music, broadly also encompassing experimental and avant‑garde music was being explored by many composers wishing to push boundaries either within existing traditions or by introducing original elements outside prevailing styles. The aim of many composers was to break rules, reject established conventions and challenge audiences in a creative, if frequently alienating, way. Practitioners included Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage.

John Cage

During the 1950s rhythm and blues music, often shortened to R&B, became popular, being a more upbeat form of blues music. R&B emanated from mainly African‑American music that was widespread during the late 1940s. Record companies promoted R&B toward predominantly urban African American audiences. R&B’s popularity was based on a fusing many influences such as jazz, blues, country and gospel to create strongly rhythmic, beat‑based songs. R&B would, in turn, influence the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and soul of the late 1950s and 1960s. In response to other influences, R&B changed to include other styles such as doo‑wop. Famous R&B artists of the time included Ray Charles, The Drifters, Sam Cooke, The Platters and the Coasters.

Ray Charles

By the mid‑1950s, the cultural clash of blues, jazz and country combined to create a new phenomenon in the United States, rock ‘n’ roll, a phrase popularised by radio disc jockey Alan Freed in 1954. Bill Haley (And His Comets) is often credited as the catalyst although many other artists were instrumental in creating the new youth musical revolution, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Rockabilly was a very close relation to rock ‘n’ roll at the time popularised by artists such as Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. Classic rock ‘n’ roll is essentially based on a backbeat dance rhythm performed on electric guitar, bass, and drums, replacing the piano and saxophone as lead instruments. The cultural importance of rock ‘n’ roll cannot be underestimated and its impact went far beyond just a musical genre, influencing lifestyle, film & TV, art, fashion, attitudes, and language. Although its roots can be traced back to the 1930s, it was in the 1950s that rock ‘n’ roll began to pervade modern society, coming as it did at a time of immense post‑war technological, economic, social and political change. On the back of radio coverage, the 45rpm single record would provide a massive boost to sales of rock ‘n’ roll songs to America’s urban counterculture youth. Rock ‘n’ roll began to decline by the early 1960s as other forms of popular music began to dilute its impact.

Bill Haley And His Comets

Musical Facts 1950-1959

During the Fifties, many more household names that we take for granted today came into the world. Modern music began the transition from the traditional forms to more contemporary genres. As younger artists born in the 1930s and 1940s began to create the ‘new’ music, the shift in the balance of ‘facts’ from births, through achievements, to deaths are just beginning to become apparent.

Chris Stein (Blondie)

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

5

January

1950

American guitarist, producer, photographer and co‑founder of punk/new wave/pop band Blondie, Chris Stein was born in Brooklyn, New York.

12

February

1950

English guitarist, former member of progressive rock band Genesis and now a successful solo artist, Steve Hackett was born in London.

13

February

1950

English solo singer, songwriter and ex-member of progressive rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel was born in Chobham, Surrey.

19

February

1950

English singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder of rock group Wishbone Ash, Andy Powell was born in London.

20

February

1950

American bassist, guitarist, songwriter and co‑founder of jazz rock band Steely Dan, Walter Becker (1950-2017, 67) was born in New York City.

24

February

1950

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and perennial rocker George Thorogood was born in Wilmington, Delaware.

22

April

1950

English born American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Peter Frampton was born 1950 in Bromley, Kent.

13

May

1950

Legendary American soul singer, songwriter, keyboard player and producer, Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan.

13

May

1950

English guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of Anglo‑American rock group Fleetwood Mac from 1968 to 1972, Danny Kirwan (1950-2018, 68) was born in London.

3

June

1950

Pioneering American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist and actor, Suzi Quatro was born in Detroit, Michigan.

18

July

1950

English business entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin empire including Virgin Records and Virgin record stores, Richard Branson was born in London

2

August

1950

English guitarist and singer, best known for his work with rock band Wishbone Ash, Ted Turner was born in Sheldon, Birmingham.

30

August

1950

English guitarist with, amongst others, Whitesnake and Snafu, Micky Moody was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire.

10

September

1950

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of rock band Aerosmith, Joe Perry was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

14

September

1950

Great English guitarist and co-founder off blues/rock band Free, Paul Kossoff (1950-1976, 25) was born in London.

2

October

1950

English guitarist, bass guitarist and founding member of progressive rock bands Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics, Mike Rutherford was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

5

October

1950

Great English guitarist and one-time member of rock band Motörhead, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke (1950-2018, 67) was born in London.

20

October

1950

Legendary American singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and bandleader of The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty (1950-2017, 66) was born in Gainesville, Florida.

22

November

1950

American guitarist, actor and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E. Street Band, Steven Van Zandt was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

22

November

1950

American bass guitarist and co-founder of post-punk alternative rock bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Tina Weymouth was born in Coronado, California.

9

December

1950

Award-winning British singer, songwriter and guitarist, Joan Armatrading was born in Basseterre, Saint Kitts in the Caribbean.

31

January

1951

English guitarist, producer and former member of art rock bands Roxy Music, 801 and Quiet Sun, Phil Manzanera was born in London.

1

February

1951

Great American blues guitarist and skilled slide guitarist, Sonny Landreth was born in Canton, Mississippi.

4

March

1951

Highly accomplished English pop, rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, Chris Rea was born in Middlesbrough.

6

March

1951

Terrific American blues/rock guitarist, singer and songwriter, Walter Trout was born in Ocean City, New Jersey.

17

March

1951

American guitarist, best known as co-lead guitarist with rock bands Thin Lizzy and more recently, Black Star Riders, Scott Gorham was born in Glendale California.

20

March

1951

American blues/rock guitarist, singer, bandmate and older brother of the late Stevie Ray, Jimmie Vaughan was born in Dallas, Texas.

27

April

1951

American guitarist, songwriter, co-founder and former member of hard rock group, KISS, nicknamed ‘Spaceman’, Ace Frehley was born in The Bronx, New York City.

7

May

1951

Formidable Puerto Rican/American rock guitarist, who frequently played with David Bowie and James Brown, Carlos Alomar was born in Ponce.

7

May

1951

Prolific English guitarist and former member of heavy rock band Whitesnake, Bernie Marsden was born in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire.

21

June

1951

American rock guitarist, often seen as sideman to ‘The Boss’, as well as a solo artist, Nils Lofgren was born in Chicago, Illinois.

30

June

1951

Amazing American jazz fusion bass guitarist, composer and founding member of Return to Forever, Stanley Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

2

August

1951

English guitarist and member of psychedelic progressive rock band Gong and founder of electronic dance band System 7, Steve Hillage was born in London.

19

August

1951

Retired English bass guitarist for the rock/pop band Queen, John Deacon was born in Leicester.

21

August

1951

English bass guitarist, solo artist, one time member of hard rock band Deep Purple and currently with super group Black Country Communion, Glenn Hughes was born in Cannock, Staffordshire.

7

September

1951

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder of post‑punk rock/pop group The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde was born in Akron, Ohio.

18

September

1951

American punk rock pioneer, bass guitarist and member of the Ramones, Dee Dee Ramone (1951-2002, 50) was born in Fort Lee, Virginia.

2

October

1951

English singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, actor, ex‑member of rock band The Police and successful solo artist, Gordon Sumner CBE, a.k.a. Sting, was born in Wallsend, Northumberland.

3

October

1951

Award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Keb’ Mo’ was born in Los Angeles, California.

26

October

1951

Flamboyant American bass guitarist and singer with funk/soul artists James Brown and Funkadelic/Parliament, the illustrious Bootsy Collins was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1

December

1951

Influential virtuoso American jazz bass guitarist who worked with Weather Report, Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell, as well as a solo artist, the incomparable Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987, 35) was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

4

December

1951

American guitarist and founding member of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington was born in Jacksonville, Florida.

16

December

1951

Influential American jazz, blues and rock guitarist Robben Ford was born in Woodlake, California.

26

December

1951

Talented American jazz/rock guitarist who has collaborated with many great musicians over the course of his career, John Scofield was born in Dayton, Ohio.

11

January

1952

American contemporary jazz session and solo guitarist, Lee Ritenour was born in Los Angeles, California.

20

January

1952

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, artist and long‑term member of iconic rock band KISS, nicknamed ‘The Starchild’, Paul Stanley was born in New York City.

7

March

1952

The influential and popular weekly music magazine, The New Musical Express (NME), was launched in the UK.

7

March

1952

American guitarist (as well as bassist and drummer), singer, songwriter and member of funk band The Isley Brothers, Ernie Isley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

17

March

1952

Irish guitarist and member of heavy rock bands Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, Bernie Tormé (1952-2019, 66) was born in Dublin.

2

April

1952

American bass guitarist with southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leon Wilkeson (1952-2001, 49) was born in Newport, Rhode Island.

4

April

1952

Legendary Northern Irish blues and rock guitarist extraordinaire, Gary Moore (1952-2011, 58) was born in Belfast.

14

May

1952

Scottish/American singer, songwriter, guitarist founder of alternative rock band Talking Heads and solo artist, David Byrne, was born in Dumbarton, Scotland.

15

July

1952

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of proto punk rock band New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders (John Genzale, 1952-1991, 38) was born in Queens, New York.

19

July

1952

American guitarist and member of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allen Collins (1952-1990, 37) was born in Jacksonville, Florida.

21

August

1952

Hugely influential English guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor and co-founder of punk rock bands The Clash and The Mescaleros, the great Joe Strummer (1952-2002, 50) was born in Ankara, Turkey.

19

September

1952

Legendary American guitarist, songwriter, producer and co‑founder of funk/disco/dance band Chic, Nile Rodgers was born in New York.

1

October

1952

Great American rock guitarist and sideman extraordinaire, Earl Slick was born in Brooklyn, New York.

8

November

1952

The UK’s first ever popular music singles chart was introduced by The New Musical Express (NME) magazine. At Number 1 was Al Martino with ‘Here In My Heart’.

14

November

1952

Versatile and prolific American guitarist and songwriter, Johnny A (a.k.a. John Antonopoulos) was born in Malden, Massachusetts.

1

January

1953

American country singer, songwriter and guitarist, Hank Williams died of drug and alcohol-related heart failure in Oak Hill, West Virginia at the age of 29.

6

January

1953

Scottish-born guitarist and co-founder of Australian rock band AC/DC, Malcolm Young (1953-2017, 64) was born in Glasgow.

10

January

1953

American jazz guitarist who has played with Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham and Miles Davis, as well a successful solo artist, Mike Stern was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

20

February

1953

American guitarist and co-founder of psychobilly rock band, The Cramps, Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace) was born in San Bernardino, California.

19

March

1953

American bass player who has played with many great musicians and has a successful solo career, Billy Sheehan was born in Buffalo, New York.

28

April

1953

American bassist, guitarist, and vocalist of alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon was born in Rochester, New York.

5

May

1953

Highly respected English folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Martin Simpson was born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

15

May

1953

English multi-instrumentalist, composer and talented guitarist, the man behind ‘Tubular Bells’ in 1973, Mike Oldfield was born in Reading, Berkshire.

16

May

1953

Mercurial Belgian-born French gypsy jazz guitarist and composer, Django Reinhardt died from a brain haemorrhage in Fontainebleau, France at the age of 43.

29

July

1953

Influential Canadian singer, songwriter and bass guitarist with rock band Rush, Geddy Lee was born in North York, Ontario.

1

August

1953

Award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and band leader, Robert Cray was born in Columbus, Georgia.

27

August

1953

Hugely influential Canadian guitarist and co-founder of rock group Rush, Alex Lifeson was born in Toronto, Ontario.

27

September

1953

Great Jamaican reggae riddim ‘n’ dub bass guitarist and producer, Robbie Shakespeare, best known as half of Sly & Robbie was born in Kingston.

18

December

1953

American guitarist and singer, well known for his work with The Cars up to 1988, Elliott Easton was born in Brooklyn, New York.

27

February

1954

American guitarist and member of rock groups Santana, Journey and Bad English, Neal Schon was born in Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

16

March

1954

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and core member of the rock band Heart, Nancy Wilson was born in San Francisco, California.

12

April

1954

Canadian guitarist and singer who has collaborated with many artists over the years and is bandleader of the Pat Travers Band, Pat Travers was born in Toronto, Ontario.

10

May

1954

American rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, Bill Haley And His Comets originally released ‘(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock’. The world wasn’t ready yet and it didn’t hit the charts until 1955.

12

July

1954

19‑year old American singer, Elvis Presley left his job and signed his first recording contract with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

19

July

1954

American record label, Sun Records released the debut single by aspiring American rock ‘n’ roll singer, Elvis Presley, ‘That’s All Right’.

22

July

1954

Virtuoso American jazz fusion/Latin rock guitarist Al Di Meola was born in Jersey City, New Jersey.

28

July

1954

Multi-talented American guitarist and member of hard rock band Deep Purple since 1994, Steve Morse was born in Hamilton, Ohio.

12

August

1954

Influential American virtuoso progressive jazz fusion guitarist, Pat Metheny was born in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

17

August

1954

Award-winning American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Eric Johnson was born in Austin, Texas.

25

August

1954

English punk, pop and alternative rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Declan MacManus (a.k.a. Elvis Costello) was born in London.

3

October

1954

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer, Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954‑1990, 35) was born in Dallas, Texas.

1

December

1954

Australian-born British guitarist, singer and songwriter with punk rock band The Slits, Viv Albertine was born in Sydney.

18

December

1954

German guitarist, known for his work with Scorpions and the innovator behind the Sky Guitar, Uli Jon Roth was born in Düsseldorf.

7

January

1955

The classic hit song, ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was re‑released by Bill Haley & His Comets, entering the UK singles chart. Rock ‘n’ roll had truly arrived.

10

January

1955

German guitarist, best known as a member of rock bands Scorpions and UFO, as well as a successful solo career with his own band, Michael Schenker was born in Sarstedt.

24

January

1955

English pianist, singer, songwriter, bandleader, TV presenter and former member of Squeeze, Jools Holland was born in London.

26

January

1955

Dutch/American guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Eddie Van Halen was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

5

March

1955

American singer Elvis Presley made his American television debut on the KWKH TV show ‘Louisiana Hayride’ broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana.

31

March

1955

Australian guitarist and co-founder of hard rock band AC/DC, Angus Young was born in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

13

April

1955

American bass guitarist with funk masters Brothers Johnson, Louis Johnson (1955-2015, 60) was born in Los Angeles, California.

31

May

1955

Australian virtuoso session musician and solo guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel was born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales.

26

June

1955

English guitarist and co-founder of punk rock band The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones was born in London.

1

September

1955

English bass guitarist, singer and songwriter, best known for his work with punk rock band, The Jam from 1972 to 1982, Bruce Foxton was born in Woking, Surrey.

3

September

1955

English guitarist and ex-member of punk rock band Sex Pistols, Steve Jones was born in London.

12

November

1955

Hugely influential Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist, former member of Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, as well as a phenomenal solo artist, the incomparable Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ontario.

15

December

1955

English bass guitarist best known as a member of punk rock icons The Clash and more recently collaborating with Damon Albarn in The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Paul Simonon was born in Croydon.

4

January

1956

English singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and founding member of post-punk rock bands Joy Division and New Order, Bernard Sumner was born in Salford.

10

January

1956

The ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Elvis Presley made his first recordings for RCA/Victor, including the classic hit single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

27

January

1956

Legendary American singer, Elvis Presley released his classic breakout single for RCA, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

28

January

1956

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley made his first national television appearance in America on the CBS TV programme, the ‘Dorsey Brothers Stage Show’.

31

January

1956

English singer and member of punk rock bands Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd, John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten), was born in London.

3

February

1956

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, artist and co-founder of alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo was born in Long Island, New York.

12

February

1956

Scottish guitarist and one-time member of rock bands Thin Lizzy and Motörhead, Brian Robertson was born in Clarkston.

13

February

1956

English bass guitarist, best known as member of post‑punk rock bands Joy Division and New Order, Peter Hook was born in Salford.

18

February

1956

Renowned American master luthier, innovator, entrepreneur, guitar maker extraordinaire and founder of PRS Guitars since 1985, Paul Reed Smith was born in Stevensville, Maryland.

12

March

1956

English bass guitarist and founder of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Steve Harris was born in Leytonstone, Essex.

23

March

1956

American singer Elvis Presley released his eponymous debut album, ‘Elvis Presley’, a milestone that heralded the unstoppable explosion of the rock ‘n’ roll era.

4

June

1956

American guitarist, songwriter and producer, known for playing with David Bowie, Tin Machine and indie rock band The Cure, Reeves Gabrels was born in New York City.

26

June

1956

American singer, songwriter, rock (‘n’ roll) guitarist and actor, Chris Isaak was born in Stockton, California.

15

July

1956

Influential American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist, Joe ‘Satch’ Satriani was born in Westbury, New York.

27

August

1956

English bass guitarist, songwriter and original member of punk rock band Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock was born in London.

29

September

1956

The rock ‘n’ roll era had clearly arrived when Bill Haley & His Comets had 5 songs in the UK Singles Chart Top 30 including the all-time classic hit, ‘Rock Around The Clock’.

4

November

1956

English guitarist and co-founding member of rock band The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott (1956-1982, 25) was born in Hereford, Herefordshire.

6

December

1956

Hugely talented American heavy rock guitarist who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot, Randy Rhoads (1956-1982, 25) was born in Santa Monica, California.

6

December

1956

American guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of rock band R.E.M., Peter Buck was born in Berkeley, California.

23

December

1956

English guitarist, songwriter and long-term member of heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden, Dave Murray was born in London.

16

January

1957

The legendary Liverpool live music venue, The Cavern Club opened its doors for business. The Beatles appeared there an impressive total of 292 times.

27

January

1957

English guitarist with heavy rock bands Gillan and latterly Iron Maiden, Janick Gers was born in Hartlepool.

27

February

1957

English guitarist, songwriter and member of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Adrian Smith was born in London.

17

March

1957

American singer, Elvis Presley bought the famous 23‑room Graceland mansion at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee for $102,500.

28

April

1957

English guitarist, composer, producer and member of Bristol‑based trip‑hop group Portishead, Adrian Utley was born in Northampton.

10

May

1957

English bass guitarist with the Sex Pistols, John Simon Ritchie, a.k.a. Sid Vicious (1957-1979, 21) was born in London.

27

May

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll band The Crickets, featuring the late Buddy Holly, released their debut hit single, ‘That’ll Be The Day’ in the US.

2

August

1957

American record producer Butch Vig was born. Vig has worked with many famous rock bands including Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Smashing Pumpkins.

12

September

1957

Acclaimed German film composer and producer, Hans Zimmer was born in Frankfurt.

22

September

1957

Australian alternative/indie rock singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and band leader of The Bad Seeds, Nick Cave was born in Warracknabeal, Victoria.

24

September

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley released his massively popular hit single ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in the U.S.

10

October

1957

American country music legend Johnny Cash released his debut studio album on Sun Records, ‘Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar!’

21

October

1957

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, session musician and a founding member of rock band Toto, Steve Lukather was born in San Fernando Valley, California.

1

November

1957

Award-winning American country singer, songwriter, guitarist and actor, Lyle Lovett was born in Klein, Texas.

8

November

1957

English guitarist and artist best known as a member of the original line up of indie/alternative rock band The Cure, Porl (now Pearl) Thompson was born in Surrey.

8

December

1957

English guitarist and long-time member of heavy rock band Def Leppard – one half of ‘The Terror Twins’ – Phil Collen was born in London.

20

December

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley was served with his U.S. Army draft notice while at his home at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

20

December

1957

English guitarist, protest singer, songwriter, charity founder and political activist, Billy Bragg was born in Barking, Essex.

21

February

1958

The very first ‘modernist’ Flying V guitar, designed by the legendary Ted McCarty, was shipped from the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

24

March

1958

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army in Memphis, Tennessee.

27

March

1958

CBS Records announced the invention of the stereophonic record, ensuring that they were backwards compatible with the mono record players of the time.

31

March

1958

American rock ‘n’ roll legend, Chuck Berry released his all‑time classic hit single, ‘Johnny B. Goode’. 2 min. 30 sec. of pure magic.

19

April

1958

London’s (in)famous music venue, The Marquee Club first opened its doors at 165 Oxford Street, its original site before moving to 90 Wardour Street in 1964.

25

May

1958

The ‘modfather’ of post-punk rock, member of The Jam, The Style Council and solo artist, Paul Weller was born in Woking, Surrey.

7

June

1958

Legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist, Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016, 57) was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

8

July

1958

The Recording Industry Association of America awarded the first official ‘Gold’ album to the soundtrack of the hit film, ‘Oklahoma’.

9

July

1958

After leaving Sam Phillips at Sun Records, country music legend Johnny Cash signed a lucrative contract with Columbia Records, a successful association that lasted for three decades.

25

July

1958

American guitarist, singer and songwriter with alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida.

7

August

1958

English singer and on-off-on member of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

14

August

1958

American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Big Bill Broonzy died from cancer in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 55 or 65, depending on who you believe.

16

August

1958

American singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur, Madonna Louise Ciccone, or as we know her, Madonna, was born in Bay City, Michigan.

29

August

1958

American singer, songwriter and member of the Jackson Five, as well as successful solo artist, nicknamed the ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana.

19

September

1958

English/American rock guitarist, ex-member of The Runaways and successful solo artist, Lita Ford was born in London.

22

September

1958

American singer and US Army conscript Private Elvis Presley sailed on the USS Randall to Friedberg, Germany to serve in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division.

22

September

1958

American rock singer, songwriter, guitarist, founding member of the Runaways and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Joan Jett was born in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

20

October

1958

English bass guitarist, singer and co-founder of jazz/funk/pop band Level 42, Mark King was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

28

October

1958

Scottish guitarist, composer and co-founder of indie/alternative rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain, William Reid was born in East Kilbride.

7

November

1958

American rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll icon, Eddie Cochran had his first hit with the classic song, ‘Summertime Blues’. It reached number 18 in the UK singles chart.

11

December

1958

American bass guitarist, songwriter, producer and co‑founder of heavy rock band Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx (real name Frank Feranna, Jr.) was born in San Jose, California.

17

December

1958

American bass guitarist, singer, composer and founding member of alternative rock band R.E.M., Mike Mills was born in Orange County, California.

1

January

1959

American country music legend Johnny Cash performed his first live concert for inmates at the infamous San Quentin State Prison in California.

17

January

1959

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, actress and co‑founder of pop/rock band The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs was born in Los Angeles, California.

3

February

1959

American singer Buddy Holly and 3 others (including stars Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper) died tragically in a plane crash in Iowa. Holly was just 22 years old. ‘The Day the Music Died’.

7

February

1959

American blues guitarist, Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones died of pneumonia in New York City at the age of 32.

7

February

1959

The funeral of American rock & roll singer, songwriter and guitarist Buddy Holly took place in Lubbock, Texas.

10

April

1959

American rockabilly/swing guitarist, songwriter and bandleader of Stray Cats and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Brian Setzer was born in Massapequa, New York.

21

April

1959

English, guitarist, singer, songwriter, co-founder and main inspiration behind indie rock icons The Cure, Robert Smith was born in Blackpool, Lancashire.

4

May

1959

The first Annual Grammy Awards was held in two venues simultaneously, in Beverly Hills, California and in New York City. Winners included Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Henry Mancini.

5

May

1959

American guitarist and songwriter, best known as guitarist for Billy Idol since the early 1980s, Steve Stevens was born in Brooklyn, New York.

22

May

1959

Controversial English singer, songwriter and former front man of indie rock band The Smiths, Steven Morrissey, was born in Davyhulme, Lancashire.

1

June

1959

The BBC broadcast the first celebrity music panel TV show ‘Juke Box Jury’ in the UK. Guests judged new record releases as a ‘hit’ or ‘miss’. It was hosted by presenter David Jacobs and ran until December 1967.

14

June

1959

American jazz fusion bass guitarist, famed for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York.

11

July

1959

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and long‑term member of rock band Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

17

July

1959

Legendary American jazz singer Billie Holiday died of pulmonary oedema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver in New York at the age of 44.

29

July

1959

English guitarist, best known for playing with hard rock band Whitesnake, John Sykes was born in Reading, Berkshire.

19

August

1959

American country blues and ragtime guitarist and singer, Blind Willie McTell died from a stroke in Milledgeville, Georgia, at the age of 61.

16

October

1959

English guitarist and member of new wave/pop band Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp was born in London.

Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet)

Tailpiece

So… by the end of the 1950s, KABOOM! – Rock ‘n’ Roll had well and truly arrived and there was no going back. The significant influence of rock ‘n’ roll had set in motion further evolutionary strands that would continue to expand horizons in all sorts of different directions during a period of unprecedented creativity. New musical genres demanded technological developments in recording, distribution and consumption of music.

Things are only going to get even more interesting as we go forward. I hope you will return and see what happened in the 1960s and beyond. No cliff‑hanger required, just a touch of gentle encouragement to return here next month. In the meantime, I have plenty more vintage guitars that need some tender loving care, followed by some serious playing workouts. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Exercise your right to be you or regret the denial of yourself.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VII

Welcome back to the latest in a long series of articles chronicling the history of the world’s favourite musical instrument. Last time, we covered the advent of production solid body electric guitars during the guitar’s ‘golden era’ from c.1950-1965. That article also covered some relevant later events, but the essence was about a period of intense invention and creativity, hence why it deserved a separate article dedicated to it, even though much of the content would be familiar to many.

 

This month’s article mostly focuses on ‘what happened next’ between c.1965-1987, although it does also cover the subsequent period up to the current day, albeit in less depth than the earlier years. Depending on how the rest of the story is covered, this 7th part is likely to be the penultimate episode.

 

If you’ve been following the various twists and turns along the way, you’ll know that I have tried very hard to strike a balance between light entertainment for the general reader and the level of detail that would appeal to the needs of the nerdiest of guitar geeks out there. As previously stated, this is not an academic thesis – I just don’t have the time or resources to reference every element along the way, so it probably will never make it into book form, which is a bit of a shame but ç’est la vie. However, once the 3,500 year history has been finished, I may try to bring it all together as a ‘box set’ feature on the web site, so it will be easier to find and come back to than monthly instalments. It also provides the opportunity to correct the content. I may also add a bit off the original longer version back in (!!) and to balance the various parts as a more coherent whole.

 

You may wish to recap on previous articles before starting here at Part VII. If so, the previous segments of ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, can be accessed here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the journey so far and will stick with it for just a little longer. For me, it has certainly involved a huge amount of hard work researching and learning along the way. There is an enormous amount of information that had to be excluded in order to make it digestible in an online format. As always, while I have been diligent, some errors and omissions will inevitably have crept in. Not only do I apologise if that is the case but also, I welcome feedback from readers in order to correct or clarify. I would also encourage readers who might wish to look at things either from a different perspective or with a different level of detail to explore the fascinating world of guitars for yourselves.

 

There are not many pictures this month, as the subject matter is largely narrative‑driven. Sorry about that, photo fans.

 

Post-Modern Reconfiguration, Rejuvenation and Consolidation

It has become generally accepted that the electric guitar’s so‑called ‘golden era’ started at the beginning of the 1950s with the introduction of Fender and Gibson’s solid body electric guitar models and ended in the mid‑1960s around the time that Leo Fender sold up in early 1965, followed by Gibson in 1969.

 

On the face of it, the years immediately after the mid‑1960s would appear to be of little historic interest, particularly as far as investors and ‘serious’ collectors are concerned. While the 1950s and early 1960s have been very well documented in countless learned tomes, the subsequent years have tended to be characterised by vociferous opinion and anecdote in a relative vacuum, rather than subject to objective scrutiny.

 

The Internet has, perhaps unsurprisingly, encouraged many already polarised opinions to become even more extreme. Assertive and often throwaway hyperbole of many self‑appointed ‘experts’ has possibly been consistently exaggerated to the point that they have gained some sort of historical validity. Widely read ‘unpopular opinion’ is often misinterpreted as indisputable definitive evidence. It isn’t gospel; there was more to it than what many would have you believe.

 

This version of the ‘facts’ is arguably simply that and, while every effort has been made to remain impartial, it should be read with a degree of realistic scepticism. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some ‘smoke without fire’, just that the flames may have been fuelled by circumstances and intensified by ill‑informed prejudgment.

 

The music industry wasn’t alone in coming in for acerbic over‑criticism; the American automotive industry was also subject to similar issues during 1960s and 1970s. The parallels extend beyond the superficial with the demise of many historic car brands and the inexorable rise of Japanese competition. As with guitars, some of these old models are now becoming highly sought after. The guitar industry during the latter part of the 20th Century, it seems, was symptomatic of wider deep‑seated socio‑political problems in the world’s largest capitalist economy.

 

Actually, ‘what happened next’ is an equally fascinating tale and one that is worth spending a little while looking at. At the same time, it’s also worth standing back and looking at the bigger picture as events unfolded. While it’s all a matter of degree, what transpired was rife with intrigue and machination. The appeal of these transitional years is one of the reasons that CRAVE Guitars tends to focus on ‘forgotten underdog’ and quirky cool American electric guitars from between around 1960 and 1989, although not exclusively.

 

Was that all‑too‑brief 15‑year ‘golden era’ the end of the story? Will guitars built in the ‘dark ages’ between 1965 and 1987 remain ignored most as gross errors of judgement? Will there be another defining period of electric guitar evolution or will musicians spend their lives experiencing mediocrity by default while harking back to that unobtainable time viewed through rose‑tinted spectacles? Perhaps digital technology will deliver the next step‑change with some Darwinian mutation that future writers will look back upon and write about. OK, enough of the rant, on with the story…

 

The Catalysts

The trouble really started once both Fender and Gibson been acquired by faceless corporations used to running commercial businesses, rather than important customer‑led operations. Despite post‑war prosperity and growth, the period between the mid‑1960s and the mid‑1980s could possibly be described aptly as eventful and tempestuous. In hindsight, whichever way you look at it, the sale of the industry’s ‘big guns’ was a 20th Century watershed for guitar building.

 

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at what actually happened immediately after the ‘golden era’ drew to a close circa 1965. The subsequent corporate merger & acquisition activity impacted directly on American musical instrument manufacturing up to the end of the 1980s. A few choice examples may help to illuminate the significant strife that befell the industry for a couple of decades (in rough chronological order)…

 

Rickenbacker – The only one of the major American brands that didn’t ‘sell out’ during the 1960s was Rickenbacker. They had, in some ways dodged that particular bullet, as Adolph Rickenbacker had already sold his company to music industry businessman Francis C. Hall in 1953. In retrospect, the move to transfer the undertaking and to keep it in safe hands seemed both pre‑emptive and positively prophetic. Arguably, the timing enabled Rickenbacker to capitalise on 1950s creative growth and become more resilient to what was to come. RIC (short for Rickenbacker International Corporation) has remained under the ownership of the Hall family since 1953 with John C. Hall as CEO at the time of writing.

Modern Rickenbacker Logo

 

Fender – After Rickenbacker, Fender was the first of the big names to capitulate to big business ambition. In 1965, Leo Fender sold his company to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) for just over $13m. The reason often given for the sale was Leo Fender’s health, although an injection of capital funding probably was also contributory. Other perspectives cite Leo Fender’s desire to pursue new ideas, which he possibly couldn’t do while running the company. CBS started making changes almost immediately and expanded capacity at Fullerton to increase supply. By agreement, Leo Fender was prohibited from setting up another music instrument company for 10 years, after which he went on to found Music Man (1974) and then G&L (1980). After 20 years under CBS control and on the brink of total collapse, division president William Schultz bought the company, forming Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) in 1985. What followed was a period of intense restructuring, with guitar production temporarily moved to Japan for approximately two years before resuming full American manufacturing with the launch of the American Series guitars in 1987. U.S. manufacturing was moved from Fullerton to Corona, California and its headquarters were relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. Fender was once again back on the path to success as an independent company and has remained so ever since.

CBS Logo

 

Danelectro – Danelectro was originally formed by entrepreneur Nathan Daniel in 1947. Daniel built his business on the back of large scale, low cost department store and mail order demand for electric guitars, often branded as Silvertone and Airline. This enabled him to start building instruments under the Danelectro brand from 1954. By 1966, Daniel sold Danelectro to industry giant MCA (Music Corporation of America). MCA tried unsuccessfully to introduce the Coral brand and to restructure its distribution network. The outcome was that Danelectro ceased production altogether just 3 years later in 1969. The brand was resurrected by the Evets Corporation in the late 1990s and, after several faltering attempts to recapture market share, Danelectro remains in operation as a successful American company with overseas manufacturing based in China and Korea.

MCA Logo

 

Gretsch – Gretsch was originally founded by Friedrich Gretsch in 1883. Two years after Fender and one year after Danelectro, Fred Gretsch sold the family business to the Baldwin Piano Company in early 1967. After many organisational troubles including relocation, factory fires, Chet Atkins withdrawing his endorsement, and misjudged model decisions, Baldwin finally ceased production of Gretsch instruments by 1981. Fred W. Gretsch acquired what little remained of the company in 1985, basically just the Gretsch name and rights ownership. After a number of abortive efforts, consistent output was eventually re‑established in Japan. Rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer became a key endorsee for Gretsch in the 1990s and consumer interest in the brand was rekindled. Retaining family leadership, Gretsch has been under the patronage of Fender since 2002 and the famous brand is once again a significant player in the guitar industry.

Baldwin Logo

 

Gibson – Gibson was really the last of the large American names to succumb to corporate ownership. Gibson’s parent company, Chicago Musical Instruments Ltd (CMI) followed the competition in 1969 when Gibson was taken over by a South American brewing company called ECL and then subsumed by Norlin Musical Instruments in 1974. Gibson survived cost‑cutting, relocation to Nashville and general mismanagement largely intact, although its hard‑earned reputation was severely tarnished. Gibson eventually returned to private ownership in 1986 through a consortium management buyout. Despite a major financial crisis and bankruptcy protection initiated in May 2018, there are signs of a positive future for the company.

Norlin/Gibson Logo

 

These were just some of the big players who were able to weather the economic storms during the second half of the 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In addition to the big names, plenty of other well‑known American companies failed to survive, including:

  • Valco merged with Kay in 1967; a move that included familiar names such as Supro and Airline. However, the newly combined company went bust in 1968
  • National Dobro merged with Mosrite before the latter went bankrupt, also in 1968
  • Harmony lasted until 1975 before it ceased trading

 

Those that survived the volatility would continue to fight for survival at best. Overall, when viewed in hindsight, it proved a disastrous phase for American guitar making and collectively one that isn’t widely documented, other than in individual circumstances. The ‘golden era’ was, seemingly, definitely over.

 

As is often the case, the causes of American guitar manufacturing woes between the mid‑1960s and the mid‑1980s are quite complex, based on deep‑seated structural flaws. Looking at the circumstances strategically, there were probably, amongst many other contributory factors, five key issues…

 

  1. Industry structure and stability – Inward investment and backing of large business should have provided a positive commercial injection to guitar companies who were either struggling with financial difficulties or were unable to grow quickly enough with existing management structures. What actually happened was that big businesses, as is their wont, were looking to cut costs and increase profit, seemingly unaware of the impact that they were having. The large companies tried to stimulate demand by experimenting and introducing new products without assessing whether what they were making was adequately meeting consumers’ needs. For small agile companies, risk taking was a vital part of the creative process, while the bigger firms focused on large scale, efficient production methods, conversely heightening the risks of failure. Remote and disconnected governing bodies tended to dictate business decisions based on balance sheets and shareholder return, rather than customer satisfaction. Arguably, though, the businesses were in dire need of ‘better’ rather than ‘different’ management both before and after takeover.
  2. Industrial relations – Strict operational disciplines, controlled production processes and rigorously applied policies are a fundamental requirement of larger bureaucratic organisations. These management styles were generally not part of the music industry’s ‘way of doing things’ at the time. Companies needed to be managed effectively rather than efficiently and, unfortunately, the pendulum swang too far towards the latter. Business managers exhibited a flagrant disregard for the expertise and skills required to make consistent, high quality musical instruments. Production facilities were relocated, often giving long‑term highly experienced luthiers a ‘move or go’ ultimatum. In addition distribution and dealership networks were changed with little regard for what went before. Unhappy employees and belligerent trade unions led to heated industrial disputes (and worse), thereby causing significant leadership and management problems. Decades of accumulated knowledge, skills, expertise and, perhaps importantly, attitude were lost to the industry in a short space of time – something that would take years to rebuild. The outcome was that quality fell, exacerbating existing deficiencies elsewhere in the industry.
  3. Industry culture – New corporate owners did not fully appreciate or take the time to understand why the guitar industry worked as it did, resulting in fundamental mistakes internally and externally. The latter disenfranchised those involved in the supply chain from distributors to dealers and, ultimately, impacting on paying customers. Crucially, working musicians’ requirements were not being met and, with that dissatisfaction, brand loyalty diminished as professional guitarists looked elsewhere for alternatives. In addition, musical tastes were rapidly changing and short‑lived fads required nimble organisations that knew how to adapt to changes quickly and appropriately. Smaller companies that were better‑tuned into what was going on could flex more easily. The larger corporations, however, were unable to spot change and respond, leading to mismatches and time lags between demand and supply. Many commentators suggest that it was because musicians weren’t running the show. However, guitarists don’t necessarily make good business people (or vice versa!), which might have contributed to the difficulties. Significantly, two of the most influential guitar innovators – Leo Fender and Ted McCarty – didn’t play the guitar at all. Nevertheless, they were effective leaders because they ensured that professional artists were closely involved with business decisions. Importantly, the time when musicians were listened to and relationships were actively cultivated had fallen by the wayside.
  4. Supply problems – Availability of consistent materials, particularly the all‑important tone woods, created challenges for large‑scale American production. Variable density and therefore weight of some imported tone woods meant that it was difficult to manufacture to dependable standards. Depending on the combination of materials, the shortage of quality inputs affected builders to different degrees. Around the same time, sustainability and environmental factors were becoming an issue, leading to further supply issues. Manufacturers started looking to alternative materials including metal (e.g. Kramer, Travis Bean), plastics (e.g. Ampeg/Dan Armstrong) and composites (e.g. Gibson) that were intended to improve consistency and streamline manufacturing processes. Other moves included building guitars not from single pieces of difficult to acquire, expensive wood but from cheaper, smaller, more available cuts. Consumers saw such actions as negative and symptomatic of other perceived underlying problems. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, customers were not impressed by ‘good intentions’ and the changes were seen as cost‑cutting measures taken a step too far. Many consumers saw through superficial claims and resented the big companies for making what they felt were false marketing claims.
  5. Far Eastern competition – Enterprising Japanese companies, revitalised by post‑WWII recovery and able to observe from outside, spotted that American labour and manufacturing costs were contributing to a combination of poor quality and high prices – an equation that would present opportunities to penetrate a previously U.S.‑dominated market. Companies such as Ibanez and Yamaha did two crucial things. The first was to use their structural advantages to make high quality instruments at lower cost, and to produce them in large enough numbers to compete with American products on their own ground. The second thing they did was to brazenly copy iconic American designs, presenting consumers with recognisable products built to (generally but not always) higher standards and sold more cheaply than the American ‘classics’. There is more on the Japanese competitive assault on American guitar makers below. They also used rapidly changing music trends to create openings for entirely new products, including their own designs, thereby beginning to build a strong and more ethical reputation of their own. When the inevitable backlash came (see below), the marketplace had already changed fundamentally.

 

Lawsuit Guitars and Trademark Protection

During the post‑1965 period, sales of major American brand guitars was in decline and the home industry was in disarray. This provides a broad background against which American companies had to contend. Generally speaking, the way in which the industry and marketplace was organised was not favourable for the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacker and many others.

 

The takeovers and general (mis-)management of American firms left the U.S. industry weakened and susceptible to aggressive business manoeuvres. American labour, tooling and material costs didn’t fall, so prices for finished instruments generally remained high for guitars that were increasingly poorly made. It is relatively easy to understand why the 20‑year period between approximately 1965 and 1985 was crucial to reshaping the global guitar making industry.

 

One particular Japanese guitar maker, Hoshino Gakki Gen, saw an ideal opportunity to enter the fragile American market. Cleverly, Hoshino recognised the potential animosity towards Japanese‑sounding products after WWII and adopted the Ibanez moniker. Incidentally, the Ibanez name was derived from Spanish guitar maker Salvador Ibáñez, who made classical guitars and sold them to Japan from the 1920s. When Ibáñez, failed during the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra 1936-1939), Hoshino acquired the rights to use the name, dropping the accents in the process. Hoshino’s next step was to take over an American company, Elger, which had already been importing Japanese guitars into the U.S. This move gave them ready access to the American territory, initially as Hoshino USA and then Ibanez USA. From 1970, Ibanez began systematically targeting and imitating popular American guitar models, particularly from Gibson, Fender, and Rickenbacker.

Ibanez Logo

 

Initially, Fender and Gibson chose not to challenge these foreign copies unless they were identical to the originals, i.e. deliberate forgeries. Perhaps they didn’t see the early copies arriving in relatively small numbers as a significant threat and therefore not worth the lengthy and expensive battles through the American court system with no guarantee of success. Perhaps naively, they may have seen the copies as providing entry‑level experience that would lead consumers to trade up and purchase the ‘real thing’. Nobody really knows for sure. However, by taking their eye off the proverbial ball, the already struggling American brands were storing up a hornet’s nest of latent problems.

1970s Ibanez Advert

 

The relatively cheaply made Japanese copies often used bolt‑on necks, cheap materials and inferior hardware. Having said that, they were often reasonably well made for what they cost the consumer. The slavish copies appealed to many novice guitarists wishing to have guitars that, at least visually, looked like the more expensive American counterparts without the accompanying high price tags. Notably, and perhaps pertinently, Fender’s own low cost ‘student’ guitar lines (the Mustang ‘family’) and Gibson’s budget models (the Melody Maker) didn’t resemble their upmarket pro‑level instruments, further exacerbating the weaknesses in the eyes of customers.

1975-1976 Ibanez Les Paul Copy

 

The Japanese picture at the time is typically complex and confusing, particularly when trying to differentiate the production companies from the brands they made and the importers they used. Some of the companies such as Tokai, Greco, Yamaha and Suzuki followed Ibanez’s lead and jumped on the cloning bandwagon, making relatively faithful copies of American guitars.

 

The huge Kawai Teisco company was a mass producer that made guitars under many names, including Apollo, Domino, Kent, Randall, Sterling, Victoria and Winston. One brand, Antoria was actually a German company (Framus) that imported Japanese Guyatone (Suzuki) guitars that included replica Stratocaster copies. Others, such as British firm CSL (Charles Summerfield Limited) originally rebranded imported Ibanez guitars. Columbus was another brand that simply imported Japanese‑made guitars under its own name. Hondo was an American company that imported Japanese copies, giving them some home‑grown legitimacy. The Spanish‑sounding Fernandes, on the other hand, was a wholly owned Japanese company that also used the name Burny. Many companies made guitars for other companies, so the picture is further obscured. There were many, many Japanese manufacturers that were largely unknown outside the country but were indirectly contributory to the assault on America and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, including Fujigen Gakki, the aforementioned Hoshino Gakki Gen (who also used the Tama brand), Matsumoku, Moridara and Tombo.

 

So… just what were all these Japanese companies actually targeting? In particular, Gibson’s Les Paul and SG models, as well as Fender’s Telecaster and Stratocaster came in for ubiquitous copying. Popular Martin, Guild and Gibson acoustics also came in for replication, as they were the world’s most recognisable acoustic instruments at the time. Acoustic copies including names like Takamine, Morris, Pro Martin and Ventura. Even the fonts used for headstock logos often mimicked the original American brand styles.

Fender Stratocaster Genuine & Copy Headstocks
Martin Genuine & Copy Headstocks

 

As volumes increased, the wave of imports understandably caused problems for the original manufacturers and it was only a matter of time before there was a defensive response. That reaction was based largely on Gibson’s famous Les Paul and particularly the outline shape of the headstock.

Genuine Gibson Les Paul Custom Headstock
Gibson Les Paul Copy Headstocks

 

In June 1977, Gibson’s owners at the time, Norlin, filed a legal case against Ibanez/Hoshino for copying the Gibson ‘open book’ headstock outline. The case was settled out of court by February 1978, by which time Ibanez had already changed their headstock shape. However, since 1974, Ibanez had been astute enough to foresee the complication and had been developing and improving its own unique Artist guitar designs, thereby circumventing any further rights issues. From 1978, once the lawsuit was behind them, Ibanez focused purely on its own designs.

9 June 1977 Gibson Law Suit Letter

 

Despite appearances, there was, in fact, only one landmark lawsuit at the time and it only related to the design of the headstock on Gibson guitars. Presumably, other American manufacturers were watching and waiting for the outcome of the Gibson case. Not looking for potentially damaging confrontation in the courts, other Japanese companies sought to avoid the wrath of the American companies and changed their designs just enough so as not to fall foul of further litigation.

 

Ironically, some of the Japanese ‘lawsuit’ guitars have since become collectable in their own right. Although many copies that claim to be subject to the lawsuit aren’t, they are just guitars made during the ‘lawsuit era’ of the late 1970s. Generally speaking, Japanese guitar making – having made its mark for better or worse – went on to plough their own furrow in the multinational market, establishing a successful business model on which they could build.

 

The imitation game hasn’t gone away completely though. Many ‘knock off’ guitars in the 21st Century are emanating from China, where there is little effective means of legal challenge. While some of the guitars originating from China replicate American designs and are produced in large volumes, some of the fakes are appearing in small quantities as very convincing forgeries of rare and valuable vintage instruments.

Fake 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard

 

Also, somewhat ironically, the big American brands struck back by strategically shifting manufacture of lower cost instruments off‑shore. Fender made guitars in Japan from 1982, only later changing the name to Squier to differentiate them from the American originals. Similarly, Gibson started Far Eastern manufacture of Epiphone guitars in Japan in the early 1970s, then in Korea from 1983, before relocating production again in 2003 to a dedicated Epiphone factory in Qingdao, China.

Squier Logo
Epiphone Logo

 

In 1984, PRS guitars was established by luthier Paul Reed Smith and has since become one of America’s major guitar manufacturers. To cater for all price points, PRS also introduced Korean production facilities for its SE‑branded guitars in 2003. While on the subject of lawsuits, after PRS had released the PRS Singlecut in 2001, Gibson filed a trademark infringement claim against PRS for allegedly copying the Les Paul design. Gibson’s lawsuit failed at appeal and PRS resumed production of the Singlecut, albeit slightly altered, from September 2005.

2001 PRS Singlecut

 

Fender now actively defends its trademarks, which exist in perpetuity, unlike patents that have a limited duration. To illustrate the issues, Fender’s defence of its trademark headstock design reads as follows, “The headstock is the key source-identifying feature of the modern electric guitar. In particular, the shape of the headstock (which, in the types of guitars at issue here, is part of a single piece of wood that also includes the guitar neck) is nonfunctional and primarily serves to identify the brand and model of the guitar. Fender owns trademark rights and federal registrations for the shapes of its headstock designs. These marks are instantly recognizable to generations of musicians and music fans as indicators of the source of Fender’s products and of the immense history and goodwill associated with Fender.”

 

Furthermore, Fender lost a 2009 application to trademark its guitar designs retrospectively. Opponents stated that consumers had had decades of unopposed exposure to those shapes from a wide variety of other guitar makers. This particular ruling opened the door to many look‑alike guitars, bar the familiar and distinctive headstock shapes.

 

Rickenbacker, unlike many of its counterparts, trademarks its important designs and vigorously protects them through the courts, hence why there are generally fewer Rickenbacker copies on the market compared to Fender and Gibson clones.

 

The whole issue of who owns what and how owners’ rights can be protected in a global market rife with replicas is a hugely complex issue and the nuanced legal debates are not for this story, so it is time to close this particular case and move on.

 

The Fallout and Time for Objective Re-assessment?

The Gibson law suit was, however, a wakeup call for American guitar building, as it proved beyond doubt that they were vulnerable to competition. While it may seem a relatively small isolated incident, it was contributory to the way in which guitar making, distribution and sales had to change. It was time for a shake‑out. By getting back to the basics, the rebuilding of American production that took place from the mid‑1980s resulted in vastly improved fortunes, even though it would take years for several companies to return to prosperity. Gibson and Fender were back in private ownership, Rickenbacker had sustained its business and, although Danelectro and Gretsch would find success, it took some time to regenerate historic popularity.

 

Despite what naysayers, respected journalists and wealthy vintage guitar collectors will delight in telling anyone who will listen, not all guitars built between 1965 and 1987 (when Fender introduced the landmark American Standards) are bad. Yes, there are many examples of poor quality instruments produced during those ‘dark ages’ but, let’s be honest, that has always been the case. Just look at some of the cheap and nasty instruments from the 1950s and early 1960s produced during the ‘golden era’.

 

Being a bit provocative and controversial, it is the author’s considered belief that there were many very good instruments built in the 1970s but these tend to be overlooked and caught up in the sweeping generalisation that ALL instruments from that period are sub‑standard. Some unique and interesting models only appeared during the 1970s and 1980s as part of the drive for experimentation. Some of these experiments were often made for relatively brief periods before they disappeared again. As a result, many of these rare examples are highly likely to be of interest to collectors in the future. As vintage prices of 1950s and 1960s guitars are rapidly increasing beyond many enthusiasts’ ability to purchase them, 1970s and 1980s guitars are also creeping up in value and are likely to become the ‘next big thing’ in the vintage marketplace. When they do eventually become desirable, which they will, that critical labelling of ‘poor quality’ is likely to be conveniently forgotten as the wheat is separated from the chaff.

 

Generally speaking, with the introduction of automated and computer controlled construction technologies, instruments from c.1990 onwards are generally consistently well‑made. This means that poor quality instruments are fewer and further between. Value‑for‑money since the 1990s has never been better with some very good guitars available at relatively low prices compared to the past. Broadly categorising the ensuing years between, say, 1990 and 2000 as a period of rejuvenation, resurgence and consolidation in the face of significant and multifarious challenges including economic downturn. The dawn of the new millennium saw further change including diversification, growth and a degree of reconfiguration. The reality, perhaps obviously, isn’t simply a case of general classification though, so such broad descriptions may best be regarded as a bit of artistic licence on the author’s part.

 

It may seem strange but it was often the inherent manufacturing variations and inconsistencies that have led to the handmade ‘golden era’ guitars becoming so desirable in the first place. As the idiosyncratic traits of the past have been ironed out, consumers have had ready access to consistent, reliable and higher quality guitars at virtually all price points. However, the increase in standardisation means that many modern mass‑produced guitars are often described as ‘generic’, samey and bland. It is also that lack of variation that has led to the boom in boutique, custom and modded guitars in the 21st Century.

 

Only time will really tell whether some of these maligned 1970s guitars will be re‑evaluated and achieve better recognition. Good examples will undoubtedly become increasingly sought after and collectable.

 

Recovery and Rejuvenation

Musical tastes continued to change and the 1980s and 1990s were no different. One trend was a move away from guitar music to highly produced electronic keyboard music. Japanese giant Roland (owner of BOSS effect pedals) tried to popularise the guitar synthesizers on the back of the electronica trend, as did consumer electronics company Casio who were more famous for calculators rather than guitars.

Roland GR-300, GR-500 & G-707 Guitar Synthesizers

 

Another trend in musical taste was the explosion in popularity of glam, hard and ‘shred’ rock. Ironically, it was companies like Ibanez, once the scourge of copy guitars, which was ideally placed to cater for the trend with some cleverly designed genre‑appropriate instruments, such as their Destroyer, Iceman and Jem guitars.

1980s Ibanez Destroyer, Iceman & Jem

 

Ibanez had cleverly repositioned themselves and continued to do so in order to sustain competitive advantage. In another canny move, Ibanez courted the new breed of virtuoso instrumental rock musicians, which proved successful. American guitarists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani were regularly seen using and advertising the Ibanez brand. Other Japanese companies followed suit, such as Yamaha and ESP/LTD. American brands such as Dean, Jackson and BC Rich also exploited the growing market for pointy rock alternatives to the old‑hat rock shapes such as Gibson’s Explorer and Flying V. Times had moved on and the traditional industry stalwarts were once again looking tired, on the back foot and at a strategic disadvantage.

Steve Vai & Joe Satriani
Steve Vai & Joe Satriani Ibanez Adverts

 

By the time that some sort of equilibrium was restored from the late 1990s, the music and guitar landscape was very different from the end of the ‘golden era’. There was room for big music companies to grow, such as Peavey and Ernie Ball, the latter having bought out Leo Fender’s Music Man in 1984. The ‘big four’ brands were still there – Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker and Gretsch, who continued to expand their ranges into high‑value custom shop as well as low‑priced models. In addition, once the barriers to entry were lowered, there were many small, opportunistic companies that sought to grow market share on their own terms, such as PRS. There was also a whole thriving boutique sub‑industry that focused heavily on producing custom instruments built to individual guitarists’ requirements; a healthy trend that continues to flourish well into the 21st Century.

 

The 2000s saw a reversal of fortunes with synth‑based dance and pop music becoming clichéd and well‑worn. This change of fortune facilitated a major resurgence in guitar music across a whole range of musical genres but specifically the burgeoning indie/alternative music scene. Indie music also triggered a renewed interest in retro‑styled instruments often evoking quirky designs from the past. This revitalisation enabled many gone but not forgotten guitars to experience a new lease of life. In addition, metal, progressive/contemporary, alt‑country and blues/rock genres have also seen rejuvenation and/or revivals, together with relevant instruments to suit. Even the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Danelectro and Rickenbacker have benefitted through reissues of previously defunct models. All in all, many guitar‑based musical styles continue to flourish and guitar sales benefit from the 21st Century appetite for diversity.

 

Interestingly, in the 2000s and 2010s, with the renewed interest in both retro and vintage designs, many of the old American brand names that went out of business in the 1960s have since re‑emerged, including Supro, Valco, Airline, Harmony and Kay.

 

The global recession that started in 2008 has been the longest and deepest since the 1930s severely dampened demand for discretionary purchases such as musical instruments. However, the desire to own and play the world’s favourite instrument endures, despite regular proclamations of the ‘death of guitar music’.

 

Music Trades data shows that total guitar sales in America, either by number or value, have shown a general increasing trend per year since 2009:
Year    Number  Value
2009    1.65m     $924m
2010    1.74m     $922m
2011    1.94m     $921m
2012    2.34m     $903m
2013    2.34m     $821m
2014    2.50m     $839m
2015    2.49m     $935m
2016    2.47m     $1,001m
2017    2.63m     $1,070m

 

In comparison, the number of electric guitar sales in America has remained largely steady since the start of the recession. Where these figures will go in the future and whether sales will regain pre-crash levels anytime soon is a betting man’s game. The market is, judging by these indicators, likely to stay challenging for some time to come.

US Electric Guitar Sales 2005-2017

 

One very positive trend is that research by Fender in 2018 shows that 50% of new guitarists in the U.S. and the UK are females, suggesting that equality is finally making progress in the music industry.

 

Modern‑day guitarists have learned to become fickle and much more discerning. No longer could a few privileged brands expect musicians to be loyal or for their products to be accepted as the default ‘go‑to’ solution. While slower to adapt, the American ‘big four’ fought back and, although often constrained by their past, were forced to innovate and compete or die. Not all of those experiments have been successful but the point is that they are trying to adjust to the inevitability of the brave new world.

 

Looking at the bigger picture, the diverse structure of the guitar industry is healthy for both producers and consumers. While things will change again, the fragmented nature of the marketplace in the 2010s means that risks of major step change are reduced. For the long‑established brands, the asset value of the ‘classics’ is now cemented and, to some extent, can once again be relied upon in terms of quality and value. The reliance on industry standards also creates a problem for the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Rickenbacker, as it inhibits what they can do in a way that consumers will accept, witness Gibson’s failed attempt to move into consumer and lifestyle electronics.

 

Ultimately, nothing is set in stone and there is very little that can be considered genuinely ‘new’. The only certainty is that change will be continuous and necessarily incremental. Digital music technology will continue to be both a threat to, and an opportunity for, manufacturers. The hybridisation of analogue instruments and digital technologies is still in its infancy and only time will tell, which companies will respond positively and which will fail to adapt and fall by the wayside (again).

 

That brings us pretty much up to the current day, at the time of writing (2018). As English punk rock pioneer Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, “The future is unwritten” and how true that is. We are nearing the end point of the guitar’s long story… except that the story will continue in perpetuity. All that is really left to do is to describe the current position (again at the time of writing) and to speculate, somewhat idly, about what that unwritten future may hold.

 

End of Part VII

Here we are at the end of yet another episode in the guitar’s extended tale. We are pretty much up‑to‑date and therefore almost at the end of the journey, with (I think) just one more article to go. I hope that you’ll join me, hopefully next month for the conclusion… as far as there can be one.

 

I am now beginning to deliberate about a companion series of articles for next year (2019). Before that happens, I need a rest from this massively resource intensive exercise. I can’t yet reveal what that new series is, as I am thinking about things I haven’t thought of yet (if you get my drift). I will have to consider how it might be done in a way that I haven’t seen elsewhere up to now – I need to bring something new to the subject matter, otherwise it is just regurgitating what others have already done. Watch this space… In the meantime, I have to start planning what I’m going to fixate upon for the remainder of this year.

 

Right now though, it’s time to stop writing about guitars and to start playing one of the darned things, so I’m off to plink my plank! Until next time…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Whatever was pre-modernism like?”

 

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

 

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May 2017 – 50 Albums of the Last Half-Century(-ish)

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

A little while ago, someone looked at the development of heavy metal from the 1970s to the 2000s and exemplified it by listing one album per year. Of course, this was just one perspective but, more generally, I thought it might be interesting to do something similar across all modern music genres.

 

This is only my catalogue of 50 years (actually 52 years but who’s counting?) of modern musical history. It is, of course, value-laden and massively subjective, with many great artists and albums excluded by the ruthless application of selection criteria, which included:

  • Must be an original album, not an EP or single
  • Only 1 album from each year (no reissues – original release date applies)
  • Only 1 album by any artist (band or solo)
  • The album must include some guitar work (i.e. no pure electronica)
  • Albums may come from any modern music genre
  • No compilations, ‘best of’ or various artist collections
  • They must be appreciated and owned by the author (i.e. not just made up or copied from elsewhere)

 

The resulting compendium is not representative of popularity, perceived wisdom, other people’s opinion or commercial success. It is simply my choices for a timeline covering over half a century of great music.

 

Why pick these 52 years? My age makes it difficult to go back further than the mid‑1960s for a start, so there aren’t any selections from the ‘birth’ of rock ‘n’ roll in about 1954 to the ‘dawn of rock’ in about 1965 – to be honest, I don’t own and am not particularly familiar with pre-’65 albums. I’ve brought it right up to date with 2016 being the last full year at the time of writing. However, anything beyond about 2010 is probably too recent to really place any kind of enduring significance to the entries – historical retrospective can be beneficial that respect. Arguably, the longer the intervening time period, the more consolidated, reliable and credible that hindsight becomes within context (discuss…).

 

Feel free to make up your own timeline over whatever period you like, using your own criteria. This is just my perspective; I can guarantee that anyone reading it will disagree with it and would produce a VERY different route through the roadmap of time. Actually, that’s both the point and the fun of it – if we all ended up with the same journey, we would live in a very dull world.

 

So… here we go, in chronological order…

 

The 1960s(-ish):

1965 Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

1966 John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton

1967 Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced

1968 The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

1969 King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King

 

The 1970s:

1970 Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

1971 The Doors – L.A. Woman

1972 David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

1973 John Martyn – Solid Air

1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping

1975 Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

1976 Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

1977 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus

1978 AC/DC – Powerage

1979 The Clash – London Calling

 

The 1980s:

1980 Talking Heads – Remain In Light

1981 The Cramps – Psychedelic Jungle

1982 Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

1983 ZZ Top – Eliminator

1984 Iron Maiden – Powerslave

1985 Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms

1986 Metallica – Master Of Puppets

1987 Guns n’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

1988 Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

1989 The Cure – Disintegration

 

The 1990s:

1990 Megadeth – Rust In Peace

1991 Nirvana – Nevermind

1992 Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

1993 Dinosaur Jr – Where you BEEN

1994 Portishead – Dummy

1995 Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

1996 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads

1997 Rammstein – Sehnsucht

1998 Massive Attack – Mezzanine

1999 Suede – Head Music

 

The 2000s:

2000 The White Stripes – De Stijl

2001 The Strokes – Is This It

2002 Beck – Sea Change

2003 Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts

2004 Kasabian – Kasabian

2005 Editors – The Back Room

2006 Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

2007 Seasick Steve – Dog House Music

2008 The Black Keys – Attack & Release

2009 The Horrors – Primary Colours

 

The 2010s (so far):

2010 Warpaint – The Fool

2011 The Kills – Blood Pressures

2012 Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

2013 Savages – Silence Yourself

2014 Band Of Skulls – Himalayan

2015 Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

2016 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

 

So… how many of these do you own and/or like? What course would you take through the last 5 decades? I’m sure that readers will be up in arms about what’s missing.

 

As with other CRAVE Guitars’ challenges, this exercise wasn’t as easy as when it was first envisaged. Reflecting on the list and making a few observations…

 

The albums listed are not necessarily my favourites; just ones that carry some meaning within the context of the topic. See my rant of July 2016 for my suggested top 20 most influential albums, some of which also appear in this list. There were many beloved albums (and favourite guitarists – see CRAVE Guitars’ February 2017 article) that didn’t make the final list. There are some great albums by great artists that don’t appear. Some albums on the list may not be the pinnacle of achievement by the artist but they appear because of the way the selection criteria worked.

 

The widely-regarded, guitar-dependent and ‘important classics’ on the timeline tend to come from the 1960s and ‘70s. These albums have stood the test of time and still have relevance today. Some represent ground-breaking events and their appearance on the timeline will be of no great surprise. Why no Rolling Stones or The Beatles on this list? Well, I’m not a Beatles fan and the Stones came close for a number of years including 2016 but got pipped at the post elsewhere. No Pink Floyd? Surprisingly not. No watershed albums like, for instance, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ or Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’? Not on this occasion. No manufactured boy/girl bands from the formulaic TV ‘talent’ production line (or their heinous celebrity-driven ilk)? Heck no! Real music only, please.

 

While the available choice of albums seemed to increase significantly from the mid‑1990s, the quality of output seemed to become more homogenous with the increase in quantity, meaning that it was harder to pick outstanding entries and, by the time the new millennium arrived, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out the exemplary future classics from amongst the multiplicity of also-ran material. This doesn’t mean that quality deteriorated, simply that the market became increasingly saturated and tour de forces became more difficult to define. Time will tell as to which ones (if any) will have the longevity to stand out as true masterpieces.

 

Some years were spoilt for choice and it was a VERY hard task to select just one entry from a wealth of great albums, while other years were very sparse and it was a case of selecting from the ‘best of the rest’. For some years, there was an obvious shoo-in, while for others years it was actually quite difficult to pick a ‘winner’ from an amorphous morass of uninspiring averageness.

 

Within modern western popular music, it is probably not a surprise that the majority of artists in the timeline are British or American, with a smattering from elsewhere (Canada, Jamaica, Germany and Australia). Perhaps increased globalisation and geographical dispersion may introduce new influences, especially from those areas with different musical cultures, e.g. the middle east, far east, Africa and South America. Perhaps these influences, generally categorised as ‘world music’, will become more mainstream, especially as the Internet provides greater access to hitherto niche markets.

 

In terms of diversity, certainly the older music was male/white dominated. While a few more females populate the latter years, there is still a general shortage of female musicians in the industry. Ethnicity is predominantly white, which was a bit of a surprise and it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice. Music is one of those industries where artists from diverse backgrounds have been able to succeed and influence successive generations. As in other forms of 21st century life, ensuring equality of opportunity for everyone and the music industry depends on the best talent, rather than to segregate on the basis of specific upbringings.

 

Many genres were evenly distributed. However, a number of genres were under‑represented including rap/hip-hop, reggae, dance/funk/disco, etc. Surprisingly, indie music seems to have taken more of a centre stage in the noughties and tweenies, at least in this exercise. How these albums age over time will be interesting. Bands tended to feature, rather than solo artists, which was notable.

 

There is some pretty impressive album artwork over the half-century. It is amazing how effective musical packaging design has been. We are, sadly, long past the heyday of album art integrated with popular cultural references. I can’t see that changing with current and future media delivery systems. Why should credible artists and designers stake their reputation on, say, the latest download fad?

 

The rigorous application of the selection criteria was particularly challenging and may well account for some of the more obvious anomalies. A different approach might have led to a more balanced (and perhaps more predictable) result.

 

A slight grammatical oddity; there are 3 albums on the list whose titles are clearly prima facie questions and none of them end in a ‘?’ (1967, 1993 and 2001). Weird or what?

 

A number of albums on the list were debut or sophomore albums, perhaps indicating that for many artists, the pool of inventive material is more furtive early on in the limelight and, for some, success actually seems to dilute the fire of creativity, resulting in shortened professional careers. There are relatively few who have the longevity of a lifelong career. Sadly, a large proportion of the artists are no longer with us and their potential is lost forever. We miss their imagination.

 

When thinking about future direction within the context of the past, the outlook appears healthy and increasingly disparate, despite the broadcast media’s obsession with exploitative ‘talent’ drivel. The days when a single type of music would dominate the ‘air waves’ (remember them?) looks increasingly unlikely, simply because of the volume of new music and the ways in which it is made available to the listening public.

 

What will be ‘the next big thing’ and will there be any (counter-)culturally significant new genre developments like metal, new wave, punk, rave, grunge, etc.? Major mainstream step changes are possibly unlikely; the musical landscape is now so varied that anything fundamentally new is likely to be genre-specific, for example dancehall and dubstep, rather than a mass‑market popular revolution.

 

The emergence of completely new trends becomes less likely over time, as it can also be argued that most original ideas have pretty much been used up by now. There can only be a finite number of combinations of existing musical patterns to fuel experimentation and ultimate acceptance. The number of plagiarism litigations suggests that the future will increasingly have to recycle and re-use existing ideas, rather than create new ones. Existing genre conventions, once they have become well‑established, also tend to constrain further creativity within that particular genre. Perhaps we will see more genre cross-overs in an attempt to find that spark of innovation and inspiration.

 

So there you have it. It has been another interesting little challenge that has also raised a few more peripheral questions. While it doesn’t really add anything to humanity’s collective knowledge, it passes time and the task makes one think (again).

 

Finally, seeing as CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is all about the venerable instrument, think of all the great guitars and the guitarists that wielded them that feature on not only all the albums listed above but also all the ones that have been missed out.

 

This is the final monthly article before the ‘big move’ and, hopefully, things beginning to get back on track. Proverbially, I’ll see you on the other side. Until next time…

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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