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Cowboys and Indies<2>

The Epic History of the Record Induatry

Gareth Murphy

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During Prohibition, blacks in the Deep South resorted to a solid cooking fuel called canned heat which became a potent alcohol when melted.

The Great Depression was particularly harsh on the recording business (it was aluxury good, after all). 1929-36 shrank to 5% of previous size.

Music changed in the 50's, and started in South. Despite traditional racial bigotry towards black people, white Southern teenagers loved the Negro music. And in the 50's they got transistor radios, which they could take away from adult supervision. And as the Eisenhower decade became more conformist, the music became more rebellious, more blatantly sexual.

April 1953 Elvis Presley walked into Sam Phillips tiny recording studio and paid $3.98 to record a ballad for his mother. He was a spotty, awkward 18yo with a big mop of greasy black hair. For the next 10 months Elvis kept coming back to the studio, begging for work as a singer.

Phillips happened to be chatting to a guitarist friend, Scooty Moore, about what was happening in music - the kids seemed to be loving the black music, but they weren't buying black singers' records. He mentioned Elvis as an example of one of these unfathomable teenagers.

Moore sat down to an informal jam with Elvis, wasn't impressed, but Phillips persuaded him to try a formal audition with bassist Bill Black. It didn't go well with the cover ballads they were trying, so Phillips stopped recording and went in to chat. Elvis started goofing around, jivving up an old blues standard from the 40s called 'That's all right mama". The others picked up on the energy and joined in.

Phillips then played the disc to a local DJ who played it repeatedly on his show the next night, enthusiastically predicting that the local boy was going to be a star. He sang black, but he was white, and the orders poured in.

Under financial pressure, Phillips was glad to sell Elvis's contract to RCA for $40,000. He used part of the money to release 'Blue Suede Shoes' which sold a million copies in first year.

By the late 50's, formats were splitting into generational chasms.

Folk and jazz were for the intellectuals - middle class, middle aged liberals - schoolteachers and professionals, who cd still afford interests.

The early 60's were really still the 50's. But 1963 on, the baby boomers got their pop music. Pop started juvenile and matured rapidly through the decade.

Decca notorious for being the fools who turned down the Beatles, but in fact George Martin had done the same - he turned down Tommy Steele, a British Elvis clone who went on to sell millions of records for Decca.

Brian Epstein used the Beatles success to launch other Liverpool acts - Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and Cilla Black. Copying the formula, the London record companies went prospecting into the north and found the Searchers, the Animals, the Hollies. The British Invasion of America in 1964 was preceded by the Northern invasion of London in 1963.

Elektra signed Love, led by the outrageous Arthur Lee, and gave them a $5000 cash advance. Lee went out and bought a flashy convertible and gave bandmates the change - $100 each.

Island Records typical ofmany. They grew arms into publishing, amrketing and distribution, wound up with huge overheads - the beast had to be fed every week - that they could not sustain.

The first signing of Casablanca label was Kiss. For their first show, label booked them as support act for established headliner, Rory Gallagher. Thy lured an influential DJ to the show, and handcuffed to his seat so he couldn't flee.

Kiss strutted out in their platform shoes and heavy makeup. The levitating drum riser went up too high for thelow ceiling, briefly knocking the drummer unconscious. Gene Simmons set his hair on fire. Ace kept falling over in his giant space boots. And all the time delivering ear-splitting blast of excess. After the chaos, the supposed headliner died a slow death.

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