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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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The Importance of Elvis

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Elvis is the #2 biggest selling music artist of all time (U.S.). He is second only to the Beatles, having sold over 118 million units (albums, singles, tapes, cds) and is now the biggest selling solo artist in U.S. history.

There is so much, TOO MUCH, that could be and has already been written about this American music icon, Elvis Presley. So I'm going to write about the cultural impact Elvis had on music and on society at large.

I was discussing the history of rock n' roll with a guitartist friend of mine and the subject of Elvis came up. I mentioned that John Lennon had once purportedly remarked, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."

My friend immediately bristled at the notion. "No way," he replied, "he didn't invent anything...Chuck Berry and Little Richard were playing rock n' roll before Elvis...he got it from them. Chuck Berry kicks Elvis' ass!"

I told my friend I thought he had missed the point. John Lennon and everybody else, including Elvis, knew where the roots of rock n' roll lay -- in African-American music.

Elvis said it himself. "'The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doing now, man, for more years than I know,' Elvis told reporters in 1956. 'I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw.'" --Time Magazine

(Some have claimed that Elvis' 1954 cover of bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right" is the definitive first rock and roll recording. While this assertion may be widely accepted by Elvis fans - and Elvis WAS among the very first to make rock and roll records - most historians trace the "first" R&R record back to 1951 and a song entitled "Rocket 88," recorded at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis, where Elvis also later recorded.

"March 1, 1951 - Sam Phillips records 'Rocket 88' with singer Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner's band for Chess records. This recording is widely considered the first rock and roll record." --Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Elvis did not invent rock and roll. But he was an innovator, nonetheless, transfusing the popular music of the fifties (then dominated by white "crooners" such as Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Eddie Fisher and others of that ilk) with black music, gospel music...SOUL music.

And that transfusion was an important component of the anti-segregation sentiment that was brewing at the time and that led ultimately to the Civil Rights Movement...and desegregation.

While Elvis' contribution to rock and roll was enormous, his contribution to his GENERATION was even greater.

DA Jack Hayford is the editor of the popular music reference website, Events-in-Music.com. Mr. Hayford is also the Program Director and co-founder of the online home of the ten-plus-year old Durango Songwriters Expo, a premier annual educational and inspirational event for aspiring songwriters.

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