Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 5 – Do the Mashed Watusi Jerk Swim Twist, and The Great Folk Scare of 1962.

Part 4 can be found here

It’s 1959. While Elvis afforded photo ops for military big shots inGermany, peeled his share of potatoes, and started to fall in love with a 14 year old girl, radio was being overrun by Bobbies, Jimmies, Johnnies, and an occasional Annette, Shelly, or Donna. Rock and Roll had been usurped by savvy record company and radio visionaries who understood that this music was at the core of a new cultural explosion that had captured the hearts, souls, and wallets of every person on the planet under the age of 25.

What had begun mid-decade as a feral, undeniably hormone driven phenomenon, was being watered down and cutesified to reach more people, and lessen its threat to civilization. It would take an R&B singer in his early 30’s who had been influenced by country and western star Gene Autry, to add something new to the mix and drag the rest of society into rock and roll’s inviting maw…

I guess you could call me an early adapter. Because I had been listening to music for as long as I could remember, and had embraced it as my muse and constant companion, my appreciation of it had led me deeper into the exploration and acceptance of all kinds of music, some of which was far afield of my peers.

I was already immersed in the music of the day and was busy getting my hands on everything ever released by the Sun, Roulette, and Gee labels, and would spend my Saturdays and some after school time going through the cramped and cluttered multitude of 45’s in old man Freitas little record shop, which was located in a seedy part of downtown Stockton. I would come to trust a few other labels as well, thanks to some key releases that made the rounds on the R&B stations I pulled in at night from the Bay Area.

One day, Freitas noticed I was buying Federal and King releases fairly regularly, and he asked me if I wanted to hear some of their earlier output. He didn’t have listening booths, but he did put records on the turntable that he kept behind the counter, (“You kids get shit all over the records…whadaya wanna hear?”)

When I replied in the affirmative he disappeared into the back room and emerged a few minutes later with a handful of 45’s.

“These are from a few years ago”, he said, slipping the first one onto the turntable and dropping the needle, “Didn’t get any airplay around here, but it’s still one of my best sellers.”

What followed was a record that on the surface, sounded like an invitation to dance, but couched in its seemingly innocent lyric was a very different, very sexual plea. Obvious enough to the more watchful protectors of easily influenced youth to get the song, and its follow-ups, banned from mainstream radio, although they went to number one in the R&B charts. The group was called The Midnighters, and in 1954 they had 3 huge rhythm and blues hits:

That ‘dance’, led to the follow-up single:

One more sequel followed:

The writer and lead singer, Hank Ballard, after a string of successes, recorded a record in November of 1958 and released the following month, that would assure him of a a steady income for the rest of his life, but not until someone else took the song and arrangement, and re-recorded it in 1960 to become the only record in rock history to hit number one twice, a year apart. Here’s Hank Ballard and The Midnighter’s version:

I’m sure you’ve all heard the cover…

Ernest Evans sings and America thinks it can dance…

Once again,Philadelphia was the breeding ground for another teen-driven societal shift. This one finally bringing adults into the world of rock and roll by getting them involved, doing so by getting them off the sidelines and on to the dance floor. It was the first time adults danced to this new teen music, and when Jackie Kennedy was photographed dancing these new steps, the rest of America, and the world, joined in.

The South Carolina native who was growing up in the projects of South Philly and who brought this about was a part time grocery clerk who aspired to be an entertainer along the lines of Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr. and other well rounded performers. His first record, an excuse to mimic the stars of the day, showcased his talent as an impressionist and singer.

At that session, attended by several local impresarios and illumanatti, Dick Clark’s wife heard him impersonate Fats Domino and suggested he call himself Chubby Checker in homage. The name stuck.

The next record was a cover of Hank Ballard’s song, The Twist, and before you knew it, new dances, and the songs they were danced to, dominated the record charts. Checker alone released and demonstrated The Huckelbuck, The Fly, The Mess Around, Limbo Rock, and Slow Twistin’. At one point he had 5 albums in the top 20, and The Twist remains the most popular record of the rock era. While Chubby and Joey Dee and the Starlighters were helping everyone from Tweens to Matrons learn how to Twist, the record industry followed suit and flooded the radio airwaves with more dance records hoping to cash in on the latest, unexpected, craze.

There was the Mashed Potato, The Swim, The Jerk, The Frug, The Watusi, The Hully Gully, The Dog, The Hitchhike, and The Chicken, The Locomotive, and dozens more…and from community teen centers to high society nightclubs, everybody was sweatin’ to the newies…

Some of us should neverever…dance:

Meanwhile in the Bay Area…

While most of America fruged it’s way into a stupor, a trio of guys who had been recording since 1958 had found a large audience on the college and university campuses across North America. They led a quiet musical revolution that sold more albums than singles, because college students would gather together and sing, and sometimes play, along with the records. The Kingston Trio was the first ‘Pop-folk’ group, and brought Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and others to the attention of a new generation. By 1961, folk music was all the rage with college students from coast to coast, and a television show, Hootenanny, was born.

Steeped as I was in rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, I would not have heard any folk music at the tender age of 13 had it not been for a neighbor down the street named Richard Aunger.

Richard was a few years older than me and had a sister in college. She had indoctrinated Richard into the folk world, and knowing my love of music, he took it upon himself to introduce me to the genre. The Kingston Trio (so named because of the popularity of Calypso music at the time) were the first artists he played for me, and 2 songs, Scotch and Soda and Tom Dooley were instant favourites, and later, M.T.A.

Within months they would be all over the radio and the album started showing up at house parties everywhere. Suddenly, in the midst of all the Teen Idol and Dance Craze records on the radio, artists like Peter Paul and Mary, The Back Porch Majority, New Christy Minstrels, and, in March of 1962, a radical upstart named Bob Dylan, started to slowly take over the airwaves and the record stores. James Taylor would later call it “The Great Folk Scare of the 1960’s”

The music scene was starting to fracture into camps. While some of my friends were dancing to the latest hits, others were sitting around on the floor singing 500 Miles along with Peter Paul and Mary, the only light in the room provided by candles in wax covered Chianti bottles. There were even a few Folk Music movies. The rock and roll dance crowd favored Slow Gin and Beer, the folkies, wine and marijuana. I happily gravitated to both, but most chose sides. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that the Beatles would further divide the audience until they became ubiquitous and undeniable. Once again, radio had its ear to the street and was quick to add this new music and these new artists to their playlists, record companies tripped over themselves signing every college favourite, and, except for the more ‘left leaning’ politically volatile performers, everybody got a shot at fame and fortune.

Now, as dancing and sing-along introspection vied for everyone’s attention, another revolution was about to take place. This time, the eyes and ears would focus on two very unlikely local scenes…Detroit, Michigan, and Hawthorne, California, and, for the second time in less than 10 years, Memphis,Tennessee.

Radio and records would continue to follow and set new trends and introduce new artists, monitoring local breakouts and spreading the word, and music would become the absolute center of the universe for an entire generation.

Part 6 – Tamla/Motown, Stax/Volt, Hangin’ Ten, and Getting a Woody…

Segarini’s column appears every Monday

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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

One Response to “Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 5 – Do the Mashed Watusi Jerk Swim Twist, and The Great Folk Scare of 1962.”

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