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HOLIDAY 108; AUGUST 1951

 
 

 

In the warmer weather there’s often an infiltration of bugs that buzz around your ears, carrying germs and spreading disease while others set about destroying nature by defoliating trees.

We can stay inside for months on end hoping they go away, or hire companies to spray poison to kill them, though that doesn’t do much good for our health either.

Or you can learn to live with them, not always appreciating their presence but acknowledging that as the bottom part of the food chain they serve a purpose.

Of course any similarity between the infestation of bugs at this time of year and the second appearance of a white artist who managed to slip through a hole in a screen door during these last few months is surely coincidental… isn’t it?
 

 

When The Rain Falls
Since Caucasians have made an entire industry out of redlining to keep their neighborhoods “pure”, you could certainly make the argument that in the annals of rock history turnabout would be fair play.

But when it comes to morality and ethics it’s always better to let the traditionally biased and prejudiced class have exclusive rights to that shameful behavior and to rise above it by being inclusive yourself, welcoming these pale-skinned intruders with open arms… if not weary resignation.

We all know it never turns out well – just ask the Native Americans who hosted a Thanksgiving feast for foreign invaders and then were massacred and had their land stolen as a thank you for their generosity – but it’s still the better tactic for no other reason than pointing out the differences in behavior of the two parties.

Since around 1960 when white artists – and white fans – had gained enough of a foothold in rock to matter, they systematically began segregating the music whose creation they had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with. With the help of the press, radio stations and music retail outlets all of whom were seeking the larger economic market this change in identity represented, they were more or less successful in creating an alternate history where black artists (though never black audiences) were given marginal credit for stirring initial interest in rock during the mid-1950’s before insisting that everyone who followed with nappy hair and dark skin was erased from the story entirely within a handful of years.

In this creative fiction it seems that black artists just collectively decided to move away from the most dominant commercial market they’d come up with which had provided them with unprecedented name recognition, sales and touring opportunities and suddenly all leave the field entirely as the calendar turned to a new decade.

Convenient how that works itself out so neatly, isn’t it?

Then, as if that forced mass exodus from the discussion wasn’t enough, these same people whitewashing history had to find a way to further limit the early credit for the style that fell to black artists which even the most bigoted music fan had been forced to acknowledge and so they came up with the idea that rock ‘n’ roll was a combination of rhythm & blues and country music… specifically a style called western swing.

With that troubling insidious plot laid bare we now RE-introduce Bill Haley who contributes his first original record to the margins of rock’s story with Green Tree Boogie, to serve as an entry point to that myth.

But is its presence here meant to confirm or contradict that story… or merely to show that we’re not going to stoop to their level in an attempt to keep rock ‘n’ roll homogeneous for our far more honorable purposes?
 

 
 

Drivin’ Me Almost Wild
Though the reason for this site’s existence is to review every possible rock record of all time, there have been a handful of instances where we’ve purposefully stretched the point to more thoroughly be able to tell the story of rock’s artists when they ventured astray.

This is one of those cases. But that means that Bill Haley will soon be joining the ranks as a genuine rock artist, no asterisk needed, and this record, though not actually rock by any conceivable stretch of the definition, is an important one to be able to understand his transformation.

Two months back we reviewed his attempt at covering Rocket 88, and while his band The Saddlemen were better suited to it musically than Bill was vocally, it was a milestone record even if the results were slightly below par. But that wasn’t HIS idea to do, in fact depending on who you believe he may not have been at all happy about his record company’s demand that he cut it, but today’s record is another story altogether… and one much more flattering to Haley.

No, Green Tree Boogie isn’t a great record if that’s what you’re thinking, but it IS a sign that rock’s tentacles were stretching a little further out than anyone thought likely.

Bill wrote this himself and it more or less follows the Western Swing prototype, ironically itself jazz derived wherein country string bands emphasize the rhythm with the other instruments, including drums (not a traditional country music sound) in order to make for better dance music.

It’s a perfectly fine style of music, very interesting and usually well played. The rural song topics, instrumentation (with prominent steel guitars), along with the twang in the vocals make it pretty alien to rock music, but the point of both was to move the bodies of an audiences… but then again so was jazz once upon a time, so that alone means little unto itself.

Despite what revisionist writers have claimed, western swing didn’t influence rock’s creation in any way, shape or form and would probably never have even been noticed by rock ‘n’ roll had the genre remained exclusively black down the line. But when a few aspiring white musicians were exposed to rock ‘n’ roll and decided they wanted in on the action since this was obviously the most exciting music of the time, then it was probably inevitable that one of them would notice a similar rhythmic drive and have the bright idea of borrowing from that to bring something new to THIS that they could call their own.
 


 

If It Don’t Make You Boogie It’ll Surely Make You Smile
Even though this falls much closer to traditional Western Swing ideals than rock, the fact that Haley would soon build upon this – discarding some elements and adding others (notably the saxophone) – we can dissect his musical DNA easier if we take a look at it with an open mind.

The song features Bob Scaltrito’s ringing electric guitar that has almost as distorted effect on the intro, and again towards the end in a deeper tone, giving this a solid start if you’re looking for some distant connection between the two styles.

It soon drops that in favor of traditional country elements however. Billy Williamson’s steel guitar solo is pure corn, something that undoubtedly went over well with their intended audience – not us, in other words – but shows just how far removed they still were from adopting a rock mindset.

The bass and drum solo is unique in quirky sort of way but hardly very invigorating (at least it SOUNDS like drums, though none are listed on the session sheet, so it may just be Haley slapping his rhythm guitar for a beat).

Bill’s lyrics however are trite and possibly slightly offensive and condescending to boot (depending on your interpretation of his use of the word “Mammy”), but to his credit Haley sings them with admirable rhythmic timing.

Whereas last time out he intentionally mangled the flow almost in protest of the song before eventually falling in line, with this one, probably because it’s his own creation, he’s emphasizing the right things from the start and it comes off fairly well… not as a rocker (certainly not at this juncture and not with that hayseed voice at least)… but since he’s failed with his straightforward country crooning material, such as the generic Down Deep In My Heart on the flip side, what did he have to lose by trying to tentatively latch onto something with untold possibilities?

This isn’t it of course, but it’s a baby step towards where he’d eventually find his fame by borrowing heavily from music and culture he had no first hand experience with naturally, but at least adding something of his own along the way, in the process expanding rock’s borders even further.
 

Growin’ Up All Around
This is a record that, if we could, we’d refrain from scoring because anything we’d give it doesn’t explain its presence here, but that’s what the reviews themselves are for, to explain things.

The explanation for Green Tree Boogie in a nutshell is to dispel the rumor of Western Swing, or any country music for that matter, playing a part in rock’s birth, for which there are 1,500+ rock songs that predated this serving as irrefutable evidence to prove otherwise.

But just because this kind of music had no role in rock’s creation doesn’t mean it didn’t factor in down the road. Like the increased influence of blues along the way after largely sitting on the sidelines at the start, or more pointedly the inclusion of folk ideals in the mid-1960’s and even classical touches when prog rolled around, rock music is a sponge and you never know when it might draw inspiration from the most unimaginable sources if a vital artist comes along at the right time.

And yes, Bill Haley WAS a vital artist in rock ‘n’ roll… not yet, but eventually, and as such his story belongs here too and deserves our respect… as long as his role doesn’t get artificially inflated by those who can’t accept the fact that he, or those like him, didn’t have a damned thing to do with its existence and only belatedly joined a party already in full swing that certainly didn’t need their presence to survive… or to thrive.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
(Visit the Artist page of Bill Haley & The Saddlemen for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)