Musings On Music History: In Which We Are Joined By Masters Of Metal, Hip-Hop, and Jazz

07.29: Cass Elliot, Mama Cass, of the Mamas and the Papas, died from a heart attack on this day in 1974. For years, the myth passed down through the grapevine that Cass died from choking on a ham sammich, but it’s just not true. They did find a ham sandwich in the room with Cass, and maybe her consumption of many a ham sandwich over the years (along with her rampant drug use) led to the heart disease that led to her heart attack, but she did not die from choking on said ham sammich.

07.30: Buddy Guy, the bluesman’s bluesman, revealed himself to his folks and an unsuspecting world on this day in 1936. Inspiration to guitar greats Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and a menagerie of ’60s rock icons, Buddy continues to inspire audiences today.

07.30: On this day in 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis, performing “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, made his national television debut, helping sales of that single leap from 30,000 to over 6 million. That’s quite a leap there, Mr. Lewis. Well done, sir. We still wish you hadn’t married your 13-year old cousin. That was kinda messed up, and it effectively stopped your rise in the world of rock, which just sucks, any way you look at it because you rock, sir. Oh well, as much as we wish we could, we can’t change the past, so we’ll just have to live with it. [more]

08.01: On this day in 1960, Carlton Douglas Ridenhour joined us, and the world of music would never be the same. Better known as Chuck D, founding member of one of the best groups ever, Public Enemy, he helped move music forward into territories that hadn’t been breached since the heyday of ’60s protest songs. By taking his anger at the status-quo and injecting it into hip-hop, Chuck, along with integral producers The Bomb Squad, DJ Terminator X, and sidekick/foil Flavor Flav, took the world by storm. Contrary to what some believe, Public Enemy was not gangster rap, but was, instead, highly political and highly motivated to better their community and themselves. Chuck D rocks. Hard. The man is one of our personal heroes and “Welcome To The Terrordome” is one of the hardest things our ears have ever heard. His and his group’s influence on music, not just hip-hop, can be heard in the songs of metal-hop pioneers Rage Against The Machine, slam poet Saul Williams, insanely talented hip-hop band The Roots, and pioneering SoCal punk band NOFX. Happy birthday, Chuck!

08.03: On this day in 1926, Tony Bennett made his debut on Earth, then proceeded to croon his way into the hearts of family and fans alike for the past 83 years. Over the years, Tony’s had his ups and downs, has taken his knocks, but has always gotten back on his feet, ready and willing to do whatever it takes. Ironically, the one song that many know him for, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” wasn’t even close to being the biggest of his career. That honor belongs to his version of a tune called “Because Of You,” which spent 10 weeks at #1 in 1952. By the end of the ’60s and on into the ’70s and ’80s, Bennett struggled with his waning popularity, his finances, and various addictions. It wasn’t until his son took over his management that Tony got back to basics and unleashed himself upon a generation unaware of his charisma, charm, and immense talent, when his MTV Unplugged album went platinum and won the Grammy for Best Album of The Year. Happy birthday, Tony. You rock!

08.03: “Hello, I Love You” by a little band called The Doors topped the charts on this day in 1968. Their second #1 single, after the ubiquitous “Light My Fire,” “Hello” wasn’t one of Jim’s favorites, but we’re pretty sure that never stopped him from cashing the royalty checks that crammed his mailbox because of the song.

08.03: On this day in 1963, James Hetfield, monster of rock and master of metal, was born. Leading Metallica out of the boondoggle that was the Sunset Strip, the home of hair metal (think Poison and Mötley Crüe), in Los Angeles during the early ’80s to the more open waters of San Francisco, the band became the antithesis of glam rock and fought hard, through its music, against the pervasive inanity of the scene in L.A., building up its fanbase one show at at time, one person at a time, always giving everything they had, always putting substance before style. Hell, until “One” (from their 4th album, …And Justice For All) showed up on MTV, they didn’t even have a music video in the great era of music videos that was the ’80s. Metallica was and is pure metal, doing more to advance the sounds originated by Black Sabbath, the progenitors of metal, as far as we’re concerned, than any other band of the past three decades. All hail Metallica!

08.04: What a wonderful world, indeed, as American jazz great Louis Armstrong, or Satchmo as we love to call him, was born on this day in 1900. One of the greatest trumpeters and bandleaders during the big band and swing eras of jazz, inarguably the most popular time for jazz, Armstrong’s amazingly raspy, deep, and smokey voice will, in our mind, forever reverberate through our heads with the tune “What A Wonderful World.” What a great song and an amazing talent. For real, seek out his work, a greatest hits collection, whatever, and you will not be disappointed. Happy birthday, Louie. You are one of the original rock stars.

08.04: Billboard Magazine, on this day in 1958, started the Hot 100 singles chart, changing the popular music business forever. Who had that first #1 hit? Ricky Nelson, with “Poor Little Fool.” Come one, sing along with us! Yeah, we don’t know that one, either.

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