What I can’t understand is why Blacks can’t achieve royal status when it comes to forms that they have largely created? I mean there’s a White King of Rock n’ Roll, there’s a White King of Jazz, how come we can never achieve titles of royalty in these fields we are supposed to prevail in? They held a so called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the other night, where White judges credit people who resemble them with the invention of Rock and Roll. I didn’t even see Blacks in the audience.
There would be no Rock and Roll without Ike Turner, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, etc. Fake ghetto books and fake ghetto music. Elvis Presley, whom they idol, is merely a karaoke makeover of James Brown and Chuck Berry.
(Ishmael Reed, interview with Counterpunch, March 15, 2008. Interview can be read here.)
I’ll set the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame jibe aside, except to note that all of the men Reed mentions had been inducted into the Hall years earlier. That’s just standard public intellectual ignorance.
And we’ll leave Paul Whiteman and the tendency of marketing departments to equate royalty with sales out of this.
As to the Elvis part:
Reed is, perhaps unwittingly, using a classic propaganda technique: criticizing fake narratives by utilizing a fake narrative.
I say perhaps unwittingly, without putting any percentages on it, because, like most fake narratives, this one is rooted in ignorance born of emotion. Reed wants what he says to be true, therefore it is true. Or will be, if enough people just keep repeating it.
As to facts? Those stubborn things?
Sorry, but once in a while, we have to slog back through the actual record, tiresome though the march may be.
Of the five men he mentions, only two of them had made a record before Elvis made his first.
Of those, Ike Turner was a band leader and session man who was indeed repeatedly ripped off by white business men (mostly Sam Phillips and the Bihari brothers, for whom Ike later claimed to have written more than seventy hits they copyrighted under their own names, which is probably even more tunes than Don Robey stole from Bobby Bland**) throughout the early and mid fifties. He did in fact lead the band for this enormously influential record:
The record was written and sung by Jackie Brenston. But Ike played the galvanizing piano part, which was a straight cop on the other man Reed mentions, Fats Domino.
Fats Domino, who had his first big hit in 1950, was the actual and undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, at least in the sense he and Elvis understood the term before Elvis exploded the original definition into smithereens.
The way I know this, besides having ears, is Elvis said as much.
He said it at an obscure little international press conference forty years before Ishmael Reed (who, unlike Elvis, doesn’t know his history on this subject, and, unlike Elvis, clearly relates to the very specific “black people” he mentions as something other than people) got Fats mixed up with a lot of other guys because he was giving an interview in which he spent the bulk of his time criticizing (rightly, it should be said) a lot of other people for getting things mixed up.
And then he let what he heard somewhere and never bothered to check up on for himself rule his thinking.
Of course, most of what Reed says in his interview is true or at least plausible. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing.
But a lie never does more damage than when it’s surrounded by truth.
Makes it seem, you know, credible.
Nonetheless, Elvis made this..
…and a lot of other “rock and roll” records before Chuck Berry or James Brown (the only person not in Elvis’ inner circle who was allowed to spend time with his corpse and who later wrote in his autobiography, “I wasn’t just a fan. I was his brother.”) ever made it to a recording studio.
Funny, it’s never occurred to me to accuse them of doing a “karaoke makeover” of Elvis just because they likely (in Chuck Berry’s case), or certainly (in James Brown’s case), heard him before he heard them.
And why not?
Because that would make me look stupid?
Yeah, that’s part of it.
But the main reason is this little creed of mine:
When the house is on fire, don’t strike a match.
Not even a little one.
No matter how good it makes you feel.
(**NOTE: Neal U. makes a good point in comments that theft in the record business was not limited to white businessmen ripping off black artists. He covers the main points in his comment which I encourage you to read. I’d only add that black businessmen ripping off white artists was uncommon because the dynamic just didn’t occur that often. With every other racial combination, copyright theft was rampant.)