Larry Coryell, 26, Texas-born guitarist and blues singer, has already topped Down Beat, Jazz & Pop polls. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau says Coryell “is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut.”
What is rock exactly?
Well, for one thing it’s the symbolic tool of the revolution that’s going on among young people right now. But on a simpler and more obvious level, it’s also a music with very definite and very high standards, the majority music being made by the young creative people of today. Sure, there are a lot of guys in big-name rock groups who don’t know much about music, don’t even know how to tune their instruments. Forget about them. Think about the rock musicians who believe in the music and who do know how to work at it. The world is full of talented young guys who started playing, maybe, stand-up bass when they were 16, then switched to guitar, then got into electronics, and they stuck to their music with a real passion. They’re the creative musicians of today.
It’s these musicians the kids go for. The essential ingredient that makes rock exciting to kids is identification. And all the young people in the Western world identify with Eric Clapton (lead guitarist in the British group, Blind Faith). It’s that simple. You’re young and there’s somebody young up there on stage playing something that’s visceral and groovy, and right away he’s your man.
All the other elements in rock—the sexual things, the lyrics, the heavy electronic sound—take second place to identification, but naturally they still play a large part in rock’s appeal. There are usually good reasons why a lot of performers use sexual gimmicks—if they are gimmicks. It’s a good way, for instance, for a new performer to attract attention at the beginning of his career. But I don’t think that explanation runs too deep. I think a performer like Jimi Hendrix, who gets into a lot of sexual movements, actually feels those emotions he’s demonstrating. That happens to be the way he is.
The lyrics are important. In fact, it’s possible for a band to be off in its playing, but if some powerful singer such as, say, Mick Jagger is up there singing a good song, then the bad playing won’t mar the entertainment value of the group for the kids. A lot of the lyrics in rock are really far out. Older people, used to hearts and flowers and bourgeois love affairs in their songs, don’t dig rock lyrics. Sometimes it takes kids a long time to get past the playing and pick up the complicated surrealistic ideas that such writers as Jimi Hendrix are laying down.
All of these things put off adults. A lot of them don’t dig rock because they feel left out. They can’t identify and they’re jealous. And, in a way, (continued overleaf)
Parents turn off because it threatens older people
Moe Koffman, 41, Toronto-based alto saxophonist, is probably Canada’s best-known inventive jazz musician. He learned his art playing one-night stands with the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Tex Beneke.
One thing kids have to admit anout rock: it’s just about the simplest music in the world. There’s more to music than a strong beat and four chords, but that’s all the musical knowledge it takes to get a rock group going. My own kid, who’s 11, can listen to a rock record a few times and then sit down at his drums and play all the licks off the record. Rock is simple music.
And that’s what makes a lot of it dull listening to a jazz musician. On almost all rock records, you’ll hear the kid musicians stretch out on a couple of long tracks, but the stuff they come up with makes me fall asleep. They’re only playing on one chord.
Too many rock musicians have very limited talents — they’re just kids, after all —and for that reason, they often have to call on old pros, guys who’ve come up through jazz, for rock-record sessions. All the good experienced studio musicians in New York and Toronto and other big recording centres work on rock dates. I had a lady violin player, a real symphonic type, come up to me not long ago at a commercial-jingle session we were both playing and tell me that she really liked the Blood, Sweat & Tears album, the first rock thing she’d ever appreciated. She said what she especially dug were all the flute parts; amazing, she told me, that those young boys could blow flute so beautifully. Wha-a-at, I said, those flutes were being played by experienced studio cats, guys in their 40s.
For records, the kids bring in the basic rock feeling. But to get anything solid down on tape, you need two more ingredients: top musicians and a hip producer. The kid musicians are completely raw material, and they have to be molded.
The funny thing is that when it comes to live performances, the kids in the audience don’t miss all the fancy stuff from the records that can’t be reproduced outside the studios. They see the stars up on stage, they, hear the lyrics and the basic sound, and that snaps them out. The kids in the audience don’t need much to excite them. In fact, I don’t think they know much about music.
At all those festivals that suddenly started happening last summer, you got all the things that go with rock coming together in a really obvious way — the drugs, the sex thing, the electronics. I think in some cases the heavy electrification is a cover for lack of talent.
There’s a big drug thing going on at the festivals, too. The rock groups get high and so does the audience, and I suppose that gives them a sense of communication. Smokthe knowledge that rock turns off parents helps turn on the kids to the music. But that kind of generational gesture isn’t exclusive to young people. I’ve seen lots of old rebels. Older jazz fans, for instance, were attracted in a rebellious way to John Coltrane, the great tenor-saxophone player who’s dead now. It wasn’t exclusively a matter of Coltrane’s music — it had a lot to do with the image of change and revolution that he seemed to project. ing pot makes the kids out front feel like they’re part of the show, but it has nothing to do with the music. It’s a hallucinatory thing. I hope that the rock kids have enough energy to keep creating and not let the drugs drag them down.
KIDS DIG IT continued
But most older people, maybe in reaction to rock, grab on to this obsession about hair. The only times I ever feel the generation gap is when I’m in a strange town and people on the street yell “hippie” at me because of my long hair. The first time I was in Toronto this summer, I was out shopping and some older people said to me, “Hey, slob, get back to Yorkville.” They really came down on me. And I didn’t even know where Yorkville was.
The trouble is, from the older people’s point of view, rock will never die. Probably it will go on to something as yet unimagined, but it won’t die, not in the sense that jazz is dying today. And the kids who are listening to rock right now will still be appreciating it when they’re 40. Of cburse, rock will evolve, move even more toward electronics, I’d say, because after all much of rock is a highly experimental kind of music. The use of electrified instruments, especially guitars, has always been essential, and as long as electronics have been used with skill and taste they’ve definitely improved the music.
The criteria for all of this experimentation in rock is “do your own thing” in the sense that as long as you’re doing your own original thing, then you can accomplish more and get away with a lot more than you used to in pop music. Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe you can do more because music is broader today. There’s more knowledge around, more ways of fooling around with musical devices. Everything’s changed. There are more possibilities open to musicians. It’s all great. Wow, I don’t think we’ll really understand all the things that have been happening in today’s music for another 100 years. □
... And now the critics join the poprock battle
JACK BATTEN, a free-lance writer currently working on a book about pop music, says:
The most beguiling and memorable love song of the 1960s is called Lay Lady Lay. The song is a tender call to a night’s love, and it was written and sung best by Bob Dylan, the man who symbolizes to the anti-rock forces everything that’s messy in contemporary pop music.
Rock is perverse. Just when its critics think they have it pinned as merely vulgar, noisy and anti-romantic, it shows its soft side, and, for myself, I most love rock for its gentle moments.
But I also revel in the sensation of having my mind blown by the acid rock of the Jefferson Airplane, my intellect shaken up by the Doors’ stormy theatre of rock, and my brain teased by the Beatles’ multi-level rock tinkering.
Rock works because it is a mighty synthesis, and its artists can draw on a music that borrows something from jazz, takes a heavy charge of the blues, tosses in dashes and licks of country, folk, Indian and electronic music. And it’s from its very eclecticism that rock gets its great appeal.
Maybe it isn’t Art, but to say so is missing the point anyway. Rock is simply faithful to all the rest: of experience of life in the 1960s — exuberant, gaudy, hysterical, joyful and, sure, even vulgar and noisy. And in its intimate moments, in Lay Lady Lay, rock is the most personal experience this side of making love. □
PARENTS TURN OFF continued
I can understand why parents feel uptight about rock. Sex is a big part of rock lyrics and it figures in the performances of some rock singers. Jim Morrison of the Doors was accused of indecent exposure in Miami, and I can just imagine how a parent would feel, watching his 14-year-old daughter going off to a rock concert and wondering whether the star of the show is going to stand up and show his thing. It scares a lot of parents.
Actually, everything about rock can be brain-shattering to an adult. It’s loud and sexy, and a style like acid rock, with its heavy guitars and all the wah-wah stuff with the amplifiers, sounds plainly evil. What rock is, frankly, is a threat to older people.
I take rock for what the musicians are laying down. 1 dig their spirit, their today sound, their great feeling. But I think they’ve got to grow and expand, and I think that many rock musicians agree with me. They’re heading for change, and the direction they’re going in is toward jazz. I watch young musicians come into the clubs where I’m playing with other good jazz guys, and they freak out when they hear us. They’re astounded by what it’s possible to do on our instruments.
Well, it stands to reason that we know our horns better than young kids do. And I think that rock musicians are realizing that they’ve reached a saturation point with their emphasis on guitars. A big number of the groups are turning to horns, to a jazz sound, but the trouble is that the young horn players haven’t had time to develop the skill the instruments demand. Still, they’re working at it. They’re moving toward a fusion of rock and jazz, and in two or three years they’re going to come up with some surprises. And I think it could be a kind of music that might bring kids and adults closer together. □
PATRICK SCOTT, Toronto Star critic and Canada’s most knowledgeable (and most cantankerous) jazz critic, says: Popular music, given a continuation of current trends, should begin to become respectable again in approximately 15 years. Already, the consumer bloc that historically determines fashions in pop music — urban North Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 — has turned back the clock to the mid-1950s with its discovery of such missinglink performers as Little Richard, the star of Toronto’s recent Rock Revival ritual. Hopefully, this back-swinging pendulum ultimately will come to rest on the year 1940, the true apogee of popular music’s golden era.
The most influential single factor in pop music’s 20year ascent to 1940 was jazz. By 1940 some jazz-influenced jukebox music had become so good that something had to give. The average listener was not sufficiently literate musically to cope with it. Backlash set in and within one traumatic decade jazz had ceased to be popular music.
Into the vacuum, in the early 1950s, gyrated the first rock’n’roll pop stars, and 30 years of musical maturing had been thrown away; pop music was back in the cave.
Only now, and ironically enough with this fresh emphasis on rock in its most primitive form, has the first faint flicker of light begun to show at the mouth of the cave. Today’s disadvantaged rock devotees must go back to the very beginning of their musical experience and try to build a new musical civilization on the rubble of rock. □
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