Don’t you find it interesting how one person can influence another? If you look over the history of music, for example, you will see a complex spider’s web of links and connections where bands form and split, people enter and leave the business, join and leave bands, come together to write a few songs and then move elsewhere to band together with different people to write more songs and so on. Music history has this on-going flow and change. Yet, in the middle of the seeming chaos of creativity there are nodes. Big, big points that beam out from the spider’s web as significant times in music’s development. These nodes are very important. They connect many elements of the web together. In fact, they are responsible for much of the web itself. Elvis Presley is one such node, Bing Crosby is another, The Beatles are a third. From these acts, a mountain of new artists arise, ‘influenced’ by these dominant figures.
I was flicking through the catalogue of a neat little UK record label, Rollercoaster (www.rollercoasterrecords.com) of late and three of these nodes screamed at me all at once.
The first is Buddy Holly. I would argue that Holly was an even greater influence to rock than Elvis Presley because Holly was a revolutionary and pioneer, a professional among amateurs. Considering that his work was recorded on such primitive equipment in the most basic of circumstances, Holly had no right to be producing the quality of That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and Not Fade Away – songs that sound just as fresh and vital today. Talk about influences, Holly was a major influence of the core of current rock history. How about this for a list? The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, The Who, Bruce Springsteen…need I go on? Each one of these artists are, themselves, seen as significant influences, so what does that make Holly? He is seen as being the Father Of Rock. But how can anyone hold such a title and die at just 22? Just let that fact sink it for a minute. Twenty-two! This is a man, a very young man, who is responsible for a multi-billion pound industry, in effect, and for the production of some of the most sublime music. Twenty-two? The ‘what if’ questions that you have to ask yourself almost beggar belief. Is it any wonder that Rollercoaster spent time digging up a whole host of rarities on CD (Ohh! Annie! featuring previously unreleased material from 1956 sessions over two CD discs) and a 10” vinyl disc called That Makes It Sound So Much Better that improves a selection of rarities to audiophile standard.
Another ‘node’ is Link Wray, an American rock’n’roll guitarist who was a star in the late 50s. Wray had the knack of over-driving his guitar, creating one of the first distorted electric guitar sounds. The power chord was his invention, for example. Wray is seen as the ‘father’ (there’s that word again) of heavy rock but also punk rock. Of course, he was also one of the world’s best guitarists out there so you can imagine who might have been influenced by the man. Both Iggy Pop and Jimmy Page admired Wray’s rebel attitude and Pete Townshend ‘blames’ Wray for making him pick up a guitar in the first place, “I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds.” Listen to Wray, then spin a Hendrix record and easily find the links.
Rollercoaster has a great CD on the man called The Swan Records Singles Collection featuring 26 nasty guitar songs. Budding Pete Townshends out there should brace themselves.
Speaking of guitar heroes but of a different stripe, there’s also Davey Graham. One of the most important figures in the British folk revival during the 60s. Despite his introverted nature and his wish not to purse fame he, nevertheless, struck a chord (literally) in the hearts of many future folk stars such as Pentangle, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, John Renbourn but also the likes of Paul Simon and Jimmy Page.
The problem with Graham was that he had a life. A life outside of music, that is. He was a truly rounded individual, despite struggling with drugs. Hence, his extensive work for charity (he was on the executive council of MIND, the mental health charity, for example) and his study of languages. He was also interested in social history, loving to collect old folk songs and poems. His cultural knowledge often spilt into his work as his albums often featured an eclectic mixture of musical styles.
Rollercoaster’s official bootleg, After Hours at Hull University, 4th February 1967 is a perfect insight into Graham the relaxed musical intellectual.
The ability of the artist to break the template and create a new one, to make unexpected connections and ignore the resident pattern produces shockwaves within any genre. The exciting thing about them all (Holly, Wray, Graham and more) is that each had to start somewhere. Look around, one budding genius might be lurking at the bottom of a pub gig poster near you.