Boy, did I make some people mad, a simple opinion about a Post World War II singing group got me cussed at, de-friended and otherwise labeled as a jerk. Guilty. (Not sorry, just guilty). My sin: I said the song Charlie and the MTA by the Kingston Trio was… well, excrement. (Who knew they could still pull?)
That was a song on the radio when I was a kid, so when I saw it on YouTube, I thought it would bring back fond memories. Only: Not so much, the song was dated, the singers corny. My memory was better than the song itself. While the Folk Music channel might be one of the pre-sets on my XM radio, this song blew. No longer a fan. It reminded me of how terrible music was in the days just before rock swept the planet.
If you like folk music, I’m sorry to offend you, if you lust for the halcyon days of the Dust Bowl or the New Christy Minstrels, we disagree. My opinion, “Ain’t music if it ain’t got no soul, still like that old time rock and roll.” Do white guys strumming a banjo and a ukelele provide my required level of soul?
(This is fun, the lead singer and writer of Green Green? Barry McGuire who evolved into the guy who sang the decidedly not uplifting but abundantly more soulful Eve of Destruction.)
But that’s me. Some of you are still pissed the Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival and that the Grand Old Opry allowed drums. I’m pretty sure that Mozart would be using a Mac and Garage Band today, that art evolves with the available technology and knowledge of the times. Yes; Bruce Springsteen still sings Depression era folk songs and as a Bruce fan, I reluctantly listen to them as living pieces of history. Clapton still plays the old blues and there are some pockets of classical music lovers around the world. Into bagpipes or the St. Louis Blues? There’s probably an app for that. Whatever you like is fine with me. Still like washboards and jugs: go for it!
As for me, I witnessed the birth of a revolution and I am happy that I did. While I respect old blues, show tunes and even folk music, the soundtrack of my life has involved electric guitars and a drum kit.
Nature abhors a vacuum and we grew up in an era when musical and social morays were about to go into revolution. Something was ready to happen but nobody knew what. My parents were solidly in the camp of the Big Bands, I grew up listening to my Dad’s beloved Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, Frank Sinatra. My parents were decidedly not in the camp of the Doo Wop singers, Bill Haley or, God forbid, Elvis. Not a racial thing at all, my Dad revered Count Basie and Duke Ellington, it’s just that his music required a brass section. Guitars were part of the rhythm section, the new rock music based on southern negro blues just didn’t register with him. (He did develop an inexplicable fondness for BB King later).
My trombone teacher on the subject of the guitar, to my Dad, “Oh, they aren’t musicians, they just know a few chords.” My answer, “Teach me those chords!”. Even though I favor the acoustic guitar today, the electric guitar was my generation’s ticket to freedom. Decoupled from the banjo and the ukelele, the technology of the amplified guitar freed us, it gave us music that was our own. A few chords indeed! A couple of freaks with amps and a drum kit could make more noise than Duke Ellington’s whole band and rock and roll swept into the musical void that was 1963.
Was there a void? Well, Kingston Trio fans notwithstanding, the Beatles ushered in a new era of music, a wave we are still riding. Rock and Roll brought elements of jazz, blues, folk, big band and soul. Why? A confluence of post war societal change and the technology of the new electric instruments. Oh yea, don’t think for a minute that technology was welcomed by everyone, the freaks weren’t “musicians”. A guy who spent his life trying to become first chair in the viola section wasn’t about to say that Mick Jaggar was a musician too. When 4 guys with a bass, a guitar, a church organ and a drum kit could make more noise than an entire orchestra, some people were threatened. Revolutions do that. (Dylan going electric threatened the banjo and bongo drum set).
One of the people I offended cried: “Does everyone have to sound like the Beatles?” Of course not, here’s the point, The Beatles (and the bands that followed) sounded like everyone else: Rock and roll is us. It will be impossible to write a history of our era without including references to pop culture and our music, rock music, it’s the soundtrack to our movie.
Today I like James Taylor, the Eagles and Jimmy Buffet, probably closer to folk than I’d like to admit for the purpose of this article, rock did that, it became the amalgamation of all American music. The Kingston trio begat the Byrds who begat the Eagles. Robert Johnson begat Jerry Lee Lewis who begat Elvis who begat the Stones who begat Clapton. (Or something like that). Woody Guthrie begat Bob Dylan who begat Bruce Springsteen. Like us, music grew, it evolved. It got better.
I submit that you can’t describe our lifetime without thinking of a rock song that brings you back to a point in time. Rock and roll is “4 Dead in Ohio”, it’s “Get Back”, it’s “Life in The Fast Lane”, it’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” it’s “Night Moves,” it’s “Born to Run.” It’s not this Land is Your Land, Don Ho or anything by Robert Goulet. No soul.
So, if you are a folk music fan, I understand. My point is music evolves and reflects the times. Charlie and the MTA no more reflects anything in my life than a Revolutionary War tune does. We are a reflection of the pop culture era, rather, the pop culture era is a reflection of us. I like that Old Time Rock and Roll.