AMS / RRHOFM Lecture Series
Steven Baur, 5 December 2016
Steven Baur (Dalhousie University) presented the lecture "Toward a Cultural History of the Backbeat"
Webcast coming soon!
In a famous sermon given to his Nashville congregation in 1956—captured on grainy black-and-white film and now on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—Reverend Jimmy Snow preaches passionately about the evils of rock and roll, and he identifies the beat as the musical element most crucial to the impact and appeal of this controversial new music. To be sure, mainstream popular music was in the midst of a radical transformation in the mid-1950s, and Snow was right to identify the powerful percussive accompaniment as the most distinctive and captivating feature of rock and roll, commonly known then as “beat music” or simply “the big beat.” And the most distinctive and captivating feature of the rock-and-roll beat was its emphatic snare drum accents on the nominal “weak” beats of the measure — the so-called backbeat. Shocking though it was to many in the 1950s, the backbeat soon became, and remains to this day, perhaps the single most prevalent feature of Western popular music. Although it represents nothing less than a fundamental revolution in Western rhythmic sensibilities, there is virtually nothing in the scholarly literature on the origins and early history of the backbeat.
This study traces the origins of the backbeat to several nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century African-American musical traditions—including work songs, sacred music, and brothel house blues—and charts its early history through a critical survey of commercial and field recordings from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Drawing on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s influential work on the practice of signifyin’ in African-American cultural traditions, I explore the meanings the backbeat has carried in specific contexts, including labor camps, black churches, and houses of prostitution. Furthermore, I establish a direct line connecting these earlier traditions to the emergence of the rock-and-roll beat in the 1940s and 1950s.
The evidence I present supports cultural theorist John Mowitt’s argument that the backbeat constituted the “beating back” of an oppressed racial minority against a history of violent subjugation when it emerged to the forefront of popular culture in the 1950s. I illuminate earlier instances in which the deployment of percussive accents on nominal weak beats functioned as a powerful act of resistance, and I explain how such percussive musicking has played into vital issues concerning race, gender, class, and social justice.
Steven Baur is an Associate Professor of Musicology at the Fountain School of Performing Arts at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He holds a PhD in Musicology from UCLA and has published widely on topics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century music from both “classical” and “popular” traditions. His work appears in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, American Music, Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Popular Music and Society, and the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, and he has co-edited two essay collections. He is also an accomplished drummer with dozens of recordings and live performances to his credit.
Jacqueline Warwick, 29 April 2016
Jacqueline Warwick (Dalhousie University) presented the lecture “Dad Rock and Child Stars”
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 0 minutes, 57 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:01: Introduction by Jason Hanley, Director of the Library and Archives
2:42: Introduction by Ellen T. Harris,, AMS President
7:38: Jacqueline Warwick's lecture
44:00: Q&A that followed the lecture
Warwick describes her lecture as follows: “Despite the phenomenon of rock star careers extending well into old age, most genres of rock continue to be considered the music of youth. Rockers like Keith Richards (b. 1943) model grandparenthood in ways that contrast sharply with the versions presented by their own grandparents, and they challenge us to rethink our understandings of aging. But as we expand our conception of rock’s youthful energy to include septuagenarians, how do children and teens see rock culture and their place in it?
“In this paper, I explore the phenomenon of ‘dad rock,’ a recently coined term that connects rock music to adulthood, conservatism, and domesticity, rather than youth, rebellion, and rupture. While rock ’n’ roll in the mid-twentieth century represented a generational break, with young people choosing music that their parents loathed, the same music today is enjoyed by multiple generations in a single family. Rock songs are passed down to children by their parents, and fathers in particular are seen as the keepers of musical tradition.
“Thus, child drummers like Jagger Alexander-Erber (b. 2003) and Avery Molek (b. 2006) developed their technique and musical tastes under the guidance of their rock-fan fathers. ‘Dad rock’ is viewed fondly, contrasting interestingly with the negative clichés of domineering stage mothers, but what lessons are child performers absorbing about masculinity and adulthood through their mimicry of the previous generation’s rebellious musics?”
Stephanie Vander Wel, 16 September 2015
Stephanie Vander Wel (University at Buffalo (SUNY)) presented the lecture "Rose Maddox’s Roadhouse Vocality and the California Sound of 1950s Rockabilly and Honky-Tonk"
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 25 minutes, 12 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:01: Introduction by Andy Leach, Director of the Library and Archives
3:54: Introduction by Daniel Goldmark, Professor of Music and Director, Case Western Reserve University Center for Popular Music Studies
6:00 Stephanie Vander Well's lecture
1:03:52: Q&A that followed the lecture
Stephanie Vander Wel describes her lecture as follows: "The Maddox Brothers and Rose came to the forefront of California country music after World War II with their dynamic live performances that bridged the transition from western swing to rockabilly and honky-tonk. I argue that the stage manner and vocal style of Rose Maddox (the lead singer of the family ensemble) was essential to the musical and social context of dance-hall culture and the emerging presence of female performers in Los Angeles. While Maddox engaged with and expanded upon the conventions of western swing to a specific audience of displaced whites, she moved away from the 'sweet' renderings of the singing cowgirl to develop what I term a 'roadhouse' vocality. Within the architectural space of California’s nightspots, Maddox’s vocal technique combined the use of a resonating chest voice with southern vernacular idioms in rockabilly-inflected songs like 'George’s Playhouse Boogie' (1949) and 'Pay Me Alimony' (1951). Maddox’s performances beckoned migrants in general, and women migrants in particular, to the social and physical pleasures of the dance hall, where she evoked the aural vestiges of southern culture to highlight the cultural tensions of displacement in relation to the shifting roles of gender. In doing so, Maddox carved out a performance space for honky-tonk singer Jean Shepard and the 'Queen of Rockabilly,' Wanda Jackson. Thus Maddox created sonic versions of womanhood that not only resisted gendered and class norms in the 1950s but also served as important models for female performers within the production of California country music."
Mark Clague, 25 March 2015
Mark Clague (University of Michigan) presented the lecture "'This Is America': Jimi Hendrix’s Reimaginings of the 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as Social Comment for Woodstock and Beyond"
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 30 minutes, 35 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
1:03: Introduction by Andy Leach, Director of the Library and Archives
4:31: Introduction by Jason Hanley, Director of Education & Public Programs
8:53 Mark Clague's lecture
58:18: Q&A that followed the lecture
Mark Clague describes his lecture as follows: “An act of both patriotism and protest, Jimi Hendrix’s ideology-shattering rendition of the U.S. national anthem at Woodstock in 1969 is only the best known of more than sixty Banner performances by the iconic psychedelic guitarist. Analyzing both studio takes and commercial releases, as well as surviving live-audience tapes featuring not only anthem renditions but the stage banter Hendrix used to introduce them, I propose that the dominant mythology surrounding the Woodstock Banner has distorted the understanding of what was Hendrix’s two-year fascination with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ from August 1968 until his death. Rather than a single, soaring improvisation, Hendrix’s renditions draw from a pre-composed set of sonic possibilities in which melody, form, quotation, pictorialisms, and ornament were reimagined week-to-week and night-to-night as a changing portrait of America that pictured not only national developments in the struggle for civil rights and the war in Vietnam, but local histories, happenings, and even personal details from Hendrix’s biography.
“I argue that as an ongoing process of commentary, the many Hendrix Banners move deftly between protest and patriotism. At once, Hendrix’s reconceptions show great sensitivity to Francis Scott Key’s lyrics while exploding this text to question who is American and how one should practice the art of citizenship. I reconsider the Woodstock Banner in context of Hendrix as a political commentator by comparing this singular, well-known version to dozens of lesser-known renditions that shed light on his thought and artistry. I argue that Hendrix’s Banners start as an offshoot of the eulogistic Civil War bugle call ‘Taps,’ and develop in an aesthetic of free jazz as a wide-ranging pictorial improvisation. By Woodstock, Hendrix’s Banner had coalesced as a set of compositional possibilities, offering an eloquent statement that resonated deeply with the counter-cultural energies of Woodstock as youth utopia. “Yet most fans experienced the Woodstock Banner not at the festival—which ran behind schedule such that Hendrix’s closing set did not occur until Monday morning, after most had left the muddy rain-soaked festival—but through the 1970 documentary film Woodstock, for which Hendrix’s anthem performance serves as a philosophical and musical climax. For Hendrix’s 1970 The Cry of Love tour, which followed the film’s release, his Banner renditions became increasingly calcified as an echo of Woodstock, but retained a political edge as part of an explicitly anti-war closing set, including ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘Purple Haze.’ My analysis concludes that the Woodstock Banner is an optimistic outlier—less a musical vision of dystopia than a balanced expression of democracy in action and a statement of hope toward a future America shaped by psychedelic activism.”
Samantha Bennett, 12 November 2014
Samantha Bennett (Australian National University) presented the lecture "Rock, Recording and Rebellion: Technology and Process in 1990s Record Production"
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 23 minutes, 51 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Introduction by Lauren Onkey, Vice President of Education & Public Programs
1:22 Samantha Bennett's lecture
1:01:25: Q&A that followed the lecture
Samantha Bennett describes her lecture as follows:
RRHOFM inductees Tom Dowd, Berry Gordy Jr., Les Paul, Sam Phillips and Phil Spector represent a 1950s/ 1960s ‘recordist canon’; pioneers of maverick recording methodologies responsible for shaping the sound of classic rock and roll. Their work not only forms the underpinning of rock music’s sonic characteristics, but also represents an oft-imitated body of audible stylistic, genre and aesthetic recording principles. Some of their radical, experimental and at times rebellious production techniques – Paul’s ‘Sound on Sound’, Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ and Phillips’ ‘Slap Echo’ for example, have [re]informed a continuum of established rock production standards. Reference to this ‘recordist canon’ and their groundbreaking work is documented throughout rock historiography, particularly in accomplished scholarship by Albin Zak, Mark Cunningham, David Morton and Greg Milner. These are, however, rare retrospective acknowledgements to whom Alan Williams has called ‘the man behind the curtain’.
Less acknowledged in academic discourse is the work carried out by recordists in rock production since; the 1970s and 1980s gave way to increased multitrack recording capabilities and large-scale mixing console classic rock record construction. However, the 1990s marked a significant turning point in pop and rock sound recording. At a time when computer-based DAWs were fast becoming the norm, many sound recordists of the era either rejected this new direction outright or blended technological and processual precursors into unconventional and individualized working practice[s]. Such [re]inventions of technological and processual modes of production mirror those of the 1950s/ 1960s ‘recordist canon’.
This lecture considers the role of understudied, yet key individuals responsible for shaping the sound of some of the decade's most successful popular music releases from later RRHOFM inductees. From Jim Scott and Rick Rubin’s ‘loud and mono’ treatment of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication to William Orbit's vintage analogue synthesis-laden production of Madonna's Ray of Light; from Flood and Howie B's integration of composite sample editing on U2's Pop to Steve Albini's live recording of Nirvana's In Utero. What were the maverick recording techniques and processes implemented by these recordists in order to achieve such instantly recognizable works? And to what extent is a new ‘recordist canon’ formed via 1990s rock recordings? Giving long overdue recognition to the contemporary sound recordist, this lecture illuminates the technologies and processes implemented by rock music’s concealed sonic orchestrators.
Christopher Doll, 26 March 2014
Christopher Doll (Rutgers University) presented the lecture "Nuclear Holocaust, the Kennedy Assassination, and 'Louie Louie': The Unlikely History of Sixties Rock and Roll"
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 22 minutes, 31 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Andy Leach, Director of Library and Archives
0:25: Introduction: Jason Hanley, Director of Education
4:54: Christopher Doll's lecture
1:11:16: Q&A that followed the lecture
Christopher Doll describes his lecture as follows: "In narratives of American popular-music history, the song 'Louie Louie' is usually depicted (to the extent it surfaces at all) as a minor, and ultimately ephemeral, controversy: a song that initially raised eyebrows and lowered standards but that was quickly forgotten in the wake of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and other more substantive, 'classic' sixties artists. My talk will reposition 'Louie Louie' as a major turning point in the history of Anglo-American popular-music style—a unique combination of past and contemporary practices, one that anticipated some significant formal aspects of the music that would follow. An abundance of musical examples will illustrate this talk’s exploration of the relationship between sixties socio-political events and youth music, the impact of Latin music in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, the history of melodic-accompanimental textures since the advent of jazz, and the eventual global ubiquity of songs built around short loops of music."
Loren Kajikawa, 25 September 2013
Loren Kajikawa (University of Oregon) presented the lecture “Before Rap: DJs, MCs, and Pre-1979 Hip Hop Performances.”
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 33 minutes, 48 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Opening recording
2:40: Introduction: Jason Hanley, Director of Education
7:55: Welcome: Greg Harris, President and Chief Executive Officer
10:38: Introduction to the lecture: Susan McCLary, Professor of Music, Case Western Reserve University
13:50: Loren Kajikawa's lecture
1:11:40: Q&A that followed the lecture
Loren Kajikawa describes his talk as follows: “‘Rapper’s Delight,’ the multi-platinum single that propelled The Sugarhill Gang into the national spotlight late in 1979, effectively launched a new genre called ‘rap music.’ For those at the center of New York’s hip hop scene, however, the sudden rise of The Sugarhill Gang—a group that had never performed together live until after they had a hit record—came as a shock. The group’s many critics have emphasized their lack of credibility as live performers, their stealing of other MCs’ rhymes, and the way their hit song emphasized the MC at the expense of the DJ. Yet this focus on the inauthenticity of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ has shielded from view a profound shift in form that accompanied hip hop’s translation from live performance to recorded rap. “Fortunately, the world of hip-hop music before ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is not completely lost to us. In addition to oral histories and autobiographies describing the era, a trove of pre-1979 bootleg recordings provides us with valuable documentation of this bygone era. My lecture focuses on two of the best preserved of these tapes, featuring RRHOFM inductees DJ Grandmaster Flash and The 4 MCs (before they added Rahiem and became the Furious Five). I rely on close listening and an original approach to transcription that highlights the expressive practices and artistic priorities of hip hop’s first DJs and MCs. Although we hear something that resembles later music—namely MCs rapping over beats—these recordings feature a sense of musical spontaneity that distinguishes them from later studio-produced music. By paying closer attention to pre-1979 hip hop on its own terms, I seek a greater understanding and appreciation for the work of pioneering DJs and MCs, and I hope to demonstrate how formal analysis and questions related to historical performance practice can serve to generate new knowledge in popular music research.”
Andrew Flory, 5 December 2012
Andrew Flory (Carleton College) presented the lecture "Reissuing Marvin: Musicology and the Modern Expanded Edition."
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 40 minutes, 8 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Opening remarks: Jason Hanley, Director of Education
4:38: Introduction to the lecture: Lauren Onkey, Vice President of Education and Public Programs
8:52: Andrew Flory's lecture
56:43: Q&A that followed the lecture
Andrew Flory describes his talk as follows: "I will consider the role of the musicologist as reissue producer. Several years ago I was approached by Universal Music to provide musicological assistance with a reissue of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man, an album closely related to a 1972 Blaxploitation film soundtrack composed by Gaye. The process of completing this work gave me a fascinating glimpse into the world of the modern reissue producer, a rarely-discussed agent responsible for creating historical documents of past releases for the modern marketplace. On the one hand, access to multi-track master tapes and corporate documentation during the production process for the Gaye album gave me an unparalleled sense of the process used to construct this historic album. Yet, continuing issues of access, proprietary interests, and concerns related to the modern marketplace all mediated the process. Using my experience with this project as a launching point, I will consider the role of the musicologist within the business of popular music within larger discussion of the public humanities. In the spirit of this historic series of collaborative lectures sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the AMS, I will argue that archival materials pertaining to popular music can provide an especially compelling link between academics and the music business. In the end, I will offer reflections on what academics might offer an industry that is increasingly focused on the past, while also considering how the musicological community may benefit from deeper connections with corporate entities that control often-proprietary resources."
David Brackett, 25 April 2012
David Brackett (McGill University) presented the lecture "Fox-Trots, Hillbillies, and the Classic Blues: Categorizing Popular Music in the 1920s."
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 30 minutes, 54 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Opening remarks: Jason Hanley, Director of Education
3:20: Welcome by Terry Stewart, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
7:43: Introduction to the lecture: Jason Hanley
12:23: David Brackett's lecture
1:14:45: Q&A that followed the lecture
Brackett describes his lecture as follows: "From radio formats and record store bins to the graphic interface for iTunes and the way musicians and fans talk about music, categories play a central role in the production and consumption of popular music. Many of these categories—for example, R&B and country—connote a demographic group usually assumed to be the primary audience for that type of music. My talk will explore the relationship between categories of music and people in popular music by focusing on the 1920s, the period that saw the establishment of the three main categories for popular music that have subsequently dominated the U.S. popular music industry in one form or another. These categories, known as 'popular,' 'race,' and 'old time tunes' at the time, implied a connection between an audience and a type of music: middle-class, bourgeois, urban, northern, and white for popular; African American for race; and southern, rural, working-class, white for hillbilly. Yet the use of these categories, then and now, highlights numerous contradictions, foremost of which is their inconsistency in musical terms, as many recordings/songs that are similar musically are classified differently. Furthermore, the audiences for a given category often do not match its demographic connotations, and members of a given demographic group often have divergent musical tastes. In other words, categories of music (and people, for that matter) are neither true nor false, but rather 'ideological' in that they speak to a shared, tacit understanding of which, and how, these differences are meaningful.
“My discussion of this period will compare recordings at the boundaries of categories, such as those by Marion Harris—a singer singled out by W. C. Handy as the only white musician who understood the blues—with those by African American artists, such as Mamie Smith, who helped establish the then new category of race music. This analysis has implications for our current understanding of the fluid nature of popular music categories, and emphasizes how the etching of their boundaries is related to musical sound and technological developments as well as to the circulation of discourses about music and identity."
Albin Zak, 5 October 2011
Albin J. Zak III, Professor of Music at the State University of New York, Albany, gave the inaugural lecture, "'A Thoroughly Bad Record': Elvis Presley’s 'Hound Dog' as Rock and Roll Manifesto."
Zak describes his lecture as follows: "The pop music upheavals of the 1950s were fraught with crosscurrents and paradoxes. As fundamental changes in musical sound and language accrued rapidly, their significance was masked by a veneer of trivia. It was impossible for anyone at the time to imagine the long-range implications of what was happening. In retrospect, however, we can recognize defining moments of crystallization. This talk examines the implications of the market success of Elvis Presley’s 'Hound Dog,' which claimed the number-one spot on the Pop, Country, and R&B charts in the summer of 1956. The record was widely scorned by music industry veterans and high-pop aficionados, yet in its rude enthusiasm it represents an emphatic assertion of aesthetic principle at the dawn of rock and roll."
Timeline: The video is 1 hour, 25 minutes, 40 seconds long. Contents are as follows:
0:00: Opening remarks: Terry Stewart, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
2:39: Introduction to the RRHOFM Education Department: Jason Hanley, Director of Education
7:43: Introduction to the lecture: Rob Walser, Professor of musicology, Case Western Reserve University
12:37: Albin Zak's lecture
1:01:03: Q&A that followed the lecture