Elvis Presley, flush with cash from bringing rock and roll to the mainstream, bought himself a house today in 1957. The 23-room colonial-revival style mansion had been built in 1939 by a doctor on 14 acres of land 9 miles from downtown Memphis Tennessee, less than 4 miles North of the Mississippi border, but had been named “Graceland” in honor of Grace Toof, the daughter of the Memphis printer who’d first built a farm there. Elvis would live there until he died in his bathroom in 1977, the mansion would be opened to the public in ’83, and Graceland is now the 3rd most visited “private residence” in America, behind the White House and the 250-room Biltmore Estate, the gilded-age faux-european palace built by George Washington Vanderbilt II.
The Beatles were at Abbey Road studios today in 1967 working on a true Lennon/McCartney collaboration they’d written after reading a newspaper article about a young girl who’d left home and not been found. She’s Leaving Home is one of only a few Beatle songs none of them played instruments on, and the Mike Leander directed small orchestra included harpist Sheila Bromberg, who became the first woman to play on a Beatles album.
Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show peaked at #6 on the U.S. Charts today in 1973 with the Shel Silverstein written (he’s even more famous as a children’s author, but also wrote the Johnny Cash hit A Boy Named Sue) song The Cover of the Rolling Stone. The song would actually get them on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine later that month, but in England it was banned by the BBC, not for it’s sex-and-drug references or even making fun of The Beatles and their “genuine Indian guru”, but because it was considered an “advert” for a commercial publication. The band would re-record the vocals for a Brit version, dumping “Rolling Stone” for the name of the BBC’s own weekly The Radio Times, but somehow it didn’t catch on there.
John Genzale Jr., who played under the stage name Johnny Thunders he’d taken from a Kinks song, had all but invented “punk” and “glam” rock with his band The New York Dolls 5 years earlier, played the first show with his new band The Heartbreakers at New York’s CBGB nightclub tonight in 1976, completely unaware that Tom Petty, from Gainseville Florida was in Los Angeles starting a band with the same name. Thunders was a notorious heroin addict, a fact quite apparent at his solo show 5 years later at Seattle’s Mountaineers hall that ended in a punch-up between the band and visiting spit-punks from Vancouver B.C. after three songs.
U2 won a Guinness-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day talent contest in Limerick, Ireland today in 1978, getting a check for £500 (about $850) and studio time to record an audition for CBS records Irish division.
Van Halen were at #1 on the U.S. charts today in 1984 with a song David Lee Roth had written after seeing a TV news report of a man about to take his own life, Jump.
Family, Traffic, and Blind Faith bass player Ric Grech died of alcohol-related organ failure at age 43 today in 1990.
The Kinks frontman, principal songwriter, and rhythm guitarist Ray Davies was at Buckingham Palace today in 2004 being made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. A week later he was in New Orleans with a girlfriend when he was shot in the leg trying to chase down a purse-snatcher.
Manchester England band The Smiths had been huge at home but completely ignored by American rock radio in the 80’s until they broke up in ’87 over guitarist Johnny Marr’s disgust at singer Morrisey’s insistence that the band cover songs by The Beatles friend and former Cavern Club coat-check girl Cilla Black. But largely through word of mouth and college radio airplay they’d become big enough that today in 2006 they were offered $5 million to reform and play the massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival the the California desert town of Indio. Morrisey had gone on to a somewhat successful solo career, and Marr had worked with many other bands including The Pretenders, The Talking Heads, Brian Ferry, Beck, and Issaquah’s Modest Mouse, and they still hated each other and turned it down.
Ola Brunkert, drummer for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted disco-pop band ABBA was found dead with his throat cut today in 2008, but no foul play was suspected. He’d accidentally fallen through a glass door in his house, and died in the garden trying to seek help. He was 62, and missed the band’s controversial induction by two years minus one day.
Alex Chilton, who’d had a hit as a teenager with The Boxtops The Letter, then formed the never-as-popular-as-they-were-influential band Big Star in the 70’s, died of a heart attack at age 59 in his hometown of New Orleans (where he’d become good friends with Ray Davies of The Kinks while he was living there) today in 2010. Alex was scheduled to play a Big Star reunion show at the SXSW music festival in Austin, with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of Seattle band The Posies standing in for deceased members Chris Bell and Andy Hummel. The show went on as an impromptu tribute to Alex.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
The Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner would be 75 if he hadn’t passed last January 28th, the same day Grace Slick’s predecessor-singer, the Seattle-born Signe Toly Anderson died at the same age.
The Lovin’ Spoonful singer, guitarist, and harmonica player John Sebastian is 72. His band broke up in ’67 following a San Francisco pot bust in which he was forced to reveal the name of his dealer in a plea-bargain deal that kept him out of prison but alienated fans and band-mates alike. He would later be a sought-after session harmonica player who worked with The Doors and Crosby Stills and Nash, and have a #1 hit in ’76 with the theme song to TV’s Welcome Back Kotter.
Pat McCauley, organist and drummer for Van Morrison’s Them is 72.
Harold Brown, founding drummer and vocalist for War, is 70.
Guitarist Scott Gorham is 65. From the Los Angeles area, he moved to England in ’73 at the urging of his brother-in-law, who at the time was playing drums for Supertramp. He didn’t make it into that band, but did land a spot as part of Thin Lizzy’s two-guitar attack during their most popular period.