Billy Joel Gets Early Start At 14, Zeppelin And Lennon Release Rock And Roll: This Day In Classic Rock [Videos]

“The Killer”, rockabilly piano-basher Jerry Lee Lewis married his first wife today in 1952, in what was rumored to be a “shotgun wedding” to a preacher’s daughter. Jerry was just 16, Dorothy Barton was 17. It would last all of 20 months. Jerry has been married 7 times, most famously to his third wife and first cousin-once-removed Myra Gaye Brown, who was just 13 when Jerry was 22. When a British journalist uncovered the fact in an interview when he arrived at Heathrow airport in London, the uproar caused his first tour there to be cancelled after only three shows.

The Beatles played three shows in Liverpool today in 1961: A lunchtime gig at the Cavern Club, an early show at the Cassanova Club, and then again later that night at the Litherland Town Hall. Far from being an overnight success, they worked their butts off for years before becoming the biggest band in the world.

A British Invasion cover band called The Echoes added a 14-year-old piano player today in 1964, who’d been smitten by The Beatles when he saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show a few weeks earlier, by the name of Billy Joel.

Elvis Presley began filming his 22nd feature film today in 1966, with Shelly Fabares as his leading lady. Spinout featured The King of Rock and Roll as a race car driver. America was in love with car racing in ’66, with one of the biggest movies of the year being John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, and it was the year the Japanese animé Speed Racer came to television. The leading lady in his last feature film in 1969, the recently late Mary Tyler Moore,  said after his death that Elvis had sex with all of his movie co-stars except one, adding “What was I thinking? I could have slept with Elvis!” Promotional posters for the movie showed Elvis playing a double-necked Gibson EDS-1275 guitar almost 10 years before it was made famous by Jimmy Page.

Pink Floyd were at EMI’s studios in London (later to take the name of the street it’s on Abbey Road, thanks to The Beatles) today in 1967, starting work on their first full album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Drummer Nick Mason later recalled the sessions to be trouble-free, but producer Norman Smith, who had engineered for George Martin and The Beatles there disagreed, saying Syd Barrett was unresponsive to his suggestions and constructive criticism. The album would be released in August, and by December Syd’s increasingly erratic behavior would lead them to add guitarist David Gilmore, and Syd would leave the band in March of ’68.

Led Zeppelin released the song Rock and Roll as a single in the U.S. today in 1972, something their manager Peter Grant had not allowed them to do in single-happy Britain as he wanted fans there to buy full albums. The song had come out of a spontaneous jam session,  when they recorded the single’s B-side Four Sticks. John Bonham played the opening riff to Little Richard’s You Keep A Knockin’, Jimmy Page came up with a guitar riff, Robert Plant made up some lyrics on the spot, and the whole thing was done in about 15 minutes.

John Lennon released an album called Rock-N-Roll today in 1975, a collection of cover songs produced by Phil Spector. John had been sued for lifting the line “Here come old flat top” from Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me for The Beatles Come Together, and the out-of-court settlement required John to record, release an album, and pay royalties for more 50’s rock and roll standards whose rights were owned by the same publishing company. Many of those songs had been covered by The Beatles in their Hamburg days. America was in the midst of a 50’s nostalgia craze after the movie American Graffiti and the hit TV show Happy Days, which John had visited the set of while living in Los Angeles during his separation from Yoko Ono. It would be his last album for 5 years, when Double Fantasy would come out just three weeks before his murder.

Influential New York disc jockey Murray “The K” Kaufman, and early supporter and friend of The Beatles, died of cancer today in 1982 at age 60.

Metallica released their third, and what many fans would say is their best studio album Master of Puppets in England today in 1986, while we’d have to wait a week here in America. They’d started working on it in September and finished two days after Christmas, finally settling after visiting every recording studio in Los Angeles on one in drummer Lars Ulrich’s native Copenhagen Denmark. The choice would eventually launch hundreds of Scandinavian Thrash-Metal bands, but this one would be the first of a genre they all but invented to crack the Billboard charts, be certified internationally multi-platinum by the RIAA, and in 2016 deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” enough to be put in the Library of Congress Recording Registry. Sadly it would be their last with bass player Cliff Burton, who was killed when their tour bus crashed in Sweden in September.

Bruce Springsteen played with a re-formed E-Street Band for the first time in 7 years tonight in 1995, at a New York City nightclub. The performance was arranged to be filmed as part of Jonathan Demme’s movie Murder Incorporated.

Rock and Roll Birthdays

Record mogul David Geffen is 74. He started out in the mailroom at The William Morris Agency and eventually founded the Asylum, Geffen, and DGC record labels that had huge success with acts like Crosby Stills and Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Guns and Roses, Sonic Youth, and Seattle’s Nirvana to name but a few. He also started the Dreamworks SKG film company with friends Steven Speilberg and Jeffery Katzenberg, and is worth an estimated 5.6 billion dollars.

The Talking Heads keyboard player Jerry Harrison is 68. He also played guitar in Jonathan Richman’s Boston band The Modern Lovers, whose song Roadrunner was the focus of an effort to make it the state song of Massachusetts, much the same way Almost Live host Ross Shafer tried to make Louie Louie the state song here. (See related story here.)

The Tubes and Grateful Dead keyboard player Vince Welnick would be 66. He took his own life in 2006 at the end of a long battle with depression.

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