Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the movie trailer for Pirate Radio.
First Question: Who put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll? Well, of course, Bo Diddley did (okay, okay others too). That’s his story anyway and who would deny his input. Certainly not I. Not when you listen to Who Do You Love? or Bo Diddley(the song). But there is more. I have gone on and on about the formative influences of the jail-break music of my generation, the generation of ’68. The blues as they headed north up the Mississippi (and other rivers) and got electrified in Chicago, Detroit and other migratory Midwest black enclaves. The blue after a while, post-World War II after a while, getting a little jazz-influenced and more sophisticated as the blue milieu settled in its northern climes and got be-bop R&B along the way. And, of course, down other southern rivers a bunch white good old boys (in the making anyway) making hillbilly music jump, electric Les Paul jump, a notch with rockabilly. Guys like Carl Perkins, Elvis and Jerry Lee. Mix that all together with Ms. Patti Page, Mr. Bing Crosby (oops, forgot these last two names) and I don’t know about you but that spells jail-break, 1950s jail-break to me.
Second Question: Who brought rock ‘n’ roll to your double-locked secret security code armed camp bedroom, hideaway dank cellar, pressed for space storage-filled garage, or other secret ear place back in old time battery-operated transistor radio days (pre-iPod, MP3 alright) ? Well, of course, your local dee-jay (DJ, if you insist) who helped you while away your night, your dream-plagued rock ‘n’ roll night, with his (mainly hes) mile-a-minute-banter, selection of platters (records, 45s and LPs, pre-CD, DVD, iTunes, YouTube, you’ve heard about them, right?), and, yes, selected advertising targeted to the newly enriched (maybe) teenager with disposable dollars.
Disposable income to while away the date nights at double feature stale popcorn drive-in movies, fatted hamburger, fries and soda drive-in restaurants, and drive-into town to the get the very latest 45 and LP platters (records).
The pantheon airways of hallowed such names as Allan Freed, Wolfman Jack, Murry the K, and Arnie Ginsberg come quickly to mind. The best of the lot though came out of the midnight, the Sunday midnight air, of Chicago with Mr. Magic Bill’s (don’t forget the mister part when you address him, he didn’t) Blues Hour where despite its name (and origin) had all the cutting edge stuff before it became cutting edge stuff like Irma Thomas, Etta James, Francie Knight, and the early Platters. Although the music, praise be, outlasted the careers and remembrance of that lot of dee-jays (including Mr. Magic Bill) this classic rock period has always been associated in my mind (and yours too, I bet) with that very dee-jay transistor radio night.
But what about when rock headed overseas, over to the homeland (okay, okay homeland for some of us, the British Isles). That my friends, was a very different experience, rock British version.
In many ways the British 1960s rock explosion paralleled the American classic rock scene, although later than that genre’s American 1950s heyday. The greatest difference, however, was the way that British audiences heard their rock- literally through the pirate radio. Off-shore, out in the ocean depths, white waves splashing against some barnacled old tub of a ship, rock radio. Without getting into the ins and outs of British broadcasting traditions the battle, the age-old battle really, here was between those who wanted to listen to rock and not just in that double-locked bedroom mentioned above, and those nasty governmental officials and their hangers-on who wanted to outlaw it by shutting down this uncontrolled method. Sound familiar?
That battle drove British teens wild to an almost bizarre ends (by today’s cyberspace ease of listening to any damn thing you want, whenever you want , or what somebody decides to put on standards). But get this those British dee-jays like their American counterparts were a bunch of guys (mainly, again) who loved to play rock, who loved to present it in their own fashion, and who wanted the fame, fortune (and, incidental sex) that came with heroic dee-jay-dom out on the briny.
One motley crew (not the group) was I heard ready to go down with the ship, literally, in order to keep rock freedom alive when the authorities pulled the hammer. Of course there were, like American radio with its bongs, gongs and dongs, more than a few gag shows (although British gag, a la Monty Python) provided on air that were better left unmentioned. But there were plenty of drugs, sex, and rock and roll on the high seas. Jesus. You might ask what was wrong with that. Ah, come to think about what was wrong with that? The culture police are listening, or at least your disapproving parents.
One famous dee-jay, the Count, the only American in the lot from what I understand, was allegedly a real wild man. But think about this whole mix of radio personalities, American and British, beaming our music in the good midnight air or out in the seas rock night, late night, early morning and so on. So, here is the drill. Bo (and, yes, others) put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll but the Count and the boys put the bop in the be-bop pirate radio night.