At his best, Lou Reed was to rock music what Jean Genet was to literature - a chronicler of an unsavory, lubricious underworld who compelled us to see beauty and grace in the dissipated and disturbing.
James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford didn't take up the guitar until he was 58, when his fifth wife ran off for good, giving him the instrument as a parting gift. As the story goes, the native Mississippian stayed up that whole night, drinking moonshine to dull his heartache as he started teaching himself how how to play the blues. When he got the hang of it, it sounded like this:
Hal Schaefer was an accomplished pianist, composer of movie scores and vocal coach to Hollywood stars - so multitalented, in fact, that he not only arranged the rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" for the classic 1953 Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes but also coached Monroe into giving a scintillating performance of the song.
A 1954 cover story in Time magazine described Dave Brubeck as "a wigging cat with a far-out wail," in a cringe-worthy attempt to approximate the hep lingo of the jazz aficionados who crowded into his performances in the smoky bohemian nightclubs of the day. But audiences flocked to see Brubeck at Carnegie Hall and other highbrow settings, too.
The famed rock critic Dave Marsh once called Mickey Baker "the first great rock and roll guitarist." While that might offend fans of such better-known stars as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, there's a certain amount of truth to the hype. In the 1950s, Baker was a sought-after studio musician, playing on R&B records such as the Drifters' "Money Honey," Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," and Big Maybelle's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On," and his aggressive, riveting solos influenced generations of rock bands.
Back in the mid-1950s, if you walked down the street in just about any urban neighborhood, you might have encountered at least one group of young men sitting on a stoop, harmonizing as they belted out some ode to the joys of romance or the heartbreak that resulted when it went wrong.
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