Monday, September 30, 2019

The Met's "Play It Loud!"

I saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll yesterday, two days before its closure on Tuesday, October 1. There was a very long line, as the galleries were packed and people were being allowed in five or six at a time. The first instrument on display, at the exhibition's entrance, was the Gibson ES-350T hollow bodied electric guitar (photo above) that was owned by Chuck Berry. Giving this instrument pride of place was appropriate as, although Chuck Berry didn't invent rock and roll, he probably had more influence on its development than any other artist.


The video clip above shows Berry in live performance in 1958, doing "Johnny B. Goode," probably his best known song, which George Thorogood called "the rock and roll national anthem." It also shows him doing his famous "duck walk."

The first gallery displayed instruments by some of rock's pioneers and early stars. The Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone above was owned and played by Louis Jordan, whose "jump blues" style is considered an important precursor of rock.

This video shows Jordan, age about 58, performing "Saturday Night Fish Fry" on TV in 1966. Note the go-go dancers.

Another genre that had profound influence on rock was the electric blues that, from the late 1940s on, evolved in Chicago from the acoustic blues of the Mississippi Delta. The Fender Telecaster guitar shown above, called "The Hoss," belonged to one of the greatest exponents of this style, McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters.


The video above shows Muddy doing "I'm a King Bee" at ChicagoFest 1981.

Bo Diddley was another very influential artist in early rock. He popularized the "hambone" or "shave-and-a-hair-cut, two bits" rhythm found in the work of many who followed him. I'd long wondered why he often played rectangular guitars like this one, which he called the "Twang Machine," and which was custom made for him by the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company of (Yay!) Brooklyn. According to the text accompanying this display, Bo "built his first guitar from a rectangular piece of wood fitted with a pickup made from Victrola turntable parts."

 
The video above is of Bo doing "Who Do You Love" at the Sevilla Expo '92 with Steve Cropper, Dave Edmonds, and others. This song has been covered many times by, among others, the Doors, the Blues Project, Tom Rush, Quicksilver Messenger Service. George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and Elise LeGrow.

Early rock wasn't an all male show. Wanda Jackson, who played this customized Martin D-18 acoustic guitar, was called the "Queen of Rockabilly."


Here's Wanda doing "I Gotta Know" on the Marty Stuart show. The song, written by Thelma Blackmon, was recorded in 1956. It starts slowly and mournfully, but quickly gets wild.

This "baby grand" piano, painted gold, was the home piano of Jerry Lee Lewis. I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Jerry Lee in the fall of 1979 at the Lorelei, a former German beer and dance hall on East 86th Street in Manhattan that someone had bought and turned into a Country and Western venue (this was during the "urban cowboy" craze). Jerry Lee, being a "rockabilly" artist, was considered appropriate for this setting. Indeed, he was preceded that evening by Otis Blackwell, an R&B artist and  prolific songwriter whose works were recorded by Elvis Presley and others. The hall's owner hadn't touched the decor; seeing Jerry Lee pumping his piano under posters of Mad King Ludwig's Bavarian castles was close to psychedelia.

 
Above is Jerry Lee doing "Meatman" at Church Street Station, Orlando (date not specified).


The gallery with instruments of pioneer and early rockers was relatively uncrowded, but those of later stars, such as the Beatles, Stones, Prince, and Joan Jett, were so tightly packed that it was difficult to get good photo shots. Above are some art nouveau style posters for shows during the "Summer of Love" psychedelic rock period. I did manage to get shots of a few instruments I considered significant, below.
I've long loved the look of the Gibson "Flying V" guitar. This one was played by one of my favorite artists, Neil Young, although his "furious and melodic sound is most often created with another Gibson guitar, his modified 1953 Les Paul."


Here's Neil, making the most of that Les Paul in a live performance in Berlin in 1982 of my favorite song of his, "Like a Hurricane." The video is 14:24, but he finishes the song at about 8:20, and the rest is highlights repeated.

I'm glad I got to see this exhibition, but sad I didn't see it in time to tell others how great it was. At least I can share some of it with those of you who didn't, or couldn't, see it.





No comments:

Post a Comment