Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Fort Worth’s Rock and Roll Roots” by Mark A. Nobles (Arcadia)

This small book literally takes a look at one of the less-heralded popular-music scenes in urban Texas during the 1960’s. “Fort Worth’s Rock and Roll Roots” is, like most of the attractively packaged and always informative local-history books issued by Arcadia Publishing, a pictorial history with background text wehich results in some pretty interesting and instructive perusing.

“Fort Worth’s Rock and Roll Roots” is an examination of the rock scene which emerged in “Cowtown” in the mid-to-late 1960’s, in the wake of the British Invasion and the burgeoning youth culture it engendered. It attempts to look at this phenomenon primarily from two, by no means mutually exclusive perspectives - those of the musicians and the fans (many of whom would go on to become musicians). We also get to glimpse inside a few key venues and look at some fascinating ephemeral material culture as well.

I find the title of the book to be a little ambiguous. Surely, the emergence of bands such as ThElite, the Novas (not to be confused with the Minneapolis band of the same era who recorded the cult classic “The Crusher”, or with the Oregon band of the same name and timeframe), the Excels, the Barons (whose guitarist, John Nitzinger, would become one of the more prominent alumni of the Fort Worth scene, with major-label solo albums in the 1970’s, plus recordings with Carl Palmer and Alice Cooper), Larry and the Blue Notes, to name a few of the best-known local combos, was a flowering of the Fort Worth scene, rather than the “roots” of it. The true roots of rock’n’roll in Fort Worth - as the book freely acknowledges - included Western Swing pioneers such as Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies, local blues and country bands, r&b singer-guitarist Ray Sharpe (still active over a half-century after his national hit “Linda Lu”) and the briefly-famous Bruce Channel, whose “Hey Baby”, with harmonica player Delbert McClinton, was an acknowledged influence on the Beatles. Oddly, the roots chapter - which is quite nicely done - comes at the end of the book, not in the chronologically-expected beginning.

This quibble aside, the book is a fascinating glimpse at an enthusiastically youthful music scene which in some ways was very typical of similar scenes throughout America in the fast-moving pre-psychedelic mid-1960’s. The names and details would, of course, be different from place to place, but the attitudes, the hair, the clothes, the school hops and a-go-gos (we’d just call them “teen dances” in my northern hometown), the t.v. dance parties, and the great bulk of other elements chronicled here were much the same in many small towns and cities alike. It was an era when bands could experiment with original material and personal styles in public, when local bands were embraced by local media, when fan clubs were not just for teen idols, when bands could play for all ages in different settings (even bars and nightclubs if they were careful), when touring was difficult, but putting together sound and light equipment was easy. So much of what is outlined here will be familiar in principle to those of us who were teenagers in the mid-60’s, yet so much of it represents a bygone era, it might well astound readers too young to remember this more informal time.

The photographs which dominate the book tell the story at least as well as words could. Many of the pictures were supplied by the band members themselves. Many musicians and other participants likewise share reminiscences, though I can’t but think there’s a full-length textual book waiting to be written, more stories to be recounted. One hopes that will come eventually. Indeed, now that so many figures from rock’n’roll’s past have been writing autobiographies, the historical as well as anecdotal documentation of local scenes in many more cities would seem to be the next fertile ground for music-book publishers to begin covering.

I hope Arcadia will continue to make available local-scene pictorial histories similar to this one. While the primary audience for this offering will no doubt be nostalgic 60’s rockers living in Fort Worth, I’m entirely convinced that both historians and fans from anywhere will find much to identify with and enjoy in this book.


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