We Built This Country on Rock ‘N’ Roll
April 9, 2012 | Permalink
The sentiment expressed in the iconic Starship song “We Built This City (On Rock ’n’ Roll)” is not just descriptive of a city. It is, culturally speaking, descriptive of the whole country. There was nothing more formative for the baby-boom generation, and there is nothing more foundational for today’s popular music. It is not an exaggeration to say that rock and roll is as important for western culture as democracy is for the western ethos. Seeing where rock and roll was created, then, is a way for the Road Warrior to discover America all over again. So let’s hop in the car and check out three of America’s bedrock cities of rock: Cleveland, Memphis and Chicago!
The Birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll
Cleveland is called the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll because Alan Freed, who coined the term, started the country’s first all rock ‘n’ roll radio program there. Also, on March 21, 1952, Freed hosted the first ever rock ‘n’ roll show (called the Moondog Coronation Ball) in Cleveland.
The main attraction in the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll is, of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A good time to visit is during the two weeks of events leading up to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony: March 31-April 14. The Moondog Coronation Ball’s 60th anniversary concert, featuring Credence Clearwater Revisited, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkeys, and Lance Freed (Alan’s son!), kicks things off on the 31st. On April 14, the day of the ceremony, admission to the Hall of Fame is free!
The Sun Sound
Elvis Presley is synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll. Before he was the king, though, he got his start recording for Sam Phillips in his Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, Sun Studio is a museum dedicated to Sun Records’ substantial contribution to early rock ‘n’ roll. You will be surprised at how small the studio that Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins recorded in is. Phillips’ liberal use of an echo effect makes it sound much more spacious on record than it actually is. The Sun Studio tour is brief (about forty-five minutes). You can easily hit Sun and Graceland (Elvis’ legendry, opulent home) in one day. There is a free shuttle that runs between the two attractions.
Chess Records: From Urban Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll
Chicago’s Chess Records released many blues records in the early fifties that would be an influence on many of the 60’s British Invasion bands, like the Rolling Stones (who titled a song on their second album, 12 X 5, “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” which is Chess Studios’ address). After the popularity of Chicago blues fell off in the mid-fifties, Chess invested heavily in the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll sound, releasing key records by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.
2120 South Michigan Avenue is now owned by Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. There is a lot of memorabilia from Chess Records’ 50’s and 60’s recording artists on display, and the building has been very nicely renovated to its original state.
Even Rockers Need to Relax
After you’ve spent the day exploring our country’s rich musical heritage, you’ll need a place to take it easy and talk about all the things you’ve seen and heard. You’ll want more than just a place to flop down. There are a number of Extended Stay Hotels within driving distance of Chicago and Cleveland, and there is one right in Memphis! These hotels, which have kitchens, laundry facilities and free Wi-Fi, are perfect places to set up a home away from home. So what are you waiting for? Hop in the car, and rock and roll!
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