While my music history series is an irregular feature, this time, I did not want to wait for another 10 weeks before putting together the next installment. Plus, May 4 turned out to be a date I had not covered yet. As always, this content reflects my music taste and is not meant to present a full accounting of events.
1956: Rockabilly and early rock & roll pioneer Gene Vincent recorded what would become his signature song at Owen Bradley’s studio in Memphis, Tenn.: Be-Bop-a-Lula. Vincent wrote the music in 1955 at US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va. while recuperating from a motorcycle accident. The song is also credited to his manager Bill “Sheriff Tex” Davis who claimed he wrote it together with Vincent. Another version is the lyrics were penned by Donald Graves who Vincent met at the hospital and Davis subsequently bought out his rights to the tune. To make things even more confusing, in yet another version, Vincent maintained he came up with the tune’s words, which were inspired by a comic strip called Little Lulu. What is undisputed is that once released in June 1956, Be-Bop-a-Lula became Vincent’s biggest hit in both the U.S. and the UK, peaking at no. 7 and no. 16, respectively.
1967: The Young Rascals (who later became known as just The Rascals) reached the top of the U.S. pop charts with Groovin’, the title track of their third studio album released in July of the same year. The tune was co-written by band members Felix Cavaliere (lead and backing vocals, keyboards) and Eddie Brigati (backing and lead vocals, percussion). Gene Cornish (guitar, harmonica, backing and lead vocals, bass) and Dino Danelli (drums) completed the group who were still in their original lineup. Groovin’, their second big hit after Good Lovin’ (February 1965), reflected Cavaliere’s newfound interest in Afro-Cuban music. The tune featured a conga and a Cuban-influenced bassline played by prominent session musician Chuck Rainey, one of the most recorded bass players who also worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and Quincy Jones. Groovin’ also became The Young Rascals’ highest-charting single in the UK (no. 8) and Australia (no. 3).
1970: A peace rally at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio against the U.S. incursion into Cambodia ended in what became known as the May 4 massacre or the Kent State massacre. After more than 300 students had gathered on campus to protest the expansion of the Vietnam war, 28 National Guard soldiers emerged and fired tear gas at the crowd, followed by about 67 rounds of bullets over 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. Unbeknownst to the protesters, Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes had stationed the National Guard on campus and declared martial law, superseding First Amendment rights and making any assembly illegal. Among the protesters was Jerry Casale who subsequently became a co-founder of the band Devo. Another student who was there that day decided to drop out of school, work as a waitress for a while and eventually head to England to form a rock band. Her name: Chrissie Hynde, of the Pretenders. But the most immediate outcome of the May 4 massacre was the song Ohio, written by Neil Young, and released as a single by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the wake of the shooting.
1987: Prominent blues harmonica player and vocalist Paul Butterfield, best known as the founder and leader of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, died from a drug overdose in his Los Angeles apartment at age 44. Butterfield formed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963. Between 1965 and 1971, they released a series of studio and live albums. After their breakup in 1971, Butterfield formed a new group, the short-lived Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, who put out two albums. Afterward, Butterfield launched a solo career. In 1986, he released his final studio album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again, an unsuccessful comeback attempt with an updated rock sound. Butterfield’s physical and financial condition started to deteriorate in the early ’80s after he became addicted to heroin, a possible attempt to ease symptoms from serious and painful intestinal inflammation. Here’s Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s rendition of Robert Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues, off their sophomore album East-West, featuring guitarist Mike Bloomfield.
1991: Texas Governor Ann Richards declared ZZ Top day in the Lone Star State. According to an article in the Deseret News, which weirdly is a Utah paper, Richards led a Capitol ceremony honoring the Houston-based rock band, which ended its 120-city “Recycler” tour in Austin Friday.”You’ve heard me talk an awful lot about how proud Texas is of its music industry,” Richards said. “I can’t think of a group better than ZZ Top.” While setlist.fm doesn’t include ZZ Top’s above-noted May 3, 1991 Austin gig, it lists their show in Lubbock, Texas the night before – close enough! Here’s one of the tunes they played, Concrete and Steel, the opener of Recycler, their 10th studio album released in October 1990 – sounds like it was inspired by Sharp Dressed Man.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music Calendar; This Day In Music; Deseret News; Setlist.fm; YouTube