HOW ROCK (ALMOST) DIED WHILE ELVIS WAS IN THE ARMY
When asked to reflect on Elvis’ passing, John Lennon famously said, “Elvis died in the army.” When Elvis entered the Army in 1958 rock and roll was viewed as the soundtrack to rebellious youth. Churches organized public burnings of records, riots happened in nearly every town Presley and his fellow pioneers went. But when Elvis was discharged in 1960, rock music was in a very different place, and “It’s Now Or Never”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and the film, G.I. Blues – were seen as the death nail to many teenagers weaned on the raw power of Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee’s early records.
What I want to attempt to do is suggest is that it wasn’t Elvis who died in the army but it was rock and roll that (nearly) breathed its last.
The years of 1958-1960 were filled with blows to the head and heart of Rock. In January of ’58, Little Richard enrolled in Bible College, denouncing rock and roll and his large contribution to it. This further supported the idea that “rock and roll is the devils music”, that preachers and mothers across America had been saying for years. It’s well known that Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and Johnny Cash had a real struggle making peace with their Christian upbringing and their leadership in this new revolution. With Little Richard off the scene, by the time Elvis entered the army in March of ’58, the rock world was already unraveling. While Elvis was away in the Army, the main contender for his throne was Sun Records’ latest star – Jerry Lee Lewis. With huge singles like “Great Balls of Fire”, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, it was obvious he had the voice and the charisma, and something even Elvis didn’t have, virtuoso musicianship. But in May of ’58, while on tour in Germany it was revealed that he had married his 13 year old cousin. While this may have been something he could have kept quiet in the States, especially in the South during that period of time, European press had a field day. The tour was cancelled and his career never fully recovered from this public condemnation. So that is three big stars all out of the public eye before 1958 was even half over!
To read the rest of the article which includes Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and the Beatles… and photos – go to my blog: http://shanetutmarc.blogspot.com/