The Summer of '54 : Crest of the Wave ©JCMarion


This was to be known as the time of the calm before the storm, when the crest of the wave hit the country and then in September the wave broke across the landscape and American music has never been the same since. This was the last time that rock and roll did not rule the airwaves, the last time when the pounding beat did not set the tempo for the country. But - the signs were there, hints were around, and the change that seemingly would come overnight had already begun.

The big talk around radio was the large amount of money that was being offered midwest dj Alan (Moondog) Freed to move his base of operations from WJW in Cleveland to New York City and independent station WINS. Someone had made the very astute observation that this new form of music that proved to be so popular in the midwest could be the salvation of the ratings-poor outlet in New York. At the same time RCA Victor Records was in discussions with a duo based in Los Angeles to come east and take over the new operations that would try and tap into this new popularity of Rhythm & Blues. RCA planned a new label called Groove, and the pair, Leiber and Stoller seemed to be a good fit. They had experience as song writers (Hound Dog), producers, (The Robins) and record company owners (L.A. based Spark Records).

Certain recordings in the R & B field had already gotten a huge amount of attention from teenage listeners all across the country. The best known of these were "Gee" by The Crows, "Sh-Boom" by The Chords, and "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" by The Spaniels. There were also popular 'cover' records such as Patti Page singing Ruth Brown's "Oh What A Dream" and Bill haley's version of Joe Turner's "Shake rattle and Roll". Capitol records decides to issue its R & B records on the same label as all of its pop music releases rather than a seperate identity such as Mercury (different color label), seperate category such as Decca (identifying them as "Sepia Series") or a seperate label altogether such as Columbia (putting R & B sides on Okeh).

King Records announces that the biggest record in its history is the R & B risque rocker called "Annie Had A Baby" which becomes notorious because of its subject matter. The controversy just seems to add to the public's demand for the disc. Some of the records picked for stardom over the summer give a hint at what was about to happen : "Gloria" by The Cadillacs; "Tick Tock" by Marvin & Johnny; "Oop Shoop" by Shirley Gunter & The Queens; "Mambo Boogie" by Johnny Otis; "Hurts Me To My Heart" by Faye Adams; "Over A Cup Of Coffee" by The Castelles; "Let's Walk" by Charles Brown; "Don't You Know" by Ray Charles; and "Spider Web" by Tiny Bradshaw.

And all the time these things were going on, in the city of Memphis, Tennessee that summer of 1954, a young part time truck driver for Crown Electric Company was making his very first recordings in the little studio that belonged to the Memphis Recording Service and would soon be released on the Sun records label. Elvis Presley would ride that wave like no one before or since. What a summer !

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