Saturday, June 13, 2009

He made you wanna dance

Imagine being 17 years old, singing and dancing like there's no tomorrow and signing your name to a record contract -- in 1958.

That was Bobby Freeman. San Francisco might not have been a rhythm and blues hotbed, but Freeman helped change that. His self-penned song "Do You Want to Dance'' made it to No. 2 on the R&B chart that year and topped out at No. 5 on the pop chart -- a huge crossover success at the time.

The rollicking hit, and what followed, made Freeman one of the early practitioners of what became known as rock 'n' roll. There was also Big Joe Turner, who set things ablaze with "Shake, Rattle and Roll'' in 1954, and Hank Ballard, who followed Freeman in 1959 with "The Twist'' -- another song steeped in the 12 bar blues and taken to No. 1 a year later by Chubby Checker.

And what was Ike Turner doing masquerading as Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats with the release of "Delta 88'' way back in 1951? Some say that was the start of it all.

These were all black performers playing music that shook your body and soul. But it was Bill Haley and His Comets who are generally credited for bringing rock 'n' roll to the masses. Their smoking "Rock Around the Clock'' in 1955 created the line of demarcation between whatever-that-was and whatever-that-is in American music. And it was grand.

You can't finish the discussion without throwing Elvis into the blender. He didn't write the rockabilly music, but he sure knew what to do with the material, starting with his spin on Delta bluesman Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama'' in 1954.

But no one can deny the impact Freeman and other black musicians and performers had on the revolution. Everybody from the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, to Bette Midler and the Ramones, covered "Do You Wanna Dance.'' Freeman followed with lesser charters like "Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes'' (which Neil Young covered in his Shocking Pinks phase) and "Need Your Love.'' His last hit was "C'mon and Swim'', another top 5 song in 1964 produced by Sly Stone.

That was pretty much it from Freeman. But that was plenty. More than enough to earn a special SSS greeting today, on his 69th birthday.

1 comment:

  1. In the rush to the latest new thing in the 1960s (and the records were wonderful), the classic artists of the '50s were forgotten and dismissed. But those stars of the '60s stood on the shoulders of the '50s artists, and loved them. John Lennon, who covered "Do You Want to Dance" on his 1975 album "Rock 'n' Roll" said the '50s was his period. Lennon was just a couple of months younger than Freeman, making him a contemporary.

    Who doesn't love "Rock Around the Clock?" It sounded revolutionary at the time, and it still sounds great.

    Keep up the good work. Sixstringsanctuary is a terrific, insightful, and entertaining Web destination.