That's All Right - Elvis' First Hit

Recorded in 1954, That's All Right (Mama) would become Elvis Presley's first hit single and launch the start of the white rock n' roll revolution. In this regard That's All Right (Mama) is probably one of the most influential songs of the XXth century and surely deserves a closer look.

Listen to That's All Right (Mama) sung by Elvis Presley

Here are two videos of Elvis interpreting That's All Right (Mama).
[Bring your mouse over the screen to choose between the videos]

1946 - The original version

That's All Right, Mama, was originally written and composed by an afro-american blues guitarist named Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, and recorded on the 6th of September 1946 for Victor Records. Although it's slower than Elvis' rendition, this first version is a rather fast tempo blues backed up by Ranson Knowling's bass and Judge Riley on the drums. Crudup's interpretation certainly lacks The King's teenage raw energy, but benefits from much more subtle singing and melody.

Listen to That's All Right, Mama sung by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup

The dawn of Rock n' Roll

In February 1954, the young Elvis Presley sings an enraged version of Crudup's That's All Right, Mama for the first time in front of a black audience at the Handy's Club on the crossroads of Beale Street and Hernando Street (Memphis - Tennessee).

Six month later on the 5th of July 1954, Elvis is invited to come back to Sam Phillips Sun Studios by country guitarist Scooty Moore and Bill Black from The Wranglers. The trio interprets a few rhythm n' blues and country songs but doesn't impress Phillips until Elvis bursts into That's All Right. Phillips, who allegedly said that same year : "I could make a million dollars if I found a white boy that could sing like a black man", immediately recognizes the potential of this new style.

Bill Black's dancing double-bass, Scotty Moore's simple but relentless guitar riff, Elvis' total physical implication in his singing, merge the music of the Delta with the aspirations of white suburban kids : Rock n' Roll rises from the overcoming of segregation's !
The song is published by Sun on the 19 of July with a crazy version of Blue Moon of Kentucky on the B-side. Two days later the song airs on Dewey Phillips radio show (Red, Hot & Blue) and the station is bombarded by calls of ecstatic fans, resulting in That's All Right (Mama) being played 14 times this evening.
The face of music has been changed forever !

Here are three additional cover versions

Rod Stewart

[On Every Picture Tells a Story]

The Stray Cats
[on Rumble In Brixton : The Very Best of The Stray Cats]

The Beatles
[on Live At The BBC]

Here are the lyrics to Elvis' rendition

Well, that's all right, mama
That's all right for you
That's all right mama, just anyway you do
Well, that's all right, that's all right.
That's all right now mama, anyway you do

Mama she done told me,
Papa done told me too
'Son, that gal your foolin' with,
She ain't no good for you'
But, that's all right, that's all right.
That's all right now mama, anyway you do

I'm leaving town, baby
I'm leaving town for sure
Well then you won't be bothered
With me hangin' round your door
Well, that's all right, that's all right.
That's all right now mama, anyway you do

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Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 - They Are Three Together

Formed by David Crosby from the Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash from the slightly more confidential British band The Hollies, Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) is sometimes considered to be the first 'Superband'.

Occasionally joined by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young,
the first three accomplices allegedly started harmonizing in Joni Mitchell's kitchen in 1968, or Mama Cass Elliot's dining room according to Stills.

In May of that year the trio released a first and eponymous studio album on Atlantic Records that quickly reached 6th place on the American pop charts, and ultimately landing the band Platinum commercia
l success. Moreover the songs Marrakesh Express and Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, both peaked within the first 30 places on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart by the end of October of 1969, thanks to their important airplay on the new FM radio format.

Original track list of the Crosby, Stills & Nash LP:

Side 1:
1 - Suite: Judy Blue Eyes [7:25]
2 - Marrakesh Express [2:39]
3 - Guinnevere [4:40]
4 - You Don't Have To Cry [2:45]
5 - Pre-Road Downs [3:01]
Side 2
1 - Wooden Ships [5:29]
2 - Lady Of The Island [2:39]
3 - Helplessly Hoping [2:41]
4 - Lone Time Gone [4:17]
5 - 49 Bye-Byes [5:16]

The album has since been reissued three times on CD, with a final remastered and expanded edition release by Rhino Records in 2006 including four new songs : Do for the Others, Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves), Everybody's Talkin', and Teach Your Children.

Quickly joined by Neil Young the band started touring by the end of the summer of 1969. Their secongdgig would be held during the Woodstock Festival in front of thousands, a great opportunity but also a very stressful experience for the newly formed quartet who would open their act explaining : "This is only the second time we've performed in front of people. We're scared shitless."

Going out with G
raham Nash at the time, Joni Mitchell couldn't attend the festival because of other concert deals, but immediately wrote a song about the legendary event. Sung by CSNY during the 1970 Woodstock festival, Woodstock would forever associate the band with the hippie gathering and establish them as counter-culture spokesmen.

My personal favourite song on CSN's first album is by far Helplessly Hoping. A tune where CSN's intricate harmonies reach a breathtaking intensity that gradually builds up over the first stanzas, taking over Stephen Stills' discrete guitar melody.

Listen to Helplessly Hoping on Crosby, Stills & Nash [Atlantic Records - 1969]

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In The Pines - A Traditional Folk Song

In The Pines is a traditional American folk song which can be traced back to the end of the 19th century at least, or maybe as far as the US Civil War era. Also known as Black Girl and Where Did You Sleep Last Night, the song was popularized in recent years by Kurt Cobain's rendition on the 1993 MTV Unplugged Show, and its posthumous album release a year later.

In 1917, the first printed version compiled by Cecil Sharp knows only the following four verses :
Black girl, black girl, don't lie to me
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And shivered when the cold wind blows

Here you'll find a seven additional versions of Where Did You Sleep Last Night sung in various styles :

On Folkways : The Original Vision [Smithsonian Folkways]

During the MTV Unplugged show Kurt Cobain cites Lead Belly as being his favorite performer and the author of the song.
He's not but he did record several versions between 1944 and 1948.

on The Folkway Years 1959-1961 [Smithsonian Folkways]

This is one of my three favorite versions of In The Pines. Here the faint guitar really underlines the beautiful dramaturgy of Van Ronk's voice. No wonder he was one of the Village's most respected performer at the beginning of the sixties.

on Very Early Joan [Vanguard]

Both powerful
and wonderfully crystalline, Joan Baez's singing conveys a rare intensity to the tune. This is one I never get tired of hearing although her persistent vibrato may not be everybody's cup of tea.

on The Quiet Sides Of The New Christy Minstrels [Columbia]

Here a traditional gospel choir version with plenty of strings and classic emphasis, pasted upon a typically country
instrumental intro part.

on The Golden Road : Birth Of The Dead [Rhino / Wea]

A white blues rendition in a typical sixties manner that reminds me of early Eric Burdon & The Animals style because of both the singing and the Hammond organ. One I particularly enjoy.

It Ain't Easy - UK Bonus Tracks [Warner]

Slide guitar, banjo and intricate male/female duet voices for this beautifully bluesy version entitled Black Girl on the remastered album.

on The High Lonesome Sound [Smithsonian Folkways]

High pitched mournful singing and traditional folk/blues picking patterns taking us back to the roots of American folk songs. It might seem a little hard to listen to at first, but stick with it and you should come to value this version very highly.

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Jackson C. Frank - An Unknown Genius

Released by Columbia [EMI - 33SX 1788 ] in 1965 Jackson C. Frank is the self-titled and only album by american folk guitarist Jackson C. Frank.

Paul Simon was so admirative of Jackson's work that he produced the LP with his own money, and had both Al Stewart and Art Garfunkel attend the recording. Frank was so nervous during the sessions held at London CBS Studios that he had to have screens around him in order to play and sing.

Listen to Milk And Honey


Jackson's life was tainted with sheer tragedy as early as age 11, when his New York state elementary school's furnace exploded killing most of his classmates, leaving him badly burnt and hospitalized. It is during his recovery that his music teacher offered him his first acoustic guitar.

Ten years later (1964), he received a 100.000 $ check for his injuries, a mere fortune at the time, which allowed him to indulge in a musical career and to "catch a boat to England", just like the first verse of Blues Run The Game states.

Listen to Blues Run The Game

After a rather successful first year touring English clubs and getting acquainted with British musicians, his record earned a certain recognition among artists, but did not reach public glory.

As soon as 1966, Frank being caught up by his mental fragility, began to experience writter's block and finally returned to the States where he married English former model Elaine Sedgwick. Their son's early death from cystic fibrosis rapidly catapulted Jackson into strong depression.
By the mid 80s he was living on the streets, going in and out of mental institutes where he was treated for paranoid schizophrenia. As if his life hadn' t been hard enough yet, he was blinded by a pellet gun shot in the left eye while just sitting on the wrong bench at the wrong time in a New York park.

Rescued and accommodated by a fan that managed to find him in the streets, he spent the reminder of his life in Massachussets. He then began to play and compose again although never reaching his former poetic and musical peak. His death from pneumonia and cardiac arrest in 1999 at age 56 finally put an end to what can only be described as the life of damned poet. Fortunately the 1965 gem was completed in 2003 by a 2 discs album entitled Blues Run The Game (Castle US) adding another 28 tracks to the first 15.

Blues Run The Game, Jackson's most famous songs was covered by many artists amongst which : Simon and Garfunkel, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, or more mainstream and recent bands such as Counting Crows.

Listen to Marlene


To me Jackson C. Frank is one of the finests folk singers and guitarist sof the sixties and his album an absolute must have. Rarely have I loved so many tracks on a single album, even after so many hearings. Although not virtuoso, his elaborate guitar playing stresses the sheer emotion of those finely chiselled tunes, while the alternance of very insistent picking patterns and musical punch lines perfectly expresses the sorrow and poetry of his songs.

Occasionnally exploding in higher pitched and cristalline peaks, his finely grained and slightly nasal voice softly explores harmonies. As a result, yelding a rare tension, from the very first notes in most songs, that gives vertiginous deapth to even his lighter tunes, and a mesmerizing peek into his melancholic world.

Short and straightfoward, his romantic lyrics cast a wonderfully poetic veil upon the audience.

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