Ed Ward

Ed Ward is the rock-and-roll historian on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

A co-author of Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, Ward has also contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and countless music magazines. The first part of his two-volume history of rock and roll, covering the years 1920-1963, will be published by Flatiron Books in the fall of 2016.

Ward lives in Austin, Texas. He blogs at City on a Hill.

Bob Dylan's career was interrupted in 1966 when he crashed his motorcycle while riding near his home in upstate New York. He wasn't badly injured, but used the occasion to disengage from the grind of touring he'd been doing, relax, and hang out with his band. During this hiatus, some tapes surfaced of new songs he'd been writing: the infamous Basement Tapes. On the occasion of the entire archive being released, Fresh Air critic Ed Ward takes a look at them.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Arthur Conley was Otis Redding's protege, his special project, and had a number of hits before mysteriously disappearing. Our rock historian Ed Ward has uncovered what he can about Redding's story.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Soul music is often defined as the moment when gospel and blues met and formed a new sound. Ray Charles is often given credit for this, but there were others, most notably the "5" Royales, who had immense success as a live act, but never sold as many records as such a pioneering group should have. With the release of the 131-track collection Soul and Swagger: The Complete "5" Royales, the group has finally gotten the recognition they deserve. Fresh Air critic Ed Ward has the story.

There's nothing a certain type of record collector likes better than finding a stack of 78s on the Paramount label. Between 1917 and 1932, the label, which was one of several run by a furniture company in Grafton, Wisc., released thousands of records, but its real accomplishment was recording some of the greatest early blues and jazz performers.

All it takes is two seconds of hearing "Round round get around / I get around" and you're there — in the sun, on the beach, in the '60s. The Beach Boys vaulted up the charts while branching out from surf music to psychedelia. This year the remaining band members released Made in California, a six-CD box set loaded with outtakes and other rarities. Critic Ed Ward examines the rise and long decline of a beloved group with a unique sound.

Sam Phillips is famous for saying that if he could find a white boy with the authentic Negro sound and feel, he'd make a billion dollars. Seeing Phillips in his striped sport coat and tie in 1950, you might well wonder if he'd know that sound and feel if it came up and bit him. But he'd been a fan of blues and country music since childhood, and he bet that his technical knowledge and feeling for this music could make him money.

Wallace Daniel Pennington grew up singing. His father played guitar and his mother played piano, and by the age of 9, the young man had a guitar of his own. The family attended church on Sunday and Wednesday each week, and to this day, Dan Penn says he remembers the entire Methodist congregation belting out hymns.

Arctic Records opened for business late in 1964. The label was the brainchild of Jimmy Bishop, the program director of WDAS — at the time Philadelphia's No. 1 black radio station. If that sounds like a conflict of interest, you don't know much about the music business in Philadelphia back then. Besides, it didn't help Arctic's first single, "Happiest Girl in the World" by the Tiffanys, three local teenagers who sang backup in various studios.

It was April 4, 1964, and Jerry Lee Lewis had officially bottomed out. He hadn't charted a record in years, and now, on tour in England and Germany, he was getting paid so little that he couldn't afford to bring his own musicians. Instead, he was forced to use pickup bands in England, and then, when he arrived in Hamburg, a British band called the Nashville Teens was waiting for him. The venue was the Star Club, where The Beatles, who had just leaped into stardom in America, had played not long before.

In 1955, John R. Cash was a sometime auto mechanic, sometime appliance salesman who liked to play the guitar and sing, mostly gospel songs. The "R" in his name didn't stand for anything — and, in fact, he'd been named J.R. at birth and had to come up with "John" when he joined the Air Force. He'd spend the rest of his life reinventing himself.

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