Friday, October 22, 2010

Proto-rock and Roll, Etc.

The Treniers may be the Adam gene of all rock and roll bands as they're considered to be the first self-contained rock and roll group ever. Their's was a version of proto-rock heavily influenced by the swing era that gave birth to them and other musical mutations of their age, namely Rhythm and Blues. The hybrid version they played, with its heavy backbeat, walking bass lines, caterwauling yelps, and jumper cables to the nipples surges of manic energy would later be known as Jump Blues. (For a modern equivalent, think the Brian Setzer Orchestra.) The Treniers began in earnest in the post-war 40s and reached their peak in the mid-50s. It was during this period that they amassed a thick portfolio of songs with the words rock and/or roll in the title ("Rockin' Is Our Business," "Rocking on Sunday Night," "It Rocks! It Rolls! It Swings!"). If they don't own the word outright you could at least say they had first squatter's rights.

Led by Mobile AL born twin brothers and Claude and Cliff Trenier, with more Trenier brothers joining in and the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra behind them, their sound is slightly hipper and less loungey than contemporary Louis Prima's. And like much of the rock and roll that would soon follow, dancing and singing weighed equally on the performance scales. The song featured here, Ragg Mopp — later pinched famously by Art Carney on the Honeymooners (imagine Ralph's slow-burn reaction)has since disappeared from our collective golden-age-of-novelty consciousness comes from the group's heyday of the early 50s. The Treniers would persevere through the rock and roll era, and in some form or another to the lounges of the present, but the shadow had fallen. Like to many of their back-beat challenged brethern of the pre-Elvis era, rock and roll would be the death knell. Sad, because as you can see here, the influence of their musical/performance DNA is still very much apparent today.

Presenting above, Al Simms and Leon James, otherwise known as Al and Leon. (Forgive the video's low quality, the contents make up for it.) Two more proto-stylists whose dance and presentation style would feature large in the culture to come. If their DNA is not in the actual substance of modern pop, their hereditary stamp is certainly represented in their attitude. There's an exhuberant and impudent kind of free-style going on here, even within the confines of a form like the Charleston. But for them, the Charleston is just something to leave their footprints on as they ascend a ladder spiraling into the wild cultural future.

In this they stand beside The Treniers.

For a little more perspective: Below, dancer Bill Bailey (brother of Pearl Bailey) from a performance in 1955. Bill is credited with being the inventor of the Moonwalk, first documented in a performce from a film in 1943. What is pop culture but a pirate's enterprise?

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