THE BEATLES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
I first heard of the Beatles when I was nine years old. I spent most of my holidays on Merseyside then, and a local girl gave me a bad publicity shot of them with their names scrawled on the back. This was 1962 or '63, before they came to America. The photo was badly lit, and they didn't quite have their look down; Ringo had his hair slightly swept back, as if he wasn't quite sold on the Beatles haircut yet. I didn't care; they were the band for me.
BOB DYLAN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Bob Dylan and I started out from different sides of the tracks. When I first heard him, I was already in a band, playing rock & roll. I didn't know a lot of folk music. I wasn't up to speed on the difference he was making as a songwriter. I remember somebody playing "Oxford Town," from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, for me. I thought, "There's something going on here.
ELVIS PRESLEY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Out of Tupelo, Mississippi, out of Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing eye shadow — a trucker-dandy white boy who must have risked his hide to act so black and dress so gay. This wasn't New York or even New Orleans; this was Memphis in the Fifties. This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis changed everything — musically, sexually, politically.
THE ROLLING STONES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The Rolling Stones are my life. If it wasn't for them, I would have been a Soprano for real. I first saw the Stones on TV, on The Hollywood Palace in 1964. In '64, the Beatles were perfect: the hair, the harmonies, the suits. They bowed together. Their music was extraordinarily sophisticated. The whole thing was exciting and alien but very distant in its perfection. The Stones were alien and exciting, too. But with the Stones, the message was, "Maybe you can do this."
CHUCK BERRY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Like a lot of guitarists of my generation, I first heard Chuck Berry because of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I was so blown away by the way those bands were playing these hardcore rock & roll songs like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Around and Around." I'd looked at the labels, under the song titles. I'd seen the name "Chuck Berry." But I was fortunate enough, again like a lot of guys from my generation, to have a friend who had an older brother, who had the original records: "If you like the Stones, wait until you hear this!" I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top — and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair on the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.
JIMI HENDRIX. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Jimi Hendrix is one of those extraordinary hubs of music where everybody lands at some point. Every musician passes through Hendrix International Airport eventually. He is the common denominator of every style of popular music. Was he a bluesman? Listen to "Voodoo Chile" and you'll hear some of the eeriest blues you can find. Was he a rock musician? He used volume as a device. That's rock. Was he a sensitive singer-songwriter? In "Bold As Love," he sings, "My yellow in this case is not so mellow/In fact I'm trying to say it's frightened like me" — that is a man who knows the shape of his heart.
JAMES BROWN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
In one sense, James Brown is like Johnny Cash. Johnny is considered one of the kings of country music, but there are a lot of people who like Johnny but don't like country music. It's the same with James Brown and R&B. His music is singular — the feel and tone of it. James Brown is his own genre. He was a great editor — as a songwriter, producer and bandleader. He kept things sparse. He knew that was important. And he had the best players, the funkiest of all bands.
LITTLE RICHARD. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
A lot of people call me the architect of rock&roll. I don't call myself that, but I believe it's true. You've got to remember, I was already known back in 1951. I was recording for RCA-Victor — if you were black, it was called Camden Records — before Elvis. Then I recorded for Peacock in Houston.
ARETHA FRANKLIN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
As a producer, I almost always addressed phrasing and enunciation with the singer, but in Aretha 's case, there was nothing I could tell her. I would only be getting in her way. Nowadays, singers who want to be extra soulful overdo melisma. Aretha only used it a touch and used it gloriously because her taste was impeccable. She never went to the wrong place.
RAY CHARLES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
His music first hit me when I heard a live version of "What'd I Say" on American Forces Network in Germany, which I used to listen to late at night. Then I started buying his singles. His sound was stunning — it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing.
BOB MARLEY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
What separates Bob Marley from so many other great songwriters? They don't know what it's like for rain to seep into their house. They wouldn't know what to do without their microwaves and stoves — to make a fire with wood and cook their fish next to the ocean. Marley came from the poverty and injustice in Jamaica, and that manifested itself in his rebel sound.
THE BEACH BOYS. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California. Sure, they may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true.