My song today is ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’. This is a twelve-bar blues song written in 1954 by Jesse Stone, an American Rhythm & Blues musician; also known under the pseudonyms, Charles F. Calhoun, and Chuck Calhoun (his song-writing names). The original recording by Big Joe Turner is ranked Number 127 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
The record was covered by ‘Bill Hayley & His Comets’ in June, 1954, the same week Turner's version first topped the R&B charts. Haley's version was released in August and reached Number 7 on the ‘Billboard Singles Chart’. Elvis Presley recorded the song twice in 1955 and 1956.
When this song was first recorded by Bill Hayley, I had been out of the hospital for around 18 months but could not walk. I had been run over by a large wagon a few years earlier. The wagon had knocked me down, run over me, and stopped on top of me with my body twisted around the main drive propellor shaft. I was received into Batley Hospital with several life-threatening injuries and a body of broken bones. I had a damaged spine, a crushed chest with all but two of my chest ribs broken, a pierced lung, and my legs and arms were each broken in a minimum of two places. My left leg was badly broken on the kneecap; an injury that left me crippled for a long time even after my spine later corrected its own injury. I was on the hospital critical list for over four weeks and my parents were initially told that I was expected to die as my injuries were too intensive to survive. When I eventually pulled through, my parents were then told that my spinal injury would prevent me from ever walking again.
I did not walk for almost three years, and when the song I sing today was first released, I was barely able to stand unaided on my two feet. My left leg which had been badly broken on the knee in three places required over fifty operations, breaking and resetting it over the years ahead. All the operations on my leg left it three inches shorter than my right leg. I had been a good dancer before my traffic accident, but in 1956 I could barely hobble; let alone ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. I would be 17 years old (1959) before I regained sufficient agility in my legs and enough body balance to be able to resume a more normal life and move on the dance floors again.
While I was always popular with my peer group, my extensive injuries in boyhood pushed me into a more adult frame of mind long before my time. I began a decade's programme of physical improvement to regain full walking mobility, restore my body balance, and affect ways to minimise a very pronounced limp which my different leg lengths produced. I started a programme of relaxation and meditation as an 11-year-old boy in Batley hospital, and all of my reading material thereafter was about eastern methods to mediate pain, along with the meditation of mind and body. I became a student in this area, and which I later developed and practised for the rest of my life, besides instructing for over fifty years. I also became a sports fanatic and specifically focused on all sporting activities which required perfect balance to acquire a competent level of accomplishment. I engaged in rugby, boxing, tennis, horse riding, fencing, and judo.
Of all my activities during my first twenty years of life, singing and dancing were always at the top of my tree. I had won numerous talent contests for singing as a young boy, and I had also won a medal for old-time dancing before I was aged 11. I would have to say that in music I found me! I discovered that singing and dancing did not prevent me competing on equal terms with anyone else, and that how many siblings one had, or whether one lived on or off a council estate, or what type of job dad did, mattered not one jot on either the dance floor or the singing stage. I had engaged in old-time dancing between the ages of 9-11 years once weekly at the 'Keir Hardie Hall' in Liversedge.
I had just progressed from ‘old-time’ to ‘modern dancing’ when the wagon ran over me. After trapping me beneath its undercarriage, I was left the recipient of physical injuries that kept me off the dance floor for the following seven years. My balance would never again be good enough to glide around the dance floor with a bonny lass in my arms as we waltzed or did some modern ballroom dance. While all modern dancing demanded agility of body and dexterity and adroitness of foot, I knew that there was no grace to be seen or any more medals to be had in a limping hobble.
Ever since boyhood when I first started to notice the differences between boys and girls, I had never been able to separate 'dancing' from 'romancing'. Despite any muscular distractions or restrictive limitations in body movement which the pain in my healing legs produced after my bad traffic accident, I was still able to attract the young women with my 'James Dean' lookalike face which promised everything with a bit of imagination. Then, in the late 1950s, it was as though an angel from heaven had prised opened the dark clouds in the sky and let the sunlight shine through again. I was provided with access back into my heaven. I now had a means of getting back on that dance floor when 'Rock & Roll' hit the nation and woke up every jumping, jiving, and gyrating youthful body muscle in Great Britain.
As this new dance craze swept across the Atlantic Ocean, its influence upon the youth of the day and their parents would create a generation gap that would never again narrow. This generation gap widened with the passing of every year. It mattered not which fashion between parent and child was compared, both young and old found the counter fashion wholly unacceptable. In areas of dress, hairstyle, decency, and decorum parents started to deprecate the new-age manners and clothes of their adolescent offspring. The term ‘teenager’ was born as an old era died.
Young boys and girls stopped being ‘little men’ and ‘little women’ who had once aspired to be grown-up versions of mum and dad. They changed their dress sense overnight, and in their parent’s eyes, they lost it altogether. By wearing clothing of indecent cut and proportion, their daughters now provided their boyfriends with the sight of more feminine leg, thigh, and underwear than their mothers had ever shown dad before their honeymoon night. Parents instantly rejected this new devil’s dance that their children moved to with sexual suggestion and moral degradation. The only place they could now envisage their once respectable sons and daughters going was to hell and back in a handcart! Their daughters had not only abandoned all propriety of dress code, but they had also gone economically mad as they paid more of their hard-earned money to the modern dressmaker for the provision of less material with which to make a skimpy garment which carried a tag marked ‘easy pickings’.
As for their sons, they stopped enlisting in the Armed Forces with their short-back-and-sides haircuts on parade. Instead, they joined the Teddy Boy gangs and changed their black leather shoes for Beatle Crushers in blue suede, their cravats for string ties, and their bell-bottomed flared trousers for legged drainpipes. Instead of cropping their head of hair short like their fathers, they grew the Edwardian sideburns of their great grandfathers, gelled up their greasy long hair, and sealed it behind the back of their head with a duck’s-arse crease as sharp as the razor blade they carried inside their Edwardian coat lapel. Some Teddy Boys, unsure of their fighting skills in unarmed hand-to-hand combat might conceal a swish blade or knuckle duster as they ran into battle against their Easter Monday foe on the sands of Brighton Beach. Instead of riding a ‘Crusader Mark 1 Tank’ to confront the enemy as dad had done in ’World War Two’ on the ‘Beaches of Dunkirk’, the Teddy Boys drove motorbikes to meet their seaside enemy. They annually battled with an Army of Mods who loved Cliff Richard records and rode Lambretta Scooters adorned with dozens of side mirrors. Every Easter Monday, two young armies would fight for first blood on the sands of Brighton Beach. This annual almighty bust up to end all future bust-ups would make the front page of every national newspaper on Easter Tuesday and the disappointed parents of every Teddy Boy and Mod in England would tut their disapproval and say something like, “In my day…….” to which their teenage son or daughter would say, “For God’s sake, this is 1960 not……” before slamming the door shut and going out.
I will never forget the long picture queues (cinema queues to you under 70 years old) that stretched a mile around the block, and the film that young picture patrons danced to in the aisle to the beat of the hip-shaking and rock and roll movements. The American film,' Rock Around the Clock' featuring Bill Haley and His Comets had come to town and has never gone away since!
Fortunately for me, it was a Godsend when 'Rock & Roll' hit the dance halls, and bopping offered me the timely opportunity to engage in a more individual freestyle of dancing which enabled me to mask any deficiency in leg length. So long as I could move my hips in tune to the music beat, I found that my feet followed the direction of my mind. I was back in business, and my ‘Blessed Trinity of Talent’ in singing, bopping, and fighting provided me with a renewed popularity within the male and female peer group of Windybank Estate. The pleasure of dancing and romancing was well and truly back on the cards, and life looked good once more.
Love and peace