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Coming Soon from History Press: "Rocket City Rock and Soul" by Jane DeNeefe

Posted: Oct 05, 2011

The History Press will release Rocket City Rock and Soul: Huntsville Musicians Remember the 1960s by Huntsville writer Jane DeNeefe on November 2, 2011. The following is a blurb from the book jacket:

"In a state widely considered ground zero for civil rights struggles, Huntsville became an unlikely venue for racial reconciliation. Huntsville’s recently formed NASA station drew residents from throughout the country, and across the world, to the Rocket City. This influx of fresh perspectives informed the city’s youth. Soon, dozens of vibrant rock bands and soul groups, characteristic of the era but unique in Alabama, were formed. Set against the bitter backdrop of segregation, Huntsville musicians---black and white— found common ground in rock and soul music. Whether playing to desegregated audiences, in desegregated bands or both, Huntsville musicians were boldly moving forward, ushering in a new era. Through interviews with these musicians, local author Jane DeNeefe recounts this unique and important chapter in Huntsville’s history."

The foreword to the new book is written by acclaimed journalist and author Frye Gaillard with whom DeNeefe co-wrote Alabama's Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom. 
Gaillard writes “This book, the result of her years of extensive interviews, is more than a study of musical integration, as important as that subject may be. What DeNeefe understands and makes clear in these pages is that music often captures the spirit of the times, in all its various manifestations, and in that regard the city of Huntsville was no exception. . . . With a clear understanding of contemporary music – and of the city in which she lives – Jane DeNeefe guides us through the Huntsville scene: the emerging funk artists, some of them still in high school, listening to the music of Thelonius Monk; the great blues singers like Howlin’ Wolf playing the clubs in Huntsville’s inner city; the rich and surprising contributions of Huntsville’s 55th Army Band; and of course, the beat of old-time rock ‘n’ roll. What DeNeefe has produced is a well-written case study of American music – how it shaped, and was shaped by, the life and history of one southern city.”

Here is a little preview of what is to come--the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1 of Rocket City Rock and Soul: "We’re Standing on Their Shoulders-- Origins of Huntsville Rock and Soul."

Before he knew rock and roll, Larry Byrom wanted to play trumpet like Louis Armstrong. With a hairbrush for a microphone, Bill Brandon practiced in the mirror, singing doo-wop along with his Five Royals records. Adrian Clift, George Vail and Billie Brown all learned about harmony through shape note singing at church, while Curtis Marshall and his brothers seemed to absorb enough gospel and blues guitar from their family traditions to keep growing in step with the music of the times. Ivy Joe Milan was so nervous the first time he played a solo at marching band practice on the Councill High School football field that all he could manage was a four count, “bam bam bam bam,” and the rest of the drum line broke up laughing.

Tom Shepard claims his first words were a whole sentence: “Get up and play that record.” When Jedge Daniel heard Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” all his previous music taste went “out the window.” When he was still in elementary school, Mitch Glasgow would ride his stingray bike to the Couchoises’ house and hang out in the driveway, listening to the teenage Couchois brothers practice. Huntsville’s rock and roll community is rich with memories like these.

For some musicians, it was jazz that turned them on first. Val Ginter was lying in bed with the flu when Charlie Ventura and his Bop for the People entourage came on television, infusing him with the desire to hear more jazz. Richard Crimes appreciates Mr. Clarence Gandy, his teacher at Calvary Hill School, for making him sit down and listen to Thelonius Monk’s “Misterioso.” His twin brother, Russell Crimes, remembers the time they had to decline going on the road with Howling Wolf and Arthur Conley because it would mean dropping out of high school. As a toddler, Greg King was drumming on the tables so much his mother bought him a pair of bongos. Once Tommy Winstead tried bass, he lost interest in guitar.

Several of the people who played rock and soul music in Huntsville were first clued in to the secret language of scales and charts in their school bands, while others swapped chords with their friends and tried to imitate what they heard on records. At his family’s music store, Jack Robbins “would just sit down and play with the instruments like it was a big toy store.” The musicians we interviewed all remember the songs they heard on the radio. When they talk about the records they played over and over, they mean round black discs with paper labels in the center, played with real needles, on record players.

Drummer Horace Rice and trumpet player Butch Lacey both believe that popular music was able to flourish as it did in 1960s Huntsville because of the living legacy of previous generations of musicians. To Rice, musicians of his generation were “standing on the shoulders” of their teachers and mentors, older musicians whose roots reached back even further into history. Over generations, as Huntsville musicians have inspired one another, challenged one another, encouraged one another, jammed with one another and helped one another grow, the local music community has continued to evolve. Through concerts, records, radio and television, local musicians have drawn inspiration from great artists and from the cultural trends of the times. “We were all standing on somebody’s shoulders,“ says Horace Rice, “but when you’re young, you don’t always know about the shoulders.”  (from the book Rocket City Rock and Soul by Jane DeNeefe))

Jane DeNeefe has published series of articles about  rock and roll in Huntsville, Alabama on Swampland. You can find these posts listed below. You may also read more about Jane DeNeefe on her author's page on Amazon.com. Check out DeNeefe's pieces on Swampland and also my review of her previous book Alabama Civil Rights Trail, co-written with Frye Gaillard and Jennifer Lindsay.

-----Penne J. Laubenthal
Further reading on Swampland
      Jane DeNeefe  Alabama Civil Rights Trail

      Rock and Roll in the Rocket City Part 1

      Rock and Roll in the Rocket City Part 2

      Rock and Roll in the Rocket City Part 3

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