What is this music? Where did it come from? Why does it do what it does? How did it take over the world?

The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back  by Peter Finch and published by Seren Books is now available. Order it here directly from Seren or from Amazon here.

“The book is an absolute treat”- Jamie Owen, BBC Radio Wales.


Back in the days when I was an aspiring guitarist  I owned a copy of the late Bert Weedon’s seminal guide, Play In A Day.  Everyone owned a copy of this.  I’d have it open in front of me as I attempted to strum.  C, D and then the truly awful F.  It was all such a painful process.  The strings made the ends of my fingers ache.  I read that over time the tips would thicken, like trumpet players’ lips.  This couldn’t come soon enough.  I wanted to do this guitar stuff and do it with ease.  I persevered.

I’d heard the Outlaws’ Ambush and the twang of the Shadows’ Apache.  I wanted some of that.  Bert Weedon, it turned out, had actually recorded the original account of Jerry Lordan’s world-stopper.  Everyone I knew, however,  preferred the one the Shadows had done.  Play them back-to-back today, fifty years on,  and they still sound good.  Yet something still remains uncool about the Weedon take.  Weedon the youth worker,  full of non-stop smiles.   Marvin, king of the Shadows, greased back hair, craggy jaw and a vaguely underfed look.

Things are all relative, of course.  Smooth, black-rim bespectacled Marvin was hardly what you could describe as a non-conformist.   He wore a suit on stage and shined his shoes.  But compared to session musician Herbert Weedon he was nothing short of James Dean.


The guitar and I didn’t go far.  I took up listening instead.  On my racks I’ve got a copy of  Apache Mania.  It’s a CD that contains twenty-two versions of the great guitar instrumental sequenced one after the other.  The Ventures, The Surfaris, The Jordans, The Spacemen, Les Guitares Du Diable, The Jet Blacks, The Cousins, The Shadows and then Bert himself.  They all take the tune through its twangy paces.  Listening to it in a single sitting is a Zen experience.  You are intrigued, engaged, impressed, lost, bored, and then finally engaged again as Apache reasserts its crisply British sound.  Apache, part of the natural air.

I’m on a journey and The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back  tracks where it goes.   It follows the music back to the American Southern States, driving in a great ellipse. It bowls through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  It drives across the Appalachian Carolinas, both of them, and then returns to the heartland state that seems to go on in straight historical lines forever.  Tennessee.

I’m tracing an obsession.

I want to find out where the material I listened to as a young man and which became the backdrop to my life came from.  I want to discover where it lived.  How it was.  How it is.  How it got there.  I want to find out on the ground how the blues, hillbilly,  old time dance music, bluegrass, Hank Williams country and western, rockabilly,  Nashville slick and straight ahead Rocket 88 rock and roll came about.  What were the components of these musics?   How did they cross the Atlantic?  What parts came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales?  Most importantly I want to discover how the magic all this became  made the transition back to rain drenched Wales.  How did it flow across the Bay of Tigers to manifest  itself in the bright blue drape jackets of Valley’s born Teddy Boys?  How did it appear amid the banjos plucked in folk clubs in pub back rooms on the Welsh Capital’s Broadway and Charles Street?  How did it rock in the dance halls of Sophia Gardens, Cowbridge Road and Death Junction?  And, in particular, how did it inform the taste of more than one Welsh generation?  Mike Harries, Man, the Sons of Adam, Amen Corner, The Sun Also Rises, Edward H, Meic Stevens, the Manic Street Preachers, Cate Le Bon, Richard James, Georgia Ruth, Gruff Rhys,  Trampolene, Baby Queens, Climbing Trees, and Euros Childs.


Roots.  Where are they and how do they grow?

The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back  is a record of  finding out.  It’s an expansion of the music,  a delving into it and beyond it, at tangents to it, underneath it and on top.

I don’t much like researching at libraries where time slows down and the world without music in my ears can be so cold.  I’m not keen, either, in dragging data up in great Wiki sweeps, informational dross accumulating against my keyboard, holding me down in a clunk of ordered and numbing stats.  Data: it’s simultaneously the stuff and the bane of life.  Fly with it and you’ll crash because you’re too heavy.  Ignore it and you won’t take off at all.  But use it when you must.

I prefer to walk, that’s when the eyes and the brain are most attuned.  I take photographs  constantly – as aide memoir, as illustration, to capture detail, to collect bits of a place’s soul.  I make notes.  They arrive when it’s raining and the pen ink smears on the notebook’s pulp.  I record them speaking into my iPhone, can’t decipher when I listen later, for the drumming of the air.


The Roots Of Rock  is a travel book because it recounts a journey.  And it is also not one, simply because it spends  much space and time not actually going anywhere at all.  It is full of diversions and recollections and the recounted voices and sounds of others.  There are guides, opinions,  casual conversations, overheards, read abouts, listened tos.  Stuff recalled and forgotten stuff remembered after all.

The book starts in south Wales, in the place I come from.  The Cardiff delta.  The flood plain made by the three city rivers – the Ely, the Taff, the Rumney – aided ably by the Roath Brook, the Nant, and  that long lost waterway, the Tan.  Cardiff is not the centre of the music universe by any means but it has had its moments.   Bill Haley came here in 1957 and played the Cardiff Capitol.  Lynyrd Skynyrd did the same thing in 1975.  John Lee Hooker was here in 1964 at a surf club on the Wentloog flatlands.  Jerry Lee played  Sophia Gardens in 1962. Dion wandered to the Capitol in 1964.  Chuck Berry duck walked there a year later.  Johnny Cash visited in 1966.  Elvis never.  How and why?  I want to know.

The book flies the Atlantic again and again  to hire cars and to drive  and drive and drive.  It traverses a  great arc, full of plains and wooded hills.  Here there are conifers, high harmonies, fields of rolling corn and rocking rhythms, flatlands bustling with the white tails of cotton, shacks and dust, bent strings, steels, overalls, Stetsons.  Where you from, Honey?  Cardiff, huh? Never heard of that place.

The Roots of Rock  hears the music, considers its history, and sees how the disparate bits fit together.  And if  you keep listening for long enough, then you’ll discover that they do, indeed, fit.  Tight jeans, carrot fit,  peg pants, bib and tucker, bell bottoms, faded, distressed.

From Cardiff to Mississippi, from the Bay to the Delta.  Ain’t nothin’ shakin’, sang Eddie Fontaine in 1958.  How wrong he turned out to be.

What Others Have Said

Out at Amazon readers appear impressed.  “A great adventure by Peter Finch, in which he explores the history and origins of the music he grew up with as a young man in Cardiff..he embarks on a wonderful journey to the birthplaces of the American music which inspired him and others of his generation. There are references throughout of past and current musical experiences in his native Wales. It explores more than just the music, and reaches into the psyche of the American nation. I was sorry when i reached the last page, always a sign of a good read(I,ve struggled throuigh many a volume in the past!!) A thoroughly absorbing and very readable volume..recommended” said a verified purchaser.

Will Parfitt thought: “A truly remarkable book … fun, engaging detailed story telling – how the author explores his own interest in the roots of his lifelong musical interests with explorations to the home lands of blues and so on. I have a long list of really interesting tracks to explore on Apple Music now and discovering some gems. I only gave it 4 rather than 5 stars because it is too detailed for me, it isn’t exactly the sort of music I listen to, but for anyone interested in the roots of rock, especially in the blues, this is a great read and shared exploration.”

In a review for The Welsh Agenda (Spring/Summer 2016)  Sarah Hill wrote: “As a trip back through time to Cardiff at a pivotal moment in pop culture history, and forward to that historical moment’s afterlife, this is a vivid and engaging read that breathes new life into some great old music.”

Record Collector issue 452 had this:

“A Welsh Poets Wails The Blues. –  Peter Finch is a poet of renown and a key figure in the Welsh literary scene, with a love of American music nurtured in the suburbs, pubs and clubs of Cardiff. The Roots of Rock opens in the Welsh capital, in the company of Champion Jack Dupree and John Lee Hooker, as well as Clive, Geoff, Jan and Mike, with whom Finch formed his first band, The Down And Out Blueswailers. This establishes a solid foundation for the second phase, in which Finch can finally afford to travel to the States to follow blues trails, Sun Records tours, Elvis heritage sites and more.

Finch observes with a keen eye and a gently sardonic, but never unkind, writing style; it’s just as well he takes good notes because he packs in visits to musicianly cities, towns, hamlets, museums (even Dollywood) and discovers more music, live or recorded, than seems humanly possible.

Roots is written with the passion of a lifelong enthusiast on a deep grounding of knowledge. It is rooted in South Wales, brings the sights, sounds and smells of Americana back home and predicts a future that cherishes the live at the expense of the recorded.”
Tim Holmes

Planet for spring 2017 says:

“Peter Finch’s conclusion rings true, that roots music may have its distant origins in Europe or Africa, but what we hear today was very much created by the great craftsmen: Bling Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and so on.  I have been inspired to seek out some of the artist and recordings referred to, and for that, I can pay the author no greater compliment.”
Alan Empson

Ten Songs

Writing about songs in The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff to Mississippi And Back, has set me on a search to find the songs which actually define my life and my times.  If I went down on the sinking ship which ten songs would I want to hear the orchestra play?


Bob Dylan’s Dream
The master’s retread of  Martin Carthy’s take on Lord Franklin. The original is a traditional song about explorer John Franklin’s failure to find the North West passage.  Dylan’s version (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)  recalls his time in Greenwich Village.  But, unusual for Dylan,  it’s not the words here that make it but the melody.  It’s a reweaving of something old and, in true troubadour style, the making of it new again.

Down In The Bottom – Howlin’ Wolf
In a world populated by Cliff, Bobby, Billy and Bert how could anyone be called Howlin’?  The Wolf’s searing take on the urban blues came out of the speaker of my front-room Dansette like a revolution. This was the first Chess single I’d ever owned.  Released in the UK on the usually staid Pye label and bought by me in 1963 from a record store in City Road.   The guitar soared while the Wolf’s voice took paint off our walls.

Angi – Davy Graham
or maybe the version by Bert Jansch or Paul Simon or any of the dozens of bohemian folkies populating Cardiff’s 1960s folk club scene.  Angi was the solo guitar piece by which all standards were set.  It’s an acoustic finger-styled slice of folk blues played with a capo on the second fret.  The mystique surrounding it was and is intense.  Its sheer difficulty is what makes it.  Its sound is a complete thrill.

Boogie Chillen – John Lee Hooker
While we were all imagining we’d revolutionised the musical world in the sixties Hooker had actually done it in 1948 with this piece of guitar-driven, mumbling wonderment.  The version I owned appeared on a compilation mix-sixties blues album.  Here Hooker could be heard banging the studio walls and stamping his feet in time to his driving off-kilter boogie rhythm.   Hooker put out at least six versions of the song using different titles and a range of aliases.  Like all good bluesmen he never allowed a good tune to leave him.  Do it once, do it again.

Man of Constant Sorrow – Stanley Brothers
This is where my love of the Appalachian high lonesome comes from.  The Everly Brothers had a touch of it.  So did Dylan in his version.  But for a rising whine of sheer back of neck thrilling delight then it has to be the Stanleys.   I discovered them late, witnessing Ralph, the elder and surviving brother,  sing this song in North Carolina.  Hearing it again in the film O Brother Where Art Thou cemented it into my consciousness.

Mystery Train – Elvis Presley
Sixteen coaches long, so it couldn’t be British.  I came to it late, first imagining Elvis to consist entirely of overwrought RCA rock or post-Army service pap.  But those early Sun sides, when I got to them in the 80s,  are where the rocking goose laid its rocking egg.  Scotty Moore’s echo-chambered guitar behind the King’s understated menace makes this one of the top rock and roll records of all time.

 Runaround Sue – Dion
I made a will recently and they asked me what I’d like played at my funeral.  I said this.  Just right for rolling in box down the aisle.  It’s infectious doo-wop-driven dance music from the tail end of rock and roll.  Dion came to the Cardiff Capitol to perform it.  All you have to do is to show people of a certain age the Top Rank record label on which the song first appeared and they’ll sing all the words.

Wonderful Land – Mike Oldfield
By the time the Shadows had got round to releasing this as a single most of the Welsh world was gearing itself up for the Beatles.  I waited until the 1980s for guitar genius Mike Oldfield to put out his version.  The song is all melody,  uplifting,  and utterly repeatable.  I already own a CD containing 22 versions of the Shadow’s Apache.  I’m waiting now for them to do the same thing with Wonderful Land.

Old Blue – Georgia Ruth
After Alan Stivell faded into old age it seemed that the harp, as a popular instrument, was heading for the dump.  But then, post-Millennium, along came Georgia.  Her memorable take on this nineteenth century minstrel song is both innovative and invigorating.  It’s another melody that has been inside my head ever since the Byrds first put it there in 1969.

Electricity – Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
This is where the blues went when black men stopped singing them.  Beefheart was a left-field innovator who added surrealism to the 12-bar tradition.  I first heard him when  John Peel played an entire Beefheart, song after song, on his programme.  The Captain was the link between rock music, concrete poetry and dada experiment that I needed.  I never looked back.

An earlier version of this post first appeared in The Western Mail on Saturday 9th January, 2016

The Stetson And Other Signs That You Are In The Country

I’m outside the twin-domed front of the Gaiety cinema on City Road.  I’ve got a mackintosh  over my back like a western cape and a stick for a gun shoved inside my elastic s-buckle belt.  Near as I can get to a fifties cowboy.  I’ve got friends with me, a whole gang of them.  It’s Saturday mid-day and we’ve just emerged from a few hours of bliss watching episodes of Flash Gordon, Laurel and Hardy and a full B-movie western.   Today it was Cody of the Pony express in his buckskin jacket riding the range and vanquishing all foes with a brace of six-shooters.  The mail, even out there in the arrow-filled desert wilds,  just had to get through.

The Hat rack In Central Nashville

The hat rack in central Nashville Photo: P Finch

Back at Peter Hughes’ house the only television in the entire district sat like a religious relic.  It was  encased in walnut and revered by all.  Before it we clustered.  On the black and white 405-line screen Hopalong flickered.  Black Stetson, silver studded belt.  There were others too.  Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, unexpectedly breaking into Back in the Saddle Again  while wearing an embroidered shirt with smiling mouth pockets and mother of pearl buttons.  Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, in a Stetson and red bandana, galloping Trigger to the tune of Happy Trails or Cool Water.  There was something here, subliminally, about gun smoke and western songs, about the rhythm of horses hoofs and the thrumming of guitars, about Stetsons and country music.

Western dress, de rigueur in the actual west, rarely surfaced in British fashion.  There were moments when cowboy boots, in particular cowboy boots for women, would be acceptable, even sexily racy.  For a time they were a feature on London’s Kings Road.  But these moments were not many.  Elements of western dress, in particular the bolo or shoe-string tie, moved as if by osmosis into the dress of teddy boys.  There were also times when fringes hanging down from the arms of your massively round-collared leather jacket in the hippie seventies recalled the kind of thing Indians habitually wore, or so the films said.  But if you wanted to see what cowboys dressed in then you needed to visit the places where they roamed.

The Stetson hat, which would make you look a little like Crocodile Dundee if you wore one on the streets of New York is common throughout the south.  It’s the big signal of western wear, this large, broad-brimmed,  and certainly not inexpensive headpiece.   Once thought to have been the hat of choice throughout the west during its wilder days, study of old photographs shows this to be entirely untrue.  If you were on the frontier as a pioneer in the first part of the nineteenth century then you were far more likely to be seen wearing a black derby bowler hat of the kind regularly seen on the streets of London than you were some wide-brimmed sombrero.  Despite Frederick Remmington, populariser of the image of the wild west in paintings and a whole host of Hollywood films, the Stetson did not make an appearance until around 1870.

Its creator, John Batterson Stetson, himself the son of a hat maker, came up with the design for the first “boss of the plains” hat in 1865.  This had a wide brim to keep off the rain and sun, a high crown to hold in a pocket of insulating air and could, at a push, be used to carry water.  They were great for fanning recalcitrant trail side camp fires.  A version was adopted by the US Cavalry and the hat style took off right across the whole cowboy west.

Sharp shooters adopted it.  So did sheriffs and just about everybody else with business attended to from the back of a horse.  When the movies finally arrived they depicted a western population where the Stetson, in both its black and its white incarnation,  was what you had on your head.  Some stars adopted wilder styles, innovating with the super-large ten gallon version, fine on celluloid, impractical on the plains.  There’s a photo out there of Tom Mix wearing one that’s taller than his face.  There’s another showing Gene Autry plus police escort leaving the Cardiff Capitol Cinema in 1939.  He has on his head a white ten gallon.  He looks more of a cowpoke than Cowboy Copas.  Copas stuck to a flat topped Stetson.  But he did go for enormously wide brims.

So, too, did most of the other singers in the emerging country and western style of music.  Didn’t matter if you were a steel guitar player with a western swing band, a mainstream Nashville country singer in the style of  Eddy Arnold, an outlaw like Waylon, a man in black or a Dwight Yokham Americana purveyor you wore a hat.  Alan Jackson, George Straight, Clint Black, Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks and other mainline 80s and 90s singers all did and became known as hat acts.  Man, guitar, and Stetson.  The style of dress persists.

Turning the supermarket aisle corner in Food City in 2014 Dandridge, Tennessee, a sleepy tiny town on the edges of Douglas Lake, I bump into an oldster coming the other way.  He’s pushing a trolley loaded with pensioners’ goods – cheap meat cuts, packets of grits, large cans of beans.  He’s wearing cowboy boots, western jeans, a shirt with smiling pockets and black piping.  On his head he has a white Stetson hat.

Country music, or at least its stage and TV appearance component, was the driver behind much of present-day western apparel.  Right across America there are stores that specialise in retailing hats, massively expensive tooled leather cowboy boots, embroidered  shirts, ranch buckle belts, string ties and the rest of the regalia.

The original cowboys dressed as they did for practical reasons.  Their hats kept off the sun.  They were tied to their chins with strips of leather or ripped-off hat bands.  Their brims were decorated with Indian beads, woven horsehair or rattlesnake hides.  Their boots could slide easily into the stirrup.  The high Cuban heel prevented them from slipping out.  The tall laceless style of the boot protected the leg.   Shorter versions with cut-down walking heels came later.

The Cowboy’s  denim shirts, derived from the sort worn by Confederate soldiers, lasted well in a difficult climate.  They wore leather chaps to keep off the cactus spines or woollen ones as a hedge against cold wind.  Round their neck they wore a bandana to stave off dust.

Early cinema  cowboys and country singers took the style and elaborated it.  Boots became increasingly ostentatious and were manufactured from alligator and rattlesnake skin or coloured highly decorated leather.  Shirts were tailored with contrasting yokes often outlined in piping and began to be embroidered with cattle insignia, stars and entwining roses.  Colour, which the real cowboys avoided for fear it might spook the cattle, rolled like a rash of rainbows.    Stripes, plaids, garish checks, bright greens, blues  and reds.  John Wayne, as the Ringo Kid in the film Stagecoach(1939),  wore a bib fronted Western shirt in a style adapted from those worn in the Civil War.  Casey Tibbs, the bronco rider, did the same.  In 1938 Denver shirt maker Jack A Weil replaced standard buttons with a  metal ring gripper snap made by Scovill of Connecticut.  The C&W shirt popper button.  The style caught on.

For many outside country music’s heartlands western apparel meant nothing until the advent of country rock and the arrival of The Byrd’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) and, in particular, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ album,  Gilded Palace of Sin (1969).  Here, on the album cover of the Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman show stopper, the band sport lavishly embroidered Nudie suits.  These show roses intertwined with  marijuana leaves which added a whole new dimension to the style of alt-country that this album was to launch.  There might not have been an immediate rush to appear on the streets of cities across the world dressed as country stars but the style of dress did become socially more acceptable.  Just a little.

Today western dress does duty in many parts of America’s Southern States  as formal wear.  You dress in your alligator boots and your bolo tie to worship at church, sell insurance, go for a job interview, attend a funeral.   The style is so common no one notices.

I track the outfit I’m going to buy down in a store in Pigeon Forge.  Boots, shirt, jacket.  There’s a range of footwear that runs two entire fifty meter walls.  Boots in just about every colour and style possible so long as they’re cowboy.  Levi jeans, tooled leather belts with elaborate decorated silver buckles.  Chaps seem to be missing which is understandable.  Urban cowboys do not look cool turning up wearing what look like giant fleece waders on their lower limbs.

Johnny Cash

How Johnny Cash used to advertize it Photo: P Finch

I try on a hat, a black wide-brimmed outlaw headpiece with a deep red hatband of the kind I imagine law breakers might sport in their desert hideaways in New Mexico.  It fits but I look ridiculous, even here in the heartland.   A Welsh-accented cowpoke with a face that lacks both beard and weather-beaten gnarls.  How it would be walking down St Mary Street back home I just can’t imagine.    I settle for a shirt with green and red roses intertwining across the yoke and those famous metal popper buttons.  It’s heavy, tailored,  and perfect for strolling down Nashville’s Broadway.  I love it.  It’s on a hanger now in the back bedroom wardrobe.  Preserved in a plastic bag.  Never worn it once.

Elvis Never Did Howl With The Wolf

Some sections of The Roots of Rock that failed to make the final cut

Outside the Birthplace complex is the Mississippi Blues Trail Elvis marker which tells me that Presley continued to incorporate the blues into his music throughout his career.  Not to my ears.  Elvis Presley was no down home blues singer, despite his Sun label origins.  Check the back catalogue.  Not much Mississippi delta in there.


At the Presley Birthplace in Tupelo

Presley would sell records but the edges would be smoothed.  The interests of the buying public  would be paramount.   Even his country collections, and there were quite a number of these, sound like countrypolitan Nashville where turning a buck was all there was.  In fact Nashville was where Elvis recorded much  of this material with stalwarts Chet Atkins and slip-note pianist Floyd Cramer appearing on his discs.  Over the years Elvis appears to have abandoned any real interest in music itself.  He never followed the careers of others, ignored his roots, and broke new ground not at all.

If he’d lived and Rick Rubin had got hold of him just imagine.  Rick Rubin was the producer who saved Johnny Cash in his final years giving us the stripped back sound of the American Recordings.    Rubin could do wonders with even the least promising of material.  Check his Neil Diamond career salvaging  12 Songs  and the equally engaging Home Before Dark. 

Elvis was Elvis.  Apart from the 1968 Comeback Special on TV and those American Studios sidesteps in 1969 everything would be santised and smooth.  This was down to Colonel Parker, his mind-controlling manager, and his relentless pursuit of movie dollars.  That rock and roll rebel, the one he was that Sun made him, that singer was never to return.  There’d be no Elvis the Sessions Recorded in London, no Elvis Howls with the Wolf, nor Elvis meets the Rolling Stones.  Could have been, so easily.  The Beatles went to see him at Graceland at the height of their career.  Elvis had no idea what to make of this band of Liverpool jokers.  Rapport was low, despite John Lennon admitting to Elvis’s significant influence on his early work.  Presley stayed contained, manicured, managed to the last crease in his white flared trousers. Elvis the innovator.  No.

Not to say that in his extensive output there are not decent sounds.  Among his hundreds of sides there are any number of great hit records, songs that endure.  Despite the British Invasion and the rise of alternative culture Presley records continued to sell.  His low budget films, however, did not.  But hell, if you’ve ever tried any of those last dozen then you’ll know only too well why.


On the walls of Graceland

Fifty Things You’ll Discover in The Roots Of Rock

John Lee Hooker playing in a south Wales surf club in 1964


The two versions Howlin’ Wolf and Smokestack Lightening striking Sophia Gardens Pavilion

How the 78 turned into the 45 and the 33⅓ took over the world

The fakery of Big Bill Broonzy, the man who replaced Robert Johnson at Carnegie Hall’s 1938 Spirituals to Swing

How Champion Jack Dupree, boxer and boogie pianist, got one over on the veterans at Cardiff’s Womanby Street British Legion Club

How not to build a 45 rpm record player from a 78 rpm turntable, a biro, a cone of paper and a pin.

The 30-watt musical past of the land that invaded America, great Great Britain

How Bill Haley, the fat-faced middle-aged salesman and major populariser of rock and roll, ended up as he started – singing country

The finding of Alexis Korner at Church jumble sales and where the British blues began

The story of the Down and Out Blueswailers, the Cardiff-famous blues band that never played a note

How harmonica-player Sonny Terry also hit the groove with a Jew’s harp

Midnight Special failing to impress at Bridge Street’s Greyhound, 1960s south Wales centre for the down and out and the consumption of scrumpy

The real story of the blues.  Were they as ancient as we have all been led to believe?  They were not

The tale of Willie Dixon’s centrality to the music of Chess and his German-promoted tours of Europe which changed the world

How the blues up from Llanystumdwy

Where bluegrass came from, how it appeared in the UK and how it really is up there in the Appalachian Hills

How Jesus Came Searching, and the importance of the Christian Gospel in north American sounds

Raymond Fairchild’s Opry, clog dancing most nights among the excesses of  Maggie Valley, NC

How Pontypridd is a Welsh bluegrass heartland

How the Celtic harp, where so much music began,  has become again a vital instrument in the rocking world

Why Leonard Cohen is world touring until he dies

How the Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney and the Appalachian’s Doc Watson can sound exactly the same

The George Jones excesses of Nashville, the amazing country music graveyards and the medieval Welsh castle sitting there to the city’s south

Finch appearing, at long last, on stage at the Ryman

Music Row’s session drummer washing cars on main street

The car park where Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel

David Ackles on the 40, rolling right through blues country

Sleepy John Estes’ house out back of tourist information right on the highway, photos of the great man lining the walls

The soul roots of Memphis, Schwab’s selling magic soul dust, studios everywhere, soul food on every corner

Graceland dominated by tourists, its walls graffitied to death, Elvis relegated to glitter instead of glory

Jerry Lee Lewis showing up drunk with a gun wanting to shoot the King

The story of hit maker and Elvis backer Bill Black, rock and roll’s doomed man

The remaking and over glory of Sun Records

The bluemen singing the whites right down in the Delta and how that Delta is not a river meets the sea thing after all

The worst poetry in the world at the Elvis Presley birthplace in Tupelo, site of John Lee Hooker’s flood when the Mississippi overflowed and half the blues world went under


Elvis and friends at Porthcawl

Elvis alive again, this time singing on every street corner of  Porthcawl

How, despite the essential authenticity of the black diaspora,  it’s the white men who dominate the blues

How bluegrass is a recent invention and not the ancient olde tyme music you always thought it was


Highway 61 runs right by my baby’s door


Steve Martin & The Rangers at Brevard

The trail taken by the Knoxville Girl from a Shropshire graveyard to the 75 rolling across Tennessee, the Louvin Brothers, the Everlys, The Cherryholmes  and the Osborne Brothers all celebrating her passage

The finding again of Root Boy Slim and his Sex Change Band in Asheville, NC

Cecil Sharp’s place in the pantheon and, in particular, his visit to Hot Springs.  How English folk song’s rediscovery ended up influencing everything

The glories of the vast Christian Book Outlet in showman’s wonderland, central Pigeon Forge

The Steep Canyon Rangers, with Steve Martin on lead,  putting Brevard on the map

The blue smoke reality of overstuffed hickory-flavoured  Dollywood, glitter-girl Parton’s homeland

How everything in the Appalachains, bar the music, is made of wood

Country Music’s big bang in Bristol, both VA and TN, the small town that started it all

How Johnny Cash sounds better on 78 than he does on 45

Why the Stetson and shirts with smiles on their pockets dominate the south

How all these musics circle, separate and then rejoin.  The truth found on a beach in France.  Roots music as world music. Rock and roll and finger-in-your-ear singing, all the same

The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back
published by  Seren Books tells the story.  It comes complete with comprehensive timelines, histories, discographies, playlists and  essentials that you just have to hear.

£9.99  isbn: 9781781722664
Orders to Seren


Read and then listen.  Rock On, the music never stops.

Gremlins in The Roots of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi and Back

In all books printer’s gremlins and other slips of the tongue, the pen and the mind get in there between the book and reality. Some of the small blunders made in the first printing of The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back are shown here. If you spot any others then do please let me know.

The Byrds’ seminal album Sweetheart of the Rodeo gets four mentions in the body of the text, and so it should. No, actually,  it only gets three.  On page 123, unaccountably, the album gets a retitle as Sweethearts of the Radio.

On page 42 Ralph and I sneak out to watch the film Rock Around The Clock in Queen Street’s Olympia cinema.  Historian Brian Lee suggests that this might have actually been shown in the Gaumont on the same street. I know that a few years later I saw Twist Around The Clock  at the Gaumont but Rock Around The Clock had the teds jiving at the Olympia.  Didn’t it?  If you saw the film in Cardiff back in the day and can recall where then please let me know.

On page 54 the Hohner harmonica gets misrepresented as a Horner.

Page 71 tells the story of Granada TV’s foray into the blues with a programme they recorded on the disused Wilberham Road railway station in Manchester. I suggest that the railway itself was the “not yet privatised LMS”.  I should have said “the not yet privatised Midland Region of British Rail”.

On page 210 it should be Haight-Ashbury rather than Height-Ashbery