Jim Kent / Wichita Music History Project

Popular culture often provides a useful window into the past, highlighting larger trends and issues that may not be apparent at first. This was the case when I became involved in a project documenting local rock bands from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Going To Extremes

May 12, 2015

A lot of talented musicians like to show off their technical skills, and sometimes it’s annoying. There’s the jazz tenor saxophonist who won’t stop after 10 choruses, the lead guitarist who has never heard the expression “less is more.”

A musician’s ego can get the best of them. “Higher, faster, louder” is sometimes the quickest way to kill the mood.

Anetode / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Blues guitarist Robert Johnson is said to have gotten his musical talent by selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads close to the famous Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta. The same story was told earlier about another bluesman named Tommy Johnson.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Congress changed copyright law in the 1970s with a provision that allows songwriters to get out of their contracts 35 years after they had signed away their rights to record companies.

Markus Rödder / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The turntables are to hip hop what the guitar is to rock and roll. Or, more precisely, they are what the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard are to rock and roll.

Hip hop was born from the turntables, and through hip hop, the turntables were transformed from a simple playback device into an instrument that has been featured in countless jazz arrangements and even symphonies.

Musicians Who Sing Along

Mar 31, 2015
Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation

This is Glenn Gould’s famous 1981 recording of Bach’s "Goldberg Variations." If you listen very carefully, you can hear him singing along. He sang so loudly that his recording engineers often couldn’t avoid it being picked up by the microphones.

Merlijn Hoek / Wikiportrait / Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Rapper Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp a Butterfly is as much manifesto and rallying cry as it is an LP. While it’s now difficult to listen to hip hop without hearing echoes of Ferguson, Mo., Lamar intentionally places Butterfly squarely in the center of that conversation. The online magazine ‘The Root’ called it the music of the Black Lives Matter hashtag.

DanceCenter No1 / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

She has been known as Katie Woodencloak, Aschenputtel, Cendrillon, and of course, Cinderella. Her rags-to-riches story has been told in books, stage, film, television, opera and ballet. There are versions of it from all over the world. The popular French version of the tale, written by Charles Perrault, is best known for supplementing the narrative with such details as the pumpkin-turned-coach, the slippers made of glass and the fairy godmother.

bluesmuse / Flickr / Creative Commons

You may not be aware of this, but the last four decades of music have been heavily influenced by German underground rock from the 1970s.

Masks are more than a flashy stage gimmick for the emcee and producer MF DOOM. The iron mask, first worn by his namesake, the comic-book villain Doctor Doom, serves as the central conceit for what is now a decades-long exploration of hip hop’s more formal, structuralist elements.

DOOM raps primarily in two bar couplets, heavily coded with slang, and layers and layers of abstraction and association, as in the dizzying verses of the song “Figaro”: