History of the World According to the Movies: Part 74 – Music of Post-War America

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The 2004 biopic Ray tells the early life story of Ray Charles whose music would influence music for decades starring Jamie Foxx in his Academy Award winning performance. His music ranged from genres like jazz, R&B (fusing R&B and Gospel into Soul music), pop, rock n’ roll, and country. He was called “the only true genius” by none other than Frank Sinatra. Billy Joel said, “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.” Not to mention, the Beatles all expressed admiration for his achievements with Paul McCartney crediting him as the as the reason for getting into music. This film was released a few months after the man’s death but regardless of accuracy, it’s a fitting tribute that will let people know who this man really was. Not only that, but Jamie Foxx isn’t just playing Ray Charles in this movie, he is Ray Charles.

Whether they believed that the Post-WWII Era in America was a very good time or a very bad time, everyone has to concede the fact that the music was awesome. In this time, you have a great treasure trove of music that has become not only influential but also is still listened to today whether it be folk, big band, jazz, pop, R&B, country, blues, or the new genre of rock n’ roll. But of course, some people in my area may remember that time for doo wop since they play those specials on my PBS affiliate station during pledge drives. Still, this is the time of the popular singers like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Mitch Miller, and others. You have folk artists like Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio. You have jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie “Bird” Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk as well as singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughn. You have R&B artists like Little Richard, Ray Charles, Etta James, and others. You have country stars like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Frankie Laine, Patsy Cline, and others. Finally, you have rock n’ roll with artists like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Carl Perkins, and others. Oh, and you have Harry Belafonte, Les Paul, and plenty of crossovers and I mean, plenty. And this is just a sampling of those who had record hits. A lot of musicals and biopics are set in this era because of how the music and those who made them became legendary. Yet, many of these movies have their share of errors which I shall list accordingly.

Etta James:
Etta James never recorded before signing at Chess Records. (She recorded “Wallflower” for Modern Records before signing with Chess.)

Chuck Berry:

When arrested for violating the Mann Act, Chuck Berry angrily pointed out the resemblance between the Beach Boys “Surfin’ USA” and his “Sweet Little Sixteen.” (He was arrested in 1959 when nobody heard about the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys released “Surfin’ USA” in 1963 when he was still in prison and after Elvis entered the Army in 1958. Alan Freed didn’t introduce the song either since he was out of the radio business by then. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from Cadillac Records.)

Chuck Berry didn’t write “Johnny B. Goode.” (You may think this after seeing the first Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox playing the song while one the members called his cousin Chuck Berry up. However, Chuck Berry actually wrote the song himself and did the duck walk, too. The song is also partly autobiographical as well. Still, despite that Chuck Berry was in Cadillac Records, I can’t find “Johnny B. Goode” on the movie’s soundtrack album.)

Chuck Berry recorded “No Particular Place”, “Nadine”, and “Promised Land” in the mid-1950s. (Contrary to Cadillac Records, Berry recorded these songs in 1964. Yet, he did record “Johnny B. Goode” in 1955 which was his breakout hit but it’s not included in Cadillac Records. In many ways, to exclude “Johnny B. Goode” in a movie about Chess Records that Chuck Berry was a part of is a capital crime of the filmmakers and not just because I played that song in high school marching band.)

Frank Sinatra:

Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” was a hit in 1956. (It was released in 1957.)

Frank Sinatra enlisted the help of the Mafia to get the part of Private Maggio in From Here to Eternity. (Sorry, Godfather fans, but no horses were harmed in Sinatra’s pursuit to get the part of Maggio in From Here to Eternity, though it’s alleged he did have ties to the mob. Then again, most historians say that it was considered a package deal in those days to work in Vegas and rub elbows with guys named “Bugsy.” The horse’s head bit was probably something Mario Puzo just made up. It’s more likely his then-wife Ava Gardner persuaded the wife of Columbia’s studio head Harry Cohn to use her influence on him. Still, his performance in that movie not only won him an Oscar but also revived his career after years of decline. And, yes, he really could act.)

Buddy Holly:

Buddy Holly recorded “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” with his band in a recording studio. (Actually contrary to the 1987 La Bamba, he never performed this song with his band. He actually recorded it playing his own guitar on a home tape recorder. Only after his death, it was made into studio release after musical overdubs.)

The Crickets disbanded after Buddy Holly died. (Actually though you may think this they’re still around today.)

Buddy Holly toured with a full orchestra during his final concert. (Contrary to The Buddy Holly Story, he actually toured with a small unnamed band that consisted of Waylon Jennings on bass {yes, that Waylon Jennings}, Carl Bunch on drums, and Tommy Allsup on lead guitar.)

Buddy Holly was musically literate. (While there’s a scene of him writing a score in The Buddy Holly Story, the real Buddy Holly couldn’t read or write music.)

Buddy Holly was born with the last name of Holly. (His family’s name was Holley and he got his stage name from a misprint on a record label. He adopted the revised spelling.)

Buddy Holly toured with Same Cooke. (He never did.)

Buddy Holly’s fellow Crickets members were Jesse and Ray Bob. (Their names were Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin.)

Buddy Holly’s parents were against him being a rock musician. (Actually contrary to The Buddy Holly Story, they were more supportive than a lot of parents were. His mother even helped him write the lyrics to “Maybe Baby.”)

Buddy Holly’s pastor was opposed to his musical projects. (You’d think that Holly’s pastor and family would’ve been opposed to his music projects since they were Baptists, but not so. In fact, it’s said that Holly regularly tithed his to church.)

Buddy Holly’s final concert was at the Clear Lake Auditorium and he traveled on his Winter Party 59’ tour on Greyhound buses. (It was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa and his Winter Party 59’ tour traveled on unheated school buses. They probably were dreaming of touring on a Greyhound.)

Buddy Holly’s front teeth were knocked out before a performance on US television. (They were knocked out before his performance in the UK.)

Cindy Lou was the name of Buddy Holly’s girlfriend when he wrote “Peggy Sue.” (Cindy Lou was Buddy’s niece but it was renamed after the name of a girlfriend of one of his bandmates from the Crickets.)

Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed “Maybe Baby” on the Ed Sullivan Show. (The songs the performed were “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” and “Oh, Boy.”)

Buddy Holly produced his own songs. (His producer Norman Petty did.)

Ritchie Valens:

Ritchie Valens and his half-brother Bob Morales were in love with the same girl. (Contrary to the 1987 La Bamba, there was no such love triangle between Ritchie, Bob, or Rosie. I’m not sure if there ever was a Rosie. However, this poetic license was based on the director’s personal experience in which he and his brother were vying over the same girl.)

Ritchie Valens was right handed. (He was left-handed.)

Ritchie Valens played “Donna” on American Bandstand in October 1958. (Actually he sang, “Come on, Let’s Go” contrary to La Bamba.)

Jerry Lee Lewis:

Jerry Lee Lewis was in his thirties when he married his 13-year old cousin Myra. (Actually he was only 22 but he’s played by a 35 year old Dennis Quaid in Great Balls of Fire!, which makes it seem very creepy. Yet, even a guy in his twenties marrying his 13 year old cousin is disgusting enough.)

Jerry Lee Lewis snuck into a dance hall to hear Big Maybelle sing “Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” which he would later cover. (Contrary to Great Balls of Fire!, this didn’t happen, but that scene does reveal that a lot of early rock n’roll songs were originally performed by black singers and a lot of white performers would appropriate black music, usually without their credit. A more famous example would be “Hound Dog” which was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton before Elvis came along. Yes, early rock n’roll did consist of white people stealing black people’s songs.)

Jerry Lee Lewis proposed to Myra Gale Brown minutes before they got married while on the road to Mississippi. (Actually according to Brown, he proposed to her two days before they were on the road. However, it’s understandable that they got married in Mississippi since the minimal age there in 1957 was 14 for men and 12 for women but it would be changed later that year. However, Lewis’ marriage to Brown was illegal but not because Myra was 13 years old {though Lewis said she was 15}. In fact, despite being in his early 20s, Lewis’ marriage to Myra was his third and it began before his second divorce was made final. Thus, it was illegal on grounds of bigamy, not age of consent laws. Actually, this was a second time he married someone while divorcing another.)

Jerry Lee Lewis performed “I’m on Fire” in 1958. (He recorded it in 1964.)

Jerry Lee Lewis was a household name around Johnny Cash’s first show. (He wasn’t famous at the time and only had one hit. Also, he wasn’t used to the stage contrary to Walk the Line.)

“Great Balls of Fire” was No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (It only made No. 2 at the highest.)

Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale Brown lived happily ever after they were exposed by the British press that made him cut his tour short and the scandal that erupted effectively killed the superstar phase of his career.(Though Jerry and Myra were married for 13 years and had 2 kids before their 1970 divorce, Myra wrote, “The good ol’ days, of which there were exactly 569, were over.” Not to mention, for those not familiar with Jerry Lee Lewis, he led a dark and driven life shadowed with drugs, booze, scandal, and the ends of two of his seven wives as well as one of his six kids. Also, he was said to be violently abusive to his wives as well.)

Johnny Cash:

Johnny Cash’s first wife Vivian was a total bitch who was disapproved of his early attempts to break into the music scene as well as urged him to give it up and focus on getting a better job from her father. (According to Johnny Cash’s autobiography, his first wife was extremely supportive and their marital problems didn’t start until after career took off. Their marriage also lasted for about a decade {though he pretty much abandoned his staunch Catholic first wife to force her into seeking a divorce}. Yet, in Walk the Line, you want Johnny to end up with June and not make him look like such a total drug addled jerk. Then again, his daughter Roseanne did have a good relationship with her stepmother. His dad is also shown as a dick as well in Walk the Line, but he was really a distant and silent type according to Cash yet this had more to do with him not speaking publicly against his old man. But Ray Cash wasn’t a nice man who constantly belittled Johnny and his siblings as well as openly blamed Johnny for his brother’s death on circular saw accident. Yet, it is true that his parents named him J.R {and his family always referred to him by this} but he had to change it to John when he enlisted in the Air Force.)

Johnny Cash had no facial scars. (He actually had a scar on the side of his chin. Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t.)

Johnny Cash only had one brother. (He had three brothers and three sisters. Yet, his brother Jack did die that way as in Walk the Line, which wracked John with guilt.)

“I Still Miss Someone” was about his brother Jack while “Walk the Line” was about June. (Actually, “I Still Miss Someone” was about June while “Walk the Line” was about Vivian and his relationship with her didn’t last.)

Johnny Cash smashed the footlights in Las Vegas during a concert. (He actually smashed the footlights at the Grand Ole Oprey.)

During an audition, Johnny Cash’s first choice to play gospel music was challenged by the studio owner as insincere. (Contrary to Walk the Line, this didn’t happen. Cash just played “Folsom Prison Blues” at his audition and Sam Philips signed him up on a Sun Records contract right away.)

Bobby Darin:

Bobby Darin was an aged and decrepit man in the late 1950s. (Actually despite having life long health problems that would claim his life at 37 {and he knew he wasn’t going to live long either}, Darin actually looked pretty much what you’d expect a guy in his twenties and aged much more gracefully, even if it was premature. Let’s just say casting 45 year old Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin probably makes the guy look more aged and decrepit even than he really was.)

Bobby Darin was wholly self-absorbed and selfish performer. (He was also a producer who worked to further careers of other talented performers though you wouldn’t know it in Beyond the Sea. One of the performers he helped was Richard Pryor.)

Elvis Presley:

Elvis Presley’s career was basically over by 1958 when he was drafted into the military. (Actually, his career as a teen sensation probably was or at least on a temporary sabbatical but remember, he ended his career wearing white rhinestone costumes over his overweight frame while performing in Las Vegas followed by his 1977 death on the floor of his bathroom. Still, there’s probably no one watching Great Balls of Fire! Who doesn’t know anything about Elvis. Not to mention, Johnny Cash also was a recording artist at Sun Records at this time, too, and there’s a photo of him with Elvis in the studio.)

Elvis Presley had black hair. (He was a natural blond and dyed it black starting in 1957. Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball were both natural brunettes by contrast, yet that’s not how we remember them hair color wise.)

Elvis Presley was left handed. (He was right handed.)

Elvis Presley had a drummer in his band during his years at Sun Records. (He had a bass guitarist and a lead guitarist while he played rhythm. Yet, he didn’t have a drummer join his band until he worked for RCA.)

Elvis Presley’s controversial appearance on The Milton Berle Show was during December 1956. (The episode aired in June and wouldn’t rerun in December because it was live.)

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” was a hit in 1957. (It was released in 1961.)

Ray Charles:

Ray Charles was from Florida. (He was born in Georgia but he did spend most of his childhood there.)

Ray Charles wasn’t sexually active until his musical career. (He said he had his first sexual experience at 13 with a 19 year old girl while still in blind school. But you wouldn’t know it from Ray.)

Ray Charles was only married once. (He was married twice. He was first married to a woman named Eileen Williams from 1951 to 1952. She’s not shown in Ray nor the fact that his first child was born in 1950. His marriage to Della Beatrice Howard {known as “Bea”} was his second which took place in 1955 and their first son Ray Charles Robinson Jr. would be born the same year. They would later have two other children.)

Ray Charles only had one illegitimate child to Margie Hendricks named Charles Ray in 1959. (Contrary to Ray, the boy’s name was Charles Wayne. Actually during the course of his life, Ray Charles would have 12 kids to 10 different women putting many sports figures and rappers to shame. Aside from the three sons he had with Bea and Charles Wayne to Margie Hendricks, he had a kid name Evelyn to girlfriend Louise Mitchell in 1950, a daughter Raenee to Mae Mosely Lyles in 1961, a daughter named Shelia Raye Charles Robinson to Sandra Jean Betts in 1963, a daughter Alicia in 1966 to a woman who remains unidentified to this day, a daughter named Alexandra to Chantal Bertrand, a son named Vincent to Arlette Kotchounian in 1977, a daughter named Robyn to Gloria Moffett in 1978, and a son named Ryan Corey to Mary Anne den Bok in 1987. And this is all coming from his Wikipedia page.)

Ray Charles met Quincy Jones at while auditioning for a club the night he arrived in Seattle. (Contrary to Ray, they met a few days later.)

The death of his brother led Ray Charles to use drugs. (Yes, he was traumatized about his brother’s drowning despite being five but the biggest heartbreak in his early life was the loss of his mother when he was 15. Yet, he never claimed that he started using drugs other than that he wanted to, though drug use was part of the jazz and R&B culture at the time. Still, he was never that apologetic as he’s depicted in Ray for his heroin addiction. And though he’d kick his heroin habit in 1964 which was mostly more out of avoiding to avoid going to prison after his arrest for possession, he continued to smoke pot for the rest of his life. He also drank gin almost every day. Still, he was hardly a spokesman for sobriety.)

Ray Charles pushed Margie Hendricks to have an abortion when he found out she was pregnant with his child. (He never did contrary to Ray. On the contrary, he was willing to acknowledge and welcome all his children and there were many. Also, his womanizing is far more downplayed in the movie and he said he had no capacity or any desire to stay faithful to one woman.)

Miscellaneous:

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Jim “the Big Bopper” Richardson died in a 1958 plane crash. (They died in 1959. American Hot Wax has it take place before the 1958 riot that ended Alan Freed’s career.)

“Mannish Boy” was a popular song in 1948. (It was released in 1955.)

“Mack the Knife” was a popular song in 1958. (It was released in 1959, but it’s a great theme song for Quiz Show which is about people doing very bad things for money and fame.)

The riot at the live Rock n’Roll show in 1958 was started by DJ Alan Freed which was held at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, NY. (Actually contrary to American Hot Wax, the riot happened at the Boston Arena and Freed was eventually cleared of all charges. Yet, he was fired from his job at the WINS Radio in New York and forced into bankruptcy.)

Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, June Carter, and Elvis Presley toured together for Sun Records. (Unfortunately, contrary to Walk the Line, this couldn’t have happened. By the time Jerry Lee Lewis was signed to Sun Records, Elvis had moved to RCA and toured on his own.)

Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” was popular in 1958. (It was released in 1962.)

“Tutti Frutti” was a song on the radio in the early 1950s. (It was released in November 1955.)

Saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman was a little more than a loudmouth junkie. (Yes, he was into drugs but he and Ray Charles were friends for over a decade. Contrary to Ray, he was a soft-spoken, gentle man of few words. Both were brought up on bebop though Ray ignores this. To Ray Charles, jazz was the center of his soul.)

Mary Ann Fisher was a manipulative tart. (Contrary to Ray, she’s said to be sometimes infuriating and sometimes endearing as well as engaging.)

Record executive Ahmet Ertegun spoke with a thick Turkish accent. (He spoke with hardly any accent as in Ray, not with a thick one as in Beyond the Sea.)

Surf music was popular in the 1950s. (Actually there were few surf music hits at this time and they sounded like doo wop more than anything.)

Leonard Chess opened Chess Studios in the mid-1950s. (Contrary to Cadillac Records, Chess Studios opened in 1957. At the time, he would’ve recorded exclusively at Universal Recording. Also, I find it hard believe that he’d look like Adrien Brody.)

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