Like many others across the country, I’m watching the Ken Burns PBS documentary Country Music. It’s typical Ken Burns… it’s amazing! I like to consider myself a student of music history and so, while watching the feature on Hank Williams last night, I was reminded of what Jerry Lee Lewis once said: “There are only 4 original song stylists who ever lived… Al Jolson, Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams and me.” Now, that is a pretty bold statement by one of rock’s most audacious artists… and his statement isn’t too far from truth. But no matter who your favorite singer is, you can be sure there’s someone who influenced him or her. I’m fascinated with tracing the musical lineage of some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century to find out exactly who influenced them. It’s well known that Hank Williams adored Ernest Tubb…and Ernest Tubb idolized Jimmy Rodgers. Who did the “Father of Country Music” and the first man inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame listen to? Rodgers was influenced and learned a great deal from the styles of Tin Pan Alley songs, the blues, and jazz.
On to Al Jolson… “The Greatest Entertainer of his time” …developed his own style, like Rodgers, but not without influence. Jolson’s influence was his father, Moses, who was a cantor in their synagogue.
Tracing the early influences of any recording artist is like reading the early lineage in the Bible. “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren”; Matthew 1:3 and so on, and so on.
Well, as far as influence, it’s much like that with artists of any musical genre. Jimmy Rodgers begat Ernest Tubb, Ernest Tubb begat Hank Williams, Hank Williams begat Ray Price, etc. Many people feel that Elvis Presley single-handedly invented rock & roll music. In my opinion, Elvis simply drew from his early influences, which were the southern gospel quartets, the rhythm & blues influences from the records Sam Phillips was making in Memphis, and the Grand Ole Opry. This fusion would start being referred to as “rockabilly” in the mid-1950s. So, Elvis…the Inventor of rock & roll? I don’t think so… but he sure perfected it and presented it to the masses.
We have all been influenced by someone. At Phoenix Construction, our influence begins and ends with Jesus Christ, who taught us all to “remain humble, show compassion, believe in a common good, to invest in the truth, to show mercy, to be genuine, and promote a peaceful environment.“ Founder and CEO Kaleb Brewer will tell you his great-grandfather was a big influence on his early life. It was he who taught him “the hottest fires produce the most beautiful diamonds.”
Influences. The question is often asked…”Would there be a Beatles without an Elvis Presley? A Bruce Springsteen without a Bob Dylan?A Garth Brooks without a KISS or James Taylor (his two major influences)?”
Well, this is what I think I know to be true: Jerry Lee was probably correct on all four counts of his four original song stylists, but none was without influence.