Friday, September 25, 2009
American Roots Music in Europe: A Surprise Finding
Most jazz fans are well aware of the expatriation factor, the movement of American jazz musicians from the United States to Europe during the 1950's and 60's. Following the lead of the Lost Generation whose obligatory jaunts to Paris have fueled many a Ph.D dissertation, jazz musicians also found life in Europe more accommodating and a public considerably more appreciative of their talents. Literally dozens: Kenny Drew, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter just to name a few of the greats, made the move locales such as Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm, and never regretted it. The many sociological factors that motivated this movement are amply documented in Bill Moody's well researched study; "The Jazz Exiles: American Musicians Abroad," reviewed here.
Europe's fascination with American Roots Music runs deep and as I mentioned in a previous post, Spain has most recently become smitten with rockabilly. I recently discovered a function on youtube that confirmed some of what I had always heard anecdotally about the love for rockabilly musicians in Europe. The youtube fuction is "statistics and data" which appears above the listeners comments. A simple click on this function provides a most illuminating map, indicating in which particular countries the recording is most often accessed and listened to. Upon discovery of this fascinating function I immediately proceeded to check some rockabilly musicians from the 1950's whose music has essentially been lost in obscurity here in the United States. What I was able to glean without too much difficulty is a rather astonishing fact: Sweden is probably the world's most fanatical rockabilly nation. For example, and there are many more to corroborate this observation, the case of Carl Mann, a Sun and Jaxon recording artist who enjoyed a fairly strong following in his heyday here in the states back in the 1950's. Check out Carl's "Pretend" recorded for Sun in the fifties and check out the map. Do the same for his "Gonna Rock and Roll" Just to confirm this is not an isolated case, take a look at a more canonical artist like Carl Perkins and his well known "Matchbox." More interest in the U.S yes, probably as much related to the Beatles cover of the song than Carl's talent - yet the interest in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden is exceptionally strong. Also look at Ronnie Self, largely forgotten in the U.S. Ronnie's great tune "Flame of Love" is another example of the same interest in Sweden. Joe Clay, Gene Summers, Billy Lee Riley and Ronnie Dawson provide more evidence, and there is much more.
While researching the small, unknown and long since defunct Vaden label from Trumann, Arkansas I ran across this fascinating article that also speaks to Sweden's love affair with American rockabilly from the 1950's. Perhaps the question that remains is: why Sweden?
While I don't have a definitive answer, I do believe it is related to Sweden's use of its national budget to support the arts and radio programs tha feature American Roots Music and the Swede's tradition of embracing American Jazz musicians that dates to the 1950's.