On December 10, 1963 the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite introduced the American public to an obscure band from Liverpool that was causing near riots among teenagers in Great Britain. The following day disc jockeys in America were inundated with calls from anxious teens to play the music of The Beatles. When the band played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 nearly half of all American television sets were tuned to the broadcast. Two months later, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Beatles songs held the top 5 spots of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, a feat that has never been equaled. During the next three years British groups dominated British and American charts. Groups and individuals like Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Hermans Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, Donovan and the Spencer Davis Group changed the course of American music and the landscape of pop culture forever.
But just what was it that made these British groups so appealing to American teenagers? In many respects the answer is surprising. This symposium The Catalina Island Museum Presents The British Invasion Rocks America is the first of its kind and will examine the movement of the blues from America to Britain and back to America during the British Invasion.
Catalina Island resident and rock icon Spencer Davis worked with the museum to organize the symposium, which takes place in the Avalon Casino on June 30th. The Spencer Davis Group produced such hits as Im a Man and Gimme Some Lovin and was at the center of rock nroll during the 1960s.
The symposium includes many of the best known figures of both American and British rock nroll., Davis stated in a recent interview from his home overlooking Avalons harbor. I was really surprised and quite pleased that people like Peter Asher and Micky Dolenz almost immediately accepted our invitation to participate in the symposium. It was quite clear from the beginning that the idea was both timely and compelling. One thing is for certain: all of the participants tell wildly entertaining, highly insightful stories when they were giants of rock nroll.
Grounded in the recordings of African-American artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, the roots of the British Invasion were in the poor rural areas of the American South. Labeled the blues, it developed from the spirituals of black churches, the chants of workers in cotton fields, and the plaintive songs that filled the long, lonely evenings of Southern prisons. Because the blues emanated from the black American South, its artists were condemned to obscurity in the 1950s. Rejected by a predominantly white establishment that related the sound with its African-American roots, the blues was labeled dangerous and a potentially corrupting influence on American youth. But singers like Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley discovered popular success by incorporating the blues into a sound that would become known as rock nroll. To appeal to a wide audience, the earliest rock nroll recordings present a more acceptable, homogenized version of the blues. Its simple solos laden with melancholy were transformed into a dance music played by four-piece combos that sped up its tempo and underscored its melody with a driving, rhythmic beat. In Britain, however, teenagers living in cities like Liverpool were purchasing recordings from sailors who had acquired a taste for the blues while traveling to American port cities like New Orleans. The gritty authenticity of the sound was irresistible and vividly evoked the smoky juke joints and sun-bleached cotton fields of a black America that was far away and, therefore, fairly benign to British tastes. It offered a striking contrast to the soft jazz and classical symphonies that dominated British radio, which was strictly regulated by the BBC.
The Catalina Island Museums symposium will include Martin Lewis, the TV and radio personality, who is also an expert on the Beatles and who will act as moderator. Lewis will interview the former DJ of pirate radio station Radio Caroline, Emperor Rosko, and musicians Spencer Davis, Peter Asher, and Micky Dolenz. A question and answer period with the audience will occur after the symposium. The Catalina Island Museum Presents The British Invasion Rocks America will take place on Saturday, June 30 at 4:00 p.m. in the theater of the Avalon Casino. Immediately following the symposium at 6:30 p.m., symposium participants will be available for a signing in the museums Harbor Room. The signing is free to the public. The opening reception for the exhibition Gimme Some Lovin: The Spencer Davis Group will take place on the same day at 6:00 p.m in the museum. Spencer Davis and the Catalina Island All-Stars will perform during a Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks at The Point at the Avalon Casino. The concert begins at 6:00 p.m.
For more information or to purchase tickets to the symposium, exhibition or concert, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: CatalinaMuseum.org