Alan Freed: Rock’n’roll, payola, and innovation!

How many people really have an understanding of where their favourite genre of music came from? Do you sit lying awake at night, disturbed by the fact you don’t know where the term rock’n’roll came from, or why exactly Rolling Stone magazine is called just that? There is so much we take for granted when it comes to the history of music, and I for one believe a greater understanding in rock’n’roll’s history, is a greater appreciation of what our Rock Godfathers fought against, to achieve what we now have.

Rock’n’roll has so many different origins, but the term itself came from American dj Alan Freed. This is now part two of my rock history lessons! So pay attention, there is some devious stuff going on behind the scenes of these seemingly innocuous producers that have given us so much.

Alan Freed was a DJ on a Cleveland radiostation in Ohio. During his time in the spotlight he produced a greater widespread understanding and appreciation for rhythm and blues music that was starting to make a move from the underground scene, mostly within African American population hotspots, to the radiowaves broadcasting on a national and international basis.

Freed, born in 1921, became an avid music lover as he hit highschool. Playing mostly brass instruments, he endeavoured to create a swing band, titled the Sultans of Swing. Unfortunately for Freed, he suffered a great deal of pain through terrible ear infections which caused his band leader dreams to fall to dust.

Shortly after WWII had ceased, he found a great interest within local radiostations, and moved about the stations in frequency (no pun intended). With an insatiable taste in Jazz and Pop stylings, he became well known due to the fact that these styles of music were rarely played in order to keep juvenile delinquency to a minimum.

During this time, Freed came to understand that pop music was not favoured by the larger music corporations such as the BBC, which we are now seeing in play with the hit film The Boat That Rocked.

Throughout his lifetime, Freed never seemed to focus on any form of racism whatsoever. His appreciation for the “black styles” of music, such as rhythm and blues earned him great respect among all communities, which also gained him a large amount of access to new styles of music which he aimed to revolutionise.

He did just that, with playing a greater amount of rock’n’roll music – the term of which he coined, and then dubbed himself the Father of Rock. While he wasn’t the first person to play this music, his fame far exceeded any other of the DJ’s during this era. His prevalence throughout the music world was a great monopoly; featured in rock films of the late ’50s and ’60s, as well as making headlines for what would become known as the Payola Scandal.

During Freed’s time at the top, he had become infamous for his few marriages and womanising, as well as his prevalence within the music community. However, his genius may not be entirely attributed to his ability to see innovative performers. In fact, Freed was accepting large amounts of money from certain record labels to play specific songs. Freed tried to carry away the attention from this situation by declaring wildly that the “police don’t want you to have fun.” which gained his arrest and drew more attention to the bribery he was currently conducting.

Freed also dabbled in song writing. He had co-written on many songs, and received royalties, while his name remained largely uncredited on the records. Through this, he had the ability to play the songs on the radio more frequently, causing a larger royalty payout, doubling his income through his own hand.

Freed was certainly an outstanding man. He brought rock’n’roll to our airwaves with a large appeal and widespread genre spectrum, opening the world’s eyes to the other forms of music than we were used to hearing.

He gave us a term for this crazy new phase, but also was heavily influenced through money which duly brought his demise.

Freed died in 1965, due to liver complications from his rampant alcohol abuse. Leaving behind four children, two ex-wives, a widow, and a huge career of music fame, Freed’s ashes were moved to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Freed was certainly an incredible character. Sticking it to the man before that concept was really even cemented into anarchic ideology, as well as bringing forth music to the popularity that we know it today. While he accepted money, he also gave us rock, and we really owe him a lot for that.

Share this now:
-