Chuck Berry, a black man with a guitar, had been a rock and roll archetype in 1960, but by the end of the decade Jimi Hendrix
would be seen as rock’s odd man out for being… a black man with a
guitar. How did that occur?
The book, out September 26, began life as
Hamilton’s graduate thesis (he’s a professor at the University of
Virginia). But while it’s intellectually rigorous, Just Around Midnight is
also clearly and entertainingly written—not a surprise to anyone who
reads Hamilton on Slate, where he’s one of their music critics.
Hamilton locates the ways “rock and roll”
(which tended to denote everything from soul to surf music) became just
plain “rock” (which tended to mean only guitar music by white
people)—namely, in San Francisco’s psychedelic scene, full of
There, a pattern repeated from the folk revival that
preceded Beatlemania, in which largely white musicians tended to idolize
black forebears while ignoring contemporary R&B.
As Hamilton point
out, this mindset often put black rock and rollers into the
“predecessors” category even when the musicians in question were peers
and contemporaries, like when a Beatles biographer claims Smokey Robinson as a precursor when, in fact, Robinson was born the same year as John Lennon.
Even that précis doesn’t do justice to
the richness of Hamilton’s ideas, or his wide-ranging research, both
archival and musicological—the latter particularly during a chapter on
the musical interrelationship of Motown and the Beatles. Are there two
more oversaturated musical topics on the planet?
Along with the rest of
the ’60s rock and soul canon, Hamilton thinks, convincingly, that we’ve
only begun to understand them, especially side-by-side. [Read More]