TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Tess Vigeland: You can’t really come to Cleveland and not think about rock and roll. Cleveland radio DJ Alan Freed first coined the term. And it’s said that this city hosted the very first rock and roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952. Of course, it is now home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The musicians featured here had their share of fame and fortune and plenty of financial ephemera.
So we took a brief tour of some of the cool money-related exhibits with one of the museum’s curators, Dr. Lauren Onkey.
Onkey: This is a fantastic artifact here in the museum. This is Howlin’ Wolf’s money case. And Howlin’ Wolf’s a fantastic blues and early rock and roll singer, and he didn’t trust banks.
Vigeland: He was ahead of his time then.
Onkey: That’s right. Not only for the history of failure of banks, but we think about African-American artists and their relationship to the business and controlling money, a whole new set of issues come into play there. So he demanded that he was paid before his performances and then he kept that money in his suitcase, under his chair while he played.
[Opening notes of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle”]
This is another fantastic and exciting artifact. It’s part of our Bruce Springsteen exhibit. And this is a beautiful 1960 Chevrolet Convertible Corvette. Bruce Springsteen bought this car after his first burst of nationwide success with “Born to Run” in 1975. So we see kind of the way an artist would respond to success, you know, finally getting something that they’ve always wanted.
Janis Joplin’s Porsche is another car that we have that’s beautifully painted with all kinds of psychedelic colors and drawings, so that’s an example of where she really wanted to kind of show off that she was successful.
[Janis Joplin singing “Summertime”]
Onkey: What we’re looking at now in our Beatles’ exhibit is a performance contract from 1960 by the Silver Beatles, which is what the Beatles were called at that time.
[The Beatles’ opening notes of “Come Together”]
They’re performing with Jerry and the Pacemakers, and they received a whopping 10 pounds for their performance.
Vigeland: And this is from when?
Onkey: 1960. There you can see the way that even a young band that they’re trying to have to negotiate how long is the performance going to be, where are they going to perform, what will they get paid and somebody has to do that for them — a manager, it might just be a friend that works that out for them.
[The Beatles singing “Come Together]
Vigeland: Well here we are back in 45 land.
Onkey: Right, 45 land. We’ve got some 78s there too. This is a case celebrating Sun Records out of Memphis. An absolutely essential label to the history of the music — Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins all came out of Sun Records and Sam Phillips that was his label. One of the great things you see here is his log book. And then below that we see the contract for the song “Rocket 88,” Jackie Brenston.
Jackie Brenston: You women have heard of jalopies, you’ve heard the noise they make, well, let me introduce my new Rocket 88…
And you see that’s the kind of contract that recorded that record that some people would argue was the first rock and roll record.
[Jackie Brenston singing: Baby we’ll ride in style, movin’ all along…]
Vigeland: Lauren Onkey, thank you so much for your time. It’s been fun walking around with you.
Onkey: Likewise, Tess. Thanks for being here.
Cheers to trustworthy journalism!
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