Blues folklore tells the tale of Robert Johnson, a man who in 1928 sells his soul in return for riches and fame as a guitar player.
There are various reasons why this is a bad idea, namely going to Hell, but when you make a deal with the Devil; usually the odds are in favor of the house.
Johnson ultimately had his fame while living. He had a hit song with ‘Terraplane Blues’, He was good looking’ and the ladies loved him. The hellhounds on his trail finally caught up with him one night in a Mississippi. He was hitting on the right woman, at the right time, in the wrong place. Her husband, the bartender, poisoned Robert. He died in a back room, writhing in pain and foaming at the mouth. They buried his body in a plotters field behind a church. The suite has been lost.
He died a legend.
He was great not just because of his music, but the idea of the music that he had yet to write. Hendrix, Janis, Cobain, Morrison, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Christopher Cross and a few more. The music they left wasn’t good enough, Nooooooo… We want more! They also didn’t live through the Disco Era. Jim Morrison wasn’t too good to sing a pop song. Don’t fool yourselves.
It’s because they died at the height of their influence. They didn’t stick around to become irrelevant. It’s the price musicians pay for selling their soul to the Devil.
Gene Simmons was the first I heard say ‘Rock is dead.’ He peaked in 1977. KISS didn’t do anything but put on the show and stick the chorus of the song right in your face! Something Steely Dan wasn’t doing at the time. They changed what a concert was! Leaders of the pack in that niche
Flea is saying the same thing.
He peaked in the 90’s. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came out funk punk rappin’, making the 80’s hair bands look silly and the more people who saw them realized they were awesome and they sold a heap of records. He changed the game on 80’s Headbangers.
Metallica created their masterpiece in 86’(Okay… 91 *eye roll*). The band the made ‘Master of Puppets’ isn’t the band selling out stadiums today. They lived to play fast and loud. They sure as hell weren’t making a film that shows their sensitive side. Jesus people! You are rock stars. Start acting like one. Who wants to see Metallica work out THEIR ANGER ISSUES???? A bit hypocritical Thrash Metal Kings??$$??
The record industry and these bands became very, very, rich. The game was set up that way. The game changed, not rock music.
This is how the record industry works.
A band gets pretty good. They have a song that a lot of people will like. So they save up their money and borrow from friends and relatives and record a ‘demo’ tape so they can make it big and make a million dollars!
Record Industry ‘Big Shot’ (the Devil) hears the demo and thinks he can sell their product. The Band is now The Product. The product he is selling is your soul.
The Devil offers a fortune to the Product. The Product have been living on Taco Bell for years now and they agree! He hands them bags of gold to make their product. Just sign on the dotted line. In blood. This is their big chance to make a million dollars!
With the Devil’s help, a lot of lawyers, and a producer to make the product easier to sell by changing the Product so that it fits nicely in a box. New and Improved Product. Everyone loves the Product and they send the Product on tour for a year.
The wager pays off and the band sells their soul to the tune of a million –dollars. Just like the Devil promised. But give the Devil his due.
The Devil takes the lion’s share of the riches after all he IS a Big Shot. Then Scratch opens up the gates of hell as it pukes and belches out accountants and lawyers, and bills for hotel rooms for the guy who brings you a towel after the show.
They grab at the pile of gold, taking from the riches what you have spent on limos, prostitutes, and your drugs PLUS the original bag of gold they gave you… with interest. They haul out the cost of the tour and all the hotel rooms the towel man stayed in over the past 365 days.
After all of the fire and brimstone die down, the Devil lays 3% at the Product’s feet. $30,000 to be split among the five members of the Product
The Devil then demands you produce another product immediately.
You spent your entire life making the first Product, now you have a few weeks to come up with new Product. After all you can’t live on the money you made on the Old Product. But you will make more on this Product since Beelzebub was so happy with the last one. He promises.
People don’t like the Brand New Product as much as the Old Product and the Devil spent all the promotion money on a really BIG Product like Bruce Springsteen, who he knows will make millions on the first day. The Devil says “Sorry but you can’t play these songs. We own the Product. Plus, you owe us for the last Product you gave me and didn’t sell.”
“Do not play until you pay me back or I will come get you with a demon spawn of lawyers. Do not pass go, and do not call us, we’ll call you.”
The Product turns into a band again and as they walk out the Exit, they see a line at the Entrance.
Welcome to the Digital Age.
Now a kid with a guitar can record his product in his home with higher quality recording equipment than anything the Beatles ever had.
He can upload his song to CD Baby who license it to all the digital and streaming music companies; ITunes, Amazon, etc… reaching listeners, buyers, and fans. A kid in Zimbabwe can buy your song.
You can have it printed into CD’s and make seven or eight dollars off of each CD. You don’t have to sell a million copies to make a living. Selling 30,000 albums would be a windfall. You have total control of your product.
Soul is non-negotiable.
Stagger Lee got so mad
He threw the Devil clean off his throne.
On your knees old Satan
I’m gonna rule Hell on my own.
–Stagger Lee (somewhat creative commons)
Rock is alive and well. As long as there are kids with angst, drums and guitars, there is going to be rock music. I’ve been listening to Blackberry Smoke lately. They are awe-inspiring. There is nothing country about them. They were always good to me…way too good.
Take a second and switch channels on the satellite radio. You might find that rock has changed its name to Alt. Country. That’s where I hear loud rowdy guitars and riffs. You might find it on another station? It’s there. It’s online, and no one is bitching about not playing at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
Thoughts on the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
I went on a date there once. It was great seeing the Pink Floyd inflatable Teacher, stage gear, guitars from every hero I ever had.
KISS refused to play together during their admission to the RRHOF. Deep Purple wouldn’t let the guy play who wrote the song that put them in the Hall of Fame. John Fogerty wouldn’t play with CCR. Don’t fool yourself boys I didn’t come here to listen to your new album. I came here to hear you play ‘Rock n Roll All Night”. You know it and I know it. As much as you charge for a concert ticket, you better fuckin’ play it.
You know who I don’t see bitching? Rock music pioneers.
The O’Jays, My friends; Dale Hawkins (RIP), The Shirelles, Danny and the Jr’s, the Tokens, Gene Chandler… Elvis’ first band, Scotty Moore and Bill Black (RIP), Howling Wolf, War, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers and all those artists who broke the fuckin’ ground you walk on in your platform soles. The ones who made no money, the ones who are still busting ass on the road. The RRHOF is there to honor THEM! Show some God damn respect. Suck it up and play the three minute song that got you here. You stole from the very people in that room. Quit being an ungrateful bunch of bastards
There is a genuine beef about how artists are chosen but don’t dare disrespect those who paved your way. Christopher died on the Cross for you (see what I did there?)
You are lucky to even stand on the stage that Little Richard built ya.
* Christopher Cross is alive and well and probably playing corporate gigs and state fairs and stuff like that. He also rips one hell of a solo at about 3:30.