There are a lot of important dates in music history, days we recognize where something happens that changes everything. The Beatles on Sullivan. Elvis on Sullivan. Woodstock. Altamont. Live Aid. Farm Aid. The day the music died.
Most of those we knew would be important going into them, or their effect was felt immediately. Nobody doubted Sullivan would get huge numbers when he scheduled the Fab Four. Woodstock was never going to be a bust. The day after the music died, the music world was in full mourning. These dates are events that people paid attention to even if they didn’t like the music or care about the artists.
Some dates are more innocuous. Even when they’re happening, nobody notices or cares. Often, the people involved only recognize and attach importance to them later. Here’s a look at just a few of them.
University Students Throw Tiny Show Nobody Goes To
Where: Lesser Free Trade Hall – Manchester, England
When: 4 June 1976
Result: The Factory, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, post-punk, Madchester, and the Manchester music scene in general
Manchester’s Free Trade Hall was already an important building by the summer of ’76. Dylan and Floyd both played memorable shows there, and it had a history long enough that Charles Dickens had also graced the stage. But it was a tiny rock show in the smaller room downstairs that had the most influence on music.
Earlier in the year, two students from the Bolton Institute of Technology borrowed a friend’s car and went to see the Sex Pistols, a then mostly unknown band that played London. They liked them so much that they asked the band to play their school in the summer. The band said yes. The school said no.
Undeterred, the two looked for a new venue, and discovered that the small, secondary stage at the Free Trade Hall could be rented for a pittance. They only needed about 40 people to show up to break even.
According to people that history can confirm were there, less than 50 people showed up that day. For the most part, the small crowd was full of loners that barely spoke to each other and stared mostly dumbfounded at the Sex Pistols while they played. The opening band was a progressive rock band nobody present can remember the name of. They aren’t even on the flyer, because the two students that threw the show put their band on the bill, but they weren’t ready so they had to find a last-minute replacement.
The show made enough money for the two students to invite the band back three weeks later. Hundreds of people showed up and crowded the place. Their own band, the Buzzcocks, was ready, and played their first show. That second show was an Event – the birth of the Manchester music scene. Manchester would also be host to the Sex Pistol’s first live television appearance – a Major Event.
The first show that almost nobody went to was full of somebodies, and was the catalyst for the Events that happened after. The next day, the bassist for Joy Division bought his first guitar. Morrissey was in the crowd, as was Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records. A few others there went on to perform, to participate in the scene, and to just spread the word as rock journalists.
Producer Visits Small City To Fill Time
Where: State Street, Bristol, Tennessee
When: 25 July-5 August 1927
Result: Country music becomes a thing, guitar is made popular, royalties system of payment born
When Ralph Peer decided to go to Bristol, Tennessee, it was expected to be just another trip among many. Peer had been traveling around the south for years, recording gospel, folk and blues. This trip marked a new step for the producer, as he was taking a risk by becoming something of a “salesman,” working on commission instead of salary.
He booked recording sessions in Savannah, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, two large cities known for their culture in the south, but he still had two weeks available in the summer to fill. He ended up settling on Bristol as a stop at the behest of a friend, who told him that he needed to go into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains if he wanted to find real “hillbilly” music.
The recording session was something of a struggle, and he barely found enough musicians to fill a week. Additionally, not everyone he saw played the music he was there for, and he ended up recording some vaudeville and choir acts instead. A lucky break from a story in the local paper about his setup got him enough attention that he drew some more people in, but he still ended up with less than 30 songs.
He left knowing he could make something out of what he had, but it wasn’t until he was able to get home and pay attention to what he had that he knew it had all been worth it. There weren’t a lot of artists – 19 in total, some not even close to country – but there were discoveries to be made.
Two of those discoveries were Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, who went on to become two of the earliest superstars of country music. Mother Maybelle Carter would end up influencing just about everyone that would ever play guitar after her either directly or indirectly, and music producers all over would try and duplicate those sessions in just about every genre, to varying degrees of success.
What started out as a harried two weeks in the summer for a music producer trying to fill time is now thought of as the Big Bang of country music.
Teen Goes To Check Out Friend’s Band But Only Catches Half A Set
Where: Woolton Parish Church, Liverpool, England
When: 6 July 1957
Result: The Beatles, the English Invasion, Modern Pop Culture
If it weren’t for the friendships of a part-time tea chest bass player, the world as we know it would be a much different place. Ivan Vaughan was that bass player, and he was completely unaware of what he was setting in motion when he invited a school chum to see a band he sometimes played with perform at a dog show garden party. His school chum was Paul McCartney, and the band he sometimes played with was The Quarrymen, led by John Lennon.
McCartney and Lennon may have eventually met anyway, considering they were both musicians with similar tastes in the same city. It could have even led to an epic moment where Paul jumped spontaneously into a performance, not unlike Henry Rollins joining Black Flag. That would make for an awesome story, but the truth reads more like just another day in the life of a teenager.
McCartney, 15 at the time, showed up halfway through the first set. He enjoyed himself, and visited with Vaughan afterword. Vaughan took him backstage to meet the band, where he showed off his own musical skills for a bit, tuned Lennon’s guitar for him, and then left before their second set.
Lennon spent the next couple of weeks trying to decide whether he wanted to work with someone as talented as he was. He eventually capitulated to his own genius and asked McCartney to join The Quarrymen, where the two of them would start collaborating as often as possible. George Harrison joined the band a year later, everyone else quit over time because those three were already amazing, and they became a trio. Before long, they convinced the most capable drummer on the planet to keep time for them, and the rest is history.
The moral of the story: More bands should play dog shows.
Teen Throws All-Nighter For Back-To-School Shopping Trip
Where: 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, New York
When: 11 August 1973
In the summer of ’73, a young Jamaican girl living in the Bronx was trying to think of a creative way to come up with money for a shopping trip to buy some new school clothes when she came up with an ingenious idea. She’d hold a party in the apartment complex’s common room, get some snacks, have her brother play some music, and charge people to hang out all night. Her brother agreed, and they passed out a bunch of index cards with the party info.
Presumably, the small change that Cindy Campbell charged – 25 cents for ladies and 50 cents for fellas – made her enough to buy at least something, because rumor is that a lot of people showed up. Chances are that the snacks were pretty good, too, because there’s no record of any complaints being lodged. The real surprise of the evening, and the reason we still remember that day, was her brother’s DJ set.
Cindy’s brother Clive, who billed himself as DJ Kool Herc, had been practicing a new technique he’d picked up from Caribbean performers that involved taking the most exciting parts of a song and playing them on a loop. He debuted his new skill that night, using records with covered-over labels so people wouldn’t know who he was playing. Caught up in the uniqueness of the show, Kool Herc’s friend Coke La Rock picked up a microphone and started calling out to the crowd.
Amongst that crowd were some of hip-hops earliest founding fathers, including Africa Bambaataa, KRS-One, Grandmaster Flash, Sheri Sher and Red Alert. It would still be another six years before Sylvia Robinson would help produce the first successful rap album, but that performance for the neighborhood is seen as one of the catalysts for what would become the biggest musical phenomenon since rock and roll appeared on the world stage.
Not unlike a certain show in Manchester.