Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Continue Shopping
This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
CA
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > JanFeb 2019 > THE UNTOLD STORY OF CHICAGO ROCK’N’ROLL

THE UNTOLD STORY OF CHICAGO ROCK’N’ROLL

Chicago of the 1950s is forever associated with the blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and the genius of Chess Records. But behind the bluesmen, early rock’n’roll also thrived in the windy city as Vintage Rock tracks down some lost stars of US rock history…
Ral Donner’s influence was so great, he was even cited by Robert Plant at Led Zeppelin’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995
Photos courtesy of the artist unless specified

Think Chicago, and you think blues. Without the stardom of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, the songs of Willie Dixon, and the recordings of Chess and Checker records, it’s true to say that modern music would be a whole lot different. But for all the celebration of Chicago’s blues, doo-wop and soul legacies, the city’s late 50s and early 60s rock’n’roll scene traditionally flies under the radar. Not so here.

And we begin with one name from Chicago who actually did become famous.

Northwestsider Ral Donner became an Elvis disciple at 14. He led his own band, The Rockin’ Five, at Taft High School, and built a devoted local following, soon joining Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis on an Alan Freedsponsored bill at the Civic Opera House. Donner even earned an invitation from Sammy Davis Jr to perform at the Apollo Theatre… and all before he had a record out.

Donner journeyed to Memphis to wax his debut single That’s All Right With Me in early ‘59, just prior to his 16th birthday, for the Scottie label. Ral’s managers liked the way he sang Elvis’ Girl Of My Best Friend and sent him to Miami to cover it. George Goldner’s New York-based Gone Records picked up the master, and 18-year-old Ral was an instant national star when his single cracked the Top 20 in the spring of 1961. Presley’s influence remained strong on You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It), which sent Ral into the Top 5 that summer, and he closed out the year with another hit, She’s Everything (I Wanted You To Be).

“RIGHT ON HIS CORNER, THERE WAS A SIGNPOST. RON WROTE A SIGN AND HE PUT ON THERE: BOP STREET!” JAMES HOLVAY

Barry Goldberg, then a keyboardist with the house band at Teenland on the far North Side, still marvels at Donner’s charisma. “Ral Donner pulled up in a pink Cadillac convertible,” he says. “Ral Donner was the coolest!” Donner waxed a slew of Elvis tributes later in his career before lung cancer claimed him in 1984.

Gene Vincent was Ron Haydock’s main man. Hailing from west Chicago suburb Brookfield, Haydock modeled his act around Vincent’s after seeing The Girl Can’t Help It; his band, The Boppers, even donned blue caps. “He looked just like Gene Vincent,” recalls James Holvay, then Ron’s pre-teen neighbour, and the whole block knew of Haydock’s obsession. “Right on his corner, there was a signpost,” says Holvay. “He wrote a sign and he put on there: Bop Street!”

READ MORE
Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Vintage Rock - JanFeb 2019
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - JanFeb 2019
$8.49
Or 849 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 7.33 per issue
6 Free Back Issues
SAVE
14%
Was $43.99
Now $43.99
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 7.33 per issue
SAVE
14%
$21.99
Or 2199 points

View Issues

About Vintage Rock

The new issue of Vintage Rock is available now!