Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Donald ClarkeMusic was the most important thing in the world to me, I discovered in the 1940s, listening to my mother's kitchen radio while she did the ironing. I heard bits of Bizet played by a swing band; playing in my grandma's farmhouse living room, I heard WLS's National Barn Dance while she made popcorn in an iron skillet. When I was old enough, I twiddled the dial on the radio myself, and listened to rhythm and blues from the south side of Chicago, as well as Randy Blake and his Suppertime Frolic, with Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and the Chuck Wagon Gang. Later, when Elvis Presley happened, I was almost the only kid in my school who wasn't astonished.

I listened to 'popular instrumentals' (searching, though I didn't know it, for classical music); the best of Percy Faith's arrangements hold up well to this day. When I discovered that the public library had records, I found Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (and became a Mahler fan long before that composer's day finally arrived).

To find the best music, I soon realized, you had to look outside the mainstream, especially as American radio began to turn into Top 40, and then Top 20. I had pawed through my parents' stack of 78s, and looked behind Glenn Miller to find Benny Goodman, then Fletcher Henderson; but there weren't any Henderson records anywhere. Similarly, a little later on, Dave Brubeck was all right, but I was curious about Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. I heard about records on labels called Riverside, Prestige and Blue Note, but the record shops in my home town couldn't afford to stock them, because I couldn't afford to buy them. The steadily rising standard of living in the 1950s was based on keeping up with the Joneses, who had cloth ears.

That was long ago. Popular music often seems to be floundering, but there are always interesting things happening if you know where to look. When I first began working on this encyclopedia in the mid-1980s, a lot of people thought, depending on how old they were, that popular music had either begun or ended in 1956, with Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel'. In fact, popular music is a great, broad main stream of commercial music, with many tributaries; it began, for our purposes, in the English pleasure gardens of the 18th century (see another book on this site, The Rise And Fall of Popular Music.)

This encyclopedia was the first of its kind, attempting a survey of the subject in one volume. Other similar books have appeared since our first edition, but I think ours remains the most fun. There are nearly 4000 entries, for performers, songwriters, producers and record labels; there are short histories of the tributaries, such as Minstrelsy, Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Country Music, Rock'n'Roll and so forth; for the first time in a book of this type the Latin American scene is covered, and there are also entries for African acts, as well as Tex-Mex, Cajun, Zydeco and others. There is an entry for 'Recorded Sound, History of'. The entries for the major record labels outline the history of the business through wars, depressions, innovations, and mergers.

We have listed the most important albums by each artist (all the albums, in many cases), without regard to whether they are in print or not, giving the year of original release and the label. In the case of jazz albums, the date given is usually the date of recording; in other genres it is the date of issue. Where two labels are named, usually one is British and one is American; the label in the country where the music originated should come first. Where the individual's true surname is used, the entry will be found there: MONTGOMERY, Little Brother; and COOPER, Alice (he's changed his name legally), but LITTLE RICHARD is listed thusly. Exceptions are made for the most famous: WATERS, Muddy. Individuals are occasionally found rather than the names of groups: Mathias Rüegg instead of the Vienna Art Orchestra, Robert Fripp rather than King Crimson, Paul Westerberg rather than the Replacements. Until now, 'Mc' was treated in this book as though it was 'Mac', but with this cyber-edition the alphabetical order is the one the computer wants, and the telephone directory uses: Machito, Mack, MacKenzie, Maddox, Mbarga, McGuire, McHugh, etc.

We have quoted chart placings because the further back in the decades we look, the more fun the 'hit parade' was (there is an entry for 'Charts' that goes into this subject), but nowadays the charts are of less and less importance (unless you're a pop star's bank manager). The audience for chart acts is now only one audience, outnumbered by all the others, so that you don't have to sell many records nowadays to have what is still called a 'hit'. The CD revolution has caused confusion in terminology in some quarters, but in in my vocabulary 'record' is still short for 'recording', and an album is a wad of music of a certain length, whether the carrier is a box of 78s or a computer chip.

I have received letters with suggestions, corrections and criticism from readers around the world, for which I am grateful; in some cases, people who cared enough to write became contributors. Contributors and helpers since 1989 have included Alan Cackett, Hannah Charlton, John Child, Dmitri Coryton, Fred Dellar, Simon Doubleday, Ronnie Graham, Michael Heatley, Patrick Humphries, Ken Hunt, Robin Katz, Bill Kay, John Martland, Luiz A.R. Nogueria, Chris Parker, Fritz Plous, Jim Powers, Kara Rusch, David Sinclair, David Spiller, Sue Steward, Ben Thompson, John Tobler, Oliver Trager and Cliff White. Paul Balmer and Judy Caine at Music on Earth Productions helped with new material on Africa for the second edition, with help from Lois Darlington. And finally, Max Harrison, that most reliable of writers on music, thought enough of the first edition to criticize it at length; I myself have become a better listener, thanks to Max, who is also one of the great letter-writers of our time.

And most of all, I am grateful to my long-suffering wife, Ethne. We didn't know, when we started writing books for a living in what was becoming a post-literate society, how long the road would be. But it's been worth it!

Donald Clarke
West Des Moines, Iowa
June 2008

A postscript:

This work was first published as The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music in 1989, after five years' labour in England, using a sturdy Kaypro computer that didn't even have a hard disc. It was successful, reprinted two or three times, and an updated edition was published in 1998, but when the first printing of the second edition sold out in 2000, Penguin dropped the book without explanation, while a big distributor of books in the USA was trying to order hundreds of copies. Go figure!

After that I gave the book to Len Mullenger at MusicWeb-International, because I liked Len's site (I still check the classical CD reviews at MusicWeb every day). But updating the entries properly wasn't possible after a while, so finally, thanks to the incredibly capable cyber-architect Yancy Delathouder, I have my own site, and I am updating entries and adding new ones every week. Enjoy!