Monthly Archives: March 2013

The juvenile delinquent image of rock ‘n’ roll becomes life following art

As I mentioned last week, my research involves reading newspapers on microfiche machines at the Spokane Public Library. My eyes scan the pages of the Spokesman Review and the Spokane Chronicle looking for advertisements for rock ‘n’ roll music at local venues like the Armory, the Coliseum, Grafmiller’s Big Barn, or Nat Park. I also read headlines as they scroll past, and at times find stories that involve rock ‘n’ roll in some sort of fashion.

While looking for a couple of Spokesman Review and Chronicle stories that Spokane Natural underground newspaper editors’ Russ Nobbs and George Maloney mentioned as they were getting up in the face of the Spokane’s establishment authorities, I came across the kind of story that gives rock ‘n’ roll its anti-social reputation in the American cultural stream.

In 1968 two Spokane Valley teenage boys were in juvenile court convicted for their behavior and were due to receive their sentences.

Two teen-agers who stole microphones and other equipment from Spokane Valley churches for their rock ’n’ roll band were found to be delinquent yesterday.

The two were among several bandsmen arrested in connection with thefts of sound equipment from three churches. Others of the group also were involved in other burglaries, the court was told.

The two sentenced had been expelled from their jr. high schools. One said he had been expelled from two schools and dropped out of the third in the past year.

One of those expulsions was because he and another youth had poured gasoline on a school official’s lawn then setting it afire.

The other boy’s sentence was suspended and told to stay away from his former associates.

The behavior had a precedence in rock ‘n’ roll, but it seems to be manufactured in Hollywood.

Rock ‘n’ roll in the fifties quickly became associated through the medium of the movies with anti-establishment behaviors. The juvenile delinquent film often involved hot rod racing, motorcycles, girls willing to have sex in the back seat of the hot rod, boys fighting each other, and the musical score reflected this rebellious youth with the appropriate rock ‘n’ roll tune, a type of music that was quickly gaining traction through portable record players in every teenager’s room along with a collection of seven-inch 45 rpm records.

This type of cross-media pollination worked in favor of the rock ‘n’ roll performer in that the movies were watched by hundreds of thousands of teenagers at drive-in theaters across the country like Spokane’s East Trent Drive-In, the Autovue, or the Y-Drive-In. This in turn helped sell records for the musicians and bands, and helped push their single 45 rpm record up the Billboard Hot 100 list for the summer. A record company worked to make these connections between the music, the movies and television. It was all marketing of rock ‘n’ roll to teenagers. It worked. Rock ‘n’ roll is now forever linked with the bad-boy image. It might be said that not all rock ‘n’ roll music can be connected to juvenile delinquency, but maybe all juvenile delinquents listen to rock ‘n’ roll, at least according to the mid-century modern, straight-to-drive-in, teenage movie.

I can’t help but wonder who those two Spokane Valley boys were, and if they had gone on to either become rock ‘n’ roller musicians, life-long criminals, or settled down, got married, and found a job that they are about ready to retire from now.

In the teenage drive-in movie version, the one expelled from three schools would go on to become a self-destructive, wild lead singer who dies early in his career in a fantastic flame-out somewhere in punked out rock ‘n’ roll New York.

Fade out.

“Two Church Burglars Adjudged Delinquent.” Spokane Daily Chronicle. 21 February, 1968: 20.

Copyright © 2013 Robert G. Schoenberg


Fats Domino, Gene Vincent here in Spokane 1957, along with the trendy art house film Dragstrip Girl

Recent research had me at the Spokane Public Library examining the microfiche files of the Spokesman-Review and the Spokane Daily Chronicle, newspapers in Spokane.

In identifying obscure names of rock and roll bands, venues, and events in the region I scan over pages of the newspapers looking for advertisements, news, and feature articles that are rock and roll related. My focus is on the years 1956 and 1957 hoping to find some documentation of rock and roll acts that were rumored to have appeared at the Pavilion in Nat Park down by the Spokane River. It was interesting to note a feature series that the Associated Press undertook to survey teenagers in 1956. One of the concerns was the rock and roll music kids were listening to, and the title of one of articles was “Teen-agers defend Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.” The teens interviewed noted that they didn’t really pay attention to song lyrics, only that the music must have the beat they desire. It was interesting that Elvis Presley was mentioned by kids in Texas, and a mother in California warned that this Elvis had a cult following of teens. This was the summer Elvis was still with Sun Records appearing almost every night somewhere in the South in a grange hall, or at a state fair, a roadhouse, or high school gym. It was this kind of notoriety that got Col. Parker to buy out his contract with Sam Phillips and sign him with RCA Records later in the year. His first nationally released single was Hound Dog in January 1957.

In late August of 1957 Elvis Presley brought his Hound Dog to Spokane’s Memorial Stadium. I learned from several reports published in the week leading up to the August 30 performance that Spokane would be the first show of a small Northwest tour, and that Elvis was arriving directly from Memphis, that Col. Parker had arrived the day before in Spokane and was interviewed by a Chronicle reporter. But what else happened that summer of 1957?

During the summer months three days a week “Juke” dances were featured for high school and college students at the Memorial Coliseum. At the dances radio station DJs played the “latest popular records” for the kids to dance. Drag Strip Girl, a juvenile delinquent style movie with hot rod cars, boys fighting over girls, and wild rock and roll dancing played nearly all summer long at the East Trent, and at the Autovue drive ins. The Y-Drive In was showing Blackboard Jungle, a film featuring a sound track filled with rock and roll. I found advertisements in July promoting the appearance of Fats Domino at Nat Park for one night at a concert dance from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday July 12, and later Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps were advertised as coming to Nat Park on August 22, 1957. Meanwhile a movie made by Alan Freed called Mister Rock and Roll was playing at the State Theatre featuring filmed performances by Frankie Lymon, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and La Vern Baker, among others. After the Elvis appearance another major rock and roll show was booked at the Memorial Coliseum for October 14. The big rock and roll act was none other than Bill Haley and The Comets, who were on a tour that autumn. Following their Tacoma show they were to play in Spokane at the Memorial Coliseum on a Monday night, and then a stop in Billings, Montana before they returned to New York. However, the group all got sick after their show in Tacoma, and the band canceled the Spokane and Billings appearances.

Gilbert, Eugene. “Teen-Agers Defend Rock ’n’ Roll Music.” Column. AP feature story. Spokane Daily Chronicle. 9 August, 1956: 24.

“Dance.” Fats Domino Advertisement. Spokane Daily Chronicle. 10 July, 1957: 14.

“Dances.” Advertisement. Spokane Daily Chronicle. 2 August, 1957: 5.

“Dance to Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps.” Advertisement. Spokane Daily Chronicle. 22 Aug. 1957: 9.

“For Buck Nite! At the Y-Drive In Blackboard Jungle.” Advertisement. Spokesman Review. 2 July, 1957: 5

“Dragstrip Girl.” Advertisement. Spokesman Review. 14 July, 1957: 16

Mister Rock and Roll. Advertisement. Spokesman Review. 11 Oct. , 1957:  5

“Bill Halley and The Comets.” Advertisement. Spokesman Review. 5 Oct. , 1957:  5

“Haley Cancels Concert.” Spokesman Review. 14 Oct. , 1957:

Copyright © 2013 Robert G. Schoenberg