Rock and Roll. Birthed in the fifties by the combination of the blues with
country and western, jazz, gospel and swing. Critics said it wouldn't last. It was just a
fad. A major record executive turned the Beatles down in 1962 saying that guitar oriented
music was no longer popular and on its way out. Well, Danny and the Juniors knew better. Rock
n Roll was indeed here to stay. Today, it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
But way back in the beginning, no one knew just what was happening. It just happened. There was no MTV to watch and emulate. Bill Haley just rocked; Elvis just swiveled; Little Richard just bop-bopped. There was no design or plan; simply spontaneous creativity, simultaneously erupting all across the country. Like a musical wildfire, Rock and Roll swept from one coast to the other, engulfing musicians in its wake; combining their gifts into a powerful musical art form. Generations of youth thereafter would never be the same. Clothing styles changed. Language changed. Hairstyles changed. Cotton ball sales doubled as parents sought quiet relief. All as a result of this new music.
One of those musicians that was there in the beginning was a California high school student named Mike Deasy. Having been raised in a musical home, young Mike would go with his father Bill to the elder Deasy's dance music gigs, sit in and play along. Soon, he was playing for his sister's dance recitals and on local radio shows. In high school, Mike assembled his own rock and roll band and they began to back up the new national hit makers as they toured through L.A. including rock legends Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers.
In 1958, Deasy and his pals joined forces with a young Richie Valens and "La Bamba"ed around southern California. This band included future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, super bassist/keyboardist Larry Knechtel, sax man Jim Horn and "Teen Beat" drummer Sandy Nelson. The following summer, Mike hit the road with The Coasters as part of The Kansas City Bell Blues Band. His next musical jump was to The Kelly Four backing Eddie Cochran on guitar and baritone sax. Deasy then toured the states with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars as bassist for Duane Eddy.
Soon he was to be heard on many of the top hits rocking the airwaves of the sixties. That list of artists is a virtual who's who of 60's and 70's popular music: The Beach Boys, The Association, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, Joe Cocker, Bobby Darin, The 5th Dimension, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bobbie Gentry, Fats Domino, The Grass Roots, Richard Harris, The Jackson Five, Jan and Dean, Billy Joel, The Mamas and The Papas, Barry McGuire, The Monkees, Elvis Presley, Helen Reddy, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, Tommy Roe, Diana Ross, Bobby Sherman, Simon and Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra, Spanky and Our Gang, Barbara Streisand, Tiny Tim, The Turtles, Frankie Valli, The Ventures, Mason Williams, and Frank Zappa to name only a few.
But Mike didn't just hide out in the studios. He continued to turn heads in live concerts playing with such diverse artists as Cannonball Adderly at the Troubador, Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey a Go Go, and Little Richard at the Long Beach Municiple Auditorium. And recognition continued. Deasy walked away with the Downbeat magazine jazz music reader's poll in 1968 and recorded albums with jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Gleason, Stan Kenton, and Frank Sinatra.
And it doesn't stop there. Movies love that era's music and Mike's playing has been featured in popular films of the eighties and nineties including: Sudden Impact, Twins, Forrest Gump, The Rock, and October Sky. VH-1 runs the Elvis 68 TV Special on a regular basis and routinely plays all the episodes of The Monkees TV show. Cable's Nick TV Land has shown reruns of The Sonny and Cher Show. Turner Broadcasting's TBS and TNT constantly show Clint Eastwood movies. The Patridge Family is still shown every night of the year worldwide. Mike Deasy's guitar permeates them all. Books written about the age of rock and roll studio recording usually make mention of Mike's contribution. Guitar Player magazine has done articles on his role in the history of popular music culture.
Mike Deasy is considered by many in the business to be the most recorded original Rock n Roll guitarist of all time. He helped create the genre with his friends and others who caught the vision. And today, it's not unusual to see youthful chins drop in amazement when in concert, Mike's fingers explode in lightning fast guitar licks as a new generation of young people discover The Guitar Man.
© 1998 Rob Whitehurst
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