Ed Ward

Ed Ward is the rock-and-roll historian on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

A co-author of Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, Ward has also contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and countless music magazines.

Ward lives in Montpellier, France. He blogs at Ward in France.

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Music Reviews
11:54 am
Thu May 1, 2014

The Animals: The British Invasion That Wasn't

The Animals.
Courtesy of ABKCO Records

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 1:35 pm

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Music Reviews
10:54 am
Wed January 15, 2014

The Soul Singer Who Never Quite Made It

James Govan (left) with producer and engineer Mickey Buckins in the studio.
Courtesy of Ace Records

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 2:46 pm

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Music Reviews
1:51 pm
Thu January 2, 2014

When Memphis Made A Move On Nashville's Country Monopoly

Label for Warren Smith's "Ubangi Stomp" on Sun Records.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu January 2, 2014 4:31 pm

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Music Reviews
12:56 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

A Nostalgic — But Bumpy — Journey With The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys in 1964. Top row: Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson. Bottom row: Mike Love, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Tue December 10, 2013 4:44 pm

All it takes is two seconds of hearing "Round round get around / I get around" and you're there — in the sun, on the beach, in the '60s. The Beach Boys vaulted up the charts while branching out from surf music to psychedelia. This year the remaining band members released Made in California, a six-CD box set loaded with outtakes and other rarities. Critic Ed Ward examines the rise and long decline of a beloved group with a unique sound.

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Music Reviews
2:34 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Bumpy, Bikers And The Story Behind 'Leader Of The Pack'

The Shangri-Las on the cover of the "Leader of the Pack" single.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu September 26, 2013 3:48 pm

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Music Reviews
12:52 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

The Dawn Of Sun Records: 15 Hours Of Blues

The Prisonaires, a band formed in a Memphis-area prison, created one of Sun Records' early hits.
Courtesy of Bear Family Records

Sam Phillips is famous for saying that if he could find a white boy with the authentic Negro sound and feel, he'd make a billion dollars. Seeing Phillips in his striped sport coat and tie in 1950, you might well wonder if he'd know that sound and feel if it came up and bit him. But he'd been a fan of blues and country music since childhood, and he bet that his technical knowledge and feeling for this music could make him money.

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Music Reviews
12:35 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Fame Studios And The Road To Nashville Songwriting Glory

Fame Studio

Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 8:57 am

Wallace Daniel Pennington grew up singing. His father played guitar and his mother played piano, and by the age of 9, the young man had a guitar of his own. The family attended church on Sunday and Wednesday each week, and to this day, Dan Penn says he remembers the entire Methodist congregation belting out hymns.

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Music Reviews
12:06 pm
Mon June 10, 2013

Arctic Records: Drafting A Blueprint For The Philly Sound

Barbara Mason had had one minor hit on Arctic by the time "Yes I'm Ready" came out in March 1965, and hit the Top 10 on both the R&B and pop charts.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 1:24 pm

Arctic Records opened for business late in 1964. The label was the brainchild of Jimmy Bishop, the program director of WDAS — at the time Philadelphia's No. 1 black radio station. If that sounds like a conflict of interest, you don't know much about the music business in Philadelphia back then. Besides, it didn't help Arctic's first single, "Happiest Girl in the World" by the Tiffanys, three local teenagers who sang backup in various studios.

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Music Reviews
12:40 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

Jerry Lee Lewis: Live, Singing As If Life Depended On It

Jerry Lee Lewis shot to fame in the 1950s with hits such as "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 1, 2013 4:49 pm

It was April 4, 1964, and Jerry Lee Lewis had officially bottomed out. He hadn't charted a record in years, and now, on tour in England and Germany, he was getting paid so little that he couldn't afford to bring his own musicians. Instead, he was forced to use pickup bands in England, and then, when he arrived in Hamburg, a British band called the Nashville Teens was waiting for him. The venue was the Star Club, where The Beatles, who had just leaped into stardom in America, had played not long before.

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Music Reviews
10:07 am
Wed April 10, 2013

Johnny Cash's Columbia Catalog Out Now — As A 64-Disc Box Set

A new 63-disc box offers a complete retrospective of the Man in Black's storied career.
Sony Music

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 4:00 pm

In 1955, John R. Cash was a sometime auto mechanic, sometime appliance salesman who liked to play the guitar and sing, mostly gospel songs. The "R" in his name didn't stand for anything — and, in fact, he'd been named J.R. at birth and had to come up with "John" when he joined the Air Force. He'd spend the rest of his life reinventing himself.

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Music Reviews
11:26 am
Wed March 13, 2013

The Moving Sidewalks: Where The British Invasion Met Texas Blues

Before ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons (second from right) was in the more psychedelic Moving Sidewalks.
Rancho Deluxe Productions

Originally published on Wed March 13, 2013 1:22 pm

There must be something in the water — or the beer — in Texas that caused the huge eruption of garage bands and psychedelic bands in the mid-1960s, because there sure were a lot of them, and their records on obscure labels have kept collectors busy for decades. Most of them were amateurs, but the Coachmen, who came together around 1964, were different.

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Music Reviews
12:28 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

Aretha Franklin Before Atlantic: The Columbia Years

Aretha Franklin became a star on the Atlantic record label after leaving Columbia.
Express Newspapers Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 27, 2013 5:01 pm

Aretha Franklin made her first record when she was 14, singing some gospel standards in the church of her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, an easygoing Detroit pastor who was friends with Martin Luther King and just about every gospel singer you could name. One of the stars who visited a lot was Sam Cooke, who convinced Aretha that she could be a hit singing popular music.

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Arts & Life
11:47 am
Tue January 8, 2013

The Unsung Pioneer Of Louisiana Swamp-Pop

Joe Barry was a pioneer of "swamp-pop" in the early 1960s.
Johnny Vallis

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 12:50 pm

Southern Louisiana in the early 1960s was a hotbed of musical creativity among youngsters who'd been raised listening to French-language country music and Fats Domino. They combined those — and other — influences to make what's now called "swamp pop." Joe Barry was a pioneer in this area who should have been much bigger.

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Arts & Life
2:21 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

Turning Up The Volume On The Electric Blues

Joe Hill Louis, B.B. King and Rufus Thomas appear on a new multi-disc compilation of electric blues, Plug It In! Turn It Up!
Bear Family Records

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 6:12 am

Blues is so much a part of the fabric of American music and American culture — not only as a defined musical form, but also as a springboard for all kinds of creativity — that it seems crazy to try to encapsulate it in any way. Bear Family Records, though, has just released a 12-disc survey of electric blues called Plug It In! Turn It Up! that does a great job of illuminating one particular aspect of the blues.

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Music Reviews
11:52 am
Tue November 20, 2012

The Insect Trust: An American Band Deconstructed

The Insect Trust.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 10:40 am

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