Santo and Johnny, two nice Italian boys from Brooklyn.
I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more unlikely word salad than: Italian kid in New York City playing steel guitar. But America’s always been like that. Everybody feels like they should be able to glom onto any tradition extant in the land and have a go at it. There are no permanent classes, but there are always pedal steel classes.The radio, TV, and the movies were the great uniters then. Everyone listened and saw all the same things, more or less. It’s more fractured now. You can blissfully hang out in one little, crabby corner of the intellectual world, and never hear of anything that might upset you. You can concentrate fully on only upsetting other people.
The Billboard Top 10 Singles list for 1959 is glorious, and pretty variegated. Catholic. It’s goes from Lloyd Price to Conway Twitty and back again. It spans the gap between Ray Charles and Alvin and the Chipmunks, with plenty of stops in between, too. There’s plenty of dreck on there, but it seems harmless. There’s a lot more really good singers on there than you’ll find Auto-tuning their way across the landscape now. When all you had was a plate reverb to tart up your singing, you were more likely to learn how to sing before you got a gold record, I guess. And I bet every single name on the list could sing the National Anthem better than I’ve heard it in 25 years, and knew the words by heart, too. Including Santo and Johnny, who didn’t sing.