The 1950s was an exciting time in American pop music as rock and roll was emerging and taking root all over the country, and not just on the East and West coasts. Big things were also brewing in Arizona on the music front in both rockabilly and rock and roll, but before the mid 1950s, most of the pop music from this part of the country was in danger of languishing in obscurity because local musicians and others in the music business did not have easy access at that time to national record distribution channels.
All that changed when Floyd Ramsey, Lee Hazlewood and others started setting up recording studios in the Phoenix area so that Arizona-based bands and artists would not have to drive all the way to California in the blazing heat every time they wanted to cut a record.
In Rockin' in the Desert, author Robert D. Morritt gives a detailed and fascinating history of the Arizona music scene from the mid 1950s through the late 1960s. He talks about all the movers and shakers in this area during these years that included not only performing artists such as Alvie Self, Duane Eddy, Sanford Clark, Donnie Owens, and Lee Hazlewood (to name a few), but also the people behind the scenes who were crucial in bringing the music from this emerging region to national and international prominence. ("Rockin' in the Desert" was published on October 22, 2012 by Canaan-Star Publishing.)
Robert D. Morritt is an author, historian, and musicologist. He was born towards the end of WWII in Carlisle, England to a Canadian father and an English mother. When he was very young, the family moved to Penarth, a small seaside town just outside Cardiff, Wales. He spent his early years there and was exposed to both early British skiffle (mainly associated with Lonnie Donegan) and rock and roll. He lived in an environment similar to the one that the early Beatles experienced (what the British then referred to as a “working class district”). A few years after his mother died (at 34), his father, who had his own construction business, moved back to Canada, and both he and his sister went with him. Morritt’s “second life” was as a young teen in Toronto, a busy city with a thriving music scene where he witnessed the transition from beatnik culture and folk music to rock and roll. It was also around this time when he learned about some of the music being made in Arizona and became curious about this musically fertile area.
In this interview, Mr. Morritt gives us a glimpse into the local music scene in the Phoenix area during the early 1960s from a first-hand perspective and discusses the roles certain key figures played in putting Arizona pop music "on the map."
Text and photos courtesy of Robert Morritt.
Robert Morritt at the rear stage door of the Palace in Prescott, AZ, May 1961, during the intermission of a show in which he performed with Alvie Self.
In June 1962 I cut an acetate in Arizona at the (now) ‘legendary’ Audio-Recorders Studio 3703 North 7th.Street, Phoenix.
(Label typed by recording artist, Ritchie Gearhart ‘Ritchie Hart’) who later recorded “The Great Duane” (Felsted 45-8593) (founding member of ‘Goose Creek Symphony’).
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Hi Robert it's Paul Barrett aka 'Legs' of good old Penarthsville - the last resort. I received a phone call a couple of weeks back. Backing how you could …
ROBERT (BOB) MORRITT
I have located my photographs from that early era. They include Duane Eddy and I (early 1960's c.1962) Myself in Phoenix at Don/RAY Records checking out …
Laura Sheridan Not rated yet
What a thrilling time it must have been, working with the greats - and being one yourself! Fantastic. Laura Sheridan
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