An Instrumental Instrumental

‘Raunchy’ was an instrumental song composed by Bill Justis and Sid Manker in 1957 and produced by Sam Phillips.  This wild, primitive instrumental was originally titled ‘Backwoods’, but Phillips renamed the tune ‘Raunchy’, teenage slang for dirty or messy.  In 1998, the single by Bill Justis And His Orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in the Rock & Roll genre.  ‘Raunchy’ is one of the first rock songs to use the “twangy” lead guitar effect, which was later developed by others and became common for several years following this song.  In the mid-50s, great guitar innovators like Duane Eddy known as the Sultan of Twang started playing lead riffs drenched in tremolo and echo in the lower registers of the guitar, creating the bass-y sound that since then has become synonymous with “twang”.  Duane Eddy used his vibrato bar while plucking his open bottom string to get this twang sound.

Harrison knew McCartney for about a year, even though he was a few weeks shy of his 15th birthday.  The two were students at the Liverpool Institute and they frequently took the same bus to and from school and a friendship blossomed, and they began jamming together.  The Quarry Men were named after the Quarry Bank High School where the band was formed three years earlier and when they were looking to bring in a third guitarist, McCartney suggested his friend.  In 1958, George Harrison performed ‘Raunchy’ for John Lennon and Paul McCartney on the top deck of a bus in Liverpool, and it was so note-perfect that Lennon decided, despite earlier reservations about Harrison’s age, to let him into his band the Quarrymen, which later became the Beatles

In 1959, the Garcia family moved to Cazadero, a tiny town in the redwoods eighty miles north of San Francisco and Jerry Garcia started attending Analy High School in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California.  Analy had a band called the Chords, which Jerry joined and their material was largely 1940s big-band tunes and they played at youth canteens, and high school dances.  In 1959, he showed an ability to play convincing rock and roll on the Chords’ occasional contemporary tunes.  The band even won a contest and got to record the song ‘Raunchy’.

‘Raunchy’ was the birth of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental song.  Combining a tenor sax with a lower-register guitar turned out to be a very successful idea.  In 1957, this blend gave Bill Justis a #2 record with ‘Raunchy’, featuring Sid Manker’s guitar along with Justis’ sax, but what made ‘Raunchy’ so unique was Manker’s guitar, as he forged the song’s distinctive riff not from the traditional middle strings but from the bass strings, creating a cavernous, resonant sound further buffered by studio echo.  The single proved Sun’s best-selling instrumental release ever, staying in the pop Top 40 for 14 weeks.  Justis and Manaker concocted the song in Justis’ home while making fun of Rock n’ Roll, convinced that they too could do it well if only they tried.  Bill Justis was older than most teenage Rock fans, and had little interested in Rock as a musical style.  However, he soon realized that Rock’s basic and simple sound was actually harder to achieve than he first thought.  The instrumental wave started with rock and roll and ended, in America, with The Beatles and the British Invasion.

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