Leadbelly and Lightning Hopkins

Posted by Lewis on January 28, 2005

In Reply to: Heavy metal posted by SR on January 27, 2005

See Heavy Metal - meaning and origin.

: : When I posted a message in August 03 claiming to have coined the term "heavy metal" regarding a form of music. I invited correction by anyone who knew better than me. I wind up correcting myself. The origin of the term was with Sandy Pearlman, a rock journalist writing in Crawdaddy magazine in 1968. At least he says he did, and he's a man whose writing and opinions I respect.

: : Mike Jahn
: : January 27, 2005

: Here is what Wikidpedia has to offer on the subject...

: Origins of "heavy metal"
: The origin of the term heavy metal is uncertain. An early use of the term was by counter-culture writer William S. Burroughs. In his 1962 novel The Soft Machine, he introduces the character "Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid". His next novel in 1964 Nova Express, develops this theme further, heavy metal being a metaphor for addictive drugs. Another aspect of these novels is the use of recorded sound to free oneself from a programmed life and the alienation caused by an increasingly mechanical world.

: "With their diseases and orgasm drugs and their sexless parasite life forms - Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes - And the Insect People of Minraud with metal music"

: Burroughs, William S, . Nova Express. New York: Grove Press. p. 112
: Given the publication dates of these works it is unlikely that Burroughs had any intent to relate the term to rock music; however Burroughs' writing may have influenced later usage of the term.

: The first use of the term "heavy metal" in a song lyric is the words "heavy metal thunder" in the 1968 Steppenwolf song "Born to be Wild" (Walser 1993, p. 8):

: "I like smoke and lightning
: Heavy metal thunder
: Racin' with the wind
: And the feelin' that I'm under"

: The word "heavy" (meaning serious or profound) had entered beatnik/counterculture slang some time earlier, and references to "heavy music" -- typically slower, more amplified variations of standard pop fare -- were already common; indeed, Iron Butterfly's 1968 debut album was entitled Heavy. The fact that Led Zeppelin (whose moniker came partly in reference to Keith Moon's jest that they would "go over like a lead balloon") incorporated a heavy metal into its name may have sealed the usage of the term.

: In the late 1960s, Birmingham, England was still a centre of industry and (given the many rock bands that evolved in and around the city, such as Led Zeppelin, The Move and Black Sabbath) some people suggest that the term Heavy Metal may have some relation to such activity. Biographies of The Move have claimed that the sound came from their 'heavy' guitar riffs that were popular amongst the 'metal midlands'.

: Sandy Pearlman, original producer, manager and songwriter for the Blue Oyster Cult, claims to have been the first person to apply the term "heavy metal" to rock music in 1970.

: from Wikidpedia

: SR

Back to the future...

I recall engaging in the previous discussions and I don't recall Burroughs being mentioned before.

From context, it appears that the Burroughs use of "HM" is descriptive of literally "heavy metal" as an adjective not as a noun.

also, the Steppenwolf "Born to be wild" reference is not specific to music either. Remember "Easy Rider" anybody?
the song is used about a vehicle figuratively making the sound of thunder as it goes along - the use of the verb 'thunder' for vehicle movement is not modern - in fact, I would not be surprised to find that the use dates back to the Biblical era. Chariots an d horses thunder too.
(Iron Horse)

the midlands has traditionally been an area where 'heavy' industry was based - Sheffield was a centre of steel production and a place where rockers felt at home/originated from.
The Midlands gave us Joe Cocker, Black Sabbath, Saxon etc. In America, Seattle gave us Hendrix.

the Jahn use which included MC5 - "motor city" - Detroit - is an example again of an industrial 'heavy industry' area which brings out the almost onomatopoeic nature of some music and industry : the blues using wailing harmonica simulating train whistles and chugging rhythms reminiscent of trains going along the tracks takes 'heavy metal' music back a generation or two to the urban blues rather than it being a musical phenomena that began in the 1960s.

with that in mind, it may not be a question of originating 'heavy metal music' - but of applying that description. One may be able to argue that blues is the original HM and may have been described that way decades before 'modern' HM came into being. Blues players sometimes had suitably HM names - Leadbelly being the most obvious.

Describing the phenomena of bands' names - or titles (Machine Head) may amount to a fresh use of an existing (but little-used) adjective.

I wonder what the first HM band was...Brighouse Colliery Brass Band anybody? They certainly preceded Jefferson Airplane.

as for Sandy Pearlman - more info needed to evaluate. If anybody finds 'metal' or 'industrial' previously used as a description of blues - then that may inform the discussion.

Incidentally, The Crawdaddy was down my way - well away from heavy industry, Clapton is a local lad who plays cricket on the local green and the Stones used to play in my local pub, where as it happens, so did The Jam a decade or so later.

Small world.

Global (Greenwich) Village

Lewis a.k.a. "Warthog"

See Heavy Metal - meaning and origin.