A Letter to Rolling Stone Magazine
DEWY PHILLIPS: THE SNUB OF ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY
Dear Mr. Fine;
Rolling Stone Magazine has been the leading influence of Pop Culture in the country for more than 50 years. It also has been a great influence on investigative reporting, growing beyond music and pop culture to become a mirror of our society. One of the caveats has always been the Magazine’s steadfast ability to look out for the little guy. I would like to make a pitch for an article that needs to find a home. It deals with the foundation of Rolling Stone Magazine, Rock and Roll music, and its ability to influence the current generation without apologies.
In the last 33 years, many people have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As your Magazine stated in an article written 10 years ago, about how people are selected to enter the Hall: (it has become) “.. a mix of quality and influence. Most important is quality”. Conspicuously absent from the initial inductees and in the 33 years since was a man who had as much influence as anyone on the legacy of Rock and Roll, his name was Dewey Phillips. I would frame the article as “Dewey Phillips: The Snub of Rock and Roll History”.
While Alan Freed, also a DJ in the 1950’s, was selected primarily because he was a leading influence on the germination of Rock and Roll. Freed was no more of an influence than Dewey Phillips. While it is debatable that Freed initially coined the term “Rock and Roll”, there is no doubt that Dewey had as much influence as Freed in the history of Rock and Roll. Why Dewey Phillips was left outside the Hall of Fame, and the history of Rock and Roll is a travesty that needs to be addressed.
Looking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are many artists, writers, producers and contributors that have been inducted since 1986. All of them have legitimate reasons for their induction. In 1986, the inaugural year, a total of 16 artists, musicians, producers, and early influences were inducted to the hall. All of these individuals were noted as the foundation for Rock and Roll. Individuals such as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Sam Phillips and Alan Freed (as well as the others inducted that year), all deserved their place in Rock and Roll history. However, 33 years later there is still no explanation for Dewey’s absence.
Dewey Phillips was a primary force in delivering the music of Rhythm and Blues, into mainstream America. This music would ultimately morph into what became Rock and Roll. All of this came from the mezzanine level of the Chisca Hotel on WHBQ, in Memphis Tennessee. His radio show “Red Hot and Blue” during its heyday of the early 1950s was heard by more than 100,000 people six nights a week. The format was whatever Dewey liked, was played. If he didn’t like it, the next sound heard was the record smashed against the wall into pieces. A format that could never be reproduced under today’s standards. There is no doubt that Phillips influenced every one of the initial inductees, who lived within Phillips’ listening audience. 63 years ago in 1956, Dewey introduced the world to a young Nineteen Year old Elvis Presley, who would ultimately be crowned The King of Rock and Roll. Elvis acknowledged Dewey’s contribution throughout his career,.Visiting him throughout the early years during the broadcast of his radio show, as well as Elvis bringing him to the set of Jailhouse Rock. While Elvis and Dewey had a rift over the years, due to some of Dewey’s actions; Elvis never forgot Dewey’s introduction of his first song and its significance to who he would become.
Sam Phillips was recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an initial inductee, with the following introduction “ If Sam Phillips had discovered only Elvis Presley, he would have earned his rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”. If that was the case for Sam, then it should be true of Dewey. Dewey was the first person to recognize the value of the future King of Rock and Roll, by introducing the initial song to the world. Sam Phillips (No relation) approached Dewey as the first person who would hear Elvis’ first recording to receive a validation of his “find”. Sam knew how important Dewey’s approval was to the success of his new protege. Without Dewey Phillips’ show, the genre of Rock and Roll may never have gained traction. Without Dewy Phillips, it is debatable that Rock and Roll would have appeared. Elvis and many others religiously listened to his show prior to their careers as Rock and Roll pioneers. Would Elvis have been as successful if he hadn’t appeared on Dewey’s show?. There is no doubt to the level of influence he had over their lives, as well as their love of the music they were raised upon. When Dewey called a song a “HIT”, ultimately it became one. Sam Phillips chose Dewey to review Elvis’ recording because he knew that Dewey had the pulse of music in his bones. Sam was quoted describing Dewy as a “genius”. Dewey was color blind, and his only criteria was the quality of the music.
All that can be deduced is the fact that Dewey died almost 20 years before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was inaugurated. Most of the people who can advocate for Dewey are no longer alive (Elvis, Sam Phillips, and others). Also, Dewey’s reputation could have influenced his obvious snub, since he was not popular in the lore’s of Rock and Roll history. While he and Elvis did have a falling out, even Elvis ultimately forgave Dewey and made up with him. His history of drinking and drugs, which led to his death, did nothing to help him. However, if the criteria of living a perfect life would dispel people from their induction That belief would dispel many, if not all of the inductees. Notwithstanding, Dewey’s absence lends pause to the legitimacy of the hall’s respect of the past and the advocacy of the future. If election to the Hall is a popularity contest, then it must be acknowledged as such. If it is a true reflection of Rock and Roll history then Dewey deserves his rightful place.
While I understand that the origins of Rock and Roll may not have the sexiness of current musical groups; however, there is no doubt that there has been a resurgence of Elvis Presley popularity over the last year. Dewey is an important part of Rock and Roll History, and his contribution needs to be defined and honored. I would love to write this story for your magazine, and I feel that this is the place to begin the grassroots effort for Dewey’s induction. Your influence over the selection process as to who is nominated is evidenced by the fact that your founder and writers are members of the nomination board. History needs to recognize a key contributor for his contribution. The source of your magazine’s foundation should be cause enough for you to want to go all in and righting this wrong. Without Dewey Phillips, it may be doubtful that Rock and Roll or Elvis Presley would have had the impact on our culture or our lives. Memphis was the place it all started, and that should be recognized. Dewey’s induction would cement that as a prime fact, not as a peripheral fact.
I have completed a Book Titled ELVIS: The King of Rock and Roll, which will be published in 2020. In it I make the following statement. “From 1949 – 1954. Elvis the teenager admittedly was listening to Dewey Phillips playing music and swaying him in what could be considered ground zero for the music that was to bubble to the top. If Memphis is known as the Birthplace of R&B and ultimately Rock & Roll. Then Gospel music and Dewey Phillips were the essential ingredients of its conception. However, it was Sam Phillips as the doctor that would ultimately deliver the sound to the world.”
Thank you for considering this query. I hope you agree that a story on Dewey Phillips would make interesting reading for your audience. I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me at frdonofrio@Elvis-The-King-of-RockandRoll.com or at 443-655-1151.
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