1959 – Guitar Slim dies

Eddie Jones – better known to most as “Guitar Slim” – was only 32 when he died pf pneumonia (which was brought on largely by his alcoholism). In his brief career, he recorded two bona fide classics: 1952’s “Feelin’ Sad” (later covered and made more famous by Ray Charles) and 1953’s “The Things That I Used To Do” (a #1 hit on the US R&B charts).

A bluesman, Slim was part of the New Orleans Blues sound, although also something of an experimentalist – he was among the first to use distorted guitar tones, a decade before Hendrix would make them famous. Indeed, Hendrix was influenced by Slim’s work, to the point that he recorded a cover of “The Things That I Used To Do” in 1969. (Other artists to cover that particular track include James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan.)

Referenced in:
Six Strings Down — Jimmie Vaughan

1959 – Billie Holiday dies

Born Eleanora Harris, Billie Holiday was one of the greatest singers of the Twentieth Century. She sang across a range of genres, including jazz, folk and pop, but always in a voice and a style that was distinctively her own. It is no exaggeration to say that she single-handedly changed the way that pop music was sung – no female vocalist who followed her is entirely free of her shadow, and not a few male vocalists also owe a debt – Frank Sinatra, for example, said that she was his single largest influence.

Holiday’s death, at the age of 44, came a few months after she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, caused by her heavy drinking. She died after spending a month and a half in hospital – a period during which she was arrested by the New York Police Department for drug possession and other crimes. Her health had prevented her from being arraigned, and the charges were still pending when she died, placing her beyond the reach of any earthly jurisdiction.

Referenced in:

Woke Up This Morning — Alabama 3

1959 – Ford discontinues the Edsel

The 1958 Ford Edsel is today recalled as one of the world’s greatest flopped products. This is usually attributed to it being a bad design, but in fact the car itself was the equal of any of Ford’s other lines at the time. The true failures were of timing and marketing.

The release of the 1958 Edsel – which took place in 1957 – occurred during a general slowdown of the US economy that year, when all car sales fell. It was that much harder for a newcomer to the market to find a place. Ford had also attempted a teaser style marketing campaign, creating a mystery regarding the car’s appearance – which led to it being less recognizable than its competitors. In addition, it was competing against very well-established brand names in its class – not least among them Ford’s own Mercury range. Finally, of course, it had a dorky name.

Slightly more than two years after its initial release, the Edsel was discontinued (although production and sales of existing models continued for some months), and Ford suffered a publicity black eye and a bad earnings year from it. Ironically, many of the features of the Edsel that were derided at the time are now standard for cars of its class.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1959 – Charles Starkweather is executed for murder

One of the earliest modern spree killers, Charles Starkweather was responsible for the deaths of eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1, 1957 and January 29, 1958, when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, were captured.

Starkweather tried to shield Fugate from the legal consequences of her participation in some of the killings, but his story changed too many times to be taken seriously. She was sentenced to life in prison, and he got the chair. At one minute past midnight on June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather, who still showed little remorse, was executed by electrocution in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Referenced in:

Nebraska — Bruce Springsteen

1959 – Admiral William Halsey dies of old age

William Halsey Jnr was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1904. In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks. By the end of World War One, he was a Lieutenant Commander, and at the time of Pearl Harbour, he was a Vice-Admiral.

Throughout most of World War Two, he commanded the American and Allied forces in the South Pacific as Admiral of the Third Fleet. Notably, he was the ranking officer in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where American forces triumphed despite a number of errors of judgement on Halsey’s part.

He was present for Japan’s formal surrender on September 2, 1945 – indeed, the USS Missouri, was Halsey’s flagship. He retired from active duty in 1947, and died twelve years later, to be buried in Arlington Cemetary in Washington DC.

Referenced in:

Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey – Paul McCartney

1959 — Naked Lunch is first published

Naked Lunch – no The – was first published in Paris in 1959. (US publication would wait until three years later.) It was a breakthrough novel for William S. Burroughs, who had spent five years writing it, mostly in Tangier, and mostly under the influence of a variety of drugs, or withdrawal from the same. As a text, it is a challenging work, with Burroughs’ hallucinatory prose further made confusing by the application of the Cut Up Method. Classifying it into a genre is nigh impossible, although it could be argued that the work prefigures both magic realism and gonzo journalism.

The book was not well received in the US upon its publication. In Burroughs’ own words:

When I started writing Naked Lunch, people offered their opinions: “Disgusting,” they said. “Pornographic, un-American trash!” “Unpublishable.” Well, it came out in 1959, and it found an audience: town meetings, book burnings and an inquiry by the state Supreme Court. That book made quite a little impression…

Referenced in:

Atlantis to Interzone — Klaxons

1959 – Space Monkeys Able and Miss Baker become the first living beings to safely return to Earth

In the early days of space exploration, no government seemed ready to send humans into space. After all, no one knew what sort of effects exposure to conditions in space would have on human biology. But dogs and monkeys were fair game.

The United States launched monkey flights between 1948 and 1961, and France launched two monkey space flights in 1967. Most – but not all – monkeys were anesthetized before lift-off. Each monkey flew only one mission, although there were numerous back-up monkeys also went through the programs but never flew. Monkey species used included rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and pig-tailed macaques.

Able, was a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and on May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, they became the first living beings to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space. They travelled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s²). Their names had no particular significance, being simply taken from a phonetic alphabet.

Able died on June 1, 1959 during surgery but Baker lived into old age, dying on November 29, 1984, She is buried on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1959 – Sinatra finishes recording “No One Cares”

On this day, Sinatra completed the recording of this, his third album for the year, after a break of over a month – the rest of the album having been recorded between the 24th and 26th of March.

The album, considered a sequel to Sinatra’s earlier “Where Are You?”, includes a recording of “Stormy Weather”, a song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler in 1933, and performed first by Ethel Waters at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem that year.

Referenced in:

Frank Sinatra – Cake

1959 – Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper die in a plane crash

The facts, as generally agreed upon, are these:

At appoximately 1AM on February 3, 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson (‘the Big Bopper’) boarded a plane in Clear Lake, Iowa, intending to fly to their next concert, in Moorhead, Minnesota. The three, flown by pilot Roger Peterson, were killed a short time later when their plane crashed.

The major cause of the crash appears to have been a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson was not qualified for nighttime flights, and it also appears that he may have been given incorrect information regarding the weather conditions on that fateful night.

Referenced in:
American Pie – Don McLean
Air Crash Museum – Dead Milkmen
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1959 – Cuban Revolution ends in Communist victory

The fall of Cuba’s Batista government, after six years of fighting between government forces and Castro’s revolutionary army, was officially complete when Castro and his soldiers captured Havana on January 8, 1959.

Wild scenes of celebration ensued, as Castro’s army were hailed as liberators throughout the city. Law professor José Miró Cardona had created a new government with himself as prime minister and Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president on January 5, and the United States had officially recognized this new government two days later. Upon Castro’s arrival in Havana, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Cuba’s Armed Forces.

A month later, Miró suddenly resigned, and on February 16, 1959, Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel