Al Jolson

Not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Eligible since: 1945 (The 1946 Induction Ceremony)

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Swanee (1919)

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Will Al Jolson be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
"Musical excellence is the essential qualification for induction."


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One of the most popular and renowned entertainers of all time, Jolie was the first multimedia superstar, thus setting a template later adopted by Cantor, Bing, Sinatra, Elvis, Streisand, and several others. It will come as a major surprise to most that Jolson had a considerable influence on rock 'n' roll. Here are the first two cases of Jolson's influence on rock 'n' rollers in what will be a continuing series:

Jerry Lee Lewis grew up listening to Jolson's records alongside his more obvious influences like Jimmie Rodgers (the original) and Hank Williams. In an interview given to Todd Everett for Earth News Radio on August 17, 1957, JLL made the following statement: "There's only four stylists, and that's Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Al Jolson, and Jimmie Rodgers. Rest of 'em are jes' ... imitators." A boastful statement to be sure, but then it's not too dissimilar from Jolson's self-appointed title of The World's Greatest Entertainer which he was quick to remind audiences of any time he could. I can definitely see a lot of Jolson's flamboyance and showmanship in the Killer, not to mention both had a flair for the overly sentimental (A lot of JLL's later country-western material certainly has a lot of the sentimentality so apparent in many of Jolson's staples, especially Sonny Boy).

Rod Stewart recalled that his family, especially his brother Don and father, were Jolson fanatics. Rod inherited Don's collection of Jolie 78s and listened to them constantly. In Rod Stewart: The New Biography, writers Tim Ewbank and Stafford Hildred recount that Jolson's "melodramatic singing style was complemented by pleading interjections and intensifying gestures - all of which had a profound influence on Rod in later years." Rod elaborated on this influence in an October 30, 2003 Rolling Stone interview: "Al Jolson, from when we used to have house parties around Christmas or birthdays. We had a small grand piano and I used to sneak downstairs... I think it gave me a very, very early love of music."

Posted by Zach on Tuesday, 11.3.15 @ 21:28pm

Al Jolson's influence on rock 'n' roll continued...

The clearest example of Jolson's influence on a rock 'n' roller is the outstanding singer Jackie Wilson. Wilson even paid homage to Jolie with an album of covers of Jolson staples, You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet (named after Jolson's catchphrase). Mr. Excitement himself even penned these liner notes for the LP:

To my way of thinking, the greatest entertainer of this or any other era is the late Al Jolson. Even as a child, I can remember the thrill I always experienced whenever I heard him sing. I guess I have just about every recording heís ever made, and I rarely missed listening to him on the radio. Itís truly unfortunate that television couldnít have benefited by his talents. Regrettably, Iíve never had the privilege of seeing him perform in person. But even to this day, I am still one of his most avid fans.

During the three years Iíve been making records, Iíve had the ambition to do an album of songs which, to me, represent the great Jolson heritage. I never thought that this ambition would take shape this soon, but thanks to my manager, Nat Tarnopol, without whose faith and foresight I might never be writing this now, my dream has finally become a reality.

With the assistance of conductor-arranger Dick Jacobs, we set about selecting the songs to be recorded. The problem wasnít so much the choice of only twelve songs, but rather which twelve of the many hundreds of songs that are so closely identified with Jolson should be included. Once this decision was made, the rest was comparatively easy, and the result is ďYou Ainít Heard Nothiní Yet!Ē

In no way is this album an attempt to imitate Jolsonís style, nor is it an attempt to duplicate his incomparable way with a song. This is simply my humble tribute to the one man I admire most in this business. With the sincere hope that my contribution will in some way help keep the heritage of Al Jolson alive through the great songs he left behind.

Let me here and now extend my deep appreciation to all those involved in making this album a proud moment for me. I hope you like it!


Jackie Wilson

Lest you believe Jolson's influence ended with singers born during World War II, Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth can also be added to the roster of Jolson disciples. During a Rolkling Stone interview from April 11, 1985, DLR was asked when his first interest in a show business career sparked. David replied thus:

"I was seven. I said I wanted to be Al Jolson. Those were the only records I had - a collection of the old breakable 78's. I learned every song and then the moves, which I saw in the movies. I wanted to be the center attraction, but I also wanted to put the moves on you. I've got to do the hands. I've got to do the knickerbocker break and deliver the smile."

This quote from a February 11, 1985 People Magazine profile puts it succinctly:

"I always wanted to be exactly what I am nowóAl Jolson for the '80s."

Posted by Zach on Friday, 11.6.15 @ 23:13pm

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