Defining Moments: Play It Loud

Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll explores the musical function, visual presentation and cultural importance of the instruments of rock & roll

Musical instruments are as visual as they are sonic -- from the freedom of movement afforded by electric guitars and the attention-grabbing quality of decorated or iconic instruments to the set-design framework provided by large drum kits and keyboard rigs. Instruments are often a musician's most personal and beloved items, providing the means to express their art and serving as an extension of their identity.

Rebellious and unpredictable, rock & roll has inspired generations of music lovers to pick up their own instruments and contribute to rock's continuous momentum. The posters featured here are an extension of those featured in the 2019 joint exhibit by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which explored the deep connections between rock instruments, musicians and their audiences.

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969 (1969) by Woodstock VenturesRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Defining Moments

When iconic instruments and musicians come together, people follow.

Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, 1973 (1973) by Tilghman PressRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, 1973

Louis Jordan was a charismatic saxophonist and bandleader who prioneered the "jump blues" style with his rhythm-drive combo, the Tympany Five, and was known as "King of the Jukebox" for his success with both black and white audiences.

The saxophone was an important lead instrument in early rock & roll, and Jordan used a Selmer Mark VI during the height of his career. Jordan's last recording session took place in 1972, but he toured with a reformed version of the Tympany Five until his death in 1975.

Winter Dance Party Tour, 1959 (1959)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Winter Dance Party Tour, 1959

Buddy Holly was famous for performing with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, though he composed most of his hits with his wartime Gibson J-45. 

This poster advertises the 1959 tour featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson that saw the three early rock & roll stars die in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Don McLean's 1971 song "American Pie" famously refers to this tragedy as "the day the music died."

T.A.M.I Show, 1964 (1964) by Steve Binder and Bill SargentRock & Roll Hall of Fame

T.A.M.I Show, 1964

T.A.M.I. Show is a 1964 concert film, featuring a number of popular American and British rock & roll and R&B musicians, including James Brown, The Rolling Stones, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes. 

The acronym "T.A.M.I." was used to mean both "Teenage Awards Music International" and "Teen Age Music International." In 2006, T.A.M.I. Show was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress and added to the National Film Registry.

Bob Dylan, 1964 (November 27) by Mary Ann Pollar and Ashes and SandRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Bob Dylan, 1964

An extremely rare concert poster advertising Bob Dylan's November 27, 1964 performance at San Francisco's Masonic Temple--his first ever San Francisco concert. 

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Pink Floyd, 1967 (1967) by Bill Graham and Bonnie McLeanRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Pink Floyd, 1967

Handbill for Big Brother and the Holding Company, Pink Floyd, & Richie Havens at the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland Ballroom, 1967.

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969 (1969) by Woodstock VenturesRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969

Woodstock was a music festival held August 15–18, 1969. It attracted an audience of more than 400,000 and consisted of 32 acts over four days. The festival is regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history and a defining one for the counterculture generation. 

New Orleans Pop Festival, 1969 (1969) by A Frank Andrews ProductionRock & Roll Hall of Fame

New Orleans Pop Festival, 1969

Held two weeks after the Woodstock Festival, the New Orleans Pop Festival was one of several held in 1969 in the deep South and one of four held that Labor Day weekend.

Other festivals held that weekend included the Sky River Rock Festival, the Texas International Pop Festival, and the Isle of Wight Festival.

Wattstax Film Poster (1973)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Wattstax Film Poster, 1973

Conceived in 1966, Watts Summer Festival is the oldest African American cultural festival in America. The 1972 concert was an answer to the devastation of the Watts Rebellion of 1965 and a celebration of Black culture and resilience. 

Likened to the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, the Watts Summer Festival was a musical event, fundraiser and documentary. The festival sold out the 100,000-capacity L.A. Coliseum with $1.00 admission, with the Stax roster performing for free.

Wattstax offered a cross-section of Black music, from gospel to pop. It was the largest gathering of African Americans during that time, but sadly received lack of media coverage.

One of the most important artistic movements in modern times, rock & roll was and continues to be a seismic influence, reverberating across culture and society and affecting fashion, visual arts, racial and sexual politics and free speech. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll celebrated the iconic musical instruments that gave rock & roll its signature sound, and many artists an extension of their identities. Co-organized with The Met, the exhibit offered a rare, in-depth look at the artists and instruments that made possible many of the songs we know and love.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST What's an artist without an instrument? To make the music we know and love, these artists played their chosen tools passionately, brilliantly -- and more importantly -- played them loud. Hear the signature sounds of rock & roll trailblazers in this playlist created for Play It Loud.

Credits: Story

Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll, presented by Pepsi.

Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll was onsite at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame from November 11, 2019 to January 3, 2021.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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