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Morris Museum Opens Jersey Rocks: A History of Rock & Roll in the Garden State

The Morris Museum presents Jersey Rocks : A History of Rock & Roll in the Garden State, on view May 5 – September 5, 2011.

The Jersey Rocks exhibition explores rock & roll’s roots, rise, golden age, and evolution in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and beyond, when Jersey was fertile ground for the new sound that rocked the world.

This groundbreaking exhibition, organized by the Morris Museum, explores New Jersey’s pivotal role in the development of the rock & roll genre. Jersey Rocks will explore the rise of rock & roll in New Jersey from its early years through the 1970s and beyond, as “rock” evolved into new genres. This major exhibition will feature musicians, fans, concert venues, events, and DJ’s– many of which made up the world of New Jersey rock & roll.

Beginning with the origins of rock & roll in the late 1940s to early 1950s, the exhibition will explore doo-wop, be-bop, gospel, and rhythm and blues and African-American artists’ contributions to rock’s roots, through photos and videos of performers and their stories. This section will also examine the legacy of Les Paul and his contribution to the technology that made rock & roll—the solid body electric guitar.

The next section will celebrate the rise of rock & roll in the 1950s through mid-1960s. Visitors will travel back in time to Wildwood and the 1950s, where Bill Haley and His Comets debuted “Rock Around the Clock”, and “visit” Palisades Amusement Park and The Clay Cole Show, with performers such as Lesley Gore and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, along with Tony Mart’s in Somers Point, NJ, the first “real” rock club on the Jersey Shore. The role of DJ’s and how they helped market and spread rock & roll will be highlighted through personalities, such as Jocko Henderson, Alan Freed, and Cousin Brucie. Through objects such as records, stage clothing, photographs, gold records, and backdrops, performers of the period who will be spotlighted include Joey Dee and the Starliters, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Dionne Warwick, the Shirelles, Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, The Angels, The Delicates, the Happenings, the Critters, the Duprees, Ricky Nelson, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company.

The golden age of rock & roll, mid 1960s – 1970s, will explore the rising market of rock & roll, the originality of the music and how it increasingly reflected the times (e.g. Vietnam War) and New Jersey’s contributions to the technological revolution that enabled rock & roll to become a national phenomenon. Some of the leading venues and music happenings highlighted include a “visit” to the Atlantic City Pop Festival, held two weeks before Woodstock; Newark Symphony Hall as a concert venue that hosted the Rolling Stones, Peter Paul and Mary, and Jimi Hendrix; and what made the Capitol Theater in Passaic a “substitute” for the Fillmore East. Some of the technological advances featured include an authentic 1960s Guild guitar, made in Hoboken, with a built-in stand; an Ampeg amplifier, made in Linden; and a Guild Echorec, which allowed your voice to echo.

Specific stories include:
The (Young) Rascals – shift in rock & roll, moving away from American Bandstand and becoming more influenced by “psychedelia”
Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt as teenagers playing at the Upstage Club. Another Jersey Shore venue: The Stone Pony
The Jersey Shore Sound via the history of Asbury Park, where a rock & roll scene emerged as the city underwent a decline
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and their contribution to the Jersey Shore sound

The next section examines how rock splintered in new directions in the mid-1970s and beyond. Four major performers, all NJ natives, that made national and international marks on music, will be highlighted:

Disco queen Gloria Gaynor
Bon Jovi’s appeal as a “hair band”
Hip hop exemplified through Queen Latifah
Pop music through the lens of Whitney Houston’s records
The Misfits and the rise of punk
Other NJ performers to be featured include the Smithereens and Blondie (Deborah Harry).

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will be invited to make a personal statement about rock & roll by designing an album cover, designing a “t-shirt” using magnetic pieces at an interactive station, writing their concert memories, or adding new voices to the exhibition by telling their NJ rock & roll stories on the talk-back wall. At several “lounge” areas throughout the exhibition, visitors will be prompted by question cards to think about the first album/8-track/cassette/CD they ever bought; other New Jersey venues where they saw concerts; and where they think New Jersey rock is headed next.

Image: The Morris Museum

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