Rene Hall: Influential But Forgotten Guitarist And Arranger Of Rock ‘n’Roll And Rhythm And Blues

Rene Hall is one of the most important founders of rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues.

If you don’t know his name, don’t worry. Unfortunately his name is only known to a few insiders. Although it’s him who’s  playing that raunchy guitar on Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and who wrote the arrangement for Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

TheHoundDog published a wonderful article with Rene Hall that gives some insight into his great achievements. Be sure to read it and learn more about a very important musician.

Who Played On ‘La Bamba’?

Ritchie Valens

In 1958 Ritchie Valens recorded a rock and roll version of the traditional song “La Bamba” at Hollywood’s Gold Star studios:

Buddy Clark: string bass
Ernie Freeman: piano
Carol Kaye: rhythm guitar
Rene Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string bass guitar)
Earl Palmer: drums
Ritchie Valens: vocals, guitar

Producer and owner of the “Del-Fi” label Bob Keane (a former clarinet player and big band leader) used some of the finest musicians to back up newcomer Ritchie Valens. They all had a jazz background. René Hall, Earl Palmer and Ernie Freeman worked for the Ernie Fields Orchestra at one time or the other.

Earl Palmer brought the “swamp beat” from New Orleans to Los Angeles. He started his career in New Orleans playing jazz and doing sessions for Fats Domino and Little Richard. In Los Angeles he became one of the best and most recorded studio drummers of the nineteen-sixties.

Jazz guitarist Carol Kaye switched to electric bass in the early sixties and would become a defining innovator of this instrument. With her bass lines she wrote music history. You can hear her playing on hundreds of pop songs, movie- and TV-soundtracks.

Ernie Freeman not only played piano, but was also an arranger and worked with Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Dean Martin and Connie Francis.

René Hall worked as studio guitarist on many R&B and pop records and wrote arrangements for Sam Cooke.

All these musicians were essential in creating the great US hits of the nineteen-fifties and -sixties. They used their jazz background to create legendary pop, soul and R&B music.

I’m not sure if bassist Buddy Clark is the same Buddy Clark who worked with Bud Freeman, Tex Beneke and Les Brown and later became a member of the Supersax band. NOTE: (April, 25th, 2008): It’s the same Buddy Clark. See following post: Who Played On ‘La Bamba’ Part 3

Learn about the historic background of “La Bamba”. And also read Who Played On “La Bamba”? Part 2.

Sources:

– Bob Keane, “The Oracle Of Del-Fi”, Los Angeles: Del-Fi International Books, 2005
– E. Olsen, P. Verna, C. Wollf, ”The Encyclopedia Of Record Producers”, New York: Billboard Books, 1999
– Tony Scherman, “Backbeat – Earl Palmer’s Story”, Da Capo Press, 2000
www.carolkaye.com

Note: Studio musicians usually didn’t get credits until the late nineteen-sixties/early nineteenseventies. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to find out who played on records. I try to include as many sources as possible, but I don’t guarantee that my information is correct.

Bass Guitar? Electric Bass? Fender Bass? Danelectro Bass Guitar?

Electric Bass

There’s some confusion about how to call the electric bass. Many people call it “bass guitar”. Let’s look at the basics: the electric bass is shaped like a guitar, has four strings and is tuned like a string bass. Nowadays there are also electric basses with five and six strings.

Until the late nineteen-sixties the electric bass was called by many “Fender bass”, because Fender was the first company to market electric basses on a large scale. During the late sixties the term “electric bass” became also common. The term “bass guitar” is a little bit confusing, because there’s also an instrument called “Danelectro bass guitar”, which is a six string guitar tuned one octave down.

In the fifties and sixties the Danelectro bass guitar was often used in combination with a string bass and was responsible for the “click” sound that you can hear on many country songs. For example on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Usually the Danelectro doubled (playing unison) the string bass or the electric bass. The combination of string bass and electric bass was also popular in the sixties. A good example is “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. Chuck Berghofer is on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass.

There are at least two famous songs that use a Danelectro and on which Carol Kaye also played: on the Richie Valens hit “La Bamba” you can hear Rene Hall on the Danelectro, Carol Kaye played the rhythm guitar. On “Wichita Lineman”, Glen Campbell plays a wonderful solo on a Danelectro he borrowed from Carol Kaye, while Kaye herself played the electric bass. And you can hear Carol Kaye playing the Danelectro on “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny and Cher.