American Rock 'n' Roll and the Cunard Yanks mythology
Around this time the influence of American rock 'n' roll was being felt in Liverpool and the rest of England . How that music appeared, particularly in Liverpool , is an interesting story. The generally accepted view which has recently come into question, was that merchant seamen known as Cunard Yanks imported rock 'n' roll records from America which were then passed along to Liverpool musicians who had relations who worked on the ships. This, unfortunately, is not how American rock 'n' roll appeared in a large scale in Liverpool or for the rest of England . The truth of the matter is, about 99% of American rock 'n' roll LPs and singles were released by British music companies.
To understand why that is, one must trace back to the origins of the Cunard Yanks mythology. One of the earliest publications that supported the Cunark Yank viewpoint was found in Mersey Beat. Bill Harry, editor of Mersey Beat publication, explains: "Originally, when I did some interviews in Mersey Beat for a series called ‘Why Liverpool?’ some of the answers from musicians such as John McNally of the Searchers was that he got records from his brother who was a merchant seaman (a Cunard Yank). A couple of other musicians said this. So when I did an introduction to my 1977 book 'Mersey Beat: The Beginning of the Beatles' I mentioned this. However, as I researched further I discovered that 99% of the groups just got their repertoire from records found in record stores. Those records were available on Merseyside and throughout Britain . The more groups I asked, the more I discovered that the ‘Cunard Yanks’ story was a myth. So I put that right in subsequent writings. Research is always a voyage of discovery."
But had it not been for an irate Cavern DJ Bob Wooler along with the follow-up research of BBC music journalist Spencer Leigh whom decided to challenge the Cunard Yank mythology, the real truth might not have surfaced. Said Bob Wooler in "Best of Fellas - the Story of Bob Wooler" written by Spencer Leigh: "I accept that there were hundreds of Cunard Yanks and that, before the War, they brought back dance band records which were unavailable here. There was a society in the Wirral that met to play them. In the 1950s, the Cunard Yanks brought back jazz and country and western records which were not released here, and John McNally of the Searchers got several country records from his seafaring brother. However, there is no evidence, I repeat, no evidence, that beat groups were performing songs that were brought over from America by the Cunard Yanks."
For his part, Spencer Leigh investigated Wooler's claims. He discovered that of the 400 cover versions that British groups recorded from the American rock 'n' roll repertoire, "in almost every case I discovered that the original version had been released in the UK ," wrote Leigh.
The unfortunate tragedy is that the Cunard Yanks mythology had spanned over several decades with new media releases only reinforcing the myth, notability the MGM video "The Complete Beatles" (1982) and Granada's "Who Put the Beat In Mersey Beat" (screened in 1995). Little wonder the urban legend lasted so long!
John Lennon forms The Quarry Men and the band performs what's known in England as "skiffle."