Stephen Tow publishes ‘London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock’

    by Stewart Gross

    Stephen Tow runs his own accounting firm by day.

    By night he has been an American History teacher at Del Val University since 1999, and has taught a three–credit course on rock ’n’ roll history for three years now.

    He is downright passionate about rock music and has just authored his second book on the Baby Boomers’ music genre, “London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock.”

    The book chronicles the classic rock period in London from 1963 to 1970, tracing its roots to the skiffle music of the 1950’s and the influence of American Blues artists of the 1940’s.

    Stephen believes that the London-based bands, The Stones, Animals, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and especially The Who, along with the emergence of progressive rock, were the major driving forces in the classic rock period.

    And he certainly does not ignore the Beatles, since the boys from Liverpool were the foundation of everything in classic rock.

    That said, his main focus is on London, where he feels the core of what has come to be known as “classic rock “came from.

    As a true historian, he begins with the “WHY?” Why did this music come into being?

    Great Britain was very different from the post World War II United States according to Tow.

    The U.S. had a new demographic called teenagers, with economic power. 

    In contrast, he observes, “England was grim. It was still bombed-out with many things still in rubble and not rebuilt after the German blitzkriegs.”

    The kids there in the 13-18 demographic had no money like their American counterparts. 

    Their thought was not rebellion, but rather according to Tow, “We don’t want a humdrum life. What else is out there other than working in a factory and going to the pub at night?”

    They realized that their parents were happy with a “humdrum existence” as long as it was a peaceful one, after the horrors they had lived through.

    English teens simply wanted more excitement.

    One answer to their yearning for excitement was found in the “skiffle” music of the 1950’s, which heavily influenced the development of rock’n’roll in the U.K.

    Skiffle music was a fusion born out of jazzblues, and American folk music, many times performed with homemade or improvised instruments.

    It began in the American South in the first half of the 20th century, and became extremely popular in the UK in the 1950s, where it was associated with such artists as Lonnie Donegan, and Chris Barber, which the book discusses in detail. 

    Then, along came the Beatles in Liverpool and all of the London rock bands who were heavily influenced by American blues as well.

    What came next was some of the greatest popular music experimentation ever seen, to be later named “classic rock” and encompassing jazz, blues, folk, opera, classical music, and even albums where the subject matter of songs was conceptually connected such as The Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed,” The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” and the Who’s rock opera, “Tommy.”

    Classic rock’s main thrust, according to Tow, “was breaking all rules of conventional popular music.”

    Interestingly, with all of the great bands and musicians mentioned in the book, the one band that Tow most frequently discusses is The Who.

    He says, “They touched everything. They performed punk, progressive rock, psychedelic, and of course recorded concept albums such as “Tommy,” “Quadrophenia,” “The Who Sell Out,” and the aborted sequel to “Tommy,” “Lifehouse,” that became “Who’s Next.”

    Thus, he decided to name his book after the Who song from “Quadrophenia,” “Love Reign o’er Me.”

    Also in the book is a discussion of progressive rock, which brought classical music with odd time signatures and experimental recording techniques into the rock genre.

    The word “progressive” comes from the idea was that it was “progressing” the form of rock music and taking it into new places.

    One of the bands that came to be most associated with progressive rock was Yes, one of Stephens’s favorite bands.

    He knows their guitarist, Steve Howe, and original drummer Bill Bruford, who wrote the forward to this book.

    According to Stephen, the kernel idea for progressive rock comes from the psychedelia and experimentation in Sergeant Pepper.

    Also, he is quick to point out that Yes drew some of their influences from The Nice with Keith Emerson, Atomic Rooster with Carl Palmer, and King Crimson, featuring Greg Lake and Robert Fripp.

    The keyboards were very prominent in these bands, with classically-trained pianists such as Rick Wakeman and Emerson playing on stage surrounded by a three-sided-wall of pianos, organs, and synthesizers that could create the signature symphonic sounds of an entire orchestra. 

    The cross pollination of all of these musical influences in London is the crux of Stephen’s book.

    One thing he concludes is that the London rock groups of the 60’s took popular music “in experimental, ground-breaking directions that may never be seen again.”

    If you’re lucky enough to attend Stephen’s  Rock’N’Roll History class at Del Val, you will get to Skype with some of the most famous rock musicians in the world.

    His speakers have included: Steve Howe of Yes, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds (three times), Lenny Kay of the Patti Smith Group, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Judy Dyble of the Fairport Convention, and coming this April, Richey Furray of Buffalo Springfield.

    For more information, visit and connect with him on Twitter, @StephenTow.

    PHOTO CAP: Stephen Tow