Jason Hanley, now 44, was visiting his parents on Long Island several years ago when the whole family decided to play tourists in Manhattan. Hanley was carrying his then-5-year-old daughter, Ella, when she let out a yelp.
"Les Paul! Les Paul!"
Ella had spotted a poster for the Iridium Jazz Club featuring the guitar legend, credited with helping to invent what we now know as the electric guitar.
At home in Ohio, Hanley had been talking about musical greats with Ella. The fact that she recognized the American pop culture icon's photograph made him realize parents could be teaching their kids more about the history of rock and roll.
Hanley, who grew up in Holbrook and is director of education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, has written a book to help, called "Music Lab: We Rock! A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History" (Quarry Books, $24.99). It's written for kids as young as 5 through 18-year-olds. A child doesn't have to play a musical instrument to learn about music history, Hanley says.
The history is presented in 52 "labs," each focusing on one artist or group, with suggested playlists, "try this at home" exercises, road trip destinations such as Woodstock or Graceland, artists' connections to historical social events, and more.
For older kids, listening guides examine one song from each group and break the lyrics and melody down verse by verse. "That is sort of a passion of mine. I want people to really try to spend some time with each song and really dig into it," Hanley says.
Lab 01 starts with Elvis Presley. The book continues with Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and others. It covers rock and roll basics and moves into soul, punk, dance and new wave. The final lab in the book focuses on U2.
"I have nothing against putting headphones on and listening to an MP3 player. But I also think we've gotten a little away from music as a shared experience -- listening to it together," says Hanley, who has a PhD in musicology from Stony Brook University.
Hanley suggests approaching the book in either of two ways. Families could read it cover to cover in numerical order, tackling one lab a week. Or, families could jump around, picking out labs in an order that interests them. "Let the kids pick a couple to start with," Hanley says. "There's no reason you have to begin at Lab One."
Here are five suggestions to try at home from "Music Lab: We Rock":
Chuck Berry: "Try writing some rock and roll lyrics of your own. Berry wrote lyrics about the things he observed around him, things that teens cared about. Think about what is important to you and your family and try to come up with some ideas. . . . There are rock and roll songs about everything from relationships to taking out the trash."
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers: "Many musicians started by singing with their family -- give it a try and form your own group. . . . Remember that doo-wop is often based on nonsense words and sounds, so make up your own bass part that goes 'bomp-bomp-doo' and a rhythm part that goes 'chick-a-chick pow.' "
Pink Floyd: "Try making your own liquid light show based on the classic ones from the '60s -- there are plenty of places on the Internet that explain how to do it safely. What will you wear? How about food to serve? There are a lot of fun ways to created your own musical club scene. Make it a party and invite the neighbors!"
Aretha Franklin: "Talk with your family about issues of equality in the 1960s. Think about issues of gender, race and class. . . . Now think about how things are different today. . . . Are there songs that talk about these issues today? Hint: Think about Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' (2011)."
U2: "Let's save the world and make it a better place -- really. That's how I hear the lyrics of 'Where the Streets Have No Name': as a call for charity, for peace, and to hope. . . . let's not just listen to the stories of poverty, hunger, pain and strife on the news. . . . Let's stop for just a moment and do something about it."