So far, I covered the different meanings of the phrase “rock’n’roll” and songs that highlight those meanings. I have shown that white artists embraced black styles decades before Elvis emerged on the scene and that rockabilly clearly existed in the 1940s but that it was called hillbilly boogie. It’s now time to feature some blues/R&B recordings that, in my opinion, best capture the rock’n’roll sounds of the 1950s, but, of course, all of the tracks are from the pre-1950s period. Here’s what I came up with:
- “Anticipatin’ Blues” by The Southern Negro Quartette. The first doo-wop groups to emerge are said to have been The Ravens and The Orioles in the 1940s, but, since fairly that’s common knowledge, we must seek an example from an earlier era. The closest example of doo-wop from the pre-1940s period is easily “Anticipatin’ Blues” by The Southern Negro Quartette from June, 1921. That’s not to say that “Anticipatin’ Blues” is doo-wop, but with its hollers and shouts that whoop and glide like a rollercoaster, all done a cappella, one can easily hear it being sung on a street corner in Brooklyn, circa 1954.
- “Hastings Street” by ragtime guitarist Blind Blake and boogie pianist Charlie Spand, recorded on August 17, 1929 for Paramount Records. Here, the rock’n’roll beat is undeniable. Its intro is identical to that of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man” recorded a little over twenty years later. According to the folks that put together the 2-CD compilation ‘Rock Before Elvis, Before Little Richard, Before Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley or Bill Haley’ (honest, that’s the title), “Hastings Street” is the first rock’n’roll record.
- “Strange Things Happening Every Day” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, recorded for Decca Records on September 22, 1944. Gospel boogie is a rare thing indeed, but here is an example, and probably the best one, too. Sister Rosetta is not just one of the most underrated guitarists but she’s also one of the most underrated artists and deserves far more recognition for her musical abilities/contributions. This track was covered by Michelle Shocked on the tribute disc to the Sister released in 2003.
- “T-Bone Boogie” by T-Bone Walker with Marl Young and His Orchestra, recorded possibly May, 1945 for Rhumboogie Records. Here we have Chuck Berry licks a full ten years before Chuck Berry emerged on the scene.
- “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” by Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, recorded for Decca Records on January 23, 1946. The guitar intro to this track was taken note-for-note by Chuck Berry for the opening of “Johnny B. Goode.” Jordan’s guitarist, Carl Hogan, an early idol of Berry’s.
- “That’s All Right” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, recorded for Bluebird on September 6, 1946. This was copied almost note-for-note by Elvis Presley in 1954 and served as Elvis’ first record. After Sun Records owner Sam Phillips heard Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black tear into “That’s All Right,” he finally heard what he was looking for – a white boy with the black sound (it’s important to understand that Sam recorded Elvis more out of is frustration with the limited acceptance of black music and not so much for is desire to “make a million dollars.”)
The flipside of Elvis’ record was a cover of Bill Monroe’s 1946 bluegrass classic “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” bringing together black music and white in a very powerful fashion – and at exactly the right time in history.
- “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris, recorded on December 28, 1947, for King Records. By June 1948, the song was a #1 R&B hit, and paved the way for countless songs having the word “rocking” or “rock” in their title, and they all rocked musically, too! It was Wynonie whom Elvis was imitating when he curled his lip and shook his hips
Placing rock ‘n’ roll’s beginnings in the 1950s is similar to walking into a movie theater when the movie’s half over – you’re missing half the plot! Just as rock ‘n’ roll has evolved from the 1950s to the present, so has it evolved from the 1890s to the 1950s. After all, does Buddy Holly sound anything like Metallica? Certainly not – because rock ‘n’ roll has evolved and will continue to do so.
But music, of course, is subjective, and everyone can view the same thing several different ways. I submit my opinions to you so that you can draw your own conclusions.
You can place rock’s “birth” in any era you wish or call the music anything you desire. The important thing to remember is that music is all connected. All one has to do is listen.
Copyright 2006 JacoFan Music. All Rights Reserved.