Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part two)
Listeners of this new sound were mostly only getting it in small doses in clubs and hearing it on regional radio stations. However, smaller independent record labels were popping up between 1940 and 1950 to fill the void left by the major companies who had stopped producing “race music” which became known as R&B (Rhythm and Blues) by about mid 1940. So with this odd transformation of a type of music gaining popularity yet strangely being avoided by the major record labels, independent labels such as; Specialty, Aladdin, Modern, Swing Time, and Imperial in Los Angeles, King (Cincinnati), Peacock (Houston), Chess (Chicago), Savoy (Newark), Atlantic (New York), and many more filled a growing niche market that was about to explode.
A big part of the music industry was the charting of songs by Billboard and later Cashbox. Billboard started in 1940 and by 1949 there were three categories; Pop, Country & Western and R & B. These weekly listings consisted of the songs most played by Disc Jockeys, plus record shop sales and plays on Jukeboxes. This had created a buzz around the music. There is little debate that the numbers used by Billboard were not particularly accurate in the early days (pre Top/Hot 100) as Record Company sales were proprietary, nevertheless everyone loved reading the lists and getting your song on it and moving up the charts became an obsession.
When the 45 r.p.m. record (created by RCA Records) came on the market in 1949, soon followed by the portable record player, teenagers could now listen in their bedrooms, basements and garages free from the family phonograph player and their parents Classical, Country, Big Band, Latin and if they were at all hip maybe some Jazz music. 'Singles' as they were called had the one song that was being promoted and another song on the ‘flip side’ later to be referred to as the “A” side and the “B” side.
When a single was a hit on the Billboard charts, Pop or R&B it led directly to increased sales of this new format of music consumption, here are some more popular songs that were part of the early formation of ‘R&R'.
“Rock the Joint” written by Doc Bagby, Fats Crafton, Don Keane and performed by Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians, recorded May 1949. Covered by Bill Haley with The Saddlemen in April 1952. Reverend Horton Heat in 1996.
“We're Gonna Rock” written and performed by William Moore and know as 'Wild Bill' Moore. Released in 1948. Reportedly the first song played by Alan Freed on his radio show.
“We're Gonna Rock” – same song interpreted by Cecil Gant in 1950, he eliminated the sax and used a piano adding some electric guitar. For me this transforms the song and makes it another early influencer of 'Rock and Roll' music. A personal observation, this was a part of a not so deliberate trend to weed out the use of the Saxophone as a main instrument in 'Rock and Roll' and a sad thing at that.
Wild Bill would also write and release a song called “Rock and Roll” in 1949 with Scatman Crothers (later of movie and tv fame) singing lead vocals. Somewhat odd I think that I can’t find a cover version of this song that for me is very influential.
Here are a couple more pioneering songs.
“Junker Blues” written and performed by Champion Jack Dupree in 1940, produced by one of the pioneers in recording black musicians, Okeh Records out of New York City. They recorded songs from Mamie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Canadian born Shelton Brooks who would compose many successful songs including “Some of these Days”, first released in 1911 with Sophie Tucker and again in 1927, it's been covered over 165 times including Serena Ryder (2006).
“The Fat Man” written by Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino and Champion Jack Dupree. Performed by Fats Domino, Recorded Dec. 10, 1949, released February 1950 by one of the early independent record labels, Imperial. An adaptation of Dupree’s song with a bit of a fuller sound, and one of the earliest ‘Rock and Roll’ songs. This song came up several times in my research, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit though familiar with the song it was not in my library of more than 40 Fats Domino songs.
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