Skip to main content

Rock and Roll Part 3

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part three)

"Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, released April 1951

There has been much attention paid to the song "Rocket 88" as being the 'first' R&R song. A huge amount of writing has been done on this song and there's also very diverse opinions about it. Here is my take. First we need to acknowledge it's a great song. As of 2018 the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame added a category of single songs, "Rocket 88" was among the first group recognized. 

These are some facts:

When it came out in 1951 there were two charts published by Billboard Magazine for R&B that only tracked the top ten songs each week. The first was "Best selling retail Rhythm and Blues Singles" and it entered for the week of May 19, it hit #1 on June 9 and stayed there for three weeks. It spent a total of 17 weeks on the chart and was the 5th best record for chart performance that year. Compared to "Sixty Minute Man" by the Dominoes which on three occasions hit #1 for a total of 16 weeks and 30 in the top 10. The other chart was called "Most played Juke Box Rhythm and Blues records" where the song spent five weeks at #1 and 18 weeks in the top 10, performance wise well behind as mentioned the Dominoes song as well as ones from Ruth Brown, Charles Brown and John Lee Hooker. Cash Box Magazine had a Top Ten chart called "Harlem R&B Singles" where the song spent four weeks only hitting as high as #8, again compared to "Sixty Minute Man" which was 14 weeks at #1 and at a total of 25 weeks. While I have not been the first to point out that great songs and chart performance do not always go hand in hand, it does show this to be a moderately popular and good selling song, certainly not classified as a smash hit. It was the first of just a few more (non charting) songs from Brenston.

The song was actually recorded by Ike Turner's band 'Kings of Rhythm', Jackie Brenston (being an occasional sax player with Turner) had written this song and sang lead on it. The great saxophone playing on the recording was by Ray Raymond who as it turns out did not have much success in the music business. As was the going rate they were all paid just $20 for this and each of another handful of songs recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun Records. The master recording was sent to Chess Records to manufacture and distribute. Phillips and the Chess brothers decided to give Brenston his own band on the record, hence the new made up name of 'Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats'. And it's true they were all from the Delta region. Ike Turner was justifiably upset as he had expected the release to be under the Kings of Rhythm. He also claimed he co-wrote the song but could not produce enough evidence and documentation shows Jackie Brenston being paid $910 from Phillips for the song rights. Turner who held a bit of grudge over this still did record with both Brenston and Phillips a few more times, the last being in about 1961. 

Then we have a mix of accounts and mythology that have elevated the song to it's high status among R&R enthusiasts and professionals alike. No doubt there's a lot of good things going on in the song about the hot new car 'The Rocket 88' made by Oldsmobile. Some great lyrics and an upbeat (Jump Blues) tempo on the standard 12 bar blues format song make it a lot of fun. There is a story attached to how the guitar amplifier got damaged on route to the recording studio, with no time for repair it got stuffed with newspapers producing a fuzzy distorted sound for Willie Kizart's lead guitar. Unknown as just a fluke, so loved was this new noise it was later duplicated by many other guitarist and a device was invented to reproduce the effect. Sam Phillips himself was behind much of the hype and retroactive fanfare about this song in his bid to be labeled the creator of R&R. Sam really was an amazing finder of talent and his Sun Records studio was instrumental in the development of R&R, but again I say no single person or entity created R&R.

Jimmy Liggins

However the truth of the matter is this song is really a copy of the music from this tune; "Cadillac Boogie" by 'Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy' from 1947. Written by Jimmy Liggins. Have listen and it's as noticeable as the nose on your face. Though Brenston admitted the song was an 'inspiration' credit was never given by him, Phillips or Chess Records. Unlike the 1941 Jack Dupree song (Junker Blues) where he was given songwriting credit for Fats Domino's "The Fat Man". There is also a song called "Rocket 88 Boogie" by Pete Johnson from 1949 which may have had some influence as well. So "Rocket 88" is still very much R&B and goes into the mix as a strong influencer but sorry it's not original and most certainly not the first R&R song. 

Lawdy Miss Clawdy” written and performed by Lloyd Price in 1952, it became a huge hit for the 19-year-old Price. Entering the Billboard R&B chart in May and spending 26 weeks including 6 at #1. Backed by Fats Domino on piano and produced by Dave Bartholomew it was the R&B song of the year for 1952, selling nearly one million copies. This set the standard for R&B records coming out of New Orleans with many artists wanting to sound like Lloyd Price. While song credits went to Price this was clearly a group effort as the melody follows Fats song “Fat Man” and by default Dupree’s “Junker Blues” as I previously mentioned. I give this song much more credit as it has a feel that's significantly different than it's predecessors.

The next artist to record this song was Elvis Presley in 1956. Even Elvis could not outdo Lloyd as his version peaked at #15 on Billboard. Covered over 100 times and as recently as 2018. Other versions were cut by Little Richard, Johnny Rivers, Fats Domino and Lloyd Price's one-time valet the legendary Larry Williams, who in 1958 also reworked the song into the smash hit “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” covered by the Beatles.

Rock a Beatin' Boogie “ Esquire Boys in 1952 from Rainbow Records, written by Bill Haley. Bill Haley and His Comets recorded it in 1954 and was the sixth version of the song. Again a more upbeat version of the song making it into a well developed early 'Rock and Roll' song. The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) 

Hound Dog” written by the powerhouse duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and a stellar performance by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, released in 1953 spending seven weeks at number one and selling 500,000 copies. Sadly her only big hit, after which she had a moderately successful career but marred like many an artist by alcohol abuse, she died at age 57.  Her legacy lives on and her song is listed as one of the 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll. 

Recorded another seven times before Freddie Bell and The Bellboys in 1955, who had added a campy version to their stage show, which was caught by Elvis.
So it was next recorded by Elvis in 1956 and was originally the ‘B’ side of “Don’t Be Cruel” but it eventually peaked at #2 on Billboard, becoming what was referred to as a Double ‘A’ side. A great deal of controversy surrounded this release and people couldn’t figure out whether it was a serious rock and roll song or some kind of parody. Fueled by a performance on 'The Steve Allen Show' where Elvis was made to sing the song to a Basset Hound. Leiber and Stoller didn’t even like the version though they cashed the royalty cheques (checks) I’d wager. Later redeemed by performances on Ed Sullivan, it's a mix perhaps of Freddie Bell and Big Mama so I've read, but the result is all Elvis. Despite the live performances or previous versions/influences the original Elvis recording is a straight up R&R song.

I feel like I need to apologize for I keep coming back around to Elvis, this is really not intentional, he was not alone in bringin R&R to the forefront but he just kept hitting on the most amazing songs that in my opinion really did help shape the genre. 

OK, here is one that Elvis did not record and happens to be one of my favorite cover songs! “I Hear You Knocking” Written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King (Pearl King is a pseudonym for Bartholomew, King being his wife’s maiden name) far as I know she didn't contribute to writing the song so I can’t explain that one, but not uncommon as it had something to with publishing rights/money no doubt! It’s performed by Smiley Lewis and was released in July 1955, it reached #2 on the Billboard R&B charts. Covered over 50 times.

Recorded several times in the 1950's and a total of seven before the Rock and Roll revivalist and one of my personal favorite artists Dave Edmunds had a number one hit in the UK in 1970 and ended up at #4 on the Billboard Hot One Hundred in 1971. Edmunds played all the instruments on the recording and used the innovative technique of piping the vocal track through a telephone line to give it that unique sound. John Lennon was quoted as saying, "Well, I always liked simple rock. There's a great one in England now, 'I Hear You Knocking' ". Edmunds makes mention of  Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Chuck Berry and Huey Smith in the lyrics of this stripped-down yet amped up version making it a Classic! (can you tell I really really like Dave Edmunds?) Oh and please don't assume that 'simple' means 'easy', this man has talent! Groovy eh! Best I stop myself right here. 

Music Trivia. 
How long will R&R last? At the one minute mark in this recording Buddy Holly is asked about the future of Rock and Roll music, click to find out his answer! If you can't listen, here is the response. This interview took place in Vancouver B.C. in October of 1957. Prodded by Canada's equivalent to Alan Freed, Red Robinson from radio station CJOR he got Buddy Holly's answer that Rock & Roll music would be declining in the spring of 1958. Holly says "it might pick back up again but I rather doubt it". Buddy would start writing more ballads in 1958 and right up to before leaving for the tour that would lead to his death on February 3, 1959. Rock & Roll did see a decline during this period and went through a significant shift going into the early 1960's so Buddy Holly was not entirely wrong.

References: References:,,,

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of anyone's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB or other social media. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!

Popular posts from this blog

The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Pop Songs and Artists of All Time

The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Songs and Artists of All Time I have three categories in today’s blog: 1. The most covered songs written by a single artist, 2. The most cover versions combined and 3. The most covered Pop songs.  These numbers are for artists that write and record their own songs. For more on songwriters, read my series I Write the Songs . The statistics come courtesy of and are verified via strict protocols. This website posts 'covers' submitted from around the globe and in many different languages, edited by very knowledgeable experts in music recording. There are other resources as cited but other than the odd personal anecdote or opinion, I'm using information and knowledge, not to mention YouTube posts that already exist. In addition, the numbers change daily, I had originally written this blog in December 2019 so it’s been interesting to see the changes over two years. On the whole, the artists in each list mostly stayed th

Women of Rock

Women of Rock History Melissa Etheridge You can always count on me for a walk back in time in my blog and this topic will be no different. In order to trace the history of female Rock singers I will go back to some of the pioneers.  Let’s first start with some background on the Rock & Roll genre. What was once referred to as Rock & Roll was shortened to just Rock by the late 1960s and has continued to evolve. Some may want to separate it into two genres, but semantics can't change the history of this diverse genre. The Rock & Roll period also includes Blues, R&B, Country and Rockabilly styles, among others. So whether these artists find themselves in the subgenre of Hard Rock, Acid Rock, Pop Rock, Folk Rock or one of the many dozens of other sub-classifications, a little reminder of the history is what I'm starting with today. These early influencers are where some of our more recent great artists received inspiration, motivation and in some cases the educatio

The 1960's

  The 1960's Fully discussing a decade of music in one post is nearly impossible, but if you look back, I have done blogs titled: 1960, 1969 and The Greatest Pop Rock Ballads of the '60s. I’ve also featured a number of artists and songs that were prominent during those 10 years. However, there are a number of significant gaps where I have missed singers, groups and songs that were popular in the 60s and many have an enduring quality as well. Certainly, the TV and Movie Industry has done a great job using songs from this era, whether the subject matter was from this time period or not. Apart from many of the songs being a lot of fun, others, including myself, have described the 1960s pop music scene as being divided by pre- and post-Beatles/"British Invasion". At the same time, while the Fab Four and similar bands had a significant impact, and were followed by the inevitable look and soundalike bands, enter ' The Monkees ', but not everyone was trying to emulat

The Mojo Triangle

The Mojo Triangle Source: USA Today Writer James L. Dickerson coined the brilliant term Mojo Triangle in 2005, before I learned of it I had referred to the area as the reverse Bermuda Triangle of music. This (among other things I'll admit) is why I write a blog and he is the award winning author of Mojo Triangle: Birthplace of Country, Blues, Jazz and Rock 'n' Roll . I confess I haven't gotten round to reading it yet but I've been itching to write about the area for some time and I have researched the names and places for several years now. The 'triangle' refers to the geographic region with Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans as the three corners. The states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are at the core. We know it as part of the "Deep South" and it's been referred to by other music related terms that pre date the 'Mojo' handle such as "America's Musical Triangle" and the "Americana Musical Triang

Groundbreakers Part 2

  Groundbreakers Part 2 Rock & Roll I have talked about R&R in numerous posts, and I have many reasons for doing so, aside from the many great songs. R&R revolutionized Popular music and by extension almost every facet of the music industry. The music itself, even today, has not definitively been described to my or many others satisfaction. But here are some things that we do know, it's genesis came from Rhythm and Blues and we can give that a full stop. We also know there were many other influences that brought about this phenomenon that kicked off a music frenzy in the mid 1950's. For example it's also an amalgam of many forms of music including Country, Folk and the wild child of Hillbilly music known as Rockabilly. In the early days we have artists such as the New Orleans sound from Lloyd Price and Fats Domino under the same umbrella as Etta James, Wanda Jackson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets and I could go on. Sometimes just bas

When did Rock drop the Roll?

  When did Rock drop the Roll? They Called it Rock Since Rock and Roll was such a groundbreaking development in Music, I set myself to reading more about the genre itself, more specifically its definition and the subsequent application of related subgenre.  I have been reluctant to give in to the idea that Rock and Roll (the genre that came first), it is now widely considered a subgenre of Rock Music. To me this sounds like a rearranging the order of things. Maybe you're like me, I thought it was always genre first then your various subgenre and sub subs and so on. This is not a chicken and the egg thing, Rock and Roll came first. I think it is generally accepted that a genre refers to a particular style and is most often applied to Literature and Music. The word has the same root as genus, which is applied to the natural world to classify plants and animals. Music that is 'Rock' related certainly had its DNA come from Rock 'n' Roll.  However the prevailing consensu

Happy Holidays 2021

  Happy Holidays!   Whether you view the upcoming holidays as a secular event, religious or a bit of both there's one thing that's synonymous with this time of year- Christmas songs! You don't have to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday to enjoy a good song. Maybe you celebrate "Festivus" on December 23 which is a fictional/parody holiday created by Daniel O'Keefe of Readers Digest fame, it was of course made popular by Seinfeld as an alternative to Christmas. The topic of many songs is based on love, family and fellowship. So what's wrong with that? Nothing I say! I have issued a post each year at this time and because of that I'm getting lazy this year and including much of that material with updated stats and links in today's post.  Many find it hard to relate to religious carols like " Silent Night " or even the more secular songs such as " White Christmas " and even the happy go lucky " Holly Jolly Christmas &qu

Women in Music

Women in Music Anne Murray Recently, while doing some research I was reminded that the history of ranking and rating recording artists really does give women the short shrift. My next post will be on May 6, it's the third anniversary of writing my blog and a bit too close to Mother's Day for this topic. So I'm getting ahead of that to celebrate Women (and many of them mothers) in music.  A  clue on Jeopardy also piqued my interest to dedicate a post. It was from April 7, 2021, "Last name of Fanny, seen here, (picture shown) some of her compositions were originally published under her brother Felix's name" and a contestant got it right, I however had no answer. I will get to that a bit later. I have pointed to this issue before, in several of my posts I discuss the lists of the greatest of this or that and in one post I was pointing out the systematic low ratio of airplay given to female Country singers. Last year women had 23% of the #1 songs, this is the high


  Groundbreakers in Music (Part 1) *Note to subscribers at the end So, what is a "Ground breaker" anyway. And is it two words or one? For my purposes, the definition as a noun works for me; “a person who is an originator, innovator, or pioneer in a particular activity”. In the world of music there are many names that can fall into this category, and the contributions that qualify them are not only varied, but in many cases somewhat unrecognized.  The importance of history is often overlooked by those of us in the present, and I find it no different in music. What is also not dissimilar is the tendency to revise history and make attributions or proclamations where they are not warranted. For example, if we are talking about pop music in general, I've touched on the attention paid to the first/best of this or that, such as the very first Rock & Roll song. As for that, I think I debunked one of the prevailing songs given that moniker, "Rocket 88"