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Rock and Roll Part 3

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part three)

There has been much attention paid to the song "Rocket 88" as being the 'first' R&R song. This song was part of the evolution I've talked about, due in part because it was a very popular song at the time and because it was recorded at Sun Records studio in Memphis (and sent off to Chess Records in Chicago to become a '45' single). Sam Phillips was behind much of the 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 no single person or entity created R&R.
 Added to the mix was that the song was actually recorded by Ike Turner's band "Kings of Rhythm", Jackie Brenston being the Sax player had written this song and sang lead on it. Chess Records thought since he sang it they'd give him his own band on the record hence the new made up name. I'm not sure Ike Turner ever recovered from what he (I think justifiably) thought a betrayal or at least a raw deal. I read he also claimed he co-wrote the song but was never able to substantiate it, he was only paid $20 for the song. There is a story attached to how the guitar amplifier got damaged on route to the studio, with no time for repair it got stuffed with newspapers producing a fuzzy distorted sound on Willie Kizart's lead guitar. So loved was this new noise it was later duplicated by other guitarists.
"Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, released April 1951.
Jimmy Liggins
However the truth of the matter is this song is really a copy of this tune;
"Cadillac Boogie" by Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy from 1947. Written by Jimmy Liggins. Credit was never given by Brenston or Chess Records, though he admitted the song was an 'inspiration'. Unlike the Jack Dupree song where he was given songwriting credit for Domino's "The Fat Man". So "Rocket 88" is still very much R&B and goes into the mix as an influencer but sorry, 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.
The next artist to record this song was Elvis Presley in 1956. Even Elvis could not out do Lloyd as his version peaked at number 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 Prices 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 in 1954 and the sixth version of the song. Again a more upbeat version of the song and 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, 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, 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. (btw a list I deliberately did not revisit before this series of blogs)
Recorded another seven times before Freddie Bell and The Bellboys in 1955.
Then recorded by Elvis in 1956, it 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 he 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 of Freddie Bell and Big Mama I've read, but all Elvis.
I feel like I need to apologize for I keep coming back around to Elvis, this is really not intentional, he was not alone but he just kept hitting on the most amazing songs that in my opinion really did help shape Rock and Roll. 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 something to with publishing rights 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.
Covered 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 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. 😴
At the one minute mark in the above recording Buddy Holly is asked about the future of Rock and Roll music, click to find out his answer!
Click here for a play list of all the videos

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