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Rock and Roll Part 1



Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part one)

An updated repost, the first of a four part series



The recent passing of the legend, Little Richard has some people trying to write their own version of Rock & Roll history, so here is my take. Trying to pinpoint the first actual ‘Rock and Roll’ song in my opinion is a bit of folly. That of course has not stopped people from trying. There has been a fair bit of research into the roots of the music we know as ‘Rock and Roll’ (R&R). So what is it anyway? It’s a pretty wide umbrella of 'pop' or popular music that developed in the early 1950’s, there was no one particular style of music, but it was different than Blues, Country & Western, Swing, Big Band or Jazz which was developing at the same time.
At its heart I think (from my impressions and research) it was essentially an outgrowth of what was being identified at the time as “Rhythm and Blues” (R&B) music and formerly known as believe it or not “Race Music”. Much of the influence came and still does come from the 'Delta Blues', that being artists coming from the geographic region of the Mississippi Delta. You will find many references throughout my posts about these singers and for the most part guitar players. So skipping ahead a bit...
Most will know the Disc Jockey Alan Freed has been credited with calling this new music he was playing in the early 1950’s, “Rock and Roll”. He was also a big concert promoter, band leader, songwriter and was involved in early ‘rock and roll’ movies (and some very unfortunate things a bit later on-for another day). His Cleveland radio show was called "The Moondog House" and this is where he used the "rock and roll" term in his wacky and energetic show.  He and others like him were a big part of making what mostly just black people were listening too be more 'acceptable' to a white audience in mainstream U.S.A. Fact of the matter is racism was a major aspect in the evolution of this music trend. We all know now and many knew back then, there was nothing wrong with the music, it was some people's attitude toward it and some of it's performers. I won't go into the details but the behaviour was shocking and abhorrent at times.
Music does not sell without money, advertising and distribution behind it, no YouTube or Spotify (speaking of big money) back then you see, so to reach the ‘white’ middle class American audience's buying power, records had to be sold, therefore the music had to transform. And so it did, but not necessarily to the betterment of all those involved.

Albert James "Alan" Freed (December 15, 1921 – January 20, 1965) 
Again from (my own) research and listening to music that led up to this new style or really styles plural because it was and still is very diverse, I found there are some early indicators of this development. There are many people who know a lot more than I about this topic, but I will attempt to relate my own perspective through the context of cover songs. We know the terms of ‘rocking’ and ‘rolling’ and ‘shaking’ for that matter have been noted in songs from as early as 1919 to 1922. There is the song “Rock and Roll” from the Boswell Sisters in 1934, which is about ships and sea waves incidentally. And the term ‘Rock and Roll’ or Rockin' and Rollin' was used as a euphemism for sex in many Rhythm and Blues songs for years. Terminology aside, for me there are some songs that demonstrate the evolution of the music. I also find the influence in what was called 'Jump Blues' as well as early upbeat 'Country and Western' (as it was called) songs which later developed into 'Rockabilly' music.

Quite frankly a lot of music that was very different just got lumped into the 'Rock and Roll' category because there was no other way to describe it at that time and maybe there still isn’t’.  Skin colour aside this music came from a lot of places and a lot of different people. Considering some of the names I've already written about such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe there are many more pioneers and precursors to discuss.
To give some overall perspective, here is a song that for me at least shows a pretty straight line of how the music changed from the 1940’s into the early to mid 1950's.
That's All Right” written and performed by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup in 1946, maybe it’s just because Elvis covered this song I’m retroactively attributing more to the song but to me this is early 'Rock and Roll'.  However, my recent research seems to support my long held belief about this song.

Arthur William "Big Boy" Crudup (August 24, 1905 – March 28, 1974)
After many hours of somewhat unsuccessful recording at Sun Studios, the then (Sam Phillips discovered) strictly ballad singer named Elvis Presley, started goofing around with a song he liked to listen to, and it became this; recorded July 5, 1954, released July 19, 1954 as 'Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill'. Elvis would be the first to cover "That's Alright". 

While Elvis himself said he didn’t invent ‘Rock and Roll' (unlike Sam Phillips who claimed that he himself did) he was certainly an early influencer through his interpretation of songs. There are earlier examples from other artists but it’s the date of 1946 from the original song that Elvis uses that is most significant to me. A very insightful choice by Elvis though at the time I’m sure he had no idea they would record the song let alone that we would still be talking about it (and some old guy would be blogging about the song) 72 years later.

Here is another song I found via Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones as of 1975, Faces and Jeff Beck Group) and it demonstrates where some of the early rock songs got some of their guitar character. Boogie Woogie (a genre of its own) and particularly the piano style was alive and well in the 1940’s evident in anything by Fats Domino, but here is some Boogie Woogie guitar.

Arthur Smith and his band
Guitar Boogie” by The Rambler Trio featuring Arthur Smith, written by Arthur Smith and recorded in 1946. The clip is a re-released version from 1948 which became a hit with his renamed group, 'Arthur Smith and His Cracker-Jacks'.
It’s been covered at least 27 times, here is an amazing rendition although much later from a 1966 New Zealand film featuring a group called the 'Quin Tikis'. 
And yes you know Arthur Smith, just listen to this song he wrote "Feudin' Banjos" from 1955 and recorded with Don Reno. I also have to include this version (and a hint at a future blog) from the amazing Tommy Emmanuel


Well, that’s my attempt at the beginnings of 'Rock and Roll' and there will be more parts to this post, exploring what by the time it was sort of 'identified', it was considered just a ‘trend’ or a fad that was to last from a few months to a couple years at best.

Click here for a playlist of the videos in this blog

Music Trivia. Which was the first station with all-black programming in the United States? WDIA, in Memphis (1949). A Dee-Jay (Disc Jockey-later shortened to just D.J.) named B. B. King started his career there, also doing on-air performing. 

I need to acknowledge https://secondhandsongs.com/ once again. You will note I put them in my references every time and mentioned them in my blog intro. Perhaps I should be a bit more diligent in pointing out each time I use information from this site, however I don't want my blog to become quite so formal as to be adding annotations and citations all the time. Virtually all the data I use on the number of covers and other song facts such as artists names and who did the originals/cover versions and verifying songwriters, comes from checking them. I cross check information as much as possible from my own collection and use many other sources but the genesis is mostly https://secondhandsongs.com/. This is truly a labour of love for a small group of volunteers and very dedicated people. https://secondhandsongs.com/page/Donate Makes what I do easier and much more informative. My thanks to them!

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/16/the-elvic-oracle
https://www.voanews.com/a/origins-of-rock-and-roll-music/1752299.html
https://www.rockhall.com/roots-and-definition-rock-and-roll
Images: http://motherlode.tv/bostonrock/chapter3.html, wikipedia, https://sites.google.com/a/psdschools.org/myles-history-of-rock-and-roll/

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