Before there was Justin and Gaga, before there was Queen, before there were the Stray Cats and Brian Setzer, there were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a band called the Dave Clark Five . Dave Clark, the Drummer, didn’t even know how to play drums he just wanted to get in on this new thing that started in the 50’s. I’m pretty sure Rock and Roll was officially born in 1956.
1952 was a Very Good Year
706 Union Ave. Memphis TN
In 1952, a recording engineer from Memphis Tennessee named Sam Phillips opened a small hole in the wall called “Sun Records”. Sam had mobile recording equipment so he could record events away from the studio. One place Sam visited was the Tennessee State Penitentiary to record a black do-wop group called the “Prisonaires”. Their song “Walking in the Rain” became a hit for Sun Records. Sam was one of the first Caucasians to record what was called at the time: “Race Music”. Three of Sam’s first big contracts were B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Rufus Thomas.
It’s an unknown fact that the first Rock and Roll recording was recorded at Sun Studios by a band called Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. An interesting note that might have created the rock sound by a literal accident was the Bass speaker on the record. While driving to the studio, the Bass speaker bounced and tore in the car. When it was plugged in, it had a distorted sound. Sam recorded the song “Rocket 88” (Which is generally agreed as the first Rock and roll song ever recorded) has that torn Bass speaker doing the bass line. Another point of interest is the keyboardist, he would later have hits in the 60s with a young lady named Tina Turner. Yes that’s Ike Turner on Keys.
This started an “Underground” movement in America. Teens would listen to Sam’s late night broadcasts of “Race Music” because, well, Black artists would sing about Sex, drugs, prison and stuff that was completely unacceptable in 1950 America. Songs like Billy Ward & The Dominoes recording of “Sixty minute man” was about foreplay, Sex and Orgasm.
However; in 1947 a 15 year old piano player out of Macon Georgia got a job playing with a band traveling what was common referred to as the “Chitlan” Circuit. (I had to add that word to my dictionary) But eventually, the charismatic Richard Wayne Penniman would form his own band and eventually break through the color barrier. It’s rumored that RCA had to hire a song writer to “edit” Little Richard’s” lyrics so they could be played on A.M. radio. To quote Little Richard: “Good Lordy, Tutti Fruttie was a filthy song”. As much as I think Little Richard was the TRUE KING OF ROCK, he was a victim of racial discrimination. Many white households would never allow black race music on the turn table.
ENTER THE WHITE MUSICIAN
“Naw, you just another white boy rippin’ off our music”.
(Willie Brown to Eugene Martone in the Movie Crossroads, 1986) Willie Brown was referring to the “King” of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Again, another mistake that evolved into a gajillion dollar industry. In 1953, a young Elvis Presley came from Tupelo to Memphis to record a record for his mother’s birthday. Sam Phillip’s secretary was so impressed by the voice of the young Presley that she kept his name on a 3 X 5 index card. A year later, as Phillips was in search of new “White” talent to sing “Race” music, he brought Elvis Presley in to do Race “Standards” like Hound dog, and other underground hits that were performed by black artists. Elvis along with Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on Bass would record “Heartbreak Hotel” which when released in 1956 started Elvis “Mania”.
Black Musicians felt scorned as Sam Phillips whose business was saved by the likes of black prison artists, had made the transition that made race music, rock music. This could explain why we saw a northern migration of very talented black artist relocate to Michigan. Detroit, the motor city, had a studio called “Music City USA” which was owned by a black entrepreneur named Barry Gordy. His label “Motown” would change the music black musicians were producing and for the most part, became a reliable bet for investors of the music industry. While Rock was recovering from the loss of Buddy Holly and being forced to endure awful Elvis movies, talents like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and yes little Michael Jackson of the Jackson five would find stardom now that black music was being welcomed in white America.
Around the same time in Lubbock Texas, another white musician that was a fan of Elvis, was playing country music at the local roller Rink and performing on Saturday nights on radio. He had a show called “The Holley Hay ride”. Buddy Holley, later to be known as Buddy Holly (No e) was a combination of Elvis, and Sam Phillips. But Buddy took the concept of rock music one step further. Buddy produced and wrote his own music. Elvis was just the Artist. Someone else wrote the music and someone else produced the song and orchestrated the musicians. Buddy was the first to do this all by himself.
1959 THE YEAR ROCK AND ROLL DIED
In February of 1959, a plane crash in Iowa took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Ironically, the late Waylon Jennings, who was supposed to be on that plane instead of Ritchie Valens, said: “Rock & Roll, Country & Western and Rhythm and Blues are only one beat apart”. In 1960 Elvis would be drafted into the Army. Elvis in an interview after he had finished his movie contract said that: “Rock music was a combination of Gospel and Rhythm and Blues”. The two WHITE influences on Rock and Roll were gone. When Elvis finished his tour of duty, his manager Tom Parker had signed Elvis to a Movie Contract that would taint the music industry. Hollywood saw Rock and Roll as a venue for rebellious teenagers that wanted to worship attractive singers or artists that gave them an Identity that differed from their parents. After all, isn’t that what being young is all about? So after the original rockers stopped making rock, Hollywood flooded the radio with the likes of “Pat Boone”, “Fabian”, “Frankie Avalon” and the somewhat talented Ricky Nelson. The early 60s left a vacuum which was filled with the mourning of a popular President assassinated in Dallas, scenes on the nightly news of Race Riots in Alabama, and a new war we were getting deeper into in a strange place called Vietnam.
Holly who died in 1959, had sky rocketed to fame with 12 hit songs. Songs from “That’ll be the day, to “Not Fade Away” as well as “True Love ways”, the list goes on. But one thing Buddy did that Elvis didn’t was tour England. Why didn’t Elvis tour England? His manager Colonel Tom Parker was afraid of flying. England had been playing a type of music called “Skiffle”. It was a type of bluegrass music. When they heard this new sound coming from America, Brits would try their hardest to make connections with music importers. So naturally, Buddy Holly, who toured the U.K. before he died, had made more of an impression on English artists. One of them being John Lennon.
The first demo recording done by John and Paul (The Quarrymen)was “That’ll be the day”. The Beatles named their band in honor of “The Crickets”. (Buddy Holly’s band)
The Beatles for a short while, continued the music of their mentors, Holly and Little Richard. The signature early Beatle scream “Wooooo” was adopted from Little Richard. Then the Beatles found their own sound in the Fields of Strawberries and Psychedelic music dominated Rock music, then in attempt to make Rock legitimate, Progressive bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer would use Rock instruments to approach classical music. Rock after the 1970s became known as “Root Rock”. Bands like Foghat and the Georgia Satellites kept the spirit of Memphis alive for a while. And that brings us back to Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.