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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Origins of Rock and Roll Music

What are the true origins or rock and roll music? Anyone embarking on this twisting journey of discovery soon finds out multiple roads to the source are somewhat obscure and definitely controversial. Rock and roll resulted as a blend of many musical influences merged in the melting pot of 20th Century America. Due to its many forms, most of which are still recognized today, a singular "catch all" description of exact emergence is impossible. Surely a widely held popular belief that Elvis Presley began the phenomena with Sam Phillips' produced Sun Recordings was not the actual beginning of rock, but Elvis played a major part in the crossover of "race" records to "white" hits. Rock and roll was well on its way to popularity long before the King catapulted out of Memphis. Rock and roll roots lay mainly in blues, rhythm and blues, country, folk, gospel, and jazz. As pioneering DJ Alan Freed states in the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock, "Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat." Fats Domino Rock and roll contained African musical traits brought into America beginning in 1619 and fusion with the European music brought here by the colonists. Recorded in memory and relayed only live, forms such as the Blues were born in the North Mississippi Delta following the Civil War. Influenced by African roots, field hollers, ballads, church music and rhythmic dance tunes called jump-ups, the blues evolved into music for a singer who would engage in call and response with instruments such as a guitar. The blues form was first popularized about 1911-14 by the black composer W.C. Handy (1873-1958). However, the poetic and musical form of the blues first crystallized around 1910 and gained popularity through the publication of Handy's "Memphis Blues" (1912) and "St. Louis Blues" (1914). Ray Charles African melodic intervals which came with the slaves to America, and that one hundred years later would made up rock and roll, are also everywhere in mountain fiddle tunes. The tradition of storytelling Celtic ballads and string-instrument playing emerged in America. And, the tradition survived in isolated rural communities but developed an American accent as music for square dances and hoe-downs. This also led to modern country music really beginning in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, with The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. African music merged so completely with the immigrant Scots-Irish melodies in the 1800’s as to become one music – what we now refer to as old-time. The 2/4 beat of the “boom” and the “chuck” in old-time music creates a rock and roll motion, and provides the groove with the emphasis on rhythm that emphasizes the African influence. Louis Jordan and Band Rock styles took root and evolved as they moved from the rural plantations of the Mississippi delta and the melting-pot metropolis of New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to urban centers like Memphis and later, Chicago. The story of this musical interaction is also the story of American popular music and includes the plantation songs of Stephen Foster, the ragtime of Scott Joplin, and the early blues of Bessie Smith and others. Akin to this claim is that the origins of "rocking and rolling" can be traced back to steel driving men working on the railroads in the Reconstruction South. These men would sing hammer songs to keep the pace of their hammer swings. "At the end of each line in a song, the men would swing their hammers down to drill a hole into the rock. The shakers — the men who held the steel spikes that the hammer men drilled — would 'rock' the spike back and forth to clear rock or 'roll,' twisting the spike to improve the bite of the drill." (Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man pg. 75) Roy Brown An alternative claim is, for many years and probably centuries previously, the term "rocking and rolling" had been used as a nautical term to denote the side-to-side and forward-and-backward motion of ships on the ocean. This meaning was used metaphorically in such records as Buddy Jones' "Rockin' Rollin' Mama" (1939) "Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea/ But that gal of mine rolls just right for me/ Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll." The first coupling of the words "rock" and "roll" on record came in 1916, in a recording of a spiritual, "The Camp Meeting Jubilee," by an unnamed vocal "quartette" issued by Little Wonder Records. The lyrics include "We've been rocking and rolling in your arms / Rocking and rolling in your arms / In the arms of Moses". Meaning something akin to spiritual rapture, rock and roll was a metaphor for "to shake up, to disturb or to incite." ( W.C. Handy But, the phrase "rocking and rolling", as secular black slang for dancing or sex, appeared on record for the first time in 1922 on Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll." As in Bluesman Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight, the verb "roll" was a medieval metaphor which meant "having sex." Writers for hundreds of years had used the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover." One example of such a tune was Thomas Morley's song, "Now Is the Month of Maying" (Barley-break is Renaissance-speak for "a roll in the hay.") "Good Rocking Tonight" in 1947 (also covered the next year by Wynonie Harris in an even wilder version), suggested "rocking" was ostensibly about dancing but was, in fact, a thinly-veiled allusion to sex. The line "commence to rock and roll" appeared in the swing tune "Get Rhythm in Your Feet and Music in Your Soul" recorded by Benny Goodman and his orchestra in July 1935. The big band influence on rock and roll cannot be denied. The overall rhythm accented the backbeats. Count Basie and Lionel Hampton bands were important bridges between swing and R&B. Basie's 1937 "One O'Clock Jump" and Hampton's 1942 "Flying Home" were signs of things to come. Robert Johnson With the ending of the Swing Era, the big bands broke into smaller units, jazz and blues going their separate ways to bebop units and dance house R&B jump blues bands that played music with a big dance beat and broad appeal. The jump bands began as smaller versions of the swing bands, consisting of a rhythm section and a couple horns that played hard driving riffs and solos over blues progressions, and a boogie derived bass and beat. Little Richard Many claim Louis Jordan and his group can be credited with the first pure rock and roll songs. Jordan released dozens of hit songs, including the swinging "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (one of the earliest and most powerful contenders for the title of "First Rock and Roll Record"), "Blue Light Boogie," and the comic classic "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens." Other hits by Louis Jordan include "Buzz Me," "Ain't That Just Like a Woman", and the multi-million seller "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie." Louis Jordan still ranks as the top black recording artist of all time in terms of the total number of weeks at #1 -- his records scored an incredible total of 113 weeks in the #1 position (the runner-up being Stevie Wonder with 70 weeks). Here are some other contenders for the first recorded rock and roll song. In fact, one of the first true rock and roll songs mentioned came from Joe Turner, black blues artists, who sang, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” If one listens to this song by Joe Turner it should be very clear that this is the, or one of the, first true rock and roll songs. It sounds like a rock and roll song, not a blues song. The beat is up tempo and the words and rhythm of the song depict the sounds and feelings of a true rock and roll song. It was recorded February 15, 1954. Another first rock and roll song was “Rocket 88, which was a number one R&B song on March 5, 1951, and credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats," a group that really didn't exist. This song was first recorded by the Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm, not Bill Haley and the Comets. Other contenders: "Kansas City Blues" by Jim Jackson recorded on October 10, 1927 "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" by Clarence "Pinetop" Perkins recorded on December 29, 1928 "Crazy About My Baby" by Glind Roosevelt Graves and brothe Uaroy recorded in 1936 "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" and "Crossroads Blues" by Robert Johnson recorded on November 23 and 27, 1936 "Rock Me" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded on October 31, 1938 "Ida Red" by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recorded in 1938 "Down the Road a Piece" by the Will Bradley Orchestra in 1940 "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by the Andrews Sisters recorded in 1940 "Mean Old World" by T-Bone Walker recorded in 1942 "Blues, Part 2" by Illinois Jacquet recorded in 1944 "The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins recorded in 1945 "I Can't Be Satisfied" by Muddy Waters recorded in 1947 "Move It On Over" by Hank Williams recorded in 1947 "Rock the Joint" by Jimmy Preston recorded in 1949 "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by Stick McGhee and his Buddies recorded on February 14, 1949 "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino recorded on December 10, 1949 "Sixty Minute Man" by the Dominoes recorded on December 30, 1950 "Hound Dog" by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton recorded on August 13, 1952 "Gee" by the Crows recorded on February 10, 1953 "Sh-Boom" by the Chords and the Crew-cuts recorded on March 15, 1954 "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley recorded on April 12, 1954 "That's All Right Mama" by Elvis Presley recorded in July, 1954 "I Got a Woman" by Ray Charles recorded in November, 1954
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