A Brief History Of...The Origins of Rock & Roll


27. Jan. 2008, 4:27

The description and playlist below are from the weekly radio show (A Brief History Of…) that my friend and I host on WSUM 91.7fm Madison. We selected songs we felt were either historically important or just representative of each specific topic. Please comment if you feel we missed something or just to give your opinion. Remember, however, that we do this show in an hour (about 50 minutes of music). Track length is a major factor in our decisions (shorter is usually better). Thanks!

A Brief History of…The Origins of Rock and Roll examines the mixture of musical forces that led to the fad known as “rock and roll.” First, rock and roll in all its forms is a derivation of simple blues music. More specifically, though, rock and roll was a blend of jump blues, gospel, western swing, and traditional country that developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s (primarily in African-American communities across the country). These disparate strands finally culminated in two songs from 1954 that successfully mixed the African-American and white influences into what we now call rock and roll. Also included in the show is a short account of the development of rock and roll’s most important instrument, the guitar.

Here's the playlist and breakdown of themes from this show:

The Blues as the Driving Force:
Cross Road Blues by Robert Johnson (1936)

Developments of Guitar Style:
Shine by Django Reinhardt (1936). Django Reinhardt was a Belgian Sinto (Gypsy) jazz guitarist and member of Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France – the first band with a distinction between “lead” and “rhythm” guitars. Chet Atkins placed Reinhardt 1st on his list of best guitarists of the 20th century. Reinhardt influenced many later artists from Bob Wills and western swing to Jimi Hendrix' Band of Gypsys).
Merle's Boogie Woogie by Merle Travis (1947). “Travis pickin’” was a major innovation in guitar picking style.
Guitar Boogie by Arthur Smith (1948). “Guitar Boogie” was the first electric guitar instrumental hit in the country music charts and the first hit played with an electric guitar in the pop charts. This hit and the production of the Fender guitar, started in 1948, influenced the first great rock guitarist, Chuck Berry. Arthur Smith would later record “Feudin’ Banjos” with Don Reno (which itself was re-recorded by Eric Weisberg as “Deulin’ Banjos” and made famous by its inclusion in the film Deliverance).

Jump Blues:
Rebecca by Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson (1944)
Saturday Night Fish Fry by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (1949)
Good Rockin' Tonight by Wynonie Harris (1948)

Western Swing/Country:
Take Me Back to Tulsa by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (1941)
Move It on Over by Hank Williams (1947). Williams was the first rock star in the sense that his life ended early from a drug and alcohol overdose early on Jan. 1, 1953. “Move It On Over” was his first hit on the country charts. Its verse melody is nearly identical to Bill Haley's later “Rock Around the Clock.”

Jesus Gave Me Water by Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers (1951)
No Hiding Place by Dorothy Love Coates (1953)

The First Rock and Roll Record?:
The Fat Man by Fats Domino (1950). “The Fat Man” was the first R&B song with a straight backbeat for the entirety of the song. Also of note, Fats Domino sold more records in the 1950’s than anyone but Elvis.
Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (1951). Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats was really Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm Band. "Rocket 88" was recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis. Phillips would later use the money made from sales of this song to create Sun Records where he would sign Elvis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others.
Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton (1953). “Hound Dog” was written by the very young songwriting duo of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It is also a good example of the blurry line between pure blues and R&B.

The First Rock and Roll Record - Doo Wop?:
Sixty Minute Man by The Dominoes (1951). Both Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson lunched their careers from The Dominoes. “Sixty Minute Man” was the most risqué song yet to be played on “race radio”. It even hit the top 20 in the Pop chart. The theme of the song is basically the same as Bill Haley's “Rock Around the Clock”.
Sh-Boom by The Chords (1954). “Sh-Boom” kicked off Doo-Wop as an American craze. The rhythm is a rock and roll backbeat.

The First Rock and Roll Records:
That's All Right by Elvis Presley (1954). Elvis’ Sun recordings were sped up blues songs, but played with country instrumentation instead of a swing-style band. This became the conventional rock and roll band.
Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & the Comets (1954). Bill Haley & the Comets started as a Western Swing band (Bill Haley and the Saddlemen). On “Rock Around the Clock” Haley created a hybrid of Western Swing and Rhythm and Blues (especially jump blues). The song was released as a B-side in 1954 and flopped. In 1955, it was the used as the opening credits music for the film Blackboard Jungle. The song took off on the charts and America fell in love with Rock and Roll.


  • jcjohnson63

    wow,very impressive.you guys did a great job!kudos.i think you covered all the bases.

    27. Jan. 2008, 21:14
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