Rock Music History
2/9/22 Update: New Orleans Blues phenom Chris Thomas King has deftly set the record straight in his 2021 book: The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture. We finally have the gaps filled in – at least in America from the turn of the century onward! King has also provided the thread which reaches back much further all the way to Egypt. The Blues – which was both what Anglos coopted and called “jazz” and “Dixieland jazz,” and which is the basis for what became Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Soul, Hip Hop & Rap – all originated in at least the mid-1880s if not before in New Orleans with educated, highly trained, free Creole musicians playing what they called The Blues, inspired by the French exclamation “sacre bleu,” as a rebellious response to attempted Protestant Anglo constrictions after the U.S. bought Louisiana from Napoleon in 1803. Free Creoles of African descent had actually settled in the territory first named La Florida by the Spanish who claimed it as early as 1513 – 100 years before the 1619 landing of enslaved Africans in Jamestown. The first noted wafts of the bold, fierce, joyful, freeing Blues infecting the air of downtown were heard from Mamie Desdunes piano playing her 2:19 Blues (Mamie’s Blues)- the first known Blues composition – in the late 1880s, while trumpeter “The Black Rose” Buddy Bolden blasted The Blues from 1894-1907 so far forward – there was no going back. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton, who heard Mamie playing as a child, carried The Blues from there, along with trumpeters King Oliver (Louis’ Armstrong’s mentor), trombonist Kid Ory, guitarist Lonnie Johnson – and a free-spirited, cosmopolitan city and international port chock full of free Creole highly -trained musicians creating high art. It was Lonnie Johnson who carried The Blues on guitar to the Mississippi Delta, through touring and phonograph records. He was the inspiration for what came later out of Robert Johnson, (no relation – but whom Robert Johnson tried to claim to be, or at least related to, and definitely tried to imitate) and all of the other Mississippi Delta blues guitarists. As the New Orleans Blues musicians began to tour and record, The Blues (erroneously called “jazz”) infectiously became the 1920s soundtrack in a craze spread around America and the world. The Blues party that is still New Orleans was spread by speakeasies, flappers, and phonographs like fire around the globe. In fact, it is now known that W.C. Handy actually saw New Orleans musician Prince McCoy performing Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” in Mississippi, and appropriated this song calling it his and publishing it as “Memphis Blues.” He wasn’t the first one to co-opt New Orleans Blues – and he certainly wasn’t the last. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery – but I’m sure these New Orleans original Blues musicians would have rather gotten paid for their art and gotten credit where credit is due. It is never too late to give credit where credit belongs.
Source: Thomas King, C. (2021) The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and My Culture. Chicago Review Press Inc.
Rock Music History: If Elvis Presley was the King of Rock n Roll, then Big Boy Arthur Crudup was the Father of Rock n Roll — which Elvis would readily admit, sending him a plaque shortly after his 1956 rise, acknowledging his debt to Crudup’s song “That’s All Right Mama.”
In 1959, Presley reportedly put up the money to finance an LP by Crudup, cut by Fireball Records of Nashville and leased to a small label, Fire Records. But Crudup had been recording since the early 1940s and Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy said: “You hear Elvis Presley, you hearin’ Big Boy Crudup.”
In fact, the music that became Rock ‘n Roll had been percolating, mixing together blues, R&B and country in several places, mostly in the South, by several musicians for quite a while.
And blacks in the South had been using the terms rock and roll in various contexts, from sexual connotations to the motion they used, for instance, to carry huge cotton bales up the plank and heave them onto the riverboats. In fact, the references were intact in Africa — in various African tongues, of course.
Alan Freed, the WJW-Cleveland DJ who is credited in 1951 with inventing the term Rock ‘n Roll may have known this, because after finding out white teenagers were walking past record bins filled with Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Patty Page and Kitty Kallen to buy the Dominoes, Johnny Ace, Ruth Brown, the Clovers and other R&B groups at the record store, he just wanted to play R&B records without calling it R&B — so he renamed his show The Moon Dog Rock ‘n’ Roll House Party, hoping to get away with the subterfuge. It was a smash, but, of course, NOT the rock ‘n’ roll we know — just straight-up R&B.
Mixing the styles into rock ‘n’ roll was up to several musicians: Bill Haley in Philadelphia, originally turned on to R&B music by Hank Williams, who told him to go to New Orleans and listen to Louis Jordan (Rock Around the Clock); Eddie Cochran in California (Summertime Blues); Carl Perkins in Jackson, TN (Blue Suede Shoes); Gene Vincent in Virginia (Be-Bop-A-Lula); Ricky Nelson in California (“Im Walkin’); Conway Twitty in Arkansas (“It’s Only Make Believe”); Johnny Burnette in Memphis (“You’re Sixteen”); Roy Orbison in Texas (“Only the Lonely”); Everly Brothers – Kentucky/Tennessee (“Bye Bye Love”); Buddy Holly in Texas (“That’ll Be The Day”); in addition to Elvis Presley in Memphis, sneaking into black clubs and secretly listening to records by Big Bill Broonzy, Arthur Crudup and other black artists – “They would scold me at home for listening to them. Sinful music, the townsfolk in Memphis said it was. Which never bothered me, I guess.”
Ike & Tina Turner, as well as Chuck Berry, while already R&B greats, also crossed over into rock n roll. In fact, if you visit Sun Records in Memphis, Presley’s first label, the claim is made that Ike Turner was actually the first to use an amplifier, and the first to make a rock n roll record, “Rocket 88.”
Skip ahead to the late 60s early 70s. While you could hear a variety of rock on the radio, there was a resurgence in taking rock back home to it’s Southern roots. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band — and even bands that weren’t from the South like the Doobie Brothers and Credence Clearwater Revival wanted to sound like they were, with lyrics to match.
Good times. That’s what it’s all about!
Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began, 1993.
Shaw, Arnold. Black Popular Music in America, 1986.
Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans – A History, 1997.
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