Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Where Did Rock And Roll Music Come From? By Rick Hart

Muddy Waters said it first. "Blues had a baby and they called it Rock and Roll."
Sure, everyone pretty much agrees that rock and roll music actually came from black rhythm and blues of the late 1940's. Of course which songs were the first actual rock and roll songs are hotly debated. But there's no mistaking the sound of the 1947 version of "Good Rockin Tonight" by Wynonie Harris as clearly an early version of rock and roll. At least that's what it sounds like to me.
But the acknowledged song that most agree was the first rock n' roll song was Rocket 88. The original version of the twelve-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who took the song to number one on the R&B charts.
It was actually recorded at Sun Studios by Sam Phillips in 1951 using a studio band that was led by Ike Turner. Yes that Ike Turner, Tina Turner's husband. Of course Sam Phillips was best known for recording Elvis Presley in the beginning of his career.
But before Elvis, Sam Phillips recorded many of the early electric blues musicians including Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, James Cotten, and many others. It was really a mecca for that early electric blues, at least the Memphis flavor of it.
Sam was even known to say that Howlin' Wolf was his greatest discovery. And Elvis Presley was actually his second greatest discovery. And it's easy to imagine that the early white rock and rollers who came into Sam's studio were heavily influenced by their contact with the black blues musicians at Sun Studios. It all cooked together into a musical stew that came out as rock and roll.
But the point is, these early rhythm and blues songs were really part of a larger core of music that certainly is based on black gospel and religious spiritual music of the 30's and 40's. That music was full of emotion and pain.
Of course it was. The typical life of a black person then was full of pain, and religion was a major outlet for expressing that pain.
And of course gospel music expresses that pain and certainly blues music was directly related to that gospel tradition. Although the typical preacher would look badly on this secular version of gospel music. In fact, blues was called "devil's music" by most religious blacks of the day. Early blues musician's had to sneak out to play the blues and avoided playing it in front of parents.
Still it was clear that the average black person of the 40's and 50's connected with this new music. After all, religion was only one outlet for that pain. There was also dancing, drinking and sex, with music being the backdrop to all of it. No wonder the messages in blues music reflected this darker side of life at the time. How else would people tell the stories of failed relationships, drinking, and the pain of abuse by "the man" and other people who helped make their lives a living hell.
And the expression of that pain is the core of what makes blues music and especially early blues guitar so compelling. The guitar, as a lead instrument, has an emotional range that cannot be duplicated by a piano. Perhaps a saxophone is the closest other instrument that has the emotional range of the guitar. And both are still a distant second to emotional range of the human voice. You can say that the guitar and the saxophone are merely trying to duplicate what the human voice can do.
But the electric guitar at the time was a brand new instrument. It was putting out new sounds that had never been heard before. Combined with new amplification that could get louder and more distorted than ever before, it was clear the electric blues guitar would lead to a whole new type of music. Or more accurately types of music. Without this new technology there would be no electric blues and there would be no rock and roll.
And that means there would be no reason to write this article.
Rick Honeyboy Hart is a long-time blues guitar player and online marketer. He likes learning about the history of the blues and teaches blues guitar and thinks about the days when he fronted his blues band Honeyboy.

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