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Origins of rock and roll

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Origins of rock and roll

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Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional folk music, gospel music, black and white, and country and western. Going back even further, rock and roll can trace a foundational lineage to the old Five Points district of mid-19th century New York City, the scene of the first fusion of heavily rhythmic African shuffles and sand dances with melody driven European genres, particularly the Irish jig.

Origins of the name rock and roll

Rocking was a term first used by gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. A double, ironic, meaning came to popular awareness in 1947 in blues artist Roy Brown's song "Good Rocking Tonight" (also covered the next year by Wynonie Harris in an even wilder version), in which "rocking" was ostensibly about dancing but was in fact a thinly-veiled allusion to sex. Such double-entendres were nothing new in blues music (which was mostly limited in exposure to jukeboxes and clubs) but were new to the radio airwaves. After the success of "Good Rocking Tonight" many other rhythm and blues artists used similar titles through the late 1940s including a song called "Rock and Roll" recorded by Wild Bill Moore in 1949. These songs were relegated to "race music" (the music industry code name for rhythm and blues) outlets and were barely known by mainstream white audiences. The phrase ' rock and roll' may first appear in a Louis Jordan version of Tamburitza Boogie recorded in New York City in 1950.

In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed would begin playing this type of music for his white audience, and it is Freed who is credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the rollicking R&B music that he brought to the airwaves. The term, with its simultaneous allusions to dancing, sex, and the sound of the music itself, stuck even with those who didn't absorb all the meanings.

Orginally Freed used the name Moondog for himself and any conerts or promotions he put on. This arose from the fact he used a piece of music called "Moondog Symphony" by the street musician Moondog as his repeated opening music for his radio show. Moondog subsequently sued Freed on grounds that he was stealing his name. Since Freed was no longer allowed to use the term Moondog he needed a new catch phrase. After a night of heavy drinking he and his friends came up with the name "The Rock and Roll Party" since he was already using the phrase "Rock and Roll Session" to describe the music he was playing on his radio show. Since he show was extremely popular the term caught on and the subsequent public used it to describe a certain form of music.

First record

According to some, notably music historian Peter Guralnick, the first rock and roll record was "Rocket 88", by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (written by 19-year-old Ike Turner, also the session leader) and recorded by Sam Phillips for the Sun Records label, in 1951. Many other records recorded in the same period are also contenders for this title. Others have pointed to the later broad commercial success with white audiences of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" or "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets as true starting points. Still others point out that performers like Fats Domino were recording blues songs as early as 1949 that are indistinguishable from later rock and roll, and that these blues songs were based on themes, chord changes, and rhythms dating back decades before that. Rhythm and Blues sax player and band leader Louis Jordan actually broke into the country charts in the forties with "Is you is or is you ain't my baby?". In 1947 Jack Guthrie and his group The Oaklahomans had a hit with "The Oakie Boogie", basically a mix of boogie woogie with hillbilly and an electric guitar thrown in (a fairly new invention in 1947). Benny Carter, a co-author of "Cow Cow Boogie" (Capitol Records first gold single) back in 1942, wrote the jazz-swing song "Rock Me to Sleep" with Paul Vandervoort II in 1950.

References

Ongoing History of New Music


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