Rock Music History 


Guitar Guy SilhouetteIf 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.

motion orange guitarist 2

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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