The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll

dRock-and-roll (rock ‘n’ roll) has been one of the most influential post 1950 styles of music. It grew out of several streams of postwar pop music, including: Rhythm-and-blues (R&B), recording of the ‘Shouter’ blues such as Joe Turner, boogie-woogie piano blues and Gospel-based vocal style.

If we take a look at pop music history, we soon realize that African Americans had the strongest influence almost on any style of pop music, include rock-n-roll. Back in 1930s, music industry became interested in other types (e.g. other than Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville) of music, most importantly “race records” and “hillbilly” music which were precursors of R&B and country and western music. Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, the Carter family and the other influential southern musicians recorded during 1920s and 1930s.

The big band swing was the dominant pop music type from 1935 to 1945. This style was modeled on the innovation of black jazz orchestration. In 1935 Benny Goodman sparked the popularity of the style with his band’s recordings of arrangements by an African American bandleader, Fletcher Henderson.

Important shifts in pop music after World War II were tied to social and technological changes, such as the massive migration of southern musicians and audiences to urban areas and the introduction of electric guitar. These changes led to hard edged Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, hard-country of Hank Williams and in mid-1950s, the rise of rock ‘n’ roll music. Alan Freed was one of the pioneers who first use the term rock ‘n’ roll to describe this category of music.

Anyhow, the dividing line between R&B and rock ‘n’ roll is still open to debate. One argument is that when whites began playing R&B it was renamed rock ‘n’ roll. Anyhow, R&B produced a number of stars who had a direct influence on the early pioneers of rock music. Louis Jordan had 18 number one records between 1943 and 1950. Fats Domino had 59 singles on the rhythm-and-blues charts, and his crossover appeal to white audiences made him one of the first rock stars.

The blues played by artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf differed from the more sophisticated R&B artists in many ways. Waters’ and Wolf’s blues came from the more early acoustic tradition of the Mississippi Delta. The vocal and guitar styles were substantially different. The R&B singers and bands had a significant jazz and swing element that was influenced by the big band tradition. The Delta blues usually centered around one or two guitars, often played with a very percussive style, and a harmonica. Delta players often used a slide to play “bottleneck” guitar. Muddy Waters transformed Mississippi blues into cranked-up electric Chicago blues. He had a number one hit with “Hoochie Coochie Man” in 1943. Muddy Waters and his peers had a profound influence on rock musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones.

Furthermore, white country music had a significant influence on the early development of rock ‘n’ roll as well. Sam Phillips’ record label, Sun Records, is considered to be one of the birthplaces of rock ‘n’ roll. Phillips originally recorded black blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner. Southern white musicians, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, found their way to Sun Records. The early recordings created a style of rock ‘n’ roll referred to as rockabilly (rockabilly is a blend of country and hillbilly music with blues and R&B). Gospel music, both white Southern gospel and black gospel, was another essential ingredient. The early Sun artists all listened religiously to the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show out of Nashville.

Rock ‘n’ roll has inspired many musical genres and styles, and had a great influence on music development. We can still hear rock ‘n’ roll sound even when we are not listening to rock ‘n’ roll…

An article by Arash A.


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