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Old 08-30-2014, 11:12 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default WW2 and the Rise of Rock 'N' Roll

Exactly when rock ‘n’ roll started is certainly open to debate but there is little doubt that its roots are found in swing, bop, blues, black and white gospel, hillbilly and old folksongs primarily from the Appalachian region and the South. But the kernel of rock ‘n’ roll was what is called “jump blues.” During World War II, there were many shortages—gasoline, rubber, metal, electricity, etc. Most venues for working bands either shut down or closed early to conserve electricity. Touring buses were scarce due to excessive consumption of gasoline and wear on tires which were difficult to replace due to the rubber shortage. So the big bands broke down into smaller touring units—trios, quartets, quintets, etc. They traveled around in cars which were far more economical and feasible.

The big band arrangements had to be stripped down and each instrument had a lot more space to work in. Bop jazz also helped with this transition being that it had also stripped down the jazz ensemble and often played quite wildly to fill musical space. But bop wasn’t a great dance music and these stripped down ensemble players wanted to play in the ballrooms for the dance crowd because that’s where the money was. So they played a form of jazzed up urbanized blues with a stiff dose of boogie-woogie for a jumpy melody and rhythm and hence the term jump blues.

Perhaps the forerunner of jump blues was the Goodman-Hampton piece “Flying Home” which was first performed in the 30s featuring Charlie Christian on that new-fangled electric guitar thing but by the 40s, all the small and large jazz combos were playing it and this is what gave birth to the genre of jump:


Flying Home - Illinois Jacquet - YouTube
Illinois Jacquet’s version of “Flying Home” (with Lionel Hampton) whose sax solo was said to be the start of jump and R&B.

The primary dance of jump blues was the jitterbug showing that jump was descended in part from swing:


Daisy Richardson - 1940's Jitterbug Dancer - YouTube

World War II was forcing all sorts of change in the American music landscape, the Japanese seized control of Southeast Asia and cut off all shipments of goods from that region that normally headed to the West. Among these goods was shellac. Shellac is made from a beetle called, appropriately enough, a lac beetle. These are extremely plentiful during mating season when millions of lac beetles cover every tree in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. Workers collect the beetles and boil them in large kettles which causes the beetles to exude a filmy substance from their bodies. This substance is scooped up from the surface of the boiling water where it floats, washed and processed to make shellac. Shellac was important in the West because that was what recording discs were made of. The shellac shortage caused the government to horde what stores of shellac it had access to which made commercial recordings hard to get.


The lac beetle.

Also in 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) centered in Chicago called a strike. The issue was over how musicians should be paid when recorded music was broadcast over the airwaves rather than live music. In days past, all broadcast music was live and so musician pay was not in dispute—if they played on the session, you paid them for it. But what about when a recording is played that a certain musician is on—should he get paid? The AFM said yes, the broadcasters said no. AFM president James C. Petrillo in Chicago called a strike while the question went before the courts. No AFM musicians could release recordings until then. Not until November of 1944 would the strike be called off. This sidelined most big name musicians from T-Bone Walker to Les Paul during the war. The exception to recording new music was V-discs which were made for American troops serving overseas. The court, by the way, ruled that musicians on broadcast recordings would not get paid for the broadcasts.
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Old 08-30-2014, 11:38 AM   #2 (permalink)
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In the meantime, kids needed to hear some new music and started tuning into radio programs as the King Biscuit Time. Hosted from Helena, Arkansas on station KFFA starting in 1942, as a promotional spot for the King Biscuit Flour Company, the program and its sponsor was very anxious to sell baking goods to the large black population in the area who were generally excluded by other advertisers.

They decided a blues program on a radio station that was also playing more and more black artists for an increasingly black listenership would be a good way to reach out to them. King Biscuit Time was hosted by harpist Aleck “Rice” Miller and guitarist Robert “Junior” Lockwood, stepson of Robert Johnson. The program aired every weekday at 12:15 in the afternoon and lasted 15 minutes. The promoters figured this was the optimal time of day because most workers were on lunch break and would have the time to tune in without interruption. The latest blues recordings and artists would be featured who would play a live segment with the house band.

What made King Biscuit Time even more revolutionary was that Lockwood and house guitarist Houston Stackhouse played electric guitars and Miller held his harp against the mike making it rasp and howl in a way impossible without a mike. In other words, the show featured electric blues. Up to then, blues was always played on acoustic guitars and the harp was not amplified. King Biscuit Time added a new dimension to blues music.

While some credit the program as having invented electric blues, others give that credit to T-Bone Walker who started recording electric blues that same year for the newly formed Capitol label in L.A. Regardless, King Biscuit Time became hugely popular (in fact, it is still running to this day—the longest running radio program in the world, it has never been off the air since its creation). Rice Miller’s transformation of blues harp was considered so essential to the form that he was awarded the name Sonny Boy Williamson II after his hero (generally, it was bad form to take the name of an earlier artist if he or she was a legend but an exception was made for Miller who became so well known as Sonny Boy Williamson that it often causes confusion when trying to figure out whether the real one was meant or Miller).


King Biscuit Time radio hosts Houston Stackhouse, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and James “Peck” Curtis.


The King Biscuit Time band in the studio with the addition of Robert “Junior” Lockwood on guitar (Robert Johnson’s stepson) and Pinetop Perkins on piano. Every bag of flour bore Williamson’s image. This was one of the first corporate attempts to market a mainstream product aimed squarely at blacks and it paid off.

King Biscuit Time was not only enormously popular among blacks but young white kids looking for new musical kicks as well including some kid named Elvis Something-or-other. Williamson, however, left KFFA in 1947 and was now employed by KWEM in Memphis and enjoyed a very high listenership.
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Old 08-30-2014, 12:02 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Capitol was formed in LA by songwriter and performer Johnny Mercer in 1942. Although Capitol formed before the AFM strike, they quickly took advantage of it. And to get around the shellac shortage, bought up stocks of old records, crushed them up and pressed new recordings. By the war’s end, the label had sold an unprecedented 40 million records! Of course, an unprecedented number of old recordings were lost as a result but back then no one cared. Capitol jumped off to a hot start in '42 with "Cow-Cow Boogie" sung by 17-year-old Ella Mae Morse with Freddie Slack's orchestra. The song was a million-seller--the first of its genre to achiever that status.


Freddie Slack & His Orch. (Ella Mae Morse). Cow-Cow Boogie (Capitol 102, 1942) - YouTube

Capitol also signed blues guitarist T-Bone Walker. T-Bone was a close friend of Charlie Christian and, not surprisingly, both are regarded as pioneers of the electric guitar. Electric blues seems to have gotten its start from two different sources in the same year. T-Bone was sidelined by the AFM strike but he continued to play live and make records under aliases. In fact, he was Ella Mae Morse's primary studio guitarist.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSOYOFQgVMs
"Mean Old World Blues" by T-Bone Walker, 1942 Capitol recording also featuring Freddie Slack on piano, Jud de Naut on bass, Dave Coleman on drums.

Capitol showed what opportunities young, upstart labels could have if they played their cards right.

This is not to say that the big labels were cut out of the action. To get around the shellac shortage, they turned to science and developed compounds as formvar, a thermoplastic resin developed by Monsanto, that eventually pushed shellac aside. New polyvinyl compounds sounded better, lasted longer and were far more durable. In fact, most of the V-discs were made of formvar rather than shellac. As soon as the recording ban was lifted, they swung into action recording and marketing specialty music. RCA-Victor, Decca, Columbia, MGM and Mercury jumped on the bandwagon and did quite well. After all, they had unlimited access to radio networks as CBS and NBC to plug their records. RCA and Columbia sold about 25% of all records in the late 40s. Some minority labels became mainstream such as Capitol which was sold to EMI in 1956 and was used to market many of the British artists in the U.S. They also had facilities to develop new polyvinyl compounds. In 1948, Columbia came up with the 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm record with “microgrooves” which would have been impossible with shellac. The following year, RCA marketed the 7-inch 45 rpm “single.” The 10-inch 78 rpm disc continued to compete into the 1950s but the writing was on the wall and, by the late 50s, was a thing of the past.

With the advent of the 45 single, small specialty labels sprang up all across the country. As far as musical taste, the minority labels quickly established the majority. Some had been around since the early 40s but many formed specifically for the 45 single market and greatly increased sales and distribution because of it—King, Savoy, Cat, De Luxe, Dot, Juke Box, Swingtime, Keen, Specialty, Aladdin, Ace, Federal, Starday, Liberty, Exclusive, Dixie, Sensation, Fortune, Straker’s, Apollo, Modern, RPM, Herald, Beltone and many others. The competition between these labels was fierce. Many of these labels subsisted on a single band and, not infrequently, on a single song and would milk its popularity for as long as possible and then either hopefully find another song or fold. Duke Records at WDIA was really just another of these small labels looking to make a killing with one good song or artist.

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Old 08-30-2014, 12:27 PM   #4 (permalink)
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"Cow-Cow Boogie" sat on a strange cusp. While it was blues oriented, it was not really blues. It existed before jump or R&B and was not a swing number. Yet, it undoubtedly had a huge influence on jump. Moreover, the artists were white while white artists were virtually absent on true jump recordings.

It likely was an influence on Joe Liggins, an Oklahoma-born pianist, songwriter and bandleader.



Playing in California, his band developed a song they called "The Honeydripper" that lasted 15 minutes. They would play it at the clubs at 11:45 and end it at midnight. When they got into a studio to record it, they had to cut it down considerably. The second million-seller

“The Honeydripper” by Joe Liggins—a million-seller and certainly a candidate for very early rock ‘n’ roll:


The Honeydripper by Joe Liggins (1945) - YouTube

Liggins lifted Freddie Slack's piano intro from "Cow-Cow Boogie" for his 1950 hit "Pink Champagne":


Pink Champagne by Joe Liggins (1950) - YouTube
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Old 08-30-2014, 01:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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The first band to be regarded as TRUE jump was Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five. And the first song to be regard as TRUE jump was their 1946 number entitled "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie." The argument that rock 'n' roll can be regarded as that point where blacks and whites mixed styles whether intentionally or otherwise has some merit. "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie" was written by three white "hillbilly" writers--Vaughan Horton, Denver Darling and Milt Gabler. The label was Decca (American Decca, that is) which deserves a lot of credit in pioneering rock 'n' roll. Eight years later, Milt Gabler would produce the Comets' "Rock around the Clock" for Decca.


Louis Jordan Singalong Choo Choo Ch'Boogie - YouTube

Another big jump number from Louis Jordan was 1949's "Saturday Night Fish Fry":


Saturday Night Fish Fry Louis Jordan - YouTube

Detroiter Wild Bill Moore recorded "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll" in 1948:


We're Gonna Rock by Wild Bill Moore (1948) - YouTube

The very title qualifies it as a true rock 'n' roll number. But is it the first? And if this is not rock 'n' roll then is it by coincidence that we hear Wild Bill Moore's sax on Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me"?

On Moore's recording, Paul Williams plays the baritone sax. Williams came out of a hard-driving R&B Detroit outfit run by King Porter. He went off on his own and while touring with Lucky Millinder, heard their reworking of a Charlie Parker's 1945 bop number "Now's the Time":


Charlie Parker - Now's The Time - YouTube

Millinder's band reworked the number into a blues format:


Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra - D' Natural - YouTube

When Williams heard the song, he thought it would go well with a new dance he'd seen being done in the clubs. When he asked people what it was called, they said, "The hucklebuck!" although it has alternate pronunciations as huckabuck and huckerbuck. Williams recorded Millender's number under the title of "Hucklebuck" in 1949 o the Savoy label while in New York producing a million-seller that he lived off for the next ten years. Williams is, in fact, generally known as Paul Hucklebuck Williams. This is very often called the very first rock 'n' roll song. While I would argue that, I will not argue that it demonstrates the importance of bop to the formation of rock 'n' roll.


Paul Williams - The Humblebuck - YouTube

The Hucklebuck become famous enough that established artists as Sinatra and Connie Francis cut their own vocal versions.
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Old 08-30-2014, 04:54 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Another great jump artist and songwriter was Roy Brown. His most famous song was performed in 1948 by Wynonie Harris and if it is not a rock 'n' roll song, it has certainly left a mark on that genre--"Good Rockin' Tonight":


Good Rockin' Tonight by Wynonie Harris (1948) - YouTube

Oddly, when Brown wrote the song and tried to give to Harris, Harris turned him away. So Roy offered it to Cecil Gant. Gant loved it but didn't feel it was for him so Gant called the president of King Records and made Roy sing it to him over the phone. Roy was immediately offered a contract and became one of the top R&B acts of the pre-rock 'n'roll period. Only then did Harris decide to record the song and it promptly shot to #1 and is today the only song Harris is remembered for.

Roy didn't get his fair share of the royalties for his songs not surprisingly was forced to supplement his income selling encyclopedias door-to-door and did time for tax evasion. He did win a lawsuit over royalties but that probably worked more against him than anything as Nick Tosches believed that the industry blacklisted him as a result. Roy's fortunes came and went but by 1970 he had another hit album. He continued to perform and once did a show where Paul McCartney sat in the front row with his mouth hanging open in amazement. Roy Brown died of a heart attack at age 55 in 1981.

"Big Town" 1951:


Big Town - Roy Brown - YouTube

If Roy Brown only released this next number and did nothing else, he still deserves to go down in rock 'n' roll history. The jumpiest jump blues EVER from 1950--"Butcher Pete" (both A and B sides):


Roy Brown - Butcher Pete (Full Version) + Lyrics! - YouTube
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Old 08-30-2014, 05:44 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Doo-wop also got its start in the 40s via the vocal groups and while it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly when it started or by whom, one band that definitely deserves credit is the Ravens. Formed in 1946, the Ravens were influenced by the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers but had a more contemporary sound and began recording for the Hub label. In 1947, they signed with National Records. What set them apart from other singing groups of that period was that the lead singer, Jimmy “Ricky” Ricks, was the bass singer.

They had a big hit in 1947 with their version of “Ol’ Man River”:


The Ravens - Old Man River - YouTube

“Write Me a Letter” in 1947 reached #5:


The Ravens - Write Me A Letter - YouTube

One should not call the Ravens a doo-wop group, they were NOT. But they had a great influence on the earliest doo-wop to emerge which were black groups that grew up listening to them. These groups even named themselves after birds—the Crows, the Orioles, the Penguins, the Flamingos, etc. All doo-wop groups had to have a strong bass singer because the bass voice had a prominent role and Jimmy Ricks was the standard to which all future doo-wop bass men were compared.

Proof that the Ravens weren’t doo-wop, however, is found in the fact that once doo-wop became the rage, the Ravens were considered dated. They were so dated that they broke up in 1958 (after several personnel changes). Nor were they ever elected to the Doo Wop Hall of Fame (at least to my knowledge) but were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

But the idea that they had no influence on rock ‘n’ roll would be every bit as misguided as calling them a doo-wop band.


Original lineup.
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Old 08-31-2014, 12:07 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born Rosetta Nubin in Arkansas in 1915 (another source claims her name was Rosie Etta Atkins). Her parents sang in church and her mother was also a musician as well as an evangelist in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a mostly black Pentecostal assembly. Rosetta could already play guitar at age 4 and performed in church by 6 and was regarded as a child prodigy. She married Thomas Tharpe at age 19 and took his name and continued to use it long after their marriage ended. She moved to New York in 1938.


Rosetta in 1940.

Rosetta recorded the Decca label’s first gospel songs when she was teamed up with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra in 1938. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is, in my opinion, far and away, the most blatant example of rock ‘n’ roll before there was rock ‘n’ roll. For one thing, she played the guitar—acoustic at first and then electric—and her band setups were generally what we consider the standard rock ‘n’ roll setup of guitar, bass and drums. She demonstrates the importance of black gospel in the formation of rock ‘n’ roll. Doo-wop, for example, came straight out of the black churches and even a lot of the white rockabilly and hillbilly boogie was based on black gospel singing. A more modern example would be Brewer & Shipley with their hit “One Toke Over the Line.” The melody and song structure is pure black gospel but we just think of it as country-rock.

Even the title of one of Rosetta’s earliest songs is “Rock Me” written the Reverend Thomas Dorsey who actually coined the term “gospel music.”


Lucky Millinder/Sister Rosetta Tharpe-Rock Me - YouTube
“Rock Me” with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra, 1938. If this isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, what is?

The Decca recordings made Sister Rosetta Tharpe an overnight success. Her popularity spread from outside the black religious community into the general public who enjoyed her material even if they didn’t particularly care for religious music. Rosetta even started performing in jazz nightclubs—including the Cotton Club—with jazz acts as Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers backing her and she packed the house. She even played several dates with the Jordanaires—Elvis’s backup singers.


One of Rosetta’s most famous publicity shots.

Rosetta, however, didn’t like doing the jazz circuit nor did she like doing a lot of the secular songs she was given to sing which were often racy and had nothing to do with religion. Her religious audience criticized her for giving in to the show biz glamour and lights. By 1943, she was looking to get back to her gospel roots and split with Lucky Millinder. Decca hooked her up with pianist Sammy Price to make some V-discs (she was only one of two gospel artists allowed to make V-discs) in 1944 and one of the numbers, “Strange Things Happening Everyday” was not only a big hit but often touted as the original rock ‘n’ roll recording:


STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING EVERY DAY Sister Rosetta Tharp 1944 - YouTube
“Strange Things Happening Everyday” 1944. A gospel boogie-woogie using a straight rock ‘n’ roll setup of guitar, bass, drums and piano. Rosetta’s voice and guitar-work are impeccable.

After the war, Rosetta attended a Harlem gospel music show and saw another gospel singer from Newark named Marie Knight performing.


Marie Knight.

Rosetta contacted her and convinced her to team up as duo. Rosetta and Marie had fundamentally different styles but thought the contrast would be advantageous. They released “Up Above My Head” in 1948 and were rewarded with a huge hit. This is another recording often touted as the first rock ‘n’ roll record:


"Up Above My Head"- Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Marie Knight - YouTube


Rosetta and Marie

Rosetta and Marie recorded together for several years racking up several hits along the way but things were complicated. The truth is, they had become lovers although no one but those closest to them knew about it. This was a time when such a thing going public would ruin careers. Rosetta married her manager but Marie disliked him considering him a shyster and she turned out to be exactly correct. Eventually, Marie attempted to crossover into secular music while Rosetta stayed in the gospel fold. The move proved disastrous for Marie who retired from music shortly after.

By the late 50s, Rosetta toured England as many American rockers did in order to revitalize their careers. It worked and Rosetta toured Europe with a bevy of American blues artists in 1964. A concert was held in the rain in Manchester at an abandoned railway station and is considered one of the finest performances of Rosetta’s long career.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn't It Rain - YouTube

Rosetta performed up to 1970 when she suffered a stroke which grew progressively worse until her death in 1973 in Philadelphia at the age of 58. She is the firmest connection of black gospel and R&B to rock ‘n’ roll. She isn’t called the Godmother of Rock ‘N’ Roll for nothing.
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Old 08-31-2014, 08:07 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Great job!! Another informative thread by The Lord!
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Old 09-01-2014, 09:30 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Great job!! Another informative thread by The Lord!
I agree, I like reading his posts too. There all quite informative.
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