The Story Of The First Rock n’ Roll Record
R&B or Rock ‘n Roll?
Rock ‘n roll’s origins can be traced back to the 1950s. In March 1951, “Rocket 88” was first recorded and was originally credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats but was supposed to be under Ike Turner and his band Kings of Rhythm. Brenston sang the lead vocal but he was actually Turner’s saxophonist. Although Turner was uncredited as the songwriter, he wrote this along with Brenston.
It was an ode to Oldsmobile’s top selling line “Rocket 88” automobile. They also found inspiration from Jimmy Liggins’ 1947 song “Cadillac Boogie” and Pete Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie”. Although it’s a rhythm and blues song, they incorporated some distortion or fuzz guitar – one of the first times it was ever used in a recording.
How did they came up with that? It was all accidental. From rehearsing at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi, they were on their way to record in Memphis, Tennessee when guitarist Willie Kizart’s amplifier was damaged. Accounts vary on what happened – some said the amplifier fell from the car while others claimed it was due to the rain. Nevertheless, they knew they had to “fix” it somehow. So what did they do? They stuffed it with newspapers which is why they ended up with a distorted sound. Surprisingly, they liked the effect and used it.
Many experts and historians have argued about it but “Rocket 88” is still widely recognized as the first rock and roll record. It was wild, rough, and raw. However, Turner didn’t agree with the majority. In one interview, he said:
“…Anyway, we recorded “Rocket 88” and you know that’s why they say “Rocket 88” was the first rock’n’roll song (well, they use the language “It’s been said about ‘Rocket 88′”), but the truth of the matter is, I don’t think that “Rocket 88” is rock’n’roll. I think that “Rocket 88” is R&B, but I think “Rocket 88” is the cause of rock and roll existing … Sam Phillips got Dewey Phillips to play “Rocket 88” on his program – and this is like the first black record to be played on a white radio station – and, man, all the white kids broke out to the record shops to buy it. So that’s when Sam Phillips got the idea, “Well, man, if I get me a white boy to sound like a black boy, then I got me a gold mine”, which is the truth. So, that’s when he got Elvis and he got Jerry Lee Lewis and a bunch of other guys and so they named it rock and roll rather than R&B and so this is the reason I think rock and roll exists – not that “Rocket 88″ was the first one, but that was what caused the first one.”
Still, it cannot be argued that the release of “Rocket 88” was a defining moment in rock. What are your thoughts on this? Share it with us in the comments.