Before I check out, I need to debunk three myths about music. Chronologically,
1. “Rock ‘n’ Roll started in 1953 or 1955″ (with Elvis and white kids getting loose and a white disc jockey naming it.)”
Many have tackled that myth so I won’t here. Read about it. Numerous essays and books like “Rock Is Rhythm and Blues” (Lawrence Redd, 1974 Michigan State U. Press). Listen to pioneers like Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, Ike Turner, Big Joe Turner.
R&R is indistinguishable in form from Rhythm & Blues, the early expressions called Jump Blues, evolving in the mid-’40s. (Yes, jazz and country influenced all music in the 20th Century, and in the ’50s, artists who would have been pure country found R&B made them more fun.)
2. Even music commentators under a certain age spread this one: “After Buddy Holly died, Elvis was drafted, Chuck Berry was sidelined and Little Richard found religion, R&R went through a 5-year funk, 1959-1963, only to be rescued by the British Invasion.”
-Only if you’re not listening. Certainly, hits of that period included vanilla hypes like Fabian and Frankie Avalon, but many rocked–hard. Gary U.S. Bonds. The Contours. Claudine Clark. Rufus Thomas. Stevie Wonder. Johnny & the Hurricanes. Lonnie Mack. Curtis Lee. Lloyd Price. Frankie Ford. Marv Johnson.
Click on the next video and Jukebox Alive will take you to a 1959 classic rock song by Frankie Ford.
Fats was still hitting. Rydell rocked pretty good (rocked me). Even Connie Francis had a good rockin’ hit in the period.
We had “Sherry,” “What’d I Say,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Tossin’ And Turnin’,” “Baby Workout,” “Let Me In, a wee-oo,” “Nut Rocker, “Teen Beat” and more keeping us up & dancing.
Besides, you don’t have to rock hard to have balls. ’59 to ’63 produced lots of undeniable classics–like “Hey! Baby,” “Be My Baby,” “Stay,” “Quiet Village,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Sea of Love,” “Only the Lonely,” “Sleep Walk,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”… It was the heyday of Girl Groups.
So just stop it with the “Lost Era” nonsense.
3. “Calling every pop song by a black artist “Rhythm & Blues”– even where there is almost no rhythm and no controlling chord structure.” It insults and disperses R&B.
A swooning ballad without a prominent driving beat, often drifting into minor jazz chords, is “Soul”– not R&B. Labeling confusion arises only because R&B also has soul.
16 thoughts on “Three Myths”
I’ve more or less felt that the main reason we break music down into different genres is twofold. First, basically as a sales technique and secondly, in an effort to more easily discuss music’s different sensibilities with one another. I’ve always liked a quote attributed to Louis Armstrong when someone asks if he played folk music. His response was: “All music is folk music, therefore all folks should dig all music”. For years that was my own personal mantra on the subject. I discovered years later that wasn’t the actual quote, which was attributed to Armstrong and Big Bill Broonzy (who was big during the ’50s Folk Music Revival). The quote in response to the same question was: “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” I, however, still prefer the original misquote. ~ I’ve actually never heard the myth about Rock ‘n Roll dying in the mid-60s. I’ve always felt it was wounded severely in the 70s when Disco came along, but that’s another story. ~ What’s the difference between Rock ‘n Roll and Rhythm ‘n Blues? We’re back to that “sales technique” situation. It was a product of the era America was living in at the time. In the segregated 50s and 60s, Rock ‘n Roll was played to a white audience and Rhythm ‘n Blues was the same music played to a black audience. Admittedly, a simplistic analogy … but damn close to how it was!
~ Just for the fun of it, let me pass along what many believe (or credit) as the very 1st Rock ‘n Roll record … released in 1951 by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, “Rocket 88” (Ike Turner was part of that group):
The way I look at it, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first Rock ‘n Roll record or not. “All music is folk music, therefore all folks should dig all music!”
Jay….another record some historians put in contention as the first rock record is Good Rockin’ Tonight by Wynonie Harris. It was jump blues or race music as they seemed to call black originated music back then.
Steven: Just for the fun of it, I mentioned “Rocket 88”, as being suggested as the first Rock ‘n Roll record. I’ve always believed that assertion falls into the category of a sales technique (“marketing”). It was shamelessly promoted as the 1st R&R record by its producer Sam Phillips (Elvis Presley’s original producer). There are those who say Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1938 “Rock Me” is the first R&R record. Then there are a ton of other early records that just happened to have the word “rock” or “rock and roll” in them that claim this dubious title.
I think Kirk Wilde was smart to leave this debate to others, because it truly is a situation of which came first the chicken or the egg. ~ Of course, rock and roll, as in a ship or rowboat undulating in turbulent water, has nothing to do with Rock ‘n Roll music!
In the end, music and it’s multitude of manifestations is an evolution. There absolutely wasn’t a moment in time when music changed from “something different” into Rock ‘n Roll. There may have been a moment when someone designated certain music as Rock ‘n Roll, but even that original designation, which included many love ballads, has a little to do “sound wise” with what many insist is Rock ‘n Roll in the year 2020.
Jay….some of the people arguing about the first rock record get as hot under the collar about different opinions as those talking politics.
First time I went to New Orlean at a place called The Muse they were having the international Boswell Sisters convention with female groups from all over the world competing. It was a big deal.
The Boswell is interesting and funny, but it is not R&R. It’s not led by a recurring chord progression, and no relentless prominent beat. Those are the two essential characteristics of R&B and R&R.
Uh, to be more precise, it’s not so much recurring chord progressions that identify R&R, because an R&R song could be just one chord (the prototype is three)–it’s that the melody lead is restricted to the notes in the chord playing (with blue notes teasing other chords).
(Of course the lead sings only in the chord that’s playing. It’s just that in R&B/R&R, the chord leads, the singer conforms.)
One of the best pieces I’ve ever read about Rocket 88. Saw this on the old Vinyl Radio FB page last year…
One of the tunes featured in this Kirk Wilde post is Stevie Wonder’s first hit (when Little Stevie was 13 years old) the 1963 • #1 live performance (from a year earlier when Wonder was 12) “Fingertips”. Actually, “Fingertips, Pt. 2” (the ‘B’ side of the single release) was designated as the #1 chart topper. That very same “little musical genius” is celebrating a Birthday. Today (May 13th, 2021) is Stevie Wonder’s 71st Birthday! (Born: Steveland Morris in Saginaw Michigan).
I saw him live in Vancouver probably 20 years ago. Great show,
Of course it was a great show Steven, it was Stevie Wonder for crying out loud! All kidding aside, my friend, you were super lucky to have seen such a great musician, singer, songwriter and performer at what was probably a significant time in a remarkable career. I wish I could have been there!
Probably the most significant acts I have seen live, not specifically in order, were Dylan, Baez, Stevie, Buffett, Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou, Glen Campbell, Garth and the Beach Boys. My wife saw The Beatles twice. Once in Seattle and another in Vancouver.
Your wife saw the Beatles twice!!! Because of my times living in LA, Seattle, Portland, and Austin (not to mention Bellingham and Eugene) I’ve had gratis admissions to more top flight concerts than I care to mention (some which I emceed) … but The Beatles twice!! As far as I’m concerned, your wife easily upstages, surpasses, eclipses anything I could offer as my most significant concert attendance.
Tickets to Beatle concerts sold too fast. I did see George Harrison in 74, McCartney and Wings in 76, Ringo in 89, 93 and 94, Mc Cartney again on 90 and whatever year he played at the baseball stadium. Julian once, Sean Lennon twice. First time with his mother. Got to talk to both of them. My first concert was the Shindig road shows followed by the spectaculars. Too many others to mention.