Papa Charlie Jackson recorded Shake That Thing (1925, ♫) playing what sounds like a six-string banjo. The lyrics without doubt give a hint as to what become a mainstay of rock and roll — suggestive sexual innuendo.
Frank Stokes was a guitar picker who recorded songs as early as 1927. Among his recordings are the uptempo 8-bar tunes What's the Matter Blues (1928, ♫) and Mistreatin' Blues (1928, ♫) as well as the folk tune I Got Mine (1928, ♫).
Stokes riffs throughout What's the Matter Blues while Dan Sane lays down a rhythm. Mistreatin' Blues has much of what goes into rock and roll.
Tampa Red recorded a hokum diddy with George Tom called Tight Light That (1928, ♫) that has the lyrical elements of rock and roll.
Clarence Pinetop Smith recorded Pinetop's Boogie Woogie (1928, ♫) featuring a left-handed rhythm playing the basis of thousands of rock and roll songs, the I-IV-V progression while his right hand solos over it. If you listen closely, his left-hand playing sounds like the onomatopoeia words boogie woogie.
Anyone with ears can hear the origins of rock and roll in the uptempo blues, also known as Jump Blues. Harry James's song One O'Clock Jump (1938, ♫) has all the makings of rock and roll, with the walking bass line and the horns playing the rhythm and lead parts.
Pete Johnson's Let 'em Jump (1939, ♫) came out 18 years before Jerry Lee Lewis' Whole Lotta Shakin'. Johnson picked up on Pinetop Smith's boogie woogie.
Johnson's song ending can be heard copied by countless others, including Bill Haley and His Comets with their song Rock Around the Clock (♫) first recorded 16 years later.
Buddy Jones' Rockin' Rollin' Mama (1939, ♫) has many many of the features of rock and roll. This upbeat work is known for the lyrics:
"Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea, but that gal of mine rolls just right for me. Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll".Arthur Smith released Guitar Boogie (1945, ♫), an acoustic guitar instrumental version of jump blues filled with guitar slides down the neck. If playing boogie woogie on guitar is the standard by which rock and roll gets defined, then Smith's Guitar Boogie would be the first rock and roll record. Smith's sound would be copied by countless guitarists including Chuck Berry from whom many other guitarists learned how to play the zoop.
The opening guitar to Louis Jordan's Ain't That Just Like A Woman (1946, ♫) played by Carl Hogan of the Tympany Five comprises the first part of the run Chuck Berry played when he opened Johnny B. Goode 12 years later. Chuck Berry went on to become one the first guitar heroes of rock and roll with hits like Maybellene.
Arthur Crudup's That's All Right (1946, ♫) should be given much weight as the first rock and roll song. That's All Right is the song that launched the career of the first great rock and roll swindle, Elvis Presley.
In Hank Williams' Move it on Over (1947, ♫) seems to have elements of rock and roll.
Wild Bill Moore and his band recorded the jump blues We're Gonna Rock (1947, ♫) with boogie woogie bass and honking sax.
Roy Brown's jump blues song Good Rockin' Tonight (1948, ♫) resonated with record buyers.
Louis Jordan's Reet, Petite and Gone (1948, ♫) opens with a rocking guitar solo.
Wild Bill Moore's Rock and Roll (1948, ♫) starts with what later becomes a standard rock and roll chord progression.
Pee Wee Crayton laid down some sweet licks on Texas Hop (1948, ♫). On the song, Pee Wee Crayton plays the successive string bends that today most associate with Chuck Berry. Berry must have learned those bends note-for-note from listening to Bounce Pee Wee (cued to the solo). If not from Pee, then Chuck must have learned the playing technique from listening to Goree Carter.
Pee Wee Crayton's Bounce Pee Wee (1948, ♫) is yet another boogie woogie played on electric guitar. Countless rock and roll guitarists must have lifted their licks directly from Pee Wee or indirectly through players like Chuck Berry.
Goree Carter's Rock Awhile (1949, ♫) ought to be given serious consideration for the first rock and roll recording. Carter was a mere 18 when he laid down his blistering guitar work.
With songs like Rock Awhile, Hoy Hoy (1949, ♫), Love's a Gamble (1949, ♫), I'll Send You (1949, ♫), She's My Best Bet (1949, ♫), She is Just Old Fashioned (1949), Drunk or Sober (1950, ♫), I'm Just Another Fool (1950, ♫), I'm Your Man (1951, ♫) Goree Carter ought to be considered as one of the first rock and roll guitarists. Most of the songs are structured as jump blues with boogie woogie ostinato. However, the guitar lead breaks sound much more like rock and roll.
Not surprisingly, Goree Carter isn't among the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those who work on behalf of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who have formed the induction selection committee don't know much about music.
Many cite Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians jump blues rave-up Rock the Joint (1949, ♫) as the first rock and roll recording. Yet, the recording still features the saxophone as the lead accompaniment instrument.
Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames recorded their version of Rock the Joint (♫) in September 1949, which featured a guitar solo in the second break. Bill Haley would give Rock the Joint a rock and roll arrangement only a few years later.
Preston and His Prestonians recorded Hang Out Tonight (1950, ♫). Released by Gotham (246) and backed with Potato Salad, the song features guitar accents played over a lead saxophone. A guitar solo in the second break gets played.
Tiny Bradshaw's The Train Kept A-Rollin' (1951, ♫) complete with sax solo and guitar accompaniment is close to the first rock and roll song. Vocally, the song is much like rock and roll.
Many would like to claim that Jackie Brenston and the Kings of Rhythm's Rocket 88 (1951, ♫) is the first rock and roll song. Brenston's song is much like other uptempo jump blues songs of its time.
The lyrics use the emblem of American life, the car, as a metaphor for a guy's member and sexual prowess. The lyrics even hint at inter-racial sex ("Black convertible top and the girls don't mind").
The song is filled with the signature sax sounds and piano clanging of the jump blues. Those who cite Rocket 88 as the first rock and roll song have shown their weak scholarship.
Gilt-Edge Records released Skunk Hollow Boogie (1951, ♫) by Slim Rhodes that is a mix of the blues overlaid with pedal-steel, fiddling and what sounds like an overdriven electric guitar. Also in 1951, Gilt-Edge Records released another Slim Rhodes song, Ozark Boogie. Slim Rhodes hasn't gotten his due by rock and roll historians.
Haley and His Saddlemen's recording session of featured a guitar solo by Danny Cedrone who ought to get credit as one of the first rock and roll guitarists. Bill Haley and His Saddlemen followed up their cover of Rocket 88 with a cover of Rock The Joint, again featuring a blistering guitar solo by Cedrone.
Cedrone would play the same solo for Rock Around the Clock in 1955 (♫), another recording by Haley and His Saddlemen who by then were known as The Comets. You can hear Arthur Smith's guitar zoops played by Cedrone.
In truth, rock and roll music wasn't "invented." Rock and roll grew out of mimicry and technical innovation. Guitarists like Goree Carter, Charley Booker, Pat Hare, Frankie Lee Sims, Junior Barnard and Pee Wee Crayton were game changers.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Hound Dog is one of the first pure rock and roll songs. Leiber and Stoller wrote Hound Dog on August 12, 1952.
On August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton recorded her vocals to the Leiber and Stoller song along with Pete Lewis on lead guitar, Albert Winston on bass and Johnny Otis on drums. The song features Big Mama singing, a rhythm section of drums, bass guitar and hand clapping, along with Lewis riffing and soloing throughout.
Rock and roll is a kind of music. It consists of these elements:
- simple meter (4/4)
- ostinato (riff)
- 3 chords or 4 chords resolving on the tonic with the 4-chord pattern adding the submediant to the tonic, subdominant, and dominant
- electric guitar, electric bass, drums
- electric guitar is the lead instrument
- when a lead break is present, the lead break features an electric guitar solo
- rhythm accents on the off beats, most often played by kick-pedal bass drum or hand claps
- often vocal accompaniment
- sometimes piano, saxophone or harmonica accompaniment
All of the songs before Lieber and Stoller's Hound Dog that others cite as the first rock and roll recording, though close, are merely jump blues laden with boogie woogie rhythms. The key transition from jump blues to rock and roll happened when the electric guitar replaced the saxophone as the leading accompaniment instrument.
If boogie woogie is synonymous with rock and roll then why do two names exist for the same thing? Either there never has been rock and roll or there has only been boogie woogie.
Lieber and Stoller's K.C. Loving first recorded in 1952 by Little Willie Littlefield already revealed the rock and roll song structure that Lieber and Stoller introduced with Thornton's take on Hound Dog.
Leiber and Stoller were were a couple of rebellious 19-year olds, white Jewish males who grew up on the East coast, Baltimore and Long Island respectively and who ended up living in Los Angeles, the epicenter of jump blues. Leiber grew up in his mom's grocery store located in a black ghetto of Baltimore. At 16 Leiber began writing lyrics, later partnering with pianist Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller penned a string of hits that became origin of rock and roll.
Though he gets credited as the producer, Johnny Otis played drums. Leiber and Stoller produced the recording they wrote. Johnny Otis, born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in a mostly black neighborhood in Berkeley, California.
There was much going on in years leading to Lieber and Stoller's Hound Dog. Sam Phillips founded Sun Records in 1952. Some of the earliest pressings for Sun Records reveal music in transition from the sax and piano dominated jump blues to jump blues with talented electric guitar players like Joe Hill Louis, Floyd Murphy, Pat Hare and Willie Johnson.
You can be sure though that neither Little Richard nor Chuck Berry invented rock and roll. Bill Haley didn't invent rock and roll. And DJ Alan Freed didn't invent rock and roll as well.