Jackie Brenston, "Rocket 88."

In 1951 the fastest American car on the road was the Oldsmobile 88, with the big Olds "Rocket" V8 engine as standard equipment.

jackie.jpg (39398 bytes) Jackie Brenston

Jackie Brenton was playing tenor sax and singing in Ike Turner's band in Memphis in 1951, and when the band was recording there that year he was given the microphone to record this number, which had been written by Turner. Ike Turner, born in 1931, started gigging at the age of 9, and soon was playing professionally with Howlin' Wolf, BB King, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc., in the Memphis area. In his teens he was also a DJ, and a talent scout for the Modern and Chess labels, and he played piano on many of those records. In 1951, at Sam Phillips' tiny recording studio in Memphis, Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm recorded "Rocket 88," with Jackie Brenston on sax and vocals, but Phillips shipped the tape to Chess Records in Chicago as having been performed by "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats," and Chess released it as such. Songwriting credit on the record also went to Brenston, though Turner wrote it. "Rocket 88" was in many ways similar to the 1947 record by Jimmy Liggins called "Cadillac Boogie," which was a song about "sporting around" in an old fishtail.

"Rocket 88" was the first hit record for Phillips, who would use the cash to start his own record label, Sun Records, out of this studio, the same fabled studio that also gave BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Junior Parker, and Elvis Presley their starts.

Years later, when people started asking the question, "What was the first rock 'n' roll record?," Phillips claimed this track was, and since Phillips had become famous by then for being the man who discovered Elvis Presley, his vote was given credibility among people who were unfamiliar with early R&B, and to this day, the tradition has stuck. Although it may have been the first record from Phillips' studio that he considered to be "rock 'n roll," there were many rock and roll records before this one. The idea that this was the first rock and roll record is just one of the pieces of misinformation that has been repeated so often for so many years that it has entered the realm of scripture. It just ain't true, folks. Rocket 88 was a typical R&B number for its day. The rhythm of Rocket 88 is a normal shuffle on the high hats, something which was commonplace even in the early 40's, and the drumming even lacks the strong back beat that distinguishes late-40's R&B (rock and roll) from earlier jump blues. The reason Rocket 88 has the tradition of being the first rock and roll record is the same reason the Brooklyn Bridge has been so marketable over the years...there's a sucker born every minute. The actual "first rock and roll record" was probably cut in 1949, one of the many hard-rocking R&B numbers cut that year. Perhaps it was "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino, or "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston, or "Rockin' At Midnight" by Roy Brown, or "Rock And Roll" by Wild Bill Moore. The last two mentioned were actually cut in 1948 and released in 1949, so we'd have to go with a record from 1948 if we have to name one. Then again, if we use 20/20 hindsight, it looks like "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris, cut in 1947, was the first, even though they didn't call it rock and roll back then. There were several other records on the charts in 1948 and '49 which have the rock and roll beat. There were dozens more in 1950 and hundreds in 1951, so anybody who says Rocket 88 was the first rock and roll record just hasn't seen this web site! The defining characteristic of rock and roll is the rhythm. It's simply an 8-to-the-bar boogie rhythm with a heavy "back beat," which means an accent, usually by a snare drum, on the 4th and 8th beats of the boogie rhythm, or if written in 4/4 time, on the 2nd and 4th beats. This rhythm is the heart of rock and roll, and it first became popular in R&B around 1948 and 1949. It's the rhythm of a locomotive...

a  CH   ga  CH ga  CH  ga   CH  ga  CH    ga  CH  ga  CH  ga  CH
1  2   
3    4    5   6   7    8   1   2     3   4   5    6   7    8

  1. Rocket 88, 1951 (first minute)
  2. My Real Gone Rocket, 1951 (first minute)

"You women have heard of jalopies
You've heard the noise they make
Well let me introduce my new Rocket 88
Yes it's great, just won't wait
Everybody likes my Rocket 88
Baby we'll ride in style
Moving all along.

V8 motor and this modern design
Black convertible top and the gals don't mind
Sporting with me riding all 'round town for joy
(Blow your horn Raymond, blow)

Step in my Rocket and don't be late
Baby we're pulling out about half past 8
Going 'round the corner and get a fifth
Everybody in my car's gonna take a little nip
Move on out, boozing and cruising along"