THE ROOTS OF ROCK AND ROLL


The rock and roll beat, when it first emerged in R&B in the late 40's, mainly came from two places -- black gospel and boogie woogie blues. A third important place was jump blues.

A   Examples from the early 1940's

    1. Black Gospel

             Rock Daniel, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1941 (last 2 minutes)

    2. Boogie Woogie Blues

             The Boogie Rocks, Albert Ammons, 1944 (whole song)

   3. Jump Blues

             Caldonia, Louis Jordan, 1945 (whole song)

B    Examples from the 1930's

     1. Black Gospel

             Good Lord, Austin Coleman, 1934 (last 2 minutes)

     2. Boogie Woogie Blues

             That's All Right Baby, Big Joe Turner, 1938

C   Examples from the 1920's

     1. Black Gospel

             Testifying Meeting, sound sample from an actual church
                                          revival meeting, 1928

     2. Boogie Woogie Blues

             Hastings Street, Blind Blake and Charlie Spand, 1929

1920's and 30's Black Gospel. These two tracks are field recordings, which means they were not done in a studio but were done on location. In those days, recordings such as these were made by large record-cutting machines that carved out the grooves in a special acetate or wax plate. A recording team working in 1928 for Paramount Records captured this bit of an old-time Holy Ghost Revival in an unknown church in the south, and the 1934 track was done by recording engineers John and Alan Lomax during one of their earliest field trips through rural Louisiana. In the 1934 recording, listen to singer Austin Coleman closely, and you will hear him say "I want to rock. You want to rock," and then later he says "I sit there and rock" over and over again. This African rhythm is the tap root of rock and roll, and these sound clips should be played through a few times in order to appreciate the importance of black gospel as the root of so much of today's music.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Black gospel seems to be the forgotten "root" of rock and roll, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the queen of gospel in the 40's, with a heavy rocking hand on the guitar pick. Tharpe (b. Arkansas, Mar. 4, 1915; d. 1973) was raised in Chicago and was singing to a congregation of 1,000 by the age of 6. Learning blues guitar early on, her technique was similar to that of contemporaries Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. Though she was accomplished in blues, her main passion was the ecstasy of the Sanctified Church, and most of her recordings are classified as gospel, such as this track. She became known early on for her performances in churches in Chicago and Harlem. In 1938, she performed at the "From Spirituals To Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in NYC, and sang with the swing bands of Calloway, Basie and Goodman. She recorded with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra in 1941 and '42, both gospel and secular numbers, and recorded solo in 1944. "Rock Daniel" is gospel played with a swing band, with outstanding acoustic guitar work by Tharpe. The remainder of Tharpe's career was spent organizing church choirs to balance her impressive solos and guitar work, and traveling throughout Europe, where she was admired as one of the pioneers of rock guitar.

Albert Ammons. This is boogie woogie, old style, and Albert Ammons was just about the hardest-rocking pianist who ever lived. Although this Ammons track has the power of a full rocking band, it's actually just one man by himself on a piano. In this track, a true masterpiece, the fine line between boogie and rock is blurred, and the song's title doesn't clear it up much. (The word "rocks" in the title is actually a noun. In 1944, boogie woogie was already almost half a century old, and had gone under many different names before Pine Top Smith gave it a permanent one in 1928. One of those early names was "The Rocks," hence this song's title). Ammons (b. Chicago, 1907; d. 1949)  learned to play the piano as a child in the 1910's, copying the mechanism of a slowed-down player piano. In 1928, he lived in a Chicago rooming house with boogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Pine Top Smith, but Ammons was the only one of the three who actually owned a piano. Ammons' son, Gene, became a well-known jazz saxophonist in the world of bop.

The pinnacle of the piano-only phase of   barrelhouse boogie woogie was reached in the early 40's, with recordings such as this one by Ammons and his amazing two-piano duets with Pete Johnson of Kansas City, in 1941, for RCA Victor.  He appeared with Rosetta Tharpe in the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert mentioned above, also mentioned on the Big Joe Turner page.  Turner's "That's All Right Baby" above, with Pete Johnson on piano, was also made at that monumental concert. Music historians say boogie woogie was developed by blues and ragtime pianists and guitarists in the 1890's, in Louisiana or neighboring Texas and Mississippi.   Pine Top Smith gave this music its name when he recorded the seminal "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in 1928.

Jump blues was the title given to a certain style of music which combined urban blues with swing jazz, and it was popular roughly during the period 1937 to 1949. It started in the days of Cab Calloway, whose 1937 record, "The Jumping Jive," kicked it off. Jump blues was very popular among blacks through WW II and right up until the dawn of the R&B era. The king of jump blues in the mid-1940's was undoubtedly Louis Jordan, and other big names of the genre include Roy Milton, Buddy Johnson, Johnny Otis, Lucky Millinder, Erskine Hawkins, and Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers. The bands were typically much smaller than would be found in a swing band, perhaps 5 to 7 member combos, instead of full bands with 15 to 20. There is a fine line between early R&B and late jump blues, as it was really a continuum. The major difference is that the beat in jump blues was typically a shuffle rhythm, rather than the rocking backbeat that emerged in R&B in 1948.

The most significant thing about jump blues is that it bridged the gap between swing and R&B, and it gave early R&B its instrumentation, especially the heavy use of the saxophone.