Saturday, July 24, 2004

rock 'n' roll redundo

Chris Sheil successfully pours scorn on the notion that the 5th of July 1954 was the beginning of rock. Given that I am somewhat responsible for triggering his current inspirational rant about the rash of articles about the 50th anniversary of rock and roll I thought that I should add to the general confusion.

In the mass awareness and influence stakes, Stanley Booth, in Rhythm Oil- A Journey Through the Music of the American South, claims that Carl Perkins Blue Suede Shoes, in 1956, was the first record to reach the top of the pop, rhythm and blues, and country charts. Greil Marcus backs him up saying " ..Blue Suede Shoes momentarily suggested that all sectors of American society could sing the same song - suggested it because, for a moment, they did"

Carl Belz, makes the rarely quoted claim that the first rock record in the above mentioned mass stakes is really the Chords original 1954 version of “Sh-Boom” making the top ten of the pop charts, after earlier charting on R&B charts. Belz acknowledges the Crows with “Gee” achieved the same crossover effort a bit earlier but never climbed the heights or reached as far geographically and demographically as the Chords.

As to who started it musically. Marcus clearly believes "a good musical case can be made for Johnson as the first rock n roller". Robert Johnson recorded in 1936 -37. Suggesting that Johnson had put together a band with drums and electric pickup on his guitar just before his death in 1938 Marcus goes on to say that Johnson “ would have been making music recognisable as rock n roll – full blown, not protean rock n roll- at least by 1938.”

Because he is one of my listening favourites and also because of the sax sound and placement I sometimes like to argue that Louis Jordan was the main man. Caldonia was a crossover from No 1 R&B to top ten pop charts in 1945.

The truth is, as Chris Sheil says, that the beginnings are lost in the mists of time. In fact I believe that is really the point of the best of the Greil Marcus writings. That it really is not possible or desirable to pick one beginning. Rock and roll is a convergence of overlapping and crossovers, black, white, creole, country, blues, big band, jump, pop and more. The only ingredient that I can be sure was essential to rock and roll is electricity.

On the other hand – if I can just find that Buddy Bolden recording maybe I’ll be the one to nail it.