Jamaica Gleaner / As we reflect on the heroics of the late great Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, Chuck Berry, who passed away on March 18, we recall the many other Rock ‘n’ Roll stars who have contributed to making the genre the most influential music form in the history of popular music.
In an article carried in The Gleaner on March 21, Berry was hailed as one of the main influences in the popularisation of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the first to bring the electric guitar to the forefront of popular music. However, Berry, who had his first hit in 1955, cannot truly be credited with creating the genre. Neither can Elvis Presley, who was arguably the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
As early as March 1951, Jackie Brenston and the Delta Kings, with Ike Turner on piano, recorded for Chess Records, Rocket 88 – a sweet uptempo Rock ‘n’ Roll cut. Chess Records was also responsible for Chuck Berry’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll recording – Maybellene – and Bobby Charles’s See You Later Alligator , both done in 1955.
But although Rock ‘n’ Roll is generally accepted as fast uptempo rhythms, some of the earliest Rock ‘n’ Roll recordings were slow and yanky – the type that provoked an erotic movement of the waistline, resulting in many a dislocated hip.
Numbered among these were several cuts by Shirley and Lee – the sweethearts of the blues. The duo rocked dancehalls across Kingston during the mid to late 1950s with cuts like Lee Goofed , Shirley Come Back , The Proposal , and their first, and perhaps best-known hit, I’m Gone , in 1952. It was a slow Rock ‘n’ Roll ballad that saw the duo interchanging lyrics with:
Lee: ” I’m gone, I’m gone completely out of my mind
Beg you to love me sometime
‘Cause your love is mine”.
Shirley: ” Ooh baby, My, how it seems sweet you’re crying
Why did you tell me all those evil lies?
I just have to say goodbye.”
UPCOMING STARS Another Rock and Roll group of the 1950s – The Clovers – laid a very strong claim to have recorded the first authentic Rock ‘n’ Roll recording. The liner notes of their album, The Clovers – Their Greatest Recordings, states: “The Clovers first release, Don’t You Know I Love You , made in 1951, could just as easily be called the first Rock ‘n’ Roll record.” The recording, another slow piece, was done in New York on February 22, 1951.
The early years of the genre saw the emergence of several of these Rock ‘n’ Roll groups (sometimes referred to as doo-wop), manifesting themselves in trios, quartets, and quintets. The more prominent of them were The Moonglows, who had a hit with Sincerely ; Little Anthony and The Imperials had Tears On My Pillow ; The Dells – Oh What A Night ; The Crests – Sixteen Candles ; The Orioles – Crying In The chapel ; The Five Satins – In The Still Of The Night ; Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill; and The Platters – The Great Pretender and Only You .
The Pennsylvania-born Caucasian Alan Freed played a critical role in promoting, popularising, and keeping the genre alive through his radio shows and self-promoted stage shows. He was also credited with giving the genre its name.
Freed’s shows took him across America and included upcoming stars like Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, The Clovers, and The Harptones. Other artistes like Louis Jordan, Professor Longhair, and Roscoe Gordon, who demonstrated an offbeat style, were also having a deeper influence on what was then called Rhythm and Blues.
It was an urban American vocal and instrumental up-tempo music that became the main catalyst in the development of the faster Rock ‘n’ Roll recordings, demonstrated by Elvis Presley ( Don’t Be Cruel ), Chuck Berry ( Johnny B Good ), Bobby Day ( Rockin’ Robin ), Frankie Ford ( Sea Cruise ), Thurston Harris ( Little Bitty Pretty One ), Bobby Darin ( Queen Of The Hop ), Little Richard ( Good Golly Miss Molly ), Bill Haley and The Comets ( Rock Around The Clock ), and countless others.
From a slow-tempo beginning, Rock ‘n’ Roll became faster by the end of the 1950s.
Characterised by a heavy beat and simple melodies, it entered American music in the mid-1950s and immediately gained popularity.