History Of The Earliest Rock Recordings: Getting A New Sound Out Of R&B

The term rock and roll probably has its origins in the jargon used by sailors to describe the motions of ships...

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Therefore it makes sense that a 19th century sea shanty actually mentions the phrase. Interestingly enough, it apparently acquired a somewhat dirty meaning at the same time. That might very well have prompted recording artists like Trixie Smith to use it in songs as early as the 1920s. While it wouldn't usually be considered a rock album, "My Man Rocks Me with One Steady Roll" is the first recorded single to use the term "rocking and rolling" in a purely sexual context.

Pete Rolls them Along

Big Joe Turner recorded "Roll 'Em Pete" in 1938. While it was technically considered to be a rhythm and blues album, the record is often called the first rock record ever recorded. It certainly sounds like what would later be classified as rock music. In fact, Turner later turned his career around and took that direction. He became a rock star in the 1950s, and this alone suggests a strong connection between this recording and later trends.

Pete Johnson had a career as a pianist in Kansas City. He had already worked with Turner several times by the early 1930s, and Turner would sometimes shout out blues rhymes when Johnson was performing on the piano. John Hammond invited the two of them to a concert at Carnegie Hall.

The duo signed with the Vocalion label, and the record they recorded had one of the earliest backbeats that anyone can remember. Similar recordings often featured a shuffle rhythm, but "Roll 'Em Pete" actually used a straight rhythm. This also helps it to stand out from the crowd. Interestingly enough, various other artists not usually associated with the world of rock music covered "Roll 'Em Pete." Even Count Basie jumped onboard once he realized that something big was happening.

Rock and Roll comes into its Own

When Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup cut "Rock Me Mamma" in 1944, the world received one of the earliest opportunities to hear a rock song. However, people wouldn't have to wait long to hear that sound again. That same year, Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded "Strange Things Happening Every Day."

Since it featured Tharpe on the electric guitar, the single is usually considered one of the most important precursors to modern rock albums. In fact, it probably helped to make record labels friendlier to the new sound. One year later, Joe Liggins recorded "The Honeydripper." That not only had some of the aggressive riffs known to collectors of rock records, but also featured lyrics that were considered quite raunchy for the time period.

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Jason Kane writes about vinyl records and equipment like turntables and VPI Tonearms for SoundStage Direct.

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