Monday, September 13, 2021

Under the Influence • Songs of 1949-1951

Songs of 1949-1951 • 1952-1955

Howlin' Wolf and band in the 1960's
 
In May of 2020, I started my Fifty Years of Music series where I feature my favorite songs from a month and year 50 years from when I publish a post on the subject. Then at the end of the year, I post My Favorite Songs of (that year). I started with 1970, and at the end of this year will post My Favorite Songs of 1971.

Since I started the series in 1970, I thought I should go back to the birth of rock ''n' roll in the 1950's and the explosion of rock 'n' roll in the 1960's with lots of treasure to mine into playlists.

In 2019, I wrote a blog called,  Rock 'n' Roll: The Classic Generation 1940-1950. I started that blog by identifying three essential groups of musicians:

  1. The Founding Generation of Rock 'n' Roll born in 1910-1925;
  2. The Pioneering Generation of Rock 'n' Roll born in 1925-1940;
  3. The Classic Generation born between 1940-1950.

The Classic Generation includes all the musicians in: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, just to name a few...

I thought I should go back to 1940-1950 where this classic generation of rock 'n' rollers as World War II babies and children, absorbed the music of the day from their parent's radios and records. 

Sun Records, Memphis Tennessee
I then started sifting through Wikipedia's (Year) In Music as my guide starting in 1945. When I got to 1950, I found my starting point-

January 3, 1950 
Sam Phillips launches Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sam Philips [brought in] performers such as B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, who made their first recordings there. Phillips then sold the recordings to larger labels [like Chess Records].

Chess Records located in Chicago was also founded in 1950 by the Chess brothers Leonard and Phil. The brothers formed an early business association with Sam Phillips as both Chicago and Memphis became magnets for the Blue's and early rock 'n' roll.

Sam Phillips
In 1951, Sam Philips produced "Rocket 88" (originally stylized as Rocket "88") is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1951. The recording was credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", who were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. The single reached number-one on the Billboard R&B chart [and as distributed by Chess Records].

Many music writers acknowledge Rocket 88's importance in the development of rock and roll music, with several considering it to be the first rock and roll record.

Alan Freed
Also in 1951,  Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed began broadcasting rhythm, blues, and country music for a multi-racial audience. As one source points out, there was some controversy in his selection of recordings: "Freed would play the original singles by the black artists instead of waiting for a white singer to cover them".

Freed, familiar with the music of earlier decades, used the phrase 'rock and roll' to describe the music he aired over station WJW (850 AM).

Several sources suggest that Freed discovered the term (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) on the record "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and his Dominoes. The lyrics include the line, "I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long". Freed did not acknowledge the suggestion about that source (or the original meaning of the expression) in interviews, and explained the term as follows: "Rock ’n roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm".

This past week, I found a great little documentary titled, Howlin' Wolf - The Howlin' Wolf Story - The Secret History Of Rock & Roll (2003) on Amazon Prime. This 90 minute film gives insight into the beginnings of rock 'n' roll as older black Blues artists influenced many white kids in England hungry to experience American music and culture in the post-war 1950's. 

As a child of the 1960's, I was totally unaware of who Howlin' Wolf was or any other Blues musician. Without the backstory of bands like The Rolling Stones starting out as a Blues cover band in London; I would only later learn in the 1970's about these Blues players and their great contribution to the birth of rock 'n' roll and great influence on bands like The Rolling Stones. The name, "Rolling Stones" actually comes from a Muddy Waters song, Rollin' Stone picked by Stone's guitarist Brian Jones in 1962.  

In 1965, The Rolling Stones were invited to play on the popular ABC music variety show, Shindig!. They said they would do the show only if Howlin' Wolf would perform. On one hand, that's brave of the Stones to do that, on the other hand, it's sad that it took a bunch of young white upstarts from England having the privilege and power to coerce an America TV network to feature a black musical legend and national treasure, born right here the United States.

Note- Billy Preston is the piano player for this performance on Shindig.


I rather enjoyed the interrupted intro of the Shindig host by Brian Jones who basically calls out his BS and tells him, "I think it about time you shut up and we have Howlin' Wolf on stage." 

Another side note- You may have noticed my recent and complete interest in everything Rolling Stones of late. Well the debauchery continues.

Brian Jones
This week, I recommend two Rolling Stones documentaries. First up is, Rolling Stone: The Life and Death of Brian Jones on Amazon Prime. And, if you are a budding 'True-crime podcast' detective, Brian Jones' death would make for a great future podcast series... just saying.

Second is Keith Richards: Under The Influence, a 2015 Netflix one hour and 22 minute film that serves as a video companion to Keith's 2010 autobiography, Life. 

I think Under the Influence is a great title and I've ripped it off to use here for a series of blogs to showcase songs that influenced the development of rock 'n' roll. I think this will serve as a good lead in to My Favorite Songs series that will have a starting date around 1963. 1963 in Music is the first year in Wikipedia where new albums released for that year start to be categorized on a monthly basis. Let that big bang begin! 

Now on to the playlist. Enjoy my friends.

Songs Featured in this 'Under the Influence' Playlist
  1. Rock Awhile is a song by American singer-songwriter Goree Carter, recorded in April 1949 for the Freedom Recording Company in Houston, Texas. The song was released as the 18-year-old Carter's debut single (with "Back Home Blues" as the B-side) shortly after recording. The track is considered by many sources to be the first rock and roll song, and has been called a better candidate than the more commonly cited "Rocket 88", which was released two years later. And, I would agree with that assessment making it my first song to start this playlist.

  2. Move It On Over (1947) Hank Williams. Often cited as one of the earliest examples of rock 'n' roll music. I thought I'd insert it here. The influence of Folk and Country music is unmistakeable to the birth of rock 'n' roll. Hank was right there.

  3. Rock The Joint  (1949) Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians. Another contender for first rock 'n' roll song, there are hundreds and the playlist here is just a sample of the power of R&B and its influence towards rock 'n' roll. 

  4. Rollin' Stone - (1950), Muddy Watters - In 1962 Brian Jones takes the title of this song and names his band, 'Rollin' Stones', then changed to 'Rolling Stones', then finally 'The Rolling Stones.' Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had a friendly rivalry as both were fearless leaders in the Chicago Blues sound.

  5. Rocket 88- (1951) The original version of the twelve-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, which hit number one on the R&B charts. Brenston was Ike Turner's saxophonist and the Delta Cats were actually Turner's Kings of Rhythm back-up band, who rehearsed at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Brenston sang the lead vocal and is listed as the songwriter, although Turner led the band and is said to have been the actual composer of the song.

  6. Sixty Minute Man is a rhythm and blues (R&B) record released in 1951 by Billy Ward and his Dominoes. It was written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks and was one of the first R&B hit records to cross over to become a hit on the pop charts. It is regarded as one of the most important of the recordings that helped generate and shape rock and roll.

  7. Good Night Irene - (1950) 13 weeks at #1 in the U.S. - The Weavers. The song was written by Lead Belly a great influence to the American folk music revival movement in the late 50's and early 60's. 

  8. Down in the Bottom (Written by the great Blues songwriter, Willie Dixon) - Howlin' Wolf 

  9. If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time (1950) Lefty Frizzell. And you thought Willie Nelson wrote that song. Willie loves Lefty Frizzell. 

  10. Move - (1950) Birth of the Cool - Miles Davis. The man was miles ahead his whole life. 

  11. Rollin' & Tumblin'  - (1950) Muddy Waters. Muddy made it a classic, and in the middle to late 60's he and Howlin' Wolf would be playing songs like this to a whole new generation of fans via rock 'n' roll bands from England.

  12. Hey, Good Lookin' - (1951) 8 weeks at #1 C&W charts - Hank Williams

  13. The Thrill is Gone (1951) Roy Hawkins. B.B. King makes this a #1 hit song in 1970, a magical time when some of the Blues greats finally got their due.

  14. How High the Moon (1951) 9 weeks at #1 in the U.S. - Les Paul & Mary Ford

  15. Unforgettable - (1950) Only #14 in the U.S. Later in 1961 Nat King Cole would record the song again and it became his biggest song. 

  16. Cold Cold Heart (1951) #1 Country & Western charts - Hank Williams

  17. Walkin' Blues (1950) Muddy Waters. England is listening and learning.

  18. Moanin' at Midnight (1951) Howlin' Wolf. England is listening and learning.


References - All Wikipedia

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Doug for another awesome blog entry. Your digs through the archives is much appreciated. I'm a lifelong fan of rock and roll, and I always learn something. Carry on my friend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I haven’t heard a single song from the playlist yet but plan to delve into it on a little jog later today. The text however is vastly interesting and informative. Really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. You’re doing great things here on Monday Monday music!

    ReplyDelete

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