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Amazing Rock and Roll Facts

Key Recordings: 1940sAlan's Rock & Roll FUN Trivia.  Trivia powered by ABE.

  • …that "New Early in the Morning" and "Jivin' The Blues", both recorded on May 17, 1940 by "Sonny Boy" Williamson, the first of the two musicians who used that name, are examples of the very influential and popular rhythmic small group Chicago blues recordings on Lester Melrose's Bluebird label, and among the first on which drums (by Fred Williams) were prominently recorded.

  • …that "Down the Road a Piece" by the Will Bradley Orchestra, a smooth rocking boogie number, was recorded in August 1940 with drummer "Eight Beat Mack" Ray McKinley sharing the vocals with the song's writer, Don Raye. The song would later become a rock and roll standard. The "eight beats" in McKinley's nickname and the popular phrase "eight to the bar" in many songs indicate the newness of the shift from the four beats per bar of jazz to boogie woogie's eight beats per bar, which became, and remains, characteristic of rock and roll. Bradley also recorded the first version of Raye's "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", later recorded with greater commercial success by The Andrews Sisters, whose biggest hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" also contains numerous proto-rock and roll elements.

  • …that "Flying Home" was most famously recorded in 1942 by Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, with tenor sax solo by Illinois Jacquet, recreated and refined live by Arnett Cobb. This became a model for rock and roll solos ever since: emotional, honking, long, not just an instrumental break but the keystone of the song. The Benny Goodman Sextet had a popular hit in 1939 with a more subdued version of the song, featuring electric guitarist Charlie Christian. The book What Was the First Rock'n'Roll Record by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes discusses 50 contenders as the "first rock and roll record", the earliest being "Blues, Part 2" from the 1944 Jazz at the Philharmonic live album, also featuring Jacquet's saxophone but with an even more "honking" solo.

  • …that "Mean Old World" by T-Bone Walker, recorded in 1943, is an early classic by this hugely influential guitarist, often cited as the first song in which he fully found his sound. B. B. King credits Walker as inspiring him to take up the electric guitar, but his influence extended far beyond the blues to jazz and rock and roll. "Mean Old World" has a one-chord guitar lick in it which would be further developed by fellow Texas bluesman Goree Carter, Elmore James and most famously, Chuck Berry.

  • …that "Caldonia", first recorded by Louis Jordan and then by Erskine Hawkins and others, seems to have been the first song to which the phrase "right rhythmic rock and roll music" was applied, by Billboard magazine in 1945. Jordan, by the time of his recording of the song, was an established star, whose novelty performances had been influenced in particular by Cab Calloway. Jordan's 1944 disc, "G.I. Jive", had been the first record by a black performer to top both the pop and R&B charts. Big bands became increasingly less economically viable, and smaller groups such as Jordan's Tympany Five became more popular. Many of his recordings, including "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" (recorded in January 1946) and "Let the Good Times Roll", were hugely influential in style and content, and popular across both black and white audiences. Their producer Milt Gabler went on to produce Bill Haley's hits, and Jordan's guitarist Carl Hogan, on such songs as "Ain't That Just Like A Woman" (also 1946), was also a direct influence on Chuck Berry's guitar style.

  • …that "Rock Me Mamma" by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, recorded on 15 December 1944, was the blues singer's first and biggest R&B chart hit, but in later decades became overshadowed by his - at the time, much less successful - 1946 recording of "That's All Right", later to be covered by Elvis Presley in 1954 as his first single.

  • …that "Strange Things Happening Every Day" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, recorded in 1944 with pianist Sammy Price, was a boogie-woogie flavored gospel song that "crossed over" to become a hit on the "race records" chart, the first gospel recording to do so. It featured Tharpe on an electric guitar and is considered an important precursor to rock and roll.

  • …that "The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins, recorded on April 20, 1945, synthesized boogie-woogie piano, jazz, and the riff from the folk chestnut "Shortnin' Bread", into an exciting dance performance that topped the R&B "race" charts for 18 weeks (a record later shared with Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie") and also made the pop charts. The lyrics proclaimed urban arrogance and were sexually suggestive - "He's a solid gold cat, the honeydripper.... he's a killer, a Harlem diller....".

  • …that "Guitar Boogie" by Arthur Smith, originally recorded in 1945 but not a hit until reissued in 1948, was the first boogie woogie played on the electric guitar, and was much imitated by later rock and roll guitarists. The tune was based on "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" from 1929.

  • …that "The House of Blue Lights" by Freddie Slack and Ella Mae Morse, was recorded on February 12, 1946. The song was co-written by Slack with Don Raye, and, like Raye's "Down the Road a Piece", was later recorded by many rock and roll singers. Morse was one of the first white singers to perform what would now be regarded as rhythm and blues music.

  • …that "Route 66", was recorded by the Nat Cole Trio on March 15, 1946. Written by Bobby Troup, the song was a big hit for Cole - who by that time had already had 11 top ten hits on the R&B chart, starting with "That Ain't Right" in 1942 - and was later widely covered by rock and roll performers including Chuck Berry.

  • …that "Boogie Woogie Baby," "Freight Train Boogie" and "Hillbilly Boogie" by The Delmore Brothers, featuring harmonica player Wayne Raney, were typically up-tempo recordings, heavily influenced by the blues, by this highly influential country music duo, who had first recorded in 1931.

  • …that "Open The Door, Richard", was a novelty R&B record based on a comedy routine performed by Dusty Fletcher, Pigmeat Markham and others. It was first recorded in September 1946 by Jack McVea, and immediately covered by many other artists including Fletcher himself, Count Basie, The Three Flames, and Louis Jordan, all of whom had hits with it. It was the precursor of many similar novelty R&B-based records, which became a mainstay of early rock and roll in recordings by groups such as The Coasters.

  • …that "Move It On Over" by Hank Williams was recorded on April 21, 1947. It was Williams' first hit on the country music charts, reaching # 4. It used a similar melody to Jim Jackson's 1927 "Kansas City Blues" and was itself adapted several years later for "Rock Around The Clock".

  • …that "Good Rocking Tonight", in separate versions by Roy Brown (1947) and Wynonie Harris (1948) led to a craze for blues with "rocking" in the title.

  • ...that "Rock and Roll" by Wild Bill Moore was recorded in 1948 and released in 1949. This was a rocking boogie where Moore repeats throughout the song "We're going to rock and roll, we're going to roll and rock" and ends the song with the line, "Look out mamma, going to do the rock and roll." Another version of this song (with songwriting credit to Moore) was recorded in 1949 by Doles Dickens. Also related was "Rock and Roll Blues" by Erline 'Rock and Roll' Harris, a female singer, with the lyrics "I'll turn out the lights, we'll rock and roll all night".

  • …that "Rock Awhile" by Goree Carter was recorded in April 1949. It has been cited as a strong contender for the "first rock and roll record" title and a "much more appropriate candidate" than the more frequently cited "Rocket 88" (1951). Carter's over-driven electric guitar style was similar to that of Chuck Berry from 1955 onwards.

  • …that "Rock The Joint", recorded by Jimmy Preston in May 1949, was a prototype rock and roll song which was successful in its own right, and was highly influential in that it was recorded three years later in 1952, by Bill Haley, in the same hard rocking style. Although Haley first recorded in 1946, his early recordings, including "Rovin' Eyes", were essentially in the Western swing style of country music, as was his 1951 cover of "Rocket 88" (see below). "Rock The Joint" became the first of his records in the style that became known as "rockabilly".

  • …that "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino, recorded in New Orleans on December 10, 1949, featured Domino on wah-wah mouth trumpet as well as piano and vocals. The insistent backbeat of the rhythm section dominates. The song is based on "Junker's Blues", by pianist Willie Hall. It was the first of Domino's 35 US Top 40 hits and helped establish his career; he also played piano on Lloyd Price's big 1952 hit, "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy".

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