American Roots music by Zelena Hull
The first music that I started listening to when I was eight was rock & roll. A lot of the stuff I listened to where British invasion bands such as the Rolling Stones. I did listen to a lot of American and German bands as well. Most of the music I listened to from rock & roll is from 3rd wave musicians. This blog is going to be about some things in American rock & roll and it’s roots. I’ve taken American Popular music so I know some of the starting off material off the top of my head. I will be covering the 1st wave of artists and start of rock & roll.
Rock & roll came from rhythm and blues. R&R actually used to be a euphemism (for something I will not discuss here). Disk jockey Alan Freed was the first one to use the term Rock and Roll for this new music. American Rock & roll had a myriad of influences ranging from western music to the Boogie Woogie. This style emerged from the 1950’s because of all the political changes brought because of WW2. America during this time had became a superpower. During this time teens had more disposable income because the economy was doing well. Teens also had a lot of free time because of suburban life and child labor laws. Teens had become a more powerful market and were a vastly different one from their parents. Since teens purchased a lot of music, music started to be tailored to their tastes because of demand. Rock & roll used new electric guitars, drums, piano (sometimes), bass, and amplification. The distorted sound of the guitar added to the rebellious nature of the music. The vocal style is dependent upon the artists influences. I’ve seen a bluesy style or country style added in. The songs usually had belting and tended to have very little melisma. The songs tended to be easy for people to sing along to, that’s what made them so popular in the first place. Teens contributed a lot of rock & roll’s rise, but not all of it. During WW2 a lot of the jazz bands had to break up and rhythm and blues arrived as a speed up version of the blues. Radio was a big contributor to how Rock & roll got widespread. They say that Chuck Berry was a blues singer that tried to write a country song, but it became something else entirely and that’s how rock was invented. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Chuck Berry discovered what made the rock and roll market tick for young teens. His songs often covered topics that teens were concerned and identified with. He was part of the first wave of American Artists on the rock & roll scene along with Little Richard. Little Richard arrived on the scene around the same time as Chuck Berry. Fitting that both of its prime architects were into other genres of music previously. Little Richard was into Gospel and ironically he called himself the true architect of rock and roll, but later on down the line returned to gospel. We can’t talk about rock and roll without Elvis Presley. He and Billy Haley were the two white front runners of rock & roll. Elvis covered blues songs and did his share of rockabilly outside of rock & roll. In the early years there was a lot of bleed over from the two on the white artist’s side. Elvis eventually would become considered the King of rock and roll. During the time rock & roll came into being there was a deep racial barrier within the united states. This barrier made it hard for artists of different races to collaborate. There was some leeway for musicians because of the art form however. There were quite a few mixed bands. Although there was a fair bit of representation for African Americans and whites in rock & roll you can see the racial barrier by what they were inspired by. The whites took from what they knew and artists like Chuck Berry and little Richard took from their musical backgrounds. This is what makes rock & roll so interesting. There is so much variety in the influences because of the racial barrier and the newness of the art form. It’s interesting to see that rock & roll was influenced by so much and later went on to influence other genres itself. It served as a touch point between different genres. The subject matter was certainty rock & roll. Cars, girls, and whatever teens were into at the time. There is some debate on whether “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston was actually the first Rock & roll song. It’s usally said that that’s the first song and Chuck Berry is the first artist. There were other artists such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets who started to blow up in popularity slightly after them. His music in particular was influenced by Elvis. Sadly, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash during his rise to fame. Around the same time of the plan crash Elvis was drafted, Chuck Berry was arrested on violation of the Mann act, Little Richard returned to gospel, and the Payola scandal took place. This all marked the end of the first wave of rock & roll. The Payola scandal shaped the industry for years to come. This scandal tried to demonize rock & roll by saying no deejay would every play this barbarous music unless they were paid to do so. This practice was not illegal, but they were still investigated for antitrust charges. A philistine government, unable to understand what rock & roll offered the youth decided to investigate on distaste alone. Rock & roll has always been the music of rebellion.
In summary, rock & roll has always been a melting pot of different genres and crossovers many times. The artists that composed the first era had different backgrounds and influences. Because of this these artists often did other genres outside of rock & roll. Elvis and Billy did rockabilly which is a mash between rock & roll and country/western. Little Richard did gospel and Chuck Berry did blues. Rock & roll came from the culmination of all American music coming together to make something new that appealed to the younger generation. This music was created because of the increased participation in the market by teens and young adults in buying music. Rock & Roll is the culmination of all American music that came before it’s time and continues to influence genres it once was influenced by.
Lambert, Louise. “How Did Rock & Roll Music Begin?” Our Pastimes, 15 Sept. 2017, Retrieved January 24, 2021, from ourpastimes.com/how-did-rock-roll-music-begin-12336913.html.
Ch. 3: Rock is Born! (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://ampopmusic.com/topic/ch-3-rockis-born
Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://ampopmusic.com/topic/ch-9-payola-rock-n-rolls-first-scandal