Examining the lead up to the 1950s, there were many forms of popular music that laid the foundation for the definition of Rock & Roll that we know today. Rhythm and Blues, Swing, and Hillbilly music all come together during the 1940s to illustrate hints of Rock & Roll around every turn.
Maybe this episode contains the first Rock & Roll song ever recorded . . .
The word “GENRE” is often used to describe particular “musics”. Although we throw the terms like blues, jazz, classical around freely, what do they actually mean?
In S1E2 we looked at song form and its effects on modernization of popular music. More importantly, what we discovered is How does song form relate to the story of Rock & Roll?
Rock & Roll is, as we are finding, is a blend of North American musics which were already present within the structure of society, the economy and history of the people. When Jazz, Blues, and Hillbilly music collide with popular mainstream musics of Tin Pan Alley, we get Rock & Roll. But is Rock & Roll a genre all by itself?
Let’s take a look at "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" which today is now seen as epitomizing the style known as jump blues. Ironically, it was written by white songwriters whose background was steeped in country and western music. So was this a limitation to its ability to transcend musical genres or was it just not that “great” a piece of music?
“House of Blue lights" - Merril Moore
“House of Blue lights" - Ella Mae Morse
“House of Blue lights” - Chuck Berry
“House of Blue lights” - Crowbar
“House of Blue lights” - Asleep at the wheel
“House of Blue lights" The song recorded as a Big Band Swing number originally, yet it was later recorded by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Canned Heat, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, The Flamin' Groovies, Meat Puppets(on a hard to locate compilation (“Fast Track to Nowhere: Songs from Rebel Highway”), George Thorogood.
This begs the question just what use is “Genre” as a classification if one song can successfully be recorded by such a wide range of musicians or written by songwriters who are unskilled in another type of music.
Classification of music is just as important as it is unimportant in the general scheme of consumption.
Classification of music by “genre” is a business invention, purely marketing, a sales pitch used to make the consumer feel comfortable making a purchase.
There in lies the problem with trying to pin a date, place and time to the creation of Rock & Roll, and more specifically, the first song.
Business soils the whole process by creating artificial categories and genres of music what might otherwise be similar if not identical. For example, some “Race Records” are indistinguishable from ”Hillbilly" music because they share much of the same history, social and cultural backgrounds in certain parts of North America.
The music industry took to the task of making music “genres” divisive believing it would help segment the market into chucks if you will, that could be marketed using minimal resources where they saw fit.
Unwittingly the music business were enforcing a top down approach to a bottom up problem. What does this mean exactly? Consider the following, how do you empower a sense of control of the product you are selling? Setting up artificial boundaries are equatable to genres and their affect on music distribution.
If you can create a set of artificial constraints around a particular product you can manipulate its consumption. Without knowing it, record companies stumbled upon a 3 part system ideally suited for the task.
Cultures, traditions, history, economics and musics begin to criss cross each other, hence three essential components wind up playing a role in music consumption:
• An individual component: a belief
• A social component: the belief is shared by other members of a social unit
• A deontic: a conduct is obliged
Their job or result is an artificial society
In later episodes we’ll inspect “Genre” as a whole and the damage classification caused society.
Jump blues is a loud, rowdy simplified blues influenced form of jazz that became popular in the 40s after the hard times of the 30s drove many big bands out of business.
Patrons of noisy dance halls and clubs needed small groups that could match the volume of the departed big dance bands to fuel their entertainment. To keep the attention of their patrons in the crowded rooms, the singers would shout and the saxophonists would honk and growl giving the performers' names like 'shouters and honkers'. Jump Blues' hard rhythmic drive and snare beat emphasis on the 2 and 4 has given the genre credit for being the forebear of rock-n-roll and R&B.
The style of hard R&B that came to be known as "jump blues" had its origin in the economic belt-tightening that came during World War II. Swing bands, forced to downsize to a rhythm section and one or two soloists, began to compensate for their smaller scale by playing harder, faster, wilder versions of the swing jazz they'd become known for, and also incorporating the blues that was just starting to make inroads into urban areas (thanks to the migration of rural blacks from the South up into big cities like Chicago and Memphis). The result was the first example of "rhythm and blues," and also one of the main stylistic influences on what would later become known as "rock and roll."
Jump Blues Songs The typical jump blues song had a simpler beat than most swing jazz, usually with guitar relegated to rhythm and solos provided by a saxophone.
In deference to the wilder music, "jump blues" lyrics were often more salacious than their other "R&B" counterparts, often featuring outrageous and even campy vocals to match. Although it originally began as an offshoot of the "boogie-woogie" craze, jump blues was less concerned with swinging the beat than hitting it hard. As a result, country and "country boogie" musicians latched onto the style, eventually creating rockabilly, while black artists cleaned the words up somewhat and brought an even harder version into rock: both Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" and Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" are excellent examples of jump.
Several jump blues hits became Rock & Roll standards as well, including "The Train Kept A-Rollin'," "Shake, Rattle, And Roll," and "Good Rockin' Tonight." As R&B slowed down and got funkier in the early Sixties, jump blues faded from existence; however, many blues bands, especially those with horn sections, continue to record in the style.
Music 1940 -1950
Within the 1940s, the appearance of musical styles resembling Rock & Roll are becoming apparent. The bands are getting smaller as the big band era falls into decline sharply during the WWII era due economic constraints of touring with large bands, while the response came in the form of louder more ruckus entertainment powered by microphones and amplifiers.
Amplification brought with it the ability to replace large orchestras and bands with fewer instruments, which could fulfil the purpose of filling a space with sound.
The guitar in particular, turned out to be an earlier turning point in defining this new rocking music, as it could be as loud as a piano, and infinity more portable. The sheer fact that you were no longer at the mercy of an instrument provided to you helped make consistency a perfect factor for dissemination the new music.
In attempts to adopt the technology which made the guitar appealing, its volume capability, its technological limits were being discover, and subsequently became identifiable aspects of Rock & Roll.