Origins of Rock and Roll

The term rock and roll first apeared when DJ Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues for a largely white audience. Freed is credited with being the first to use the phrase which alluded to dancing, sex and the sound of the music itself. Early Rock and Roll Perhaps the first true rock and roll album was Rocket 88 by Jackier Brenston and his Delta Cats, although other records at the time are contenders for the title. Whatever the starting point, rock and roll appeared at a time when racial tensions were strong in america. Rock and roll which was essentially a mix of black and white music provoked strong reactions of all types in america. Despite the efforts of Freed and others, black music was still taboo on most of the white radio stations. Some artists and producers saw the potential in rock and roll and cashed in on it with white versions of this black music. The success of was sometimes at the cost of feeling and authenticity. Some black artists retaliated by making their songs so intense that their white imitators couldn’t copy them, Little Richards Long Tall Sally is a good example of this. As white rock and roll increased in popularity some black artists even got airtime.

On the 21st of March, 1952 in Cleveland, Alan Freed created the first ever rock and roll concert. The audience and performers were mixed in race and all racial issues seemed forgotten for this one night where music was the focal point. The evening almost ended in riots when thousands of fans tried to get into the sold-out venue. As R&B was turning into rock and roll, country and western music underwent a similar metamorphasis with faster tempos and more aggressive playing creeping in.

In 1954, a young man called Elvis Presley came into the stuido of producer Sam Phillips with a request to record a disc for his mother. Phillips saw the talent in the shy young man and arranged to have him to record some ballands with professional musicians. With his first album, That’s All Right Mama, Elvis became the first true rock and roll star.

The British Invasion

Perhaps the country that most felt the impact of American Rock and Roll was Britain where color barriers were less of an issue. Countless British teens emulated the rock and roll movement with their own bands and by 1960 they were dominating the rock and roll scene world wide. The Beatles spearheaded the invasion and were an instant hit in America. In the wave of beatlemania came the darker music of the Rolling stones and The Yardbirds. The success of the British Invasion spawned a wave of imitators in the US and across the world. Very few of these bands broke through with comercial success however.


Rock and Roll changed and diversified in a number of subtle and not so subtle ways. By the mid 60’s the image of rock and roll became less like previous musical forms. The Rolling stones were credited with being the first band to simply wear whatever they wished on stage. This may sound trivial today but was shocking to fans used to musical groups wearing matching suits. The music also took on a greater social awareness. It stopped being about dancing and became about social justice. The anti vietnam counter-culture took on rock and roll as its defining feature. It also began to be heavily influenced by the drugs that the youth culture was experimenting with. The music also matured muscially past the guitar-bass-drum format into a more diverse and complex sound. Critics and fans used the term rock (as opposed to rock and roll) to describe the differences between the styles.

To Be Continued…