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Sunday, March 31, 2024

All Time is Now • The Birth of the 45!!

The Birth of an International love affair.
This week, March 31st, in 1949 RCA Victor introduced the Fabulous 45 RPM vinyl phonograph. 
The revolutionary vinyl single promised high fidelity and a new era in distortion free quality at 45 Revolutions Per Minute. 
The 7″ 45 RPM record was a smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for the 10" 78 RPM shellac discs. 

Some background regarding this brand new technology; "45" refers to its speed. The prior popular format, the 78 referred to its speed as well, spinning at 78 Revolutions Per Minute. The new smaller 7" discs also had a bigger hole (adapter available) so as to use the new multi-disc automatic changer player. You would pile up a number of discs on the thick spindle and each disc would drop one by one, to give you continuous listening pleasure. 


"The new life-long record, which is less than seven inches in diameter is made of durable, lightweight vinyl plastic and plays up to five minutes and twenty seconds on each side. The record player, which operates at 45 rpm, contains the fastest record-changing mechanism ever designed.  The excellent quality and clarity of tone of the new reproducing system has been highly praised by outstanding musicians."

Plus, the NEW discs didn't break like the 78's. Dropping a 78 on the floor will literally smash it to pieces. The new POLY vinyl discs could get scratched but they didn't shatter. 
[Side note; Record Contracts to this day, still contain the outdated 10% breakage fee clause from the 1940s. Yes, 78s break, 45's not as much, CD's not much at all, and mp3's sure as hell don't break!] 

Weeks prior to March 31st, retail record shops and department stores were shipped a player for demonstration and a batch of the new discs. They arrived in a custom envelope labeled: This Is Your Preview of the New RCA Victor 45 R.P.M. RECORD LINE! 

Inside were seven singles, each a different color plastic — each color representing seven different musical styles. That's right! Multi colored vinyl in 1949! 

— RCA Victor Advertisement art from 1949 —

The colors and the first records (various samples) were... 
Cerise (Orange) disc for Blues & Rhythm; 
"That's All Right" by Big Boy Crudup 

Green disc for Country & Western Music; 
"Spanish Fandango" by Spade Cooley 
Sky-Blue disc for International Music; 
"A Klein Melamedl" by Saul Meisels 
Midnight Blue disc for Popular Classics; 
"The French Marching Song" by Al Goodman & His Orchestra 
Red disc for Red Seal Classical; 
Yellow disc for Children's Entertainment; 
"Turhan Bey" with Henri Rene & Orchestra 
Jet Black disc for Popular Music; 
"Because" by Dick Leibert 

The preview envelope suggested: Use these seven records as samples between now and March 31st, and for use with the forthcoming window and counter displays. You may wish to hold them as collector's items — the first production run of a record that will set the pace for the entire industry!  

There also was a Demonstration Record made specifically for in-store use, and not broadcasters, the "Whirl-Away Demonstration Record" (Spanish version on the flip) was played over and over, calling attention to the colorful display of new discs. 

The Whirl-Away Demonstration Record

RCA Victor released 104 singles (current popular hits and re-issued previously available records) simultaneously in the brand new format. But, the first "NEW 45" released on the new format was a Green disc, Country & Western number, "Texarkana Baby", b/w "Bouquet of Roses" by Eddy Arnold. 

Like any new technology it was a little expensive, as you needed a new player, so not everyone had one. The big cities on the coasts had plenty in the stores while in many parts of the middle of America it was just a rumour. But soon the costs of the player came down and more importantly the 45 discs didn't cost an arm and a leg.  

At the time, much like a Photo Album, Record "Albums" were book bound multi-disc sets which held four 78s and RCA had the 45! You could stack up the discs on the fancy new player like so; Side 1/Side 8, Side 2/Side 7, Side 3/Side 6, Side 4/Side 5. Then flip the discs over and continue to listen in sequence. 
[Side note; Record Albums are still called "Albums", as in, a collection of songs. It always bugged me when people said, "I guess you call them CD's now and not Album's right?!?" No.] 

— RCA Victor advertisement: TALENT "tone quality!" —

In 1948, Columbia had introduced a larger 12" micro-groove record spinning at 33 1/3RPM that could play for over 20 minutes a side. Yes, your favorite Classical piece or first half of a Broadway show without interruption. They were called LP's or Long Players.   

Taking on the 78 was one thing, but this was different, and six months in, RCA was even considering abandoning the 45, but eight months later, by November of 1949, kids everywhere were lining up for the little disc at the low price at the new speed! By the end of the year, Capitol and M-G-M started pressing 45's as well, Mercury and Decca followed in 1950. And Columbia held out until late 1951 when RCA Victor started making 12" LP's as well. The new formats could, should and would co-exist.  

By 1952 RCA was boasting of all-time record volume of sales with the new format, the new era had begun. Also, after 1952, all 45's were on black vinyl (they were the most durable). And a mere four years later, the first Rock 'n' Roll singles were released, kicking off a love affair with 45's that still exists to this day. By the mid 1950s the 45 had won the "War of The Speeds". In the US, 78's were gone by 1957. In Great Britain, EMI withdrew its last 78 RPM from its catalog in 1962. Some International countries like India would continue to make 78s up until the mid 1960s.  

Some things never change though; any new format takes awhile to be adapted by every part of society. When the record companies announced they would start to phase out the 78 RPM format, they would however, for a while after that, continue making Hillbilly 78's. In the 1990s, Country music was the last to hang on with cassettes ("Heck, tha tape player in ma truck’s still workin’ just fine!"). In the next few years, we will see the same thing happen again when Compact Disc's start to get phased out ("Heck, tha CD playur inma truck’s still workin’ jus' fine!"). 

But the 45 was here to stay and would go on to be the medium of choice for decades, every generation of Rock 'n' Roll listenin' teenager on thru the Top 40 years of the 1960s, Classic AM hits of the 1970s and with New Wavers and Punkers (bringing back multi- colored discs), into the 80s, and 90s. Things looked a little shaky for the 45 at the turn of the century but as we see the Compact Disc era transition into the Digital & Cloud based wireless era, resurgence in vinyl is taking on a new life that doesn't look to be slowing down, but picking up steam. The 45 is alive and well. Long Live the 45! 
There will be plenty of BRAND NEW special edition 45's available at this years' Record Store Day coming up on soon, April 20th 2024. 

View the full list here... 

After all, It's only Rock 'n' Roll. 



Images are from the most excellent and informative Audio history website... 


All Time is Now with DJ Shark
Heard 'round the World
For your listening pleasure, 
and to share with your friends,
additional episodes can be found at…

Friday, September 8, 2023

All Time is Now • Rock 'n' Roll Ends The Cold War!

Rock and Roll Ends the Cold War!!

This week the Cold War officially and symbolically ended on Sept 8th 1994. But many of you probably missed it, if you saw it at all. It was in an unlikely place, The MTV Video Music Awards of 1994. 

First some context… 
When one nation battles another (specifically the USA), we are told that we are fighting for the Hearts and Minds of the enemy. US President Lyndon Johnson used this turn of phrase numerous times in many speeches. And it was actually the official name of the strategy and public relations campaigns for both the war in Vietnam and the second Iraq war. 

President John Adams in 1818 gave it a much better context: "The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the people… This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution". 

So how does one go about doing this? Whatʼs the military strategy? How big is the budget where one can even achieve this? Who or what could actually win over the Hearts and Minds of the enemy? 

What was NOT officially sanctioned by any US President or British Prime Minister, was the good work done in the name of freedom by the unofficial Cultural Embassadors; Yes the Cool Rockinʼ Daddies and Hep-Cat Kitties of the Rock ʻnʼ Roll Revolution kick started in Memphis back in 1954. And you have the British and American Rock n Rollers to thank for that. The Right Honorable Rock n Rollers, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and The Beatles, & The Stones.

The Eastern Europe/Soviet communist experience with Rock ʻnʼ Roll and The Beatles in particular is unlike anything that anyone in the West could imagine. There is no lightning bolt moment of a Sunday night Ed Sullivan TV appearance to excite and unite. You couldnʼt see Elvis at the movie theaters in the Eastern Block. It was even rare to see any pictures. So itʼs not about hairstyles, shaking hips, matching suits, or psychedelic jackets. It is literally just about the music. 

The music was passed around on the black market often on old used X-Rays that could be used as flexi-discs. No picture sleeve, no liner notes, no credits and in many cases, no song title or artist even. “Got any bones?” The sound quality was awful but what came out was exhilarating, Little Richardʼs voice still cut through.  

— Soviet bootleg Rock 'n' Rolls on Bones / X-Ray cut platter —

Try and imagine the reverse, you live in the West and you hear, say some banned Iranian Folk tunes and it thrills you, or some Russia Balaklava music from 1959 and you would be willing to risk arrest and spend half a months wages just to hear it again (any of it) by any artist. And when you got your hands on some bootleg recordings, you didnʼt turn it up, no, you would have to listen quietly with your ear right next to the speaker rather than risk your neighbor overhearing and reporting you to the authorities. Such was the lengths of a music fan in the Eastern Block. 

The Soviet State got hip to this and started making fake “rib” bootlegs. You would get home with your contraband, flatten out your new purchase between some books, wait a while, put on the record, and there would be a few seconds of Rock ʻnʼ Roll music, then a voice (in Russian) came on… “So you thought youʼd hear the latest sounds? You would like to hear some American music?” also laced with some humiliating insults, then silence. 
Think they got any sleep that night?

Did I mention that, these music fans also donʼt understand the language? You could hear the rhythm of vowel sounds of a rhyming couplet, but what was the message, the meaning. You were told over and over again that this was the propaganda of the Western Imperialists. Eventually, some of the songs would be translated, as you wanted to know what the singer was singing about; they could hear that Russian composer Tchaikovsky was mentioned in Chuck Berryʼs “Roll Over Beethoven”, but why? Was it an anti U.S.S.R. song?

 “You know, my temperature's risin' 
and the jukebox blows a fuse 
 My heart's beatin' rhythm 
and my soul keeps on singin' the blues 
 Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news” 

The other banned songs were hipster tales of love and loss, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Rock Around The Clock”, “True Love Ways”, “And I Love Her”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Satisfaction”, “All You Need Is Love”… 
This was the propaganda message from the West the Sovietʼs were not supposed to hear?!? Learning the language of the West through the fun poetry of Rock ʻnʼ Roll humanized the West in a way no military could.

The Berlin Wall was first constructed in Aug of 1961 and came down in 1989. 
The Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin by the Wall, was the site where visiting US Presidents Kennedy and Reagan gave their memorable historical speeches; Kennedy spoke at the Berlin Wall just two years after it was erected, and gave his now famous speech… “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner! (I Am a Berliner!)” 

— President Reagan in Berlin - 1987 —

On June 12 1987, President Ronald Reagan with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on the dais to his right said, “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall.” 

For any great speech to have any historical resonance, it not only depends on the charisma of the speaker, the wise words of wisdom spoken, but it lives or dies on who is listening. If it falls on deaf ears it hasnʼt moved the discussion an inch. It really depends on how the speech effects the actions of the listener afterwards. Who is listening? Reagan no doubt deserves some credit, for his inspiration and for this speech in helping eventually bring down the wall. But, the speech was actually not widely reported at the time. And can you imagine in another time Brezhnev hearing any of this?!? More important was Reaganʼs personal relationship with Gorbachev. That they genuinely liked each other and that Gorbachev was listening. It all combined to have an enormous effect. Some in the US give Reagan way too much credit, and Gorbachev not nearly enough. For it was also Gorbachevʼs reforms in Russia with Perestroika and the revolts in Eastern Europe that had an even bigger hand in the changes to come and the Wallʼs eventual collapse. 

— Concert for Berlin / The three day open-air festival —

A week prior to Reaganʼs speech in June of 1987 in front of the Reichstag, the very same place where both Kennedy and Reagan had given their speeches, West Berlin hosted a three-day "Concert for Berlin" on the cityʼs 750th anniversary. The three headliners of the open-air festival were (to an audience of 70,000 each night), David Bowie, The Eurythmics, and Genesis.

The producers of the event set up several speakers facing backwards out to the East to blast the forbidden Rock ʻnʼ Roll out over the wall. Halfway through the first nights show Bowie performs “Heroes”, a song recorded in West Berlin ten years earlier about two lovers kissing under the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Introducing the song, Bowie speaking in German to the crowd says, "We send our best wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the Wall." The song reverberating and echoing out over the buildings into the East never meant as much as it did that night...

“I, I can remember, 
Standing, by the wall 
And the guns shot above our heads 
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever 
Then we could be Heroes, 
just for one day”  

A crowd of 2,000 East Berliners started to head to the wall and found the streets cordoned off. There was fighting in the streets and 200 people were arrested. There were clashes on the streets all three nights, with the East Berliners chanting, "The wall must fall!" and "Gorby get us out!"

— German TV footage of East Berlin music fans —

The next year in June 1988 the headliners were Pink Floyd, and Michael Jackson. Again a crowd gathered on the Eastern side of the wall to hear the music. Can you only imagine hearing the opening bassline to Billie Jean and the roar of the crowd reverberating and echoing down the East Berlin streets? And the mix of excitement and frustration of having never, ever been to a Rock Concert. The tensions escalated on the night of the Michael Jackson show into violent clashes with many East Berlin music fans beaten and arrested.

This was getting out of hand and embarrassing, even to the leaders of the German Democratic Republic. In the wake of the concerts, and aftermath, the GDR realized it had made a mistake. In an attempt to improve their image with the youth and people of East Germany, the GDR, led by Erich Honecker, invited Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (who were on tour in Europe at the time) to play a month later in July. 

Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party since 1971, had been the prime organizer of the building of the wall back in 1961. And was a communist hard liner who tried to slow the progress and changes made by Gorbachev. The mere thought of a man like this reaching out to an American Rock musician to help him with the "image" of the 
GDR would have been better suited to a Roger Corman B-Movie or a 1970s underground comic. But it was really happening, and happening fast.

While Reagan had spoken to 45,000, Springsteenʼs afternoon gig was attended by 300,000 and broadcast on television (with a two minute delay) to millions.

About an hour into his set Springsteen, under a keyboard bed intro with a piece of paper in hand, spoke to the crowd in German, saying: "I'm not here for or against any government. I've come to play rock 'n' roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down." Then the band went straight into Dylanʼs poetic, “Chimes Of Freedom”.

— Bruce Springsteen in East Berlin "Chimes of Freedom" —

It was a truly inspired moment. Bruce chose his words carefully. And yes, it was censored on the East Berlin television broadcast, but was heard loud and clear by everyone there at the show, and the short speech was broadcast on all the major West Berlin News Reports that night. 

While a short speech might be censored, the songs werenʼt. Along with Springsteenʼs originals, there were the covers, John Lee Hookerʼs “Boom Boom”, Edwin Starʼs “WAR”, Elvis Presleyʼs “Canʼt Help Falling In Love”, and finishing off the night with Arthur Conley/Otis Reddingʼs “Sweet Soul Music”, Sam Cookeʼs “Having a Party”, and The Isley Brothers/The Beatlesʼ “Twist and Shout”. The romantic themes in Springsteenʼs music cut right through to the heart and soul, the idea (and ideal) of a reunited Germany. The effect far and wide of these words and melodies being broadcast across the country uncensored cannot be overestimated. Thatʼs what inspired the locals. For most, not to run off and escape to America, but a yearning for the freedom that America represents and to make their home a better place.

While the GDR thought the concert would appease the people, the concert only fired them up. The East Germans wanted more Rock ‘n’ Roll and the freedom that it symbolizes. A few months after that concert, Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany, resigned. The protests only increased and a wave of refugees leaving East Germany for the West had increased and had found their way through Hungary via Czechoslovakia. Thousands were showing up at the border overwhelming the guards.

They didn't storm the gates, this was the "Peaceful Revolution". On Nov 8th, to try and deal with the sheer number of refugees willing to leave, the politburo decided to allow border crossings between East and West Germany. The new regulations were to take effect the next day. And on Nov 9th the Berlin Wall came down.

No bloodshed, no tanks, no bombs.
What got under their skin?
Was it a political agenda?
A religious fundamentalism?
By the barrel of a gun?

The military has its role to defend, to serve and protect (we hope) the people and its borders. But it can only do so much. Rock ʻnʼ Roll doesnʼt threaten anyone with eternal damnation, or intimidation of physical violence. Everyone is welcome, come on along, have you heard the news? Thereʼs Good Rockinʼ tonight! And the kids wanna rock.

In the rocumentary, “How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin”. A Russian music fan says about The Beatles music... "You hear it, and you want to be a part of it."

Rock 'n' Roll had shown the way and the Russians and Eastern Europeans felt an unshakable loss of belief in their own system. It was undeniable.

The spirit of revolution?
The spirit of revolution was a Western promise of freedom and expression. A Culture of Revolution. A sacred revolution of the heart.

The seeds were sown by Elvis and Little Richard in the fifties, and it took root and blossomed with The Beatles in the sixties and beyond. There was thirty years of Rock ʻnʼ Roll lighting a fire and sliding through the cracks. With all the changes happening to Germany and the Soviet Union, Springsteen was up at bat with the bases loaded, with Bowie on third, Pink Floyd on second, and Michael Jackson on first. They had set the stage from the West. But Bruce was there on the other side of the Wall, at the right time and the right place to knock it right out of the park.

Winning over their Hearts and Minds and their Hips and their Feet as well.

Rock ʻnʼ Roll Music inspired, excited and subverted, hitting deep, physically, mentally, and spiritually, where no bullets can ever go.

In 1989 the borders had come down, the Wall came down. And the time was right for dancing in the street.

Which brings us back to that infamous moment, five years later and thirty years ago this week. Strip away the spectacle of what looks on the surface to be just another American Pop ʻnʼ Roll Award Show with some cringe worthy hairstyles, and you will find in actuality, a no more symbolic moment of the Cold Warʼs end than the MTV Video Music Awards of 1994. Thatʼs right.

The MTV VMAʼs traditionally like to open with a big surprise like the memorable opening in 1991 with Pee Wee Herman at the height of his controversy asking, “Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?”
And then they like to end the show with a big (they hope) show-stopping moment; a climatic confetti spewing huge shebang with alternately, a large balloon drop, dancing dwarfs, and/or Axl Rose running around out of breath, etc. etc.

The MTV VMAʼs of ʻ94 were hosted by Rosanne Barr at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was broadcast around the world and was seen by 250 million people in over 100 countries world-wide.

The broadcast opened with the surprise of Michael Jackson hand-in-hand with his new “bride” Lisa Marie Presley welcoming everyone to the show. Resembling a sort of over-blown Pop Royal Wedding reception, he kissed his new bride and they walked off. And then the show got underway.

The show ended with the Leningrad Cowboys with the Alexandrov Red Army Ensemble. The Leningrad Cowboys are actually Finnish and were put together (much like The Monkees) for the popular Indie film, “The Leningrad Cowboys Go America”. This time they were out promoting a sequel, “The Leningrad Cowboys meet Moses”. They form quite a striking profile with their painted red stripe suits, foot tall pompadours and extra foot long pointy shoes.

But, in all the goofy pompadour and circumstance of the MTV broadcast, it was maybe too hard to see what was really happening... yes the Leningrad Cowboys are from Finland, but behind them actually was the Russian Red Army Choir (not a stage name) made up of Soviet soldiers or to give them their proper title, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation under the leadership of President Boris Yeltsin. It might have looked like a staged novelty goof off to anyone watching in the West, but there they were, the Russian Red Army Choir and Ensemble singing an American song, a Southern American Rock song at that, Lynyrd Skynyrd's, “Sweet Home Alabama.”

— MTV Video Music Awards of 1994 —

To put it another way… there is no more symbolic a moment, that the war has finally ended than bringing the enemy Army into their enemyʼs Capital City, putting them up on a stage and broadcasting live, for all the whole world to see, here was the enemy singing their enemyʼs song.

They were not coerced, they were not forced at the point of a gun, they were not tortured into submission, and this wasnʼt a condition of their release.

The war was over and you know what, the Russians were only too glad to be there, singing at the top of their lungs, and you know why? 

Because they LOVE ROCK ʻnʼ ROLL!!!

But after all is said and done, 
It's only Rock 'n' Roll. 


All Time is Now with DJ Shark
Heard 'round the World
For your listening pleasure, 
and to share with your friends,
additional episodes can be found at…

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

All Time is Now • The first Rock 'n' Roll song?

What was the first Rock 'n' Roll song?
The history of Rock 'n' Roll music is full of brilliant mistakes; the goofs, the after thoughts, "Hell, we're just messin' around." and the unintended consequences of catching lightning in a bottle... by instinct and/or by accident.

What was the first? 

There is a lot of debate about what is the first true Rock 'n' Roll recording. Is it Big Joe Turner's, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in 1954 or Bill Haley and His Comets' version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" later that same year (with a different arrangement and vibe). Some go back even further... Big "Mama" Thornton's original version of "Hound Dog" in 1953, or Fats Dominoe's "The Fat Man" in 1949, there's also the great Wynonie Harris', "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1948 or Freddie Slack's "House of Blue Lights" in 1946. Or the often-sited, "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (AKA Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm) in 1951. 

But, of course there's also what went down at Memphis Recording Service / SUN Studios on July 5th, 1954. The day when Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black recorded Arthur Crudup's, "That's All Right, Mama". 

— Elvis, Bill, Scotty and Sam at Memphis Recording —

That's when it ALL came together. 

And here's why; for me the exciting thing about the birth of Rock 'n' Roll is the mixture of genres and cultures, with opposites / polarities meeting, blending, mixing and smashing together in such a way that if one was to dissect it and try and look at each unique part... there would be no cracks that anyone could see, there are no seams, you cannot see the joins. The blend is flawless. 

What went into it and what came out?
It is the Black and the White blending in harmony. 

When I say, Black Culture, we all have some idea of what that is... musically speaking; Gospel, Blues, R&B, Soul, and on through the decades to Hip-Hop and Rap, etc. etc. Whatever you thought, would probably be right, It's a deep, deep culture. 

And [if you'll indulge me for the purposes of this essay] if I say White Culture, (a term that likely has more of a socio-political impression than a musical one) one might be talking about, Sacred Hymns, Irish folk, Hillbilly music, Tin Pan Alley, or Country music and, Western (which actually used to refer to ballads from Western films!). There is a rich deep culture on both sides of the tracks. 

The often mentioned, Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" is a record that rocks! No doubt about it, and is one of the most important revolutionary moments in recorded history, period. 

Unfortunately, Ike Turner's legacy has now been boiled down to basically his cocaine-fueled beatings of Tina in the 1970's. But he was also a brilliant bandleader in the 50's, 60's and well into the 70's, influencing a whole generation of British rockers (The Beatles, The Stones, etc. etc. etc.) The former fact is always mentioned, while the latter is rarely mentioned, if at all. 

"Rocket 88" is great, but it isn't all encompassing, it doesn't involve ALL music genres. And it doesn't have to, "Rocket 88" musically is very much rooted in the black Rhythm & Jump Blues of the 1940's and 50's. Its revolution is in the distorted rhythm guitar being forward in the mix. (distorted because legend has it, the amp fell off the car on route to the studio, causing the sound to be all dirty).

— "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats —

Ike himself said, in an interview with Holger Petersen published in his book TALKING MUSIC: Blues Radio and Roots Music...

“… they say "Rocket 88" was the first Rock 'n' Roll song, but the truth of the matter is, I don't think that "Rocket 88" is Rock 'n' Roll. I think that "Rocket 88" is R&B, but I think "Rocket 88" is the cause of rock and roll existing...” 

I agree with Ike, the other early contenders I mentioned above were based very much in musical styles that contributed to Rock 'n' Roll, from Boogie Woogie to the jumped up post Big Band Blues and R&B of the 1940's. Elvis' version of "That's All Right, Mama" effortlessly seems to be everything at once, incorporating and blending at least six distinct musical genres or sub-genres. 

Earlier, on that fateful day, July 5th at the SUN Session, Elvis is recording some Dean Martin ballads and Country songs. It's not exactly going that well. Nice kid, good voice, but nothing special at all. During a break, Elvis' picks up his guitar and is goofin' around playing a Hillbilly version of a Blues song by Arthur Crudup. The rest of the guys join in. 
(For some context, here's the original from 1946)...

— "That's All Right, Mama"  by Arthur Crudup (original version) —

— "That's All Right, Mama"  by Elvis Presley, Scotty & Bill —

Sam Phillps is in the other room and hears this, comes back in the studio and says, 

"What's that? What are you doing?!?" 

Elvis' replies, "Oh we're just messin' around." 

Sam says quickly, "Well, go back and do it again and I'll roll tape." 


"What Was That?"

A Blues wail with a Country holler 
The Sacred church with the Gospel spiritual 
Jumpin' Jive with a Hillbilly hiccup 
Boogie Woogie with a Western Swing 

Yes, "Just messin' around" 

With the Black and with the White. 

And Elvis isn't alone in all this. "Just messin' around" with him is Scotty Moore whose revolutionary guitar work can best be described as Jazz licks with a Country Twang. 
And the rhythm? 
Well those aren't drums that you hear (there was no drummer on the session). It is the pure rhythm engine of Bill Black, slappin' the double bass with some SUN studio slap-back delay on top. Playin' a jumped up Blues beat as if in a Hillbilly hoedown. 

Upon listening to the playback of the song, bassist Bill Black said, "If anyone hears this, we'll be run out of town!" Only someone who lived in the South during the fifties fully knows what he meant by that. But there was no denying, this was something new, exciting, hell, this was different! 

This moment is no doubt the birth of Rockabilly. But with any great Big Bang moment, it will shoot off into numerous directions... taking with it the tributaries of the past which now will be heard in a different way with different ears. The past led to this moment in time, and now the future will expand from this moment in time. Forward and backwards. 

The next evening, the trio got together again to record a B-Side, after going over some songs, and again during a break, Bill Black, jokingly started playing Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" singing in a high pitched voice impersonating Monroe. Elvis joins in singing in his own voice and lightning struck again. But this is from the opposite direction... where "That's All Right, Mama" was a Hillbilly version of a Blues song, this was a Jumped up R&B version of a Bluegrass song. 

"We're just messin' around."
(For some context, here's the original from 1946)...

— "Blue Moon of Kentucky" by Bill Monroe (original version) —

— "Blue Moon of Kentucky" by Elvis Presley, Scotty & Bill — 

The first session wasn't a fluke, this again was something new! The boys recorded two versions, one slow and one fast. After listening to the playback of the fast one, Sam Phillips, exclaimed, "Fine, man! Hell, that's different. That's a Pop song now!" 
Elvis didn't steal Black music, he loved it. Many radio stations actually thought that he was black when he released his first records. But Elvis wasn't strictly an R&B artist. The record company pushed his singles to Country Radio. He was being accepted and rejected by both sides. The blending and mix of all this "messin' around" is because of who Elvis was, a poor Southern white boy from the wrong side of the tracks. With a love of black Rhythm & Blues (BB King to Big "Mama" Thornton) and of white Hillbilly Country (Jimmy Rogers to Hank Snow) and an enthusiasm to share what he had found. 

The Elvis' debut single, "That's All Right" by Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill, came out on SUN Records (on 78rpm and 45rpm) on July 19th just two weeks after it was recorded. And by September, the B-Side, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" became the #1 radio hit in Memphis. Unfortunately due to a lack of national distribution it was just a regional hit, but it was the beginning of a new era that would change the world. And Elvis would get to record another single.

— Sam Phillips at Memphis Recording / SUN Studios —

Back on July 5th 1954 everything changed, I'm just glad Sam Phillips was there to get it all down on tape. 
But after all is said and done, 

It's only Rock 'n' Roll. 


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