This book was originally written in 1982 and was rewritten in 2014.
The book originated out of a History of Rock Music course that I ran for a number of years. I traced the history of Rock Music from its roots in 1900 right up to the post Punk era. It outlines the various genres and major artists and explores the relationships between them through a number of flow charts.
I have also included a number of tables of all the best tracks of all the major artists in each genre. Obviously I have impeccable taste.
Below in an extract from the book. I hope you like it.
Rock is Dead. That is what Jim Morrison proclaimed in 1970. He was wrong. Rock is alive and well.
Rock as a universal unifying force for Youth Culture is dead. For most young people it would appear that music is incidental to their life. It has become a consumable product to be bought and discarded. For those to whom it is central it has become an easy recognisable cult with dedicated devotees.
It was not always the case.
In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s music was the focus for social change. It was the unifying force for fashion, politics, attitude, morality and social perspective. Rock was the vehicle that youth culture rode on. Its influence was universal. Rock ‘n’ Roll, Beat music, Psychedelia and Punk were world-wide phenomena. It is salutary to look back at the 60’s psychedelic phenomena and see long-hair bands complete with kaftans, bell-bottoms and accoutrements springing up all over the world including Peru, Afghanistan, Australia, Tokyo, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Everyone wanted to be part of the scene. They all wanted to be the Beatles, Stones, Floyd, Hendrix or Doors.
Everything now is controlled by the ‘Biz’ and run for profit.
I guess it was ever thus. It did not seem like it though. It seemed that the music was a revolution that was changing the world. It was made by us and controlled by us. It was not a product. It was an emotional portrayal of how we felt. It was ours, of us, by us and for us.
But then I’ve always been an idealist.
Well – I lived through it all. I’ve seen most of them and got to meet some of them. I have enjoyed a life-time of Rock Music. It has been central to everything I have done. It has affected my philosophy and impinged on every aspect of my life. I’ve lived it.
I am sitting here in 2013 looking forward over the next few weeks to a programme that includes Nick Harper, Roy Harper, The Magic Band, North Mississippi Allstars and Leonard Cohen. Wow! I’m looking forward to it. I’m 64 and still rockin’.
Back in the 1980s I ran an adult education on the history of Rock Music. I had great fun even though it cost me a fortune. My vinyl collection grew exponentially.
This book is an extension of that course. I first wrote a four volume book totalling 1500 pages entitled Rock Strata. It told the whole story of Rock Music through from the early 1900s to 1982. A publisher loved it. He loved my charts. He just thought it was a little too long. He wanted me to cut it down to 200 pages.
This is the rewrite of that attempt!
This book is the history of Rock Music up until 1982. I stopped there. I could have continued but it all rather broke up into fragments. There have been a number of those fragments that I continue to love but others I get frustrated by. I hate overproduced muzac for the hard of thinking. I hate product.
I love good, live, raw, loud, exciting music. I want my stuff straight from the heart, head and gut – not the bank.
This book shows how the different aspects of Rock Music developed and evolved. Nothing is ever new. True innovators are extremely rare. I’ve heard a few. Everything comes out of what has come before. You can always see where it has come from.
One of my Rock students started my course hating Country & Western. By the end of the course he had an extensive collection of 1930s/40s Country. He had ‘discovered’ it by looking at the influences acting on the music he enjoyed. He found it was stuff he’d never heard or listened to. He loved it.
This book tries to show you the things that influenced the music you love. Perhaps you will find other artists or genres you didn’t know about? Perhaps it will captivate you the way it has me?
It doesn’t matter what you love as long as you love something. It doesn’t matter if we love the same things. Half the fun is arguing the toss over songs, bands and genres.
This is Rock Music – not Pop. This is my kind of stuff. I grew up with it. It changed me. I love it!
Rock ‘n’ Roll Music
Rock ‘n’ Roll is nothing more than black Rhythm & Blues played by white musicians with a bit of Country & Western thrown in for good measure. There are exceptions to this but this definition allows us to see the complicated interwoven relationship that exists between the music that became known as Rock ‘n’ Roll and its black cousin Rhythm ‘n’ Blues. Throughout their short evolution the two styles have become so closely associated that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. Indeed there is a great deal of confusion as to which type of music an artist is playing within the confines of a single performance or album.
Does it matter?
Not really. It only matters if you want to explore the various avenues that lead to the stuff you love.
You might find a few more things to get enthusiastic about.
You may get to understand why you appreciate it.
It is possible to trace the roots of Rock music right back to the 18th and 19th centuries with the introduction of African rhythms and beat to the European Folk Tradition. This was a meeting of spirits that was to reach fruition in the Southern States of America, particularly New Orleans in Louisiana and Memphis Tennessee. It was a merger that first gave rise to Country Blues, Cajun and Gospel. It led to Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Jazz, Bluegrass, Honky Tonk and Country Boogie. In the early part of the 1950s it gave birth to a vigorous hybrid that came to be known the world over as Rock ‘n’ Roll.
It took the world by storm and altered all our lives. It was a revolution. It was strongly allied to the prevailing youth culture of teenagers that emerged after World War 2.
The very name itself set the whole tone for everything that followed. It was coined by Alan Freed who borrowed it from the black slang for sex. It set generation against generation and rocked the world. It instigated a sexual revolution and social change on unheard of proportions. It upset the prevailing racial and gender attitudes and provoked the move to equality and freedom that prevails today. It set in motion a climate of questioning that altered the deferential way people thought about politicians.
The moment Elvis shook his hips the world would never be the same. Even Elvis did not have a clue that would happen. He was as bemused as everyone else. It took on a life of its own. It was powerful.
To understand where it began and where it went we have to go back to the very beginning. The story of Rock begins with the fusing of the two cultural traditions in the latter part of the 19th century to produce a new type of music that we now refer to as Country Blues. This was first written about by W C Handy who recalls hearing a black musician playing this style of music at the railway station in Tutwiler Mississippi in 1903. He was playing an old guitar by running up and down the frets with a penknife. W C Handy was hearing Country Blues, bottle-neck style, for the first time. He was captivated.
The insistent African beat was imported into the USA along with the captured Blacks destined for a life of slavery in the cotton fields of the Deep South, especially the plantations of the Mississippi Delta which was particularly productive.
African slaves were prevented from carrying on their native traditions and forced to adopt the dress, housing, language, religion and attitudes of their ‘masters’. In particular the use of drums was prohibited. The plantation owners were terrified of an insurrection. They thought that the black slaves could communicate though drumming. They might seek to get organised. However, music was encouraged. It was seen as a harmless recreational outlet. It had its uses in the workplace. Work chants in the field and ‘Shouts’, with songs such as where the song ‘Pick a bale of cotton’ was derived, were useful to promote productiveness. Black musicians even provided entertainment for white plantation owners. It raised morale. The black musicians were introduced to western style instruments – including such instruments as banjos, guitars, harmonicas, pianos, and mandolins – and western style music including hymns, folk songs, country reels and popular ballads. It all went into the mix.
The mix fermented for a hundred years or so before coming together as a distinctive style of music around the turn of the 20th century. It was inevitable. The black musicians had taught themselves the rudiments of western instruments and in so doing had introduced the African beat and rhythms of their African heritage. When this was applied to hymns the end result was Gospel. With Blues it was a little more complicated. The Blues was a name given to a musical form that had a great deal of variety. It evolved differently in different parts of the country. It incorporated the various prevailing musical influences from the black slaves’ environment and distilled it into a new musical style. These influences included Gospel, traditional Folk, Hillbilly country music and popular ballads. When these musical forms amalgamated with the intrinsic African rhythm the result was the 12-bar blues.
In some forms the Blues was seeped in emotion, agonising and soulful, as it attempted to communicate the trials and tribulations of being an oppressed people living in extreme hardship in a tough environment. In this form it often acted as a catharsis for the pent-up frustrations resulting from ill-use and mistreatment. In other forms it told the story of stolen pleasures, of women, violence and drinking that were also part of black man’s everyday life and part of the hardship within which he lived. But the Blues was not always sad. In other forms it was fast and beaty, used as dance music at the country barbeques known as ‘Jukes’. These songs were happy and carefree and reflected the good times when people would get together to eat, drink, dance and have a good time. These ‘Jukes’ would have people playing solo or in little combos known as ‘Jug Bands’. A whole genre of Blues was concerned with risqué songs based on double entendres that were well beyond the normal scope of white music. The Blues was also incorporated into the Spirituals, Gospel and Work songs of the era. A lot of these itinerant musicians would move around, tailoring their repertoire to the occasion or audience. It was not unusual for them to perform a range of Blues styles as well as popular songs and ballads. What was recorded was not always what being played.
The times were hard and musicians tended to choose instruments that were fairly cheap to buy. When they couldn’t afford an instrument they improvised – creating Diddley Bo’s out of nails and piano wire or the side of their wooden shacks, or commandeering washboards, thimbles, spoons or bottles. An early Jug Band, such as Bo Carter’s Mississippi Sheiks or Sleepy John Estes Jug Band, might consist of guitar, mandolin, washboard, jug, harmonica and spoons.
Many of the early Country Blues performers were blind or crippled. There was no welfare. If you couldn’t work the fields you would starve to death. The way out was to become a musician and play the ‘Hollers’ and ‘Shouts’ to accompany the workers in the field, to busk on street corners or play the dives and Jukes. This was how Peg-leg Howell, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Sonny Terry and Blind Snooks Eaglin made a living. Others, like Blind Jimmy Johnson augmented their playing by being preachers. It was play or starve.
If you were busking you had to capture an audience. This led to the whole tradition of showmanship that culminated in some of the wild acts of Chicago Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll and persisted through to Rock Music of today. Tommy Johnson was famous for doing handstands while he played his guitar. Later T-Bone Walker would play his guitar behind his head while doing the splits or walk his guitar round the sage playing it with one hand. It was the sort of stuff that led into Chuck Berry’s duck-walking, Bo Diddley’s square guitars and Screaming Jay Hawkin’s macabre voodoo act.
Unlike most of the sophisticated popular white music of the 30s and 40s, with its ditties and crooning, the Blues was real. It did not try to couch reality in candy or look at the world through rose-tinted view of the world. It spoke of real feelings that hadn’t been sentimentalised and the realities of life bringing, drink, sex and even death out from under the carpet. It was precisely because of this earthiness that contemporary white bourgeoisie audiences found it primitive, vulgar and crude. They saw it with the eyes and ears of their day. It was the decadent music of a primitive race. They condemned it as immoral and of no musical worth. Those same characteristics were what attracted white British youth in the 60s. They saw it as real music.
This music had limited commercial viability though it was recorded, like all music, for profit and not love. It was recorded in tiny converted rooms at the back of record stores and released on small independent ‘Race’ labels that catered for the black population.
This was the age of segregation.
The black population might be poor but they knew how to have a good time and they liked to let their hair down. They had their drinking holes, brothels and even their own radio stations like WKAI in Memphis. Beale street in Memphis and Bourbon Street in New Orleans, like many other black areas were jumping and jiving with Blues and Jazz. The radio stations played ‘The Devil’s Music’ and featured shows hosted by Blues Singers who acted as DJs such as BB King, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. These shows were usually sponsored by commercial businesses who wanted to advertise their goods to the large black market.
There was a wide range of different styles ranging from the barrel-house Boogie Woogie that emanated from the New Orleans brothels, to the finger picking blues runs of the Texas Blues troubadours to the searing slide-guitar style of the Mississippi delta.
In the 1930s the Delta style often used a National Steel Guitar in order to gain volume when playing in the open air without the use of a P.A. It was open chorded and fretted with a slide on the third finger or a penknife or lighter. The slide was sometimes a length of copper tube but often the neck of a bottle – hence the term Bottle-neck guitar. Sliding the bottle up and down the frets created a shrill oscillating note or chord and was perfected by many of the early musicians such as Charlie Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson. This style was to prove extremely successful when amplified by City Blues musicians such as Elmore James and Muddy Waters.
In the 1930s the Country Blues reflected the life of the southern black share-cropper. It dealt with their struggles, pleasures, pains, fears and preoccupations. The Blues, as described by the great Bessie Smith (an early Jazz/Blues singer who frequented the vaudeville circuit), may have been nothing but a ‘low down dirty feelin’ but even when expressed in the most abject hopelessness there was still an underlying strength to it that suggested that just around the corner ‘the sun was gonna shine someday’.
The fact that the Blues rarely expressed any political content or hatred towards their white oppressors was not because it was not there. It was probably because it was extremely dangerous for black people to express those kind of views. The Klu-Klux-Klan was rampant and ‘justice’ was summary and violent. Any blacks who crossed the line were likely to find themselves burnt, raped, hung or castrated. It was no wonder that it was rare to find those sentiments expressed. There were probably many examples of more radical song-writing but they were reserved for private audiences and rarely found themselves preserved on record.
The recorded heritage of Country Blues is the result of numerous sessions in makeshift studios in the back of hotel rooms, shops and even in the open field on very primitive portable recording equipment that often recorded directly on to vinyl. The output of many major artists, such as Blind Willie McTell, is limited to a few sessions and many early recordings and artists were only preserved due to the efforts of an enlightened white man by the name of Alan Lomax. He toured the South hunting out the relatively unknown artists and recording them on his portable equipment. He followed up rumour and tracked them down discovering new talent on the way. Many artists, including Muddy Waters and Son House, have their early recordings and future careers due to Alan Lomax. He preserved their art for posterity.
Many of these brilliant artists died or faded into obscurity before they could ever come to the attention of white audiences but in the 60s many found themselves rediscovered and their careers resurrected. They were suddenly popular on the white college circuit, in Greenwich Village, the Newport Folk Festival and were rapturously received in Europe. Artists like Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell, Bukka White, Son House, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton and a host of others were brought over to Europe on Blues packages. I’m glad they were. It meant I got to see them play at the Hammersmith Odeon. They were old men but they still played with vigour and dynamism. Son House had us all standing on our seats and yelling. Many of these were performing in front of white audiences for the first time and sadly were soon dead. But they had delved back into their repertoires to dig out those gems from the 1930s and 40s and brought them to life. They filled many gaps in our understanding of the Country Blues. It is just a great shame that greats like Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie and Elmore James didn’t live to see that day when they were lauded by white audiences and treated like the talented men and women they were.
Through the limited recording output of these Blues singers we are able to trace the development of this style through the 1920s with artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Texas Alexander, Blind Willie Johnson, and Charlie Patton through to the thirties with Son House, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, and on to the 1940s with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins before amplification kicked in after the war.
In the 1940s it provided the rhythmical structure that gave rise to many forms of Rhythm & Blues such as Boogie Woogie, City Blues, and Doo-Wop. These were the seminal force behind Rock ‘n’ Roll. In that sense it is possible to view these early exponents of Country Blues, and in particular men like Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Robert Johnson, and Son House as being the founding fathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Where would we be without them?
|Artist||Stand out tracks|
|Son House||Death letter blues
The pony blues
|Robert Johnson||Dust my broom
Sweet home Chicago
Come on in my kitchen
Love in vain
Last fair deal going down
Stop breaking down blues
Milkcow’s calf blues
|Bukka White||Shake ‘em on down
Fixin’ to die blues
Parchman Farm blues
|Sleepy John Estes||Ollie blues
Broke and hunger
The girl I love she got long curly hair
|Skip James||Devil got my woman
Hard time killing floor
I’m so glad
|Big Joe Williams||Baby please don’t go|
|Kokomo Arnold||Milk cow blues
|Bo Carter||Pig meat is what I crave
Banana in your fruit basket
What kind of scent is that
Don’t mash my digger so deep
|Hambone Willie Newbern||Rollin’ & Tumblin’|
|Tommy Johnson||Canned heat blues
Cool drink of water
|Charlie Patton||Spoonful blues
Shake it and break it
High water everywhere
|Furry Lewis||Shake em on down|
|Blind Lemon Jefferson||Match box blues
Broke and hungry
|Blind Willie McTell||Statesboro blues
Broke down engine
|Blind Willie Johnson||Dark was the night cold was the ground
You’ll need somebody on your bond
Nobody’s fault but mine
God moves on the water
|Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee||Sitting on top of the world
Rock Island Line
Step it and go
|Memphis Minnie||Chauffer Blues
Selling my chops
Dirty mother for you
Bumble bee blues
You dirty mistreater
|Peg Leg Howell||Tishamingo blues|
|Lightnin Hopkins||Katie Mae
Let me play with your poodle
Blues in the bottle
Bottle up and go
|Leroy Carr||How long how long blues
Mean mistreating Mama
|Texas Alexander||Levee camp moan|
|Gus Cannon||You can’t blame the coloured man|
|Bessie Smith||T’aint nobody’s business if I do
St Louis blues
I’m wild about that thing
Do your duty
|Victoria Spivey||Black snake blues
Dope head blues
Organ grinder blues
|Lucille Brogan||Shave ‘em dry|