“My Man Rocks Me (with One Steady Roll).” Recorded by vaudevilleBlues singerTrixie Smith, it’s probably the first record to conjoin “rock” and “roll.” It’s not Rock ‘n’ Roll, but makes it clear that Rock ‘n’ Roll is a euphemism for sex.
Bill Haley born. Highland Park, Detroit, Michigan.
Chuck Berry born. Charles Edward Berry, St. Louis, Missouri.
Fats Domino born. Antoine Domino, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Buddy Holly born. Charles Hardin Holley, Lubbock, Texas.
Record Rendezvous opens in Cleveland. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, store owner Leo Mintz sees young African Americans and young white kids are listening to Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, and reportedly adopts the phrase “Rock ‘n’ Roll” to escape the stigma of “Rhythm ‘n’ Blues” when he sponsors dee-jay Alan Freed on WJW. Later, Mintz co-produces Freed’s Moondog Coronation Balls.
First recording with an electric hollow-body guitar. Jazz guitarists George Barnesand Eddie Durham make the first electric guitar recordings a few days apart.
Billboard magazine launches its first Country chart. Country music is called Folk(Even when Elvis Presley’s second LP is released in October 1956, the liner notes say, “Of commercial folk music, Presley is perhaps the most original singer sinceJimmie Rodgers.”)
Rhythm & Blues reaches the nation from Nashville. At a time when most music on radio is still “live,” disc jockey Gene Nobles begins all-night broadcasting on Nashville’s WLAC. Some students bring some R&B records to him. They elicit so much mail, he continues. The following year, Ernie Young starts Ernie’s Record Mart in Nashville to sell records on Nobles’ show. Two years later, Randy Wood in nearby Gallatin, Tennessee begins advertising on Nobles’ show and ships packages of R&B records throughout the nation from Randy’s Record Shop. Gene Nobles, Randy Wood, Ernie Young, WLAC’s daytime R&B dee-jay, John. R. (Richbourg), and Hoss Allen are all white, and so are some of their listeners and customers.
“Guitar Boogie.” Country guitarist Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith records the prototypical Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental. It becomes a Rock ‘n’ Roll hit in 1959 for the Virtues; that same year, the Rock-a-Teens add words to create “Woo Hoo.” Smith’s record ushers in a craze for Hillbilly Boogie records; some of them very close to what became known as Rockabilly.
Beginning of Black Radio. In Memphis, a Country and Pop station, WDIA, becomes the first station to exclusively program African American music and talk shows.B.B. King signs on as an on-air musician and dee-jay. In response to WDIA’s immediate success, WHBQ programs Dewey Phillips’Red Hot and Blue show in the evening after WDIA goes off the air. Phillips becomes a pioneering disc jockey, playing Elvis Presley’s first record repeatedly and creating a white teenage audience for R&B.
Fats Domino begins recording in New Orleans. His first single, “The Fat Man,” is based closely on a local drug song, “Junker Blues,” recorded by New Orleans singer Champion Jack Dupree in 1941. Domino’s record becomes an R&B hit.
Sixty Minute Man. The Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” eclipses “Rocket 88” as the best-selling R&B record of 1951. The lyrics include the line “I’ll rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long,” underscoring that Rock ‘n’ Roll is a synonym for sex.
Alan Freed’s Moondog show begins on WLW, Cleveland. Freed begins saying “Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Rhythm ‘n’ Blues.”
Birth of Top 40. KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska becomes the first Top 40 station, playing only hits in rotation.
Johnnie Ray’s “Cry.” Ray, who records for Columbia’s R&B subsidiary OKeh, is a white Pop singer but his theatrically over-the-top delivery and heavier-than-usual backbeat are cloned from R&B. “Cry” reportedly sells two million copies.
Bill Haley covers “Rock the Joint.” A little known R&B record, it attracts more attention when Haley covers it. Those seeing Haley at the time report that he plays at unusually high volume. His music fuses sleek R&B, notably the Treniers andLouis Jordan, with east coast Country music, and Haley begins tailoring for music to teenage hops instead of the Country audiences.
“Bandstand” begins as a local show in Philadelphia. Several different formats are tried until WFIL settles on teenagers dancing to records.
Sun Records launches in Memphis. The label began one year earlier with one release, but went into abeyance while Phillips secured financing and distribution.
Bill Haley cracks the Pop charts with the first Rock ‘n’ Roll hit, “Crazy, Man Crazy.”He changes the name of his group from the Saddlemen to the Comets.
Writing in Cash Box magazine, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records talks about theBlues renaissance in the South. “Distributors there about two years ago began to report to white high school and college kids were picking upon the Rhythm & Blues records, primarily to dance to. From all accounts, the movement was initiated by youthful hillbilly fans rather than pop bobby-soxers.”
Alan Freed moves from Cleveland to WINS, New York. At a time when Pop singers are covering Rhythm ‘n’ Blues songs, Freed makes a policy of only playing the original versions. His shows on Cleveland’s WJW are carried on WNJR, Newark, New Jersey before he’s hired by WINS, New York. Shows he promotes at the Newark Armory and then at the St. Nicholas Arena, New York and the Brooklyn Paramount are all-star revues that set the format for Rock ‘n’ Roll package shows.
England: the beginning of the Skiffle craze. The rhythm section of Chris Barber’sNew Orleans revivalist Jazz band records some “skiffle” songs with banjoistLonnie Donegan singing lead. “Skiffle” was a 1920s term for a rent party, but the revivalists, who slavishly re-create early New Orleans Jazz, latch onto “skiffle” as shorthand for Folk and Blues songs sung with home-made or low-cost instruments, like washboards and kazoos. The first recorded Skiffle songs in England include Huddie Ledbetter’s “Rock Island Line,” later a hit in England and the United States.
Blue Suede Shoes. Carl Perkins scores an era-defining hit on Sun with “Blue Suede Shoes,” and appears to be running a close second behind Presley for a month or two, but can never find the elusive follow-up. His music influences the Beatles, who record three of his songs.
Finding the “Next Elvis.” Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins are initially perceived asCountry artists because they started on the Country circuit. Record labels instruct their Nashville divisions to find the “next Presley.” Buddy Holly, Johnny Burnette,Conway Twitty, Gene Vincent, and many others are brought to Nashville to recordRockabilly or, as Billboard magazine dubs it, “trick warbling.” None, except Vincent, is successful at the time, although Johnny Burnette’s recordings with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio are later viewed as the apogee of Rockabilly, and introduce distorted fuzz-tone guitar. Roy Orbison, another Country singer who’d gone Rockabilly, signs with Sun and scores his first hit, “Ooby Dooby.”
Rockabilly. Coined by music industry trade papers, the first known use is in a press release for Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula.” A few weeks later, it’s in aBillboard review of Ruckus Tyler’s “Rock Town Rock.” The word doesn’t catch on until the late 1960s when European record dealers begin using “Rockabilly” to describe records modeled on Presley’s Sun recordings.
Bill Haley in Europe. Haley brings Rock ‘n’ Roll to Europe, and remains a star there. Back home, his records have disappeared from the upper reaches of Billboard’sHot 100 singles chart.
Little Richard renounces Rock ‘n’ Roll. On a tour of Australia, Richard throws his jewelry into Sydney Harbor and plans to enter the seminary after he returns to the United States.
Bandstand goes coast-to-cast. Looking for a 3:30PM show, ABC-TV picks upBandstand from WFIL in Philadelphia, bringing the show and its new host, Dick Clark, to the network and changing the title to American Bandstand. By 1959, it has a national audience of 90 million. It runs until 1989.
Stereo is standardized after years of experimentation. From this point, nearly all major label recordings are made in stereo.
Payola scandal. Paying for airplay passed more or less unnoticed when it was prevalent in R&B radio in the early 1950s, but the major labels pressure Congressbecause the R&B indies are using the same tactics to promote Rock ‘n’ Roll. The result in Alan Freed’s dismissal from his television and radio shows in New York, but Dick Clark emerges unscathed, although he owns record labels and promotes his own product on Bandstand.
Market Share: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s share of the recorded music market is estimated at 42.7%.
Elvis Presley returns to Memphis after two years in the Army. His singles are more varied (mid-tempo Rock songs like “Make Me Know It,” a reimagined Neapolitanballad, “O Sole Mio” (“It’s Now or Never”), and a 1920s Pop song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”) Later in the year, he records a Southern Gospel LP, His Hand in Mine.
Roy Orbison reinvents the Pop song. After a brief career as a Rockabilly singer onSun, Orbison employs his dramatic range and newfound flair for writing quasi-operatic ballads into a new career. His records such as “Only the Lonely,” “In Dreams,” and “It’s Over” influence Bruce Springsteen and many others.
The dance craze. Inspired the moves of mostly African American dancers onBandstand, there are new dances almost weekly. The most successful is theTwist, popularized by Chubby Checker on Dick Clark’s Saturday night television show and then on Bandstand.
Wolfman Jack begins broadcasting on XERF. After a chill descends on radio following the payola investigations, stations located just south of American-Mexican border broadcast with megawattage into the United States and bring back some of the freewheeling spirit of early R&B/Rock ‘n’ Roll radio.
Northwest garage rock. With an amateur-punk-rockabilly style, groups like the Wailers and the Kingsmen emerge from Portland-Seattle. The Kingsmen score with a garage version of an R&B-calypso song, “Louie, Louie,” and the Wailers also score with “Tall Cool One.” Playing old R&B together with self-composed Rock songs, they’re ahead of the British Invasion.
Beatlemania. Picked up by Capitol, thirty of their songs enter the Billboard Pop chart, including the old Vee-Jay and Swan singles, and six of them reach No.1. In March, Billboard announces that sales of Beatles records make up 60 percent of all singles sold.
The Rock era. Rock ‘n’ Roll’s simplicity gives way to music of increasing complexity, in part because studio technology permits more overdubs with the advent of half-inch eight track tape (earlier recording tape held between one and four tracks). The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds are among the first LPs to take advantage of layered recording and studio technology.
Rolling Stone magazine launches. Together with Creem (1969), Rolling Stone(named for the group and thus the Muddy Waters song) brings long-form journalism to Rock music, mixing music coverage with politics. The magazine, says founder Jann Wenner, “is not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”
The Band. In a parallel reaction against the self-absorption and self-indulgence ofRock music, Bob Dylan’s former backing group call themselves The Band and record back-to-basics LPs rooted in Country, Soul, and vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll.Creedence Clearwater Revival find greater commercial success with the same approach.
Elvis. After spending the years since his return from the Army largely consumed with making forgettable movies, Elvis stars in a television special, Elvis, dubbed the Comeback Special. His single, “In the Ghetto,” becomes his first Top 3 hit since 1963.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opens in Cleveland. Many consider that it should have opened in Memphis, but the city of Cleveland underwrote the building with $65 million. The Hall’s original list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll is predominated by songs, artists, and styles that originated in the Triangle.