There are two versions of the invention of rock and roll. Story One says (white) country music and (black) rhythm and blues collided, one mysterious day in 1955, in the heads of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Little Richard, and a strange new beast emerged, which Lo ! was Rock and Roll. Story Two says that this is a typical oversimplification of a long and complex evolution. Start with Ragtime, take a line through Tin Pan Alley, Duke Elllington and Robert Johnson, and we see a swirling phantasmagoria of music which changes gradually. At some arbitrary point we decide to label it “rock and roll”.
I quite like Story Two because I am a Child of the Sixties and have always found myself working backwards from Zeppelin and Clapton through John Lee Hooker, Son House, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnston, and Scott Joplin. I fell in love with the blues. Just recently I bought some Elmore James – not sure why I had ignored him before. He is amazing, and was idolised by Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and Peter Green. When I listened to my new purchase however I was surprised. From 1955, “Sunnyland” is straight ahead blues :
but “I Was A Fool” is fully formed rock and roll. In fact it sounds just like Chuck Berry only better.
and “Goodbye Baby” sounds kinda like Blueberry Hill :
How come Chuck Berry and Fats Domino got famous and Elmore James didn’t ?
Finally, for the “who invented rock and roll” detectives, we have the real source of the Nile : Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats – a band put together by Ike Turner. Four years before Elvis or Haley, the whole thing was there :