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Now Bill, over here on bass--I'm sure you've heard of people who don't know nothing--he don't even suspect nothing - Lester Flatt, introducing the members of the Nashville Grass

Author Topic: A Little RnR Anybody?  (Read 1759 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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A Little RnR Anybody?
« on: February 05, 2008, 12:34:27 PM »
No, not Rest and Relaxation but Rock & Roll. Very lengthy but stick with it if you can, there is a kind of historical blues element there somewhere. Scanned from the first issue of BOP 1982, pages 1-18.

Baby That's Rock 'N' Roll
By George Moonoogian

"Rock and Roll" has been an integral part of the music scene for many years now. During this time, however, its parameters have incorporated almost any musical style with even the hint of a beat. Today, when someone states that he or she "likes Rock 'n' Roll," one has a myriad of musical possibilities from which to choose. Heated arguments have arisen over questions such as "What is Rock 'n' Roll?" and "When was the term first used on a record?" It is my sincere hope that this article will finally set the record straight.

Tradition has it that the term "Rock and Roll" was first coined by deejay Alan Freed in the early l950s. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. True, Freed did popularize the term and relate it to a specific music and dance steps which later created a national craze, but invent the term he did not! While many critics theorize that it originally had its roots in sexual connotations found in the lyrics of Rhythm and Blues songs of the late 1940s, the term actually can be traced back for centuries?with some fascinating results.

If you'll permit me to become literary for If you'll permit me to be a moment, the words "rock" and "roll" both entered the English language as verbs during its transitional period in the Middle Ages. Their earliest known definitions certainly set up some very interesting connotations later on.

Rock ? to move or
sway back and forth or from
side to side.

Roll ? to move by turning on an axis over and over.

Thus a person who was "rocking" and "rolling" would be moving or swaying back and forth and side to side while turning or rotating in motion as if on an axle.

Interesting, hmmm?

Could it be long before some illuminated visionary derived sexual implications from these definitions? Even the immortal bard, Billy Shakespeare, states in his poem "Venus and Adonis": My throbbing heart shall rock thee night and day ?One wonders if it was only the lover's heart that was throbbing!

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries also gave us some of our earliest English translations of the Bible. In the King James version (1611), Psalm 22, verse 8 reads in part, "He trusted on the Lord." However, the word translated there as "trusted" ("gahlahl" in Hebrew) was more truly rendered in the 1560 Geneva Bible. In that version the line reads, "He rolled in the Lord." Today our modern "Holy Rollers" define their faith with this term.

By the late nineteenth century, the words "rock" and "roll" had developed certain connotations, and these off-shoot meanings strayed in two diverse directions, one sexual and the other religious. Religious compositions with titles like "Rock My Soul," "Rolling Down To Jordan," and "Roll, Roll Chariot" became commonplace, especially among Negro churchgoers. On the other hand, sensual connotations held forth in tunes like the sea shanty whose lyrics included these lines:

Oh do me, Johnny Bowker,
Come rock 'n' roll me over.

An interesting lyric is also found in the ceremonial Fire Dance of Florida's obeah worshippers:

Bimini gal is a rocker
and a roller

All was set then for the full exploitation of the term when the twentieth century finally arrived.

By the early 1920s, Blues music had begun to establish itself as a saleable item on record, although it was relegated almost entirely to a very segregated audience. One of the earliest hits in this new medium was a song called "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)." It was cut for the Black Swan label by Trixie Smith in the fall of 1922. As far as can be determined, this is the first time the words "rock" and "roll" ever appeared on a record label. The implication is obvious, as can be seen by these definitions from The Dictionary of American Slang:

    Rock ? excellent or satisfying?later
said of jive or swing music?Negroid usage.
    Roll - The act of coitus as enjoyed by a
male. Literally the instance of rolling in bed
with a woman.

Can there be any question as to what Trixie meant?

The song, whose composer credits list one J. Berni Barbour, was covered for the popular music field by Husk O'Hare on the Vocalion label. By 1924 the tune had again made its way to record wax, this time sung by an early black harmony group known as the Southern Quartet. Their version, for Columbia, was titled "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)." This was in turn covered by the Golden Gate Orchestra (a pseudonym for Sammy Stewart's Orchestra) on the Lyratone label, later in the same year.

Not to be outdone, the same song was represented again in a version that reverted back to the original title of "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" by Harold Ortli and His Ohio State Collegians for the Okey [sic] label in 1925. It must have been a sensation at those collegiate lawn parties! The decade's end saw the song appear once more on wax, again on Vocalion, but this time featuring star bluesmen Tampa Red and Georgia Tom Dorsey (as The Hokum Boys), with an exciting vocal by famed Atlantic City female impersonator Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon. This performance, cut in 1929, is remarkable for Jaxon's audacious mimicry of a woman deep in the throes of being "rocked with one steady roll."

While record titles featuring the combined term "rock and roll" were relatively few in the 1920s, the words "rock" and "roll" appeared separately quite frequently, especially in Blues songs. Among the most noted were "Rock, Aunt Dinah, Rock" by "Coot" Grant and "Kid" Wesley Wilson, a husband-and-wife team who recorded on Paramount; The Southerneris "Roll 'Em Girls" for Gennett; Jones' Paramount Charleston Four's "Old Steady Roll Blues" and Willie Lewis' "Steady Roll," both on Paramount; and Lil Johnson's "Rock That Thing" for Vocalion. Of passing interest is an unissued side cut by Bob Robinson for Champion in 1930 with the intriguing title of "Rocking and Rolling." One wonders today just what this waxing was all about.

The early 1930s produced a gradual shift in the interpretation of "rock and roll." With the advent of jazz and swing the term now took on a more "sophisticated" meaning. It basically described a new and elusive style of music and rhythm, one that was definitely sensuous. The Dictionary of American Slang tells us that this early "rock and roll" was "a style of heavily accented, two-beat jazz evolved from 'race' music." Could it be? Had Rock and Roll now been "purified" enough to be presented to a white audience?

Well, present it they did! In the fall of 1934, United Artists released a film called "Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round." In this movie a popular new vocal trio, The Boswell Sisters, sang a song entitled "Rock and Roll." The Boswells were led by Connie Boswell, whose vocal inflections owed much to non-white influences. To coincide with the movie, the Boswells recorded "Rock and Roll" with Jimmie Crier and His Orchestra, and it was released on the Brunswick label. The song was quickly covered by Joe Haymes and His Orchestra for Melotone, and by The Harry Reser Orchestra on Decca. The song was specifically aimed at a style of swing music dancing performed in the movie. Credits for "Rock and Roll" belong to Sidney Clare (lyrics) and Richard Whiting (melody). Thus Clare and Whiting can be truly cited as the composers of the "first" Rock and Roll song! We also have here the first instance of the term "rock and roll" being used exclusively in reference to a dance rather than to an "excellent or satisfying ?act of coitus." The Boswell Sisters had preceded the mid-SOs teeny-boppers by over twenty years!

Toward the end of the 1930s, the term "rock and roll" appeared again in several song titles. The first was Erskine Hawkins' "Rock 'n Rollers' Jubilee," a swinging instrumental cut for Bluebird in 1938. The following year saw Trixie Smith singing a remake of "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" with the Sammy Price Trio on Decca. The standout song of the decade, however, was cut by Buddy Jones for Decca's Country series, also in 1939 It was entitled "Rockin', Rollin' Mama," and is this author's choice for the first "pioneer" Rockabilly tune featuring the words "rock and roll" in both its title and lyrics:

Rockin', Rollin' Mama,
I love the way you rock and roll ?
You ease my troubled mind,
pacify my weary soul.

This song must have been heard by somebody, for among the unissued cuts on the Vocalian label for 1939, there exists what appears to be the answer to this record. It is by Blues singer Merline "The Yas Yas Girl" Johnson, and it is titled "Rock and Rolling Daddy." The mind boggles at the thought of what this unheard gem might contain !

As was the case in the 1920s, the words "rock" and "roll" again appeared separately in numerous song titles of the 1930s, among them Joe Haymes' "Rolling In Love" for Perfect, and Teddy Grace's "Rock It For Me" on Decca. On the Vocalion label alone, there were a number of entries: Louis Lasky and Big Bill Broonzy's "How You Want Your Rollin' Done?," Robert Johnson's "I'm A Steady Rollin' Man," Pete Johnson and Joe Turner's classic, "Roll 'Em Pete," and Curtis Jones' "Roll Me Mama."

Among the more interesting sides in this genre are the ones where a substitute has been used for the word "roll." "Rock," after all, only meant "satisfying;" it was "roll" which carried the connotation of naughtiness. Excellent examples of roll-less "rock" songs are "Rock and Rye" by the Earl Hines Orchestra, featuring a vocal by Walter Fuller, cut for Decca in late 1934; and Big Bill Broonzy's "Let's Reel and Rock," a 1937 waxing issued on both Vocalion and Melotone. Similar in tone was "Rock and Ride," cut by sax-man Harlan Leonard and His Rockets for Bluebird in 1940. In this case, the euphemism of "ride" was a bit suspect?it has a history as long as "roll," and means exactly the same thing.

The 1940s saw more and more songs which employed the two words "rock" and "roll" in a singular capacity, thus solidifying them as staple items in the newly-labeled Blues and Rhythm field. However, the "modern" era of Rock and Roll can be dated to a recording by the Wild Bill Moore Sextet, cut December 18, 1947 and released as Savoy no. 666 in June of 1948. It was entitled "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll" and it bounced around on the R&B charts for the rest of that year. In addition to Wild Bill Moore on tenor sax, musicians of note in this group were Paul Williams (baritone sax), who would cut a monster hit, "The Hucklebuck," with his own group a year later; pianist T. J. Fowler, who also recorded with his own band well into the 1950s; and Phil Guilbeau, who eventually became a featured trumpet player with the Ray Charles Orchestra.

Cover versions of the song by R&B artists include those by The Dole Dickens Quintet on Decca, and Paul Bascomb and His Band on Manor. Of note here is that both covers were released with the title shortened simply to "Rock and Roll." Moore re-recorded the song himself in 1949 for Modern records. This time he too used the shortened title. 1949 also saw the release of "Rock and Roll Blues" by Erline "R&R" Harris. It is not too difficult to imagine what the initials 'R&R" stood for ! With the advent of the 1950s, the term "rock and roll" was firmly entrenched in the Rhythm and Blues field. Bluesman John Lee Hooker used it as a title for his updated version of the older blues "Rock Me Baby," which was released   on Modern in 1950, while Lil' Son Jackson used the same song as the basis for his own "Rockin' and Rollin' " on Imperial in 1951. That same year Billy Ward and the Dominoes had a smash hit, "Sixty Minute Man," and this song, with its insistantly repeated Gonna rock and roll you all night long took the phrase to the number one position on the Rhythm and Blues charts, and also dented several pop charts as well.

Finally, in 1952, exactly thirty years after Trixie Smith first put the words on wax, Gene Ammons and His Band cut a song called simply "Rock, Roll" for the Prestige label.

From there on it was easy. Old "Moondogger" Alan Freed, whose specialty was playing R&B music before it was in vogue with a white teenaged audience, was exposed to the term "rock and roll" constantly during his early deejay sorties. Thus a steady association between the music and the dance led him to "invent" the phrase and transmit it to a new generation eager to dance to that "heavily accented beat evolved from 'race' music." And what does all this prove? Well, maybe it is true that there really isn't anything that's totally new anymore? if there ever was.


My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)
Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters Black Swan 14127 (1922)
My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll) Husk O'Hare Vocalion 15646 (1923)
My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) The Southern Quartet Columbia 140073 (1924)
My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) The Golden Gate Orchestra
Lyratone 11404 (1924)
My Daddy Rocks Me {With One Steady Roll) Harold Ortli & His Ohio State Collegians
Okey 40332 (1925)
My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) Tampa Red & The Hokum Boys
Vocalion 1274   (1929)
Rocking and Rolling Bob Robinson Champion (unissued) (1930) p
Rock and Roll The Boswell Sisters Brunswick 7302 (1934)
Rock and Roll Joe Haymes Orchestra  Melotone 13217 (1934)
Rock and Roll Harry Reser Orchestra,  Decca 285 (1934)
Rock 'n Roller's Jubilee Erskine Hawkins Orchestra Bluebird 7826   (1938)
My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) Sammy Price & Trixie Smith
Decca 7469 (1939)
Rockin', Rollin'Mama Buddy Jones Decca 5731 (1939)
Rock and Rollin' Daddy The Yas Yas Girl [Merline Johnson]
Vocalion (unissued) (1939)
We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll Wild Bill Moore Sextet Savoy 666 (1948)
Rock and Roll Paul Bascomb Orchestra Manor 11 37  (1948)
Rock and Roll Doles Dickens Quintet Decca 48110 (1948)
Rock and Roll Wild Bill Moore Modern 20-674 (1949)
Rock and Roll Blues Erline "R&R" Harris DeLuxe 3220 (1949)
Rock n' Roll John Lee Hooker Modern 20 767  (1950)
Rockin' and Rollin' Lil' Son Jackson Imperial 5113 (1951)
Rock, Roll Gene Ammons & His Band Prestige 921   (1952)
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 11:42:17 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline blueshome

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Re: A Little RnR Anybody?
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2008, 05:50:39 AM »
Well, they say invention is the sudden realisation of the accumulated knowledge of a subject.

Thanks Alan


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