Rock and roll music origins have, and will continue to be debated by fans and music historians alike. Most people believe that the roots of rock and roll come from the southern United States, where the merging of European instrumentation and African musical tradition birthed the sounds we know as rock and roll. In cities like Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland and New York former slaves and their descendants settled in neighborhoods previously dominated by white Americans. Jazz, blues, country, folk and gospel music all had an influence on proceedings and led to a new sound which grew in popularity.
There is no one record that can be dubbed the first rock and roll record as rock and roll was very much an evolutionary process. Contending records started hitting the charts in 1949, such as Jimmy Preston’s ‘Rock the Joint’ or Goree Carter’s ‘Rock Awhile’. However, others argue that it wasn’t until Jackie Brenston released ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951 or even ‘Rock Around The Clock’ by Bill Haley, which was released as late as 1954, that the birth of rock and roll really occurred. Whichever train of thought you agree with, one thing is certain; by 1954 America knew what Rock and Roll was as musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins gained in popularity as they drew on the sounds of country music.
1956 saw the arrival of songs like ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ by Elvis, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by Carl Perkins and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by Johnny Cash. The sound of rock and roll had changed in a few short years and its commercial success was going from strength to strength. The music began to gain popularity in Britain in the mid 1950’s through films like ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and ‘Blackboard Jungle’. The British charts started to feature names like Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley and rock and roll started to take hold of the youth of the time.
British musicians tried to emulate the style of their American counterparts with the Americans maintaining dominant until 1958. Cliff Richard hit number 2 in the British Charts with ‘Move It’ and became, along with his band The Shadows, the most popular homegrown act of the time. With the infamous plane crash of 1959 killing Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, Little Richard retiring to preach the word of God, Jerry Lee Lewis’ scandalous marriage to his thirteen year old cousin, Elvis enlisting in the army, and Chuck Berry getting arrested on allegations of having relations with a fourteen year old waitress, American rock and roll was on the decline. This paved the way for British rock and roll to take over.
The early 1960’s saw major urban centers such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham begin to produce some of the country’s biggest musical names. The Beatles led the way in a rock and roll revival which carried them quickly from national success in 1963 to success on the international stage in 1964, in what became known in America as the ‘British Invasion’. Freddie and the Dreamers, The Searchers, The Animals, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Who followed The Beatles to global fame, all waving the flag for Britain. The sound of the blues became more evident in the music as the early influence of rock and roll subsided and gave way to what became more commonly referred to as simply: rock music.