Rhythm and Blues
World War II changed America's economic and social conditions dramatically, and, as always, the new socioeconomic circumstances were revealed in new musical behavior. The new music was not immediately available throughout America, however, because the giant record companies, the "majors" – RCA, Columbia, Decca, Capitol, MGM, and Mercury – thought that it was too much of a risk. Big corporations go for guaranteed profit, so they continued with their usual fare – Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Doris Day, and the other established winners.
The majors produced the recording sessions, manufactured the recordings, pressed them out in their own factories, and distributed them through their own network of wholesale outlets. Included among the established winners were some black stars like the Ink Spots, Nat "King" Cole, the Mills Brothers, and Lena Horne. Their music was not representative of real black life in America, however. They were black stars, marvelously talented and very professional, but they were creating a white musical product for a white audience. They were not indifferent to the plight of their race, and they often used their fame and wealth to improve things. Still, they were part of the "white" pop music establishment.
Meanwhile, in the genuine black community, a revolution was taking shape – a monumental upheaval which would lift black music up and put it in the absolute center of mainstream American pop music. Five war-related circumstances were responsible for this revolution: population shifts, an emerging black pride, new black purchasing power, technological advances in the recording industry, and economic changes in the music business.
Large numbers of human beings moved all over the globe during World War II. Eighteen to twenty-five year old men by the thousands volunteered for the military. They took with them the folk and pop music of their home territories – country music from Texas and Tennessee, blues from the fields of Alabama, standard pop tunes from Oregon and Wisconsin, etc. They lay on their Army cots listening to the music of other servicemen, sometimes hearing, for the first time, tunes far different from what they had heard in their childhoods.
Entire divisions of military personnel were airlifted from one continent to another in a few weeks, and boys who had never been very far away from home found themselves on duty overseas. Civilians, too, especially the blue-collar laboring class, left the Deep South and the rural Mid-West for employment in the big cities.
Nearly a million Southern blacks moved to work in the shipyards and airplane factories of the West and in Northern industrial centers. "This migrant black population contained not only a significant number of talented performers, but also a vast potential audience seeking entertainment of the kind they had grown familiar with 'back home'" (Futrell 1982, 8).
Entertainment back home included, of course, authentic black music, not the pop music being turned out by the white major labels. Soon the music of black inner-city nightclubs and bars took on the highly charged vocal emotionalism of down-home blues and storefront gospel, mixed with the throbbing rhythms of the boogie-woogie pianists and the famous black big bands. Thus, by the late 1940s, the big industrial centers with large black populations – Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere – exploded with the new music, called "jump blues" for a while, but soon universally known in both black and white circles as rhythm and blues, and later, as R&B.
America's black citizens had fought valiantly in World War II, and had carried out their patriotic duties on the home front right alongside the whites with bond rallies, scrap metal collections, paper recycling, gas rationing, touring entertainment shows, and the like.
Despite wartime promises, however, when the country returned to business as usual, it was discrimination as usual, with blacks still being excluded from white areas of entertainment.
They were compelled to turn for entertainment to their own ghettos where the jukebox, whose use greatly expanded during the wartime shortage of live music, had become the instrument for listening and dancing (Shaw 1986, 187-188).
The black community took great pride in the accomplishments of Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, but they knew full well that Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and the other white bandleaders had become famous and wealthy partly because of their marvelous talents to be sure, but also just because they were white, and therefore favored by the white corporations in control of the music industry.
With the new rhythm and blues style (henceforth abbreviated R&B), they were determined to avoid being exploited again by unscrupulous white agents and record companies. The same mixed feeling of "rage, resentment, and pride in black musicians' commercially undervalued artistry and creativity" was the basis, incidentally, of the be-bop revolution which was taking shape elsewhere in the black community (Shaw 1986, 188).
NEW BLACK PURCHASING POWER
Brutal as the hard-core black poverty was in the cities of the North, it was still an improvement over share-cropping in the South. The good salaries paid in the war-related industrial plants of the North created small business opportunities for black-owned clothing outlets, grocery stores, auto repair shops, dry cleaning services, household goods, neighborhood restaurants, bars, dance halls, apartment buildings, and such.
The result was a new experience for the blacks – what economists call "disposable income" – and part of the disposable income that went for entertainment found its way into the new black-owned record stores. These record stores were not in the old-boy white business network, and therefore not beholden to the majors for their inventory. They were eager to stock the recordings which the new black-directed radio stations were playing.
The records being played over the black-directed radio stations were supplied by small independent record companies, the "indies" as they are called by historians. The indies went out into the night clubs, set up their equipment, and made acceptable master tapes for conversion to vinyl discs. In the space of a few days, they could record a local group, and get that record played on the radio, and put it on all the jukeboxes in the neighborhood.
All this was made possible by the development of the magnetic recording process. Developed by the Germans to guide their radio-controlled V-2 bombs and then quickly modified for the mass distribution of Hitler's propaganda speeches, the magnetic tape recorder revolutionized the music industry.
Recording was no longer confined to those gigantic and elaborate studios owned by the majors in a few big cities. Tolerably decent recordings could now be made anywhere, at any time of the day, by untrained personnel who knew very little about engineering or acoustics.
Around the same time, hi-fi 45-rpm (45 revolutions per minute) technology exploded on the scene. Peter Goldmark, head of CBS Laboratories for many years, had invented high fidelity, "hi-fi" as it came to be called, and the 33-1/3 revolutions per minute process way back in the 1930s. He was designing phonograph equipment to handle the remarkable new product when the war broke out. Everything was therefore put on hold for a few years.
After the war, when CBS made its move to 33-1/3 rpms, RCA countered with a 45-rpm record, and immediately invented a little economical 45-rpm playback unit. CBS then caught up by making a three-speed turntable with an adapter for the 45-rpm option. The result of this corporate warfare was a huge jump in pop singles. And it was in the world of 45-rpm singles (two sides, the favored one called the A-side, and the throw away gesture called the B-side) that rhythm and blues had its first great moment in pop music history.
By the middle of the 1940s, nearly all guitar players were using amplification. Primitive as the contact microphones, amplifiers, and speakers were, they still created a new and exciting sound, with untold possibilities in lyrical expression, tone modification, percussive effects, and gradations of volume.
Upright "stand up" string bass players soon joined the guitarists in amplifying their instruments, and before long most bands were putting a microphone somewhere down in the piano. Horn players then moved to play into the singer's microphone, and soon the entire band was amplified. A new sound-style had been born.
About the same time, a remarkable invention appeared, the Hammond B-3 Organ. The basic sound was created by small discs rotating through a magnetic field. That sound was amplified through a slowly revolving Leslie speaker. The player's right foot controlled the dynamics (loud and soft) with a large pedal about the size of an accelerator on a big truck. Down near the player's left foot was an octave pedal board.
The overall variety of funky sounds available on the Hammond B-3 was absolutely singular to inner-city R&B for at least twenty years. The instrument later made a comeback in the 1990s.
Another special instrument appeared at the same time, the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Pianist and do-it-yourself electric tinkerer Harold Rhodes invented the piano when he needed more instruments for therapeutic music lessons he was giving to wounded military men. He took some spare hydraulic parts from an old B-17 bomber, and fashioned a working piano for himself. The first ones fit on a hospital tray so the men could practice without getting out of bed. The Rhodes electric piano has a classic blues-tinged sound that also made a comeback in the 1990s.
ECONOMIC CHANGES IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS
With new technology came new business practices, of course. Three major changes in the industry moved R&B into a position of considerable influence and financial gain: the rise of independent record companies, the formations of BMI, and the emergence of Top 40 radio.
The big establishment record companies, the majors, were now in trouble. They had controlled "race music" before the war with their subsidiaries created specifically for the black market. But faced with shellac quotas and other stringencies during the war, the majors had scaled down their black music and devoted themselves to white mainstream merchandise (Shaw 1986, 188). The resultant void was filled by a new breed of maverick entrepreneurs.
Although some members of this new breed entered the field because of a fondness for black music, most of them just sensed that there was a lot of money to be made. They saw the rising demand for R&B records, they saw the big corporations stumbling around instead of addressing the demand, and they saw hundreds of black musicians and singers out there who knew absolutely nothing about, and had no lawyers to advise them on, the intricacies of copyright royalties, contracts, performance rights, recording residuals, and related matters. These new record company owners were among the most flamboyant and slippery businessmen in the history of America pop music, and several of them had mobster friends.
Some four hundred new record companies were started in the 1940s, and by the 1950s one hundred or more were still around, strong and productive (Chapple and Garofalo 1977, 29). Each company would create several subsidiary companies partly to separate their various artists and target markets, but also to get around the radio stations reluctance to play too many songs from the same label.
George Goldner, for example, launched Rama in New York and hit paydirt when his fifth release, the Crows "Gee", crossed over to go top twenty on the pop charts early in 1954. Had he followed up this success with another potential winner on Rama, he might have found airplay limited.
He therefore set up subsidiary logos – Gee, End, and Gone. He could then count on airplay for the Teenagers (on Gee), the Imperials (on End), and the Dubs (on Gone), ostensibly three separate [labels] but in fact, all housed under one roof (Futrell 1982, 9).
Goldner was also a compulsive gambler, and he kept selling his subsidiaries to Morris Levy to pay off big debts. Levy owned Roulette Records and Birdland, the New York jazz nightclub, and was well known in the industry for his Mafia connections.
Jerry Wexler formed many subsidiaries, too. He split Atlantic Record's product among various distributors. It just made good business sense, he said.
Suppose you have ten records, all with good potential. It would be a lot to expect one distributor to make them all go. But divide them into two groups of five [records] each, with each group given to a different distributor, and you've got a considerably better chance (Chapple and Garofalo 1977, 34).
Also to be considered were tax laws which favored the creation of many separate corporations, for each new corporation could claim office rent, telephone bills, headquarters needs, company automobiles, executive salaries, travel expenses, and dozens more deductible operation expenditures on paper, when in fact they were all under one roof and one owner.
There were independent record companies all over America, but three cities stood above the crowd because they were the central magnet for three different migration paths which produced three distinct sub-styles of R&B:
1) Chicago received the bulk of the blacks who came up the Mississippi River from Arkansas, Alabama, and that region which produced a delta-blues-flavored kind of R&B,
2) Los Angeles received a large crowd of bluesmen from Oklahoma, Texas, and the Southwest region which produced a kind of honky-tonk, jazz-tinged R&B, and
3) New York received a large number of bluesmen from the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, and the Piedmont area which produced a pop-gospel kind of R&B.
The above generalizations are highly over-simplified, and there are major exceptions everywhere. Still, for purposes of this survey textbook, the large view will be helpful.
In the 1930s and early 1940s, Polish immigrants Phil and Leonard Chess operated several after-hours clubs in Chicago, the last being the Macomba, a South Side jazz and blues club at 39th and Cottage Grove. One of their blues singers, Andrew Tibbs, was getting a lot of attention from local talent scouts. There were only a few record companies at the time in Chicago, so the shrewd businessmen decided to record Tibbs themselves.
The bought into the existing Aristocrat label, changed the name to Chess, and set up shop in a street-level store front at 71st and Phillips. The inventive Leonard Chess hung an open mike in their tiny toilet room (for resonance) and suspended a ten-foot section of sewer pipe from the ceiling (for reverberation) (Shaw 1978, 289).
Andrew Tibbs' record – the new company's first – "Union Man Blues" backed by "Bilbo's Dead" (banned in the South), carried the catalog number 1425, the number of the house on South Karlov Avenue in Chicago's Jewish section where the Chess brothers lived. For distribution, they drove around the South Side, peddling their finished records from the trunk of their car. "Every porter, Pullman conductor, beauty operator, and barbershop owner in town was selling records in those days" (Shaw 1978, 289).
From that modest beginning, Chess Records (and its subsidiaries Checker and Argo) became a huge force in R&B, eventually recording Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, the Moonglows, Chuck Berry, the Monotones, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, the Flamingos, and jazzmen Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, and Wes Montgomery.
Chess Records gets into the history books, of course, for two reasons: (1) one of its early releases by Muddy Waters in 1950, "Rollin' Stone", served as the inspiration for the name of the British rock group and also the name of the rock counterculture news journal, and (2) its biggest star, Chuck Berry, is considered by most rock historians to be the "Father of Rock and Roll".
Second-generation Hungarian Art Lupe formed this company, and set out to find out what would sell. He bought $200 worth of records from several different black record stores in the Watts area, and with a stop-watch, analyzed the recordings for the length of introductions, choruses, vocal solos, instrumental interludes, etc. Among his most talented stars were Lloyd Price, the Soul Stirrers (Sam Cooke's training ground), and the wild and unpredictable Little Richard Penniman.
Lewis Chudd, founder of Imperial Records, had an eye on the Mexican market for his Imperial label, but he also wanted to record R&B, so in 1949 he went on a recruiting trip to the Deep South. Arriving in New Orleans, he met one of Imperial's talent scouts, Dave Bartholomew, who had previously played trumpet for Duke Ellington. Bartholomew took Chudd to the Hideaway Club to see a big guy who had been playing piano with Bartholomew's band. Chudd signed Antoine "Fats" Domino that night.
Besides Domino, Chudd recorded a variety of first class musicians, the most famous of whom were R&B legend T-Bone Walker and the more rockabilly Ricky Nelson.
NEW YORK-NEW JERSEY
In the East Central area, several labels dominated things. Atlantic, formed in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun, the Turkish ambassador's son, recorded a lot of top level R&B talent – Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles, Ivory Joe Hunter, the Coasters, and Aretha Franklin.
Jerry Blaine's company struck gold with the Orioles' "Cryin' in the Chapel" in 1953. With the help of Herb Abramson, a dentist and part-time talent scout, Jubilee recorded the Royaltones, the Cadillacs, the Four Tunes, and Edna McGriff.
Formed in 1942 by Herman Lubinsky, Savoy had the teenage Little Esther Phillips, Big Maybelle, and Varetta Dillard – and Lubinsky "paid scarcely ever a dime in royalties" (Dannen 1990, 31).
George Goldner's Rama, as a subsidiary of Tico, had the Crows, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and the Chantels. When Morris Levy bought Rama and its talent from Goldner, he, too, found ingenious ways to avoid paying the performers their rightful earnings.
Of the dozens of other companies in dozens of other cities, two deserve special mention.
Sam Phillips' career as a radio announcer was just dull. Bored with mediocre country music and the polite dance bands he handled night after night, Phillips opened up his own Memphis Recording Service. In no time at all, his keen instincts led him to record a number of territorial bluesmen – B. B. King, Bobby Bland, Howlin' Wolf, Walter Horton, and several others.
Sun was just a production studio, however, and Phillips leased his aluminum masters to Chess Records in Chicago. When he saw the enormous money being made, he formed his own full company.
One of his first releases was "Bear Cat", by Rufus Thomas, an answer to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog". The record took off, and Sam Phillips was on his way. During those early few years, he often said, "If I could only find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a million dollars" (Shaw 1978, 502).
One day in 1953, a white kid in his late teens came in to cut a couple of songs for his mother's birthday. Nearly a year went by before Phillips and the young man met again, this time to record some country tunes. The hillbilly youngster was singing in the style of Dean Martin, who was quite popular in the 1950s.
According to legend, the nervous teenager was fooling around between takes, doing an exaggerated version of Big Boy Crudup's "That's All Right Mama". Phillips' secretary heard it, and ran to get Sam. He listened for a few seconds, and said, "Quick, turn on the recorder!"
The kid's name was Elvis Presley. Sam Phillips had found what he wanted. Phillips also recorded Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and many others who made the big time, but it was Elvis who put Sun Records in the history books.
Formed in 1945 by Sydney Nathan, King and its subsidiaries, DeLuxe, Federal, and Queen, recorded a host of important musicians and singers in gospel, R&B, and country music. Geographically well-placed in the Mid-West (Cincinnati, Ohio) and recording touring groups in several musical styles, King had a large hand in turning out R&B versions of country tunes like Bullmoose Jackson's "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me", originally done by country singer Wayne Raney.
In R&B, Nathan had the Royals, the Platters, the Midnighters, the Dominoes, the Five Royales, Otis Williams and the Charms, Wynonie Harris, Bullmoose Jackson, Bill Doggett, Big Jay McNeely, Earl Bostic, and many more.
To reach the country music market, Nathan had Moon Mullican, Cowboy Copas, Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Hank Penny.
Syd Nathan's superstar, often called Soul Brother No. 1, was James Brown from Macon, Georgia. Brown established his own special kind of gospel-drenched R&B which caught on, to say the least.
THE FORMATION OF BMI
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) was founded on October 14, 1939, in reaction to an earlier announcement by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) that on January 1, 1941, all revenues from radio airplay would be increased from 5% to 15%. The broadcasters were prepared, and for nearly a year no ASCAP music was heard on the air. In November of 1941, ASCAP settled for 2.8%. BMI had broken the ASCAP monopoly.
From its first day of existence, BMI aggressively sought out country music, ethnic folk music, and the new and exciting development called rhythm and blues. Hundreds of new publishing companies were formed, devoting themselves to BMI composers, and independent producers appeared everywhere to record BMI's music catalog.
Pop music historians have observed that the ASCAP-BMI fight was more than just a squabble over percentage points on airtime royalty payments and good music as opposed to bad music. By 1940, the many movie studios had bought up the rights to top ASCAP writers and music publishing firms. Warner Brothers, for example, had the rights to all the songs of Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Noel Coward, George Gershwin, Sigmund Romberg, and Rodgers and Hart.
The showdown in 1940 was really between the multimillion-dollar movie-controlled publishing business and the threat posed by the growing radio entertainment empires (Chapple and Garofalo 1977, 65).
TOP 40 RADIO
The transistor radio, developed by Bell Laboratory in 1947, appeared on the market in the early 1950s. About the same time, the car radio became an affordable option in the automobile industry, especially appealing because of the increased pleasure of high-fidelity. Then too, television was taking away radio's special shows, and the radio men were looking for something to fill their airtime.
Several innovations in radio programming arose. The first change occurred to station owner Todd Storz and his program director, Bill Stewart, one afternoon when they were at a bar in Omaha. They had been talking shop all afternoon, and were irritated that the same song kept coming up on the jukebox.
After a brief silence, the cocktail waitress went over to the jukebox, and played three times in succession the very song that was driving Storz and Stewart mad! By the third hearing, they found the tune less irritating, and they suddenly realized the persuasive effect of repetition. It could create a favorable response to an otherwise decidedly mediocre tune! Top 40 radio was born at that moment (Chapple and Garofalo 1977, 59).
Top 40 became the new radio format. The same forty tunes would be repeated every twenty-four hour radio cycle, with the top ten of those getting more frequent play than the bottom thirty. In addition, Top 40 radio integrated short new spots into the music offering, inserted contests and promotional gimmicks at will, and offered frequent station identification spots by talkative disc jockeys speaking the language of the growing teenage listener market.
Bill Drake later (in the 1960s) refined Top 40 and tightened it considerably, but it remained essentially the same broadcast strategy that Storz and Stewart had designed. It also created a perfect environment for corruption, because getting a record into the Top 40 playlist became the single most important factor in the possible success or failure of a tune. More about that corruption, called payola, in later chapters.
Why forty tunes? Because the Wurlitzer jukeboxes, which flooded the industry at the time, contained forty recordings.
Certain personalities are historically more important than others because of their innovations, their extensive recordings, and their influence on white country musicians in the South and on the British youngsters who were enraptured by the whole R&B culture. Here is an overview of a few of them.
Sometimes called the "Father of Rhythm and Blues", Louis Jordan (1908-1975) changed the image of black musicians by appealing to the white market without losing his authentic black musical style. His group, the Tympany Five, recorded extensively so everyone in the music business was familiar with his infectious shuffle rhythms.
His million-seller "Is You Is, Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" in 1944 became a catch phrase among adolescent lovers all over America. And "Caldonia" was everyone's favorite gal. Through the 1940s, Jordan's records were seldom off the "Harlem Hit Parade", as black charts were then called in Billboard (Shaw 1878, 63).
Jordan began his career as a top-level alto saxophone player in Chick Webb's band in the 1930s, and was highly respected. He soon tired of "jazzmen playing for themselves" all the time, and made a specific effort to reach out to a market larger than the inner circle of jazz aficionados.
His approach was to treat African-American folk traditions, language patterns, and cultural nuances in a humorous manner – which somehow did not offend his black fans. Jordan was no Uncle Tom. He didn't try to attract white followers with any kind of self-effacing gimmick. He just dealt with the things that came out of his own background, things he was comfortable and familiar with.
In the 1950s, Mercury Records signed Jordan as a solo artist. With arrangements by Quincy Jones and others, Jordan re-recorded some of his earlier hits. He then formed a big band, but eventually went back to the Tympany Five format for the remainder of his career. He was the first cross-over personality to work in three areas – jazz, R&B, and pop.
McKinley Morganfield (1913-1983) was discovered in Mississippi by Alan Lomax. Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress, but those recordings were soon forgotten as Muddy Waters moved to Chicago in 1943, at age twenty-eight.
Waters changed his country-style blues to inner-city R&B when his uncle bought him an electric guitar. With his half-brother, Otis Spann, on piano, Jimmy Rogers on second guitar, and Little Walter on harmonica, Muddy Water's band put out a succession of classic hits, including "I've Got My Mojo Working", "Tiger in Your Tank", "I'm a Man", and his giant hit, "Rollin' Stone".
Waters' influence on the British R&B groups can be seen at every turn in the road, and his stature in the world of R&B put him in the spotlight on hundreds of concerts in the 1960s and 1970s. Eric Clapton took Muddy Waters with him on the 1979 tour.
There seems to be no real way to know if his mother called him Muddy Waters because he spent so much time playing in the muddy creeks around his home. All the R&B historians mention it, though, as the gospel truth.
Aaron Thibeaux Walker (1910-1975), nicknamed "Tibou" (from his middle name), which somehow got corrupted to T-Bone, played an electrically amplified guitar before almost anyone else in the field, and inspired B. B. King, Chuck Berry, Lowell Fulson, and many others. T-Bone's virtuoso technique enabled him to play jazz solos right along with Dizzy Gillespie, Lawrence Brown, and Gerald Wilson – fellow members of the Les Hite Band in the early 1940s.
Way back in the 1930s, T-Bone was also playing guitar in the acrobatic and provocative sexual manner that later made Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix so popular. His "Stormy Monday", "Mean Old World", and "I Gotta Break, Baby" were well known by the British blues crowd in the 1950s and 1960s. His horn-like improvisations put him in the company of Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry for some big concert dates sponsored by Norman Granz.
His top level guitar work and rich, deep blues singing kept him busy with European tours, recording dates, and special appearances right up to 1975 when he died of pneumonia.
B. B. King
Riley King (b. 1925) was known at radio station WDIA in Memphis as the "Beale Street Blues Boy", shortened to "Blues Boy", then to "B. B.". Ike Turner, talent scout for Modern Records, signed B. B. King to a contract in 1950, and before long he had a string of hits "Three O' Clock Blues", "You Know I Love You", and "Every Day I Have the Blues" among them.
King does not, perhaps cannot, play and sing at the same time. He alternates powerful vocal lines with dazzling guitar licks. It is, of course, the well-known call and response pattern, and it works well for King.
He calls his guitar "Lucille", and wrote a tune of the same name. His career received a substantial boost when he appeared at Fillmore West in 1966. A whole generation of white bluesmen and blues fans suddenly discovered B. B. King.
King routinely worked three hundred dates per year, and spent the other days in the recording studio, sometimes with strings, as with "The Thrill Is Gone" (1969), which held at No. 15 on the American charts for several weeks. He performed with U2 in their 1988 movie, Rattle and Hum. Even though he had his "farewell" world tour in 2006, he still makes appearances at events, such as the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2013.
Ellas Bates (1928-2008) was adopted by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, who changed his name to Ellas McDaniel. At age twenty-three, he moved from street corners into the 708 Club, and began to record for Chess Records. Some say Phil Chess called him "Bo Diddley" which is fractured Yiddish-Polish for storyteller. Others say that as he came up with guitars of strange shapes, his friends called him "Bo Diddley" after the diddley bow, a single-stringed instrument of African origin played by blacks in the South.
Bo Diddley is one of the most copied musicians in pop music history – "I'm a Man" (Yardbirds), "Mona" (Rolling Stones), "Bo Diddley" (Animals), and more. In 1963, he toured the United Kingdom with the Everly Brothers and the Rolling Stones (who dropped all of Diddley's songs from their part of the act, out of respect for him).
Bo Diddley was known for a special kind of busy beat with a lot of things going on between drums and maracas at all times, even through the breaks. This unique beat was used by Buddy Holly on "Not Fade Away", by Johnny Otis on "Willy and the Hand Jive", and by U2 on "Desire". The Animals recorded a tribute to him, called "The Story of Bo Diddley", in which they give him much of the credit for starting rock and roll.
Antoine Domino (b. 1928), one of nine children, was taught to play piano in his early teens by his brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett. "Fats" (5'5" and 230+ lbs.) was discovered by Imperial Records talent scout, Dave Bartholomew, and played with Bartholomew's band at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans in 1949. Domino soon had several hits near the top of the American R&B charts – "Goin Home", "Please Don't Leave Me", "Ain't That a Shame", and finally, "Blueberry Hill".
His first language was French, and it gave his blues-tinged vocals a trace of accent that was immediately likeable. Add to that a masterful boogie-woogie piano style with his trademark triplet figures, then some honking R&B horn riffs, and the result is thirty-six records in the Top 40 charts in eight years. A former Duke Ellington trumpet player, Bartholomew played and arranged for Fats, and eventually became his manager, producer, and songwriting partner.
In the 1990s, Fats Domino spent most of his time at home in New Orleans with his wife and eight children enjoying the rewards of his talent and good fortune. Hurricane Katrina changed all of that in 2005.
Living in an area that was heavily flooded, Domino and his family were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, but they lost all of their possessions. Domino and his family moved to Harvey, Louisiana, and work to gut and repair their home in New Orleans began in January 2006. Since then, he has made a few appearances (including portraying himself on the HBO drama Treme) and has received numerous honors, including induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Delta Music Hall of Fame.
Richard Wayne Penniman (b. 1932), born in Macon, Georgia, pranced across the pages of pop music history as no other figure could or would. He was one of the first performers to become famous for outrageous stage behavior, and he served as a model for Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Prince, and others.
Singing in the streets and in local churches at age seven, Little Richard's whole life was a constant battle between his simple but deep religious convictions and his wild passion for drugs, several varieties of sex, and the devil's music – rhythm and blues.
During a break in a 1955 Specialty recording session that was going nowhere, Little Richard went to the piano and blurted out a raucous and off-color tune, which he called "Tutti Frutti". The producer, Robert Bumps Blackwell, called in local songwriter Dorothy La Bostries to clean up the lyrics, and before the afternoon was out, they had a giant hit (Stuessy 1990, 56). Little Richard's gospel-flavored boogie-woogie piano and his rip-roarin' "woo-woo" vocal style carried through "Long Tall Sally" (1956), "Slippin' and Slidin'" (1956), and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" (1958).
In 1957, Little Richard renounced pop music, married a Washington, D. C., secretary named Ernestine Campbell, and entered Oakwood, a Bible college, in Huntsville, Alabama. In the early 1960s, he recorded many gospel tunes for Mercury in recording sessions produced by Quincy Jones. While at Oakwood, he earned a B. A., and became an ordained Seventh Day Adventist minister.
By 1962, however, Little Richard, without a wife, was back in the entertainment business touring the United Kingdom with the Beatles and, later, with the Everly Brothers and the Rolling Stones (they were his opening acts).
Although he never again achieved the same success on the charts as he did in the late 1950s and a hip issue now prevents him from showcasing some of the stage antics he first became famous for, Little Richard continues to make appearances at award shows, benefit concerts, on tour, on television and in the movies.
Wrapping the glorious sounds and rhythms of black gospel music around traditional secular lyrics made Ray Charles (1930-2004) one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. What was probably just a marketing phrase for Atlantic Records when they released The Genius of Ray Charles (January 1960), turns out, after over fifty years, to be more than just hyperbole.
Very simply, what Ray Charles did was change the history of American pop music. Everything he touched, he changed. It was partly instinctive and emotional; he just felt it should be. But it was also partly calculated and cerebral; he thought it might succeed. And it did.
He used jazz-style horn riffs in many of his arrangements. He was among the first to use the Fender Rhodes electric piano. He formed a female backup group, the Raelettes, and they did things the Supremes would do years later.
Everything he did was charged with electrical energy and emotional intensity. And he was fearless in stepping into new territory. In 1962, he recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in, of all places, New York City and Hollywood, California. From that album, "I Can't Stop Lovin' You" topped the charts in three categories: country, soul, and pop. This was unthinkable, but he did it.
He was bold enough to risk the anger of the fundamental religious community by changing the lyrics of "Talkin' 'Bout Jesus" to "Talkin' 'Bout You" and "I Got a Savior" to "I Got a Woman". He was sometimes called the greatest gospel singer alive, and he never recorded a straight-ahead gospel song.
Ray Charles Robinson, born in Albany, Georgia, lost his sight at age seven, with a rare form of childhood glaucoma. He studied music in Florida at the St. Augustine School for the Blind, and when his parents died, left school at age sixteen to make it on his own as a musician. After some modest success, he took off for Seattle, Washington, to get as far away from the South as he could, and still be in America.
He formed a jazz-blues trio patterned after Nat "King" Cole, and soon landed a recording contract with Swingtime Records. To avoid confusion with Sugar Ray Robinson, he dropped his surname to become Ray Charles. From his first entry into the profession, Charles had a strong and unmistakable style of his own – a raspy, passionate, gospel-soaked, oratorical delivery that turns every song into an emotional event. His versions of "America the Beautiful" (1972) and "Georgia on my Mind" (1979) are considered classics in every sense of the word.
He served as a role model and musical inspiration to Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, and a host of other soul singers. He overcame a dreadful heroin habit, and landed on his feet stronger than ever. He won every conceivable honor and award in the industry, and performed all over the world to huge throngs.
His final public appearance, less than two months before his death in June 2004, was in Los Angeles, when the music studio he had built in 1964 was designated as a "Cultural and Historic Landmark".
By the late 1950s, another personality emerged to take his place among the stars, and by the early 1960s, the term "soul" came into favor to describe his special style. It was more than just a casual change of terms; it was a new declaration of a second wave of black pride.
The term was used in jazz and elsewhere to indicate that someone or something possessed an honest black authority and authenticity. John Coltrane's Soultrane and Lou Donaldson's Swing and Soul made the point, as did the most important Soul Brother of all time, James Brown (1933-2006).
After a delinquent childhood in Augusta, Georgia, James Brown formed a gospel style R&B group called the original Flames, then the Famous Flames. In April of 1956, a King Records subsidiary, Federal, released Brown's "Please, Please, Please". It was a regional R&B hit, and showed great promise. In 1958, "Try Me" was sufficient to get Brown signed to Universal Attractions booking agency.
For the next decade or more, King released a single every two or three months to satisfy the demand for Brown's recordings, a demand caused by the near continuous touring of The James Brown Revue. The Revue – forty singers, dancers, and musicians in stunning silk concert stage attire – was programmed to perfection in a mixture of calculated theatrical hysteria and absolute musical discipline. Backup musicians were fined if they played any wrong notes, and every stage mannerism of the frontline musicians and singers was rehearsed to brilliant precision.
Brown's dancing became the model for future stars like Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson. Brown ended each show, sweat pouring off his face, as he sank to his knees and collapsed on stage, and then had to be carried off stage covered with a beautiful cape – only to return for another round of "Please, Please, Please", and more collapses and capes. He earned his reputation as the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business".
Musically, Brown established a special soul-funk style all his own, bits and pieces of which were sampled by rap entertainers in the 1980s through to the present day.
Typically, the horns would punctuate Brown's phrases with short bursts while the bass and drums played tight rhythmic patterns to generate the momentum. The band would often just "vamp" as Brown delivered his preacher-like declarations, and then at the right time change chords to establish a new set of riffs, then finally bring the whole thing back home (Stuessy 1990, 218). It was simple, but effective, and it shifted all the focus to Brown and his dazzling footwork.
Brown's passionate style and strong black identity carried him to the edge of politics at times. The funky "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" gave hope to thousands of his fans. In concerts, Brown urged his crowd, "Don't terrorize, organize!" and "Don't burn, learn!" (Stuessy 1990, 218).
Between 1967 and 1972, Brown had thirty songs in the Top 40 charts, many of them No. 1 hits in R&B and at the same time in the Top Ten of the pop category. He became a worldwide symbol of blackness. In Africa, people would come out of mud huts carrying James Brown albums, even though they had no electricity or phonograph equipment (Stuessy 1990, 218, quoting Leon Austin).
Brown's style was pushed to the side in the late 1970s as disco flashed across the horizon. He did have one final Top 10 hit – "Living in America", which was featured in the movie Rocky IV, in which Brown had a cameo. In general, though, the world passed him by, and he began to suffer financial and legal difficulties. He was arrested at various times for speeding, drug, weapons, and domestic violence charges throughout the rest of his life. He died in 2006 of congestive heart failure, a complication of pneumonia.
The "Father of Rock and Roll", as rock historians have begun to call him, Charles Edward Anderson Berry (b. 1926) was born in San Jose, California, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, while in his early teens. He worked as a hairdresser and beautician by day and a jazz-blues guitarist with his own trio by night. With Johnnie Johnson on piano and Ebby Harding on drums, Berry took the trio to Chicago to audition for Chess Records.
Thus, at age 29, Chuck Berry was already a veteran night club entertainer when he converted "Ida Red" ("Ida May" (?) – see Lazell, 1989, 42) a country tune done years earlier by Bob Wills, to a giant hit, "Maybellene", or in some writing, "Maybelline". In return for being listed as co-author, disc jockey Alan Freed promoted the record on his Cleveland radio show, and it rose to No. 1 in R&B and No. 5 in the pop charts (Stuessy 1990, 62).
It was classic Chuck Berry, and it established his basic guitar style which several scholars have said is the single most influential style in the early days of rock and roll (Stuessy, Lazell, Helander, and others). His introductions, double-note solos, and alternating accompaniment chords were widely imitated guitar techniques in the industry for a long time. Not until Jimi Hendrix came along did Berry's influence begin to wane.
"Maybellene" also established Berry's poetic skill with lyrics treating topics high in the minds of America's new teen culture, both black and white: cars, girl-boy problems, school, music, growing up, parents, etc. He put his arm around the kids and said, "Yeah, life can be a drag sometimes, but we all get through it OK. Hang in there!" (Stuessy 1990, 63). Shaw says that Chuck Berry is the most important rock poet this side of Bob Dylan (1982, 35).
Berry led an interesting private life, filled with dramatic contrasts. For example, in June of 1979, he appeared by special request at the White House, and in July of 1979 was sentenced to four months in jail for income tax evasion.
For all his inconsistencies, "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Back in the U.S.A.", "Johnny B. Goode", "School Days", "No Particular Place to Go", "Nadine", and several others lift Chuck Berry head and shoulders above most of the early rock and roll pioneers. His innovations in music and in lyrics "are ingrained in rock's collective conscience" (John Floyd, in Erlewine 1992, 44). It was with complete confidence that the selection committee chose him among the first to be installed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There were many others, of course, whose careers sparkled brightly in the firmament – Sam Cooke, Lloyd Price, Willie Mae Thornton, Clyde McPhatter, Otis Redding, Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Hank Ballard, Johnny Otis, Jackie Wilson, Arthur Crudup, and many more. By its very purpose, however, history must be arbitrary and selective. A different historian might offer a different view of the same facts, but the above biographies of major personalities in the field of rhythm and blues will have to suffice for now. These ten were not chosen entirely randomly, however. They have been credited – by their peers, by historians, and, most importantly, by those they influenced who later went on to "make it big" themselves – with laying the groundwork for the rock and roll revolution, to be discussed in the next chapter.