Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Rock And Roll

This year is the "Fiftieth Anniversary of Rock and Roll," at least here in Memphis and in the world of semi-official institutions and retailers. Whatever. Memphis makes a big deal because we have Elvis, the trump card of all trumps. But the subject can, and should, be open to debate.

An excellent case can be made that Louis Jordan, the jazz musician, was the true father of rock in 1947, with his recording of "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" or Roy Brown in 1946 with "Good Rockin' Tonight." The term itself, rock and roll, has been around since at least the Thirties. The whole post-war Forties was spotted with music a modern listener would find indistinguishable from the certified rock and roll of the Fifties. You can also make the case it was Bill Haley's seminal "Rock Around the Clock." Nick Tosches wrote a great book on the subject, The Forgotten Heroes of Rock and Roll.

Whatever way, there was a burgeoning music rising out of the black community with the help of white radio disk jockeys into the larger white listening audience since 1950. Maybe they were false starts, or the right music in the wrong context. Maybe it was black faces, as Sam Phillips presciently noted: "If I could find a white man who sings with the Negro feel, I'll make a million dollars."

Maybe trying to find that exact pivot point, that moment of conception, is pointless?

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