How Old is Rock

In 1951, the song ‘Rocket 88’ was a #1 R&B hit for Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats who were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm performing under an alternate name at a time when there were no rock charts.  Brenston was a saxophonist, he also sang lead vocals on this number and the Delta Cats were an R&B band led by Ike Turner.  Many historians of popular music consider this song which was recorded March 3, 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee, to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record before the term “rock ‘n’ roll” was being applied as a musical style.   The song is about a car, the Oldsmobile “Rocket 88”, which came out in 1949 and it was the fastest car on the road at the time, and this vehicle with its powerful overhead valve V8 engine and relatively compact size made it a popular car.  It was one of the first muscle cars to dominate NASCAR races in the ‘50s.  The car was advertised as having a V-8 “Rocket” engine, with the slogan, “Make a Date with a Rocket 88.”

The band that traveled up Highway 61 to make the record in Memphis consisted of Ike Turner, Jackie Brenston, Raymond Hill, Willie Kizart, and Willie “Bad Boy” Sims, all were aged between 17 to 20.  On the trip Kizart’s amplifier fell out of the trunk, and Sam Phillips said he stuffed the amp’s broken speaker cone with brown wrapping paper in the studio, which gave this song the distinguished sound of a distorted buzz guitar, supposedly the result of this damaged amplifier.  ‘Rocket 88’ is structured as a traditional 12-bar blues song with some swing influence and the song’s raw, youthful energy and driving boogie rhythm qualified it as the first example of rock ‘n’ roll.  Legendary producer Sam Phillips liked the sound the broken amplifier made and kept it that way on the record.  Phillips who is sometimes referred to as “The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” was recording talent for other labels prior to founding Sun Records.  It was waxed at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, and it was also the first No. 1 rhythm & blues hit for Chicago-based Chess Records.

Brenston rocketed to a brief period of stardom, taking off on his own to tour the country in 1951-1952, but he sold his rights to ‘Rocket 88’ to Phillips and never had another hit.  The song ‘Rocket 88’ was written by Jackie Brenston and it came out on the 1951 album Chicago Blues, Volume 2.  Brenston said that he was doing a tune by Jimmy Liggins called ‘Cadillac Boogie’ which is basically the same song with different lyrics.  In 1991, after a great deal of debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized this song as being the first rock and roll song ever recorded.  Brenston died in 1991 and Turner was in jail at the time for cocaine possession, so his daughter accepted the award.

You woman have heard of jalopies
You heard the noise they make
Let me introduce you to my Rocket ‘88
Yes, it’s great, just won’t wait
Everybody likes my Rocket ‘88
Baby, we’ll will ride in style movin’ all along

V-8 motor and this modern design
Black convertible top and the girls don’t mind
Sportin’ with me, ridin’ all around town for joy
Blow your horn, rocket, blow your horn

Step in my rocket and don’t be late
We’re pullin’ out about a half past eight
Goin’ on the corner and havin’ some fun
Takin’ my rocket on a long, hot run
Ooh, goin’ out, oozin’ and cruisin’ and havin’ fun

Now that you’ve ridden in my Rocket ‘88
I’ll be around every night about eight
You know it’s great, don’t be late
Everybody likes my Rocket ‘88
Girls will ride in style, movin’ all along

Written for Paula’s Thursday Inspiration 50 where this week’s theme is rocket.

5 thoughts on “How Old is Rock

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