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ROCK 'N' ROLL TIMELINE (1877 - 1959)
- Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.
- The 'Chicago Automatic Machine & Tool Company' invents the jukebox.
- The words "rock" and "roll", which were black slang
for sexual intercourse, appear on record for the first time, Trixie Smith's "My
Baby Rocks Me With One Steady Roll".
- The 78 rpm record is introduced.
- 'Adolph Rickenbacker' invents the electric guitar. Known as the Frying
Pan, it was a lap-steel guitar with an electromagnetic pickup, created
by Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp, in which a current passed
through a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet. This created a field that
amplified the strings' vibrations.
- 'Count Basie' releases "One O'Clock Jump", a cross of swing
- John Hammond stages the "Spirituals To Swing" concert in New
York City to highlight black musical styles. The stars of the show are
the duo of singer Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson who kick off
a national "boogie woogie" craze.
- Saxophonist Louis Jordan leaves Chick Webb's band to form the Tympany
Five, a slimmed down group that begins the rhythm & blues revolution.
- Leo Mintz gets some small business loans together and opens The Record Rendezvous
in race music. 12 years later he will convince DJ Alan Freed to start
playing those records on the air which launches the rock 'n' roll era.
- Billboard magazine debuts the Harlem Hit Parade to chart the top singles
in the "race" field, a precursor to rhythm & blues.
- Herman Lubinsky and Savoy Records begin operations in Newark, New Jersey,
focusing on recording black artists.
- Illinois Jacquet kicks off the tenor sax as a primary R&B instrument
with his wild solo on Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home".
- The onset of World War Two results in limited record production,
particularly non-pop records, slowing the growth of rhythm & blues
music until war's end in 1945.
- King Records run by Syd Nathan opens in Cincinnati, Ohio to record hillbilly
music. In 1946 they begin recording rhythm & blues, becoming one of
the most prominent independent labels of the next decade as a result.
- "The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins is #1 on the black music
charts for a record 18 weeks. The sexually suggestive term is an early
indicator for the new direction of R&B music.
- The Bihari family forms Modern Records in Los Angeles, one of the most
successful and groundbreaking R&B labels in the country.
- Cecil Gant's "I Wonder" becomes the first massive R&B hit
to be significantly covered for other markets.
- Les Paul invents echo-delay, multi-track recording and many other techniques
that further expand recording possibilities.
- Lew Chudd forms Imperial Records and the following year Art Rupe forms
Specialty Records, both in Los Angeles, to record rhythm & blues. Each
label will also make significant recordings of New Orleans R&B over
the next decade and a half.
- "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
becomes the biggest hit ever in the increasingly popular jump blues style
that later leads to rock 'n' roll.
- The Ravens introduce a new form of harmony singing featuring bass vocalist
Jimmy Ricks out front with tenor Maithe Marshall floating on top of the
melody. Their radical reworking of "Old Man River" is the prototype
for the new style of R&B group singing on the horizon.
- "Open The Door Richard" becomes the smash of the year with
five different artists hitting the Top Three on the R&B Charts with
a version, including its writer Dusty Fletcher. The comical song about
a drunk trying to get into his apartment while his roommate is there with
a woman signal a loosening of sexual mores, which become an R&B hallmark.
- Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson starts Atlantic Records which will become
the biggest R&B label in history.
- The term "rhythm & blues" is coined by young Billboard
reporter and future Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler. It will replace
the negative "Race Records" chart a year later which signifies
the new shift in black music.
- The Orioles, led by Sonny Til, become the first of the young black vocal
groups to appeal to a teenage audience, scoring a #1 R&B hit with their
debut, "It's Too Soon To Know", the first rock ballad.
- Wynonie Harris's version of "Good Rockin' Tonight" tops the
R&B Charts and gives rise to the popularization of that word in connotation
with the music.
- Saxophonist Wild Bill Moore releases "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna
- The raciness in R&B becomes prevalent with such artists and songs
as Julia Lee's "King Size Papa" and Bull Moose Jackson's "I
Want A Bowlegged Woman" which further connect this music to a young,
wild audience bent on moving away from past styles.
- The saxophone becomes the centerpiece sound of R&B and is used for
its suggestiveness and its ability to incite a crowd into a frenzy as evidenced
by Big Jay McNeely's smash "The Deacon's Hop" and the slowed
down sultriness of Paul Williams "Hucklebuck".
- The electric guitar takes hold with the blues recordings of T-Bone Walker,
John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and will soon become a centerpiece in
- Atlantic Records starts its run as R&B's biggest label with Stick
McGee's "Drinkin Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee".
- The Orioles continue their dominance of the market with 8 Top Ten hits
during the year and frequently cause riots at their performances.
- A failing white Memphis' radio station WDIA hires Nat Williams, the first
black disc jockey and changes its format to rhythm & blues which promptly
turns the station's fortunes around. They also hire future singing stars
B.B. King and Rufus Thomas as DJs.
- In June RCA Victor introduces the 45 RPM Record which is easier to produce,
smaller and cheaper than the delicate 78's, which makes it more practical
for younger audiences who will soon become music's primary customer.
- Louis Jordan's massive hit "Saturday Night Fish Fry" marks
the end of the jump blues dominance of the 40's, while Jimmy Preston's
raucous "Rock The Joint" points towards a new horizon of rock
'n' roll for the 50's.
- Fats Domino's first record "The Fat Man" ushers in the full-fledged
- The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan takes the R&B show on
the road scoring ten Top Ten hits that year, three of them chart toppers,
with such vocalists as 14 year old Little Esther, Mel Walker and the Robins.
- The R&B ballad takes shape with huge smashes in that style by Ivory
Joe Hunter, Percy Mayfield and Laurie Tate which bring about a much needed
versatility in the emerging music.
- Arkie Shibley & His Mountain Dew Boys record "Hot Rod Race" sets
the stage for white country music to meet rhythm & blues in a term
to be known as rockabilly in the future.
- Atlantic Records scores its first #1 record in the decade it would come
to define musically with Ruth Brown's "Teardrops From My Eyes",
the biggest R&B hit for a female artist for the next 40 years.
- A wave of young black vocal groups spring up with variations of the style
popularized by the Orioles. The Five Keys smooth harmonies hit with "The
Glory Of Love"... the Clovers combine tougher harmonies with southern-inflected
blues and hit with "Don't You Know I Love You" and "Fool,
Fool, Fool", kicking off a string of 15 straight Top Ten hits... the
Dominoes gospel-based singing and racy lyrics land them the biggest hit
of the decade with "Sixty Minute Man" which sells in such high
numbers that it makes #17 on the Pop Charts as well.
- The first jukebox that plays 45 RPM records is introduced.
- In Memphis Sam Phillips records Ike Turner's band with Jackie Brenston
on lead for "Rocket 88", leasing it to Chess Records of Chicago
where the alcohol fueled rocker tops the charts and further cements rock's
future as a raucous, exciting and dangerous style of music.
- Les Paul's dazzling electric guitar work on the #1 Pop Hit "How
High The Moon" with Mary Ford allows the song to cross over onto the
R&B Charts bringing together the diverse influences that would help
form rock 'n' roll.
- In July, Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed begins his "Moondog Show" on
WJW, broadcasting nothing but rhythm & blues, quickly becoming a hit
with young black audiences.
- Renegade white country & western swing band Bill Haley & The
Saddlemen record "Rock The Joint", the first white rock song
- White pop vocalist Johnnie Ray records the two-sided smash "Cry" b/w "The
Little White Cloud That Cried" and his emotional wailing leads many
to believe he is both black and a female as the song tops the R&B charts.
- Johnny Ace, a former piano player with the Beale Streeters, a group that
included blues legends B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland, records
his first record in Memphis and watches it hit #1 launching him as a major
- In New Orleans the rock 'n' roll beat is furthered by Lloyd Price's massive
hit "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" with Fats Domino on piano.
- Domino's own "Goin' Home" hits #1 on the R&B Charts and
becomes one of the first rock songs to scrape the Pop Charts as well, reaching
- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, still in their late teens, write their
first hit "Hard Times" for R&B star Charles Brown, as well
as the rock classic "Kansas City". Their work as writers and
producers over the next decade will result in countless hits for dozens
of musical legends.
- Sam Phillips starts his own label, Sun Records in Memphis, recording
mostly blues musicians its first two years in business. Their first release
is Johnny London's moody R&B sax instrumental "Drivin' Slow".
- On the night of March 21st, DJ Alan Freed puts on the ever rock 'n' roll
show - "The Moondog Coronation Ball" in Cleveland starring The
Dominoes, Veretta Dillard, Tiny Grimes & His Rockin' Highlanders featuring
Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams. The overflow
crowds break down the doors, storming the arena where a full scale riot
ensues bringing the newly coined "rock 'n' roll" music its first
widespread headlines and scrutiny.
- Clyde McPhatter leaves the Dominoes after three years and 9 huge hits
to form the Drifters for Atlantic Records who will hit #1 out of the box
with "Money Honey" that summer.
- The first clear evidence of soul music shows up with the "5" Royales,
an ex-gospel group that turned to racy R&B and in Faye Adams who's
spiritual plea in a secular realm, "Shake A Hand" becomes an
immediate R&B standard.
- Bill Haley changes his group's name to the more youthful Comets and writes
the first white rock hit, "Crazy Man Crazy", reaching #13 on
the Pop Charts in May, the highest position for a rock song to date.
- In June the first major integrated rock 'n' roll show is staged in Cleveland
with headlining co-stars The Dominoes and Bill Haley & His Comets.
- The Orioles "Crying In The Chapel" becomes the first R&B
hit to approach the Top Ten on the Pop Charts, stalling just short at #11
late that summer.
- The Rhythm & Blues Charts begin to reflect the overwhelming dominance
of emerging rock 'n' roll with such hits as Big Joe Turner's "Honey
Hush", Johnny Ace's "The Clock" and Ruth Brown's "Mama,
He Treats Your Daughter Mean". Only one pure blues record tops the
chart the entire year, a significant shift from past years when blues had
a steady presence on those charts.
- 15 million rhythm & blues records are bought in 1953, while that
accounts for just 5% of all records sold it begins to draw notice in the
industry which fails to note the growing interest among young white audiences
that will soon have a major impact on society as a whole.
- R&B music explodes into the mainstream with black vocal groups leading
the crossover thanks to such records such as the Crows "Gee",
The Chords "Sh-Boom", The Charms "Hearts Of Stone" and
The Penguins "Earth Angel". The often crude recording techniques,
amateurish vocals and sometimes nonsensical lyrics give the indication
the music is just a novelty.
- Pop record companies try desperately to capitalize on the perceived fad
by having white artists cover black vocal group records and the increased
distribution and radio play assures many of those versions of becoming
the bigger hits.
- The Midnighters cause waves when their off-color "Work With Me Annie" and
its equally suggestive sequels become the most popular R&B records
of the year resulting in many communities calling for complete bans on
rock 'n' roll.
- Among those records targeted for widespread bans are Clyde McPhatter & The
Drifters explicit "Honey Love" and "Such A Night" and
the Midnighters "Sexy Ways". Despite this they all become massive
- 10,000 fans attend Alan Freed's first east coast Rock 'n' Roll Show held
in Newark New Jersey, featuring the Clovers and Harptones. The success
of it outside Freed's base of operations in Cleveland is further proof
that rock 'n' roll has national appeal.
- Freed moves to New York's WINS in September and quickly becomes the city's
most famous DJ, attracting massive audiences to his newly named "Rock
'n' Roll Party".
- Big Joe Turner and Bill Haley each record "Shake Rattle & Roll" and
have dueling hits that stay on the charts for months on end.
- In Memphis, Elvis Presley records his first commercial record "That's
All Right, Mama" July 5th at Sun Studios.
- Rock 'n' roll suffers its first tragedy as one of its biggest stars Johnny
Ace accidentally shoots and kills himself playing Russian Roulette backstage
at a Houston Auditorium in between shows on Christmas Night.
- After being used in the hit film about juvenile delinquency "The
Blackboard Jungle", Bill Haley & The Comets "Rock Around
The Clock" becomes the first rock record to top the Pop Charts, holding
the #1 position for two months and remaining in the Top 100 for a then-record
38 weeks. It would be 39 years before that mark was broken.
- Crossover records start appearing on the Pop Charts led by Johnny Ace's
posthumous smash "Pledging My Love". Others by Fats Domino, The
Moonglows, The Platters and the first hits by Chuck Berry and Little Richard
- Berry's "Maybellene" cracks the Top Five on the Pop Charts
and ushers in descending pentatonic double-stops which becomes the essence
of rock guitar.
- Bo Diddley's self-titled debut record tops the R&B Charts and introduces
the tribal "Bo Diddley" beat to rock.
- In May the first Rock LP is released by Bill Haley & His Comets,
but full-length albums with their higher prices that limit their appeal
for teenagers, remain largely the realm of adult pop singers for another
- The increased attention to R&B has negative impacts as well with
The Midnighters facing the toughest scrutiny resulting in their final hits
of any kind for four years due to radio blackballing.
- In May a Rock 'n' Roll Show in Connecticut to be headlined by Fats Domino
is cancelled for fear it will lead to rioting. State police subsequently
ban all further rock concerts in the state.
- Boston follows suit by assembling a record censorship board to prevent
dirty rock records from being played on the air.
- With censorship prevalent, white cover records still hold the slight
edge in radio play but not in sales, with Pat Boone having the biggest
impact with his watered down versions of R&B hits.
- In November Elvis Presley's contract is bought by RCA for an unheard
of price of $35,000.
- Rock 'n' roll music warrants a mention in the year end Encyclopedia Britannica
music review, which derogatorily refers to it in racist terms as "jungle
- The Platters open the year on top of both the R&B and Pop Charts
with "The Great Pretender" making it the second rock record to
accomplish the latter.
- Pop vocalist Kay Starr has a huge smash that winter with "The Rock & Roll
Waltz" a song that attempts to cash in on the term "rock 'n'
roll" while appealing to adults rather than kids, proving the industry
feels the music is a novelty.
- By spring the white cover craze peters out as Little Richard's "Long
Tall Sally" bests Pat Boone's version, Fats Domino's "I'm In
Love Again" destroys the Fontane Sisters tepid remake and by years
end white pop singers virtually give up covering R&B hits as a result.
- Elvis Presley makes his national television debut on "The Dorsey
Brothers Stage Show" in late January and a month later his first RCA
record "Heartbreak Hotel" races up the charts neck and neck with
his former Sun Records cohort Carl Perkins "Blue Suede Shoes" as
they claim the #1 and 2 spots on the charts.
- Presley scores five #1 hits in a seven month span, causes a sensation
with his explosive performance of "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle
Show, appears twice on The Ed Sullivan Show in the fall to enormous ratings
and releases his first film that November.
- Rock 'n' Roll enters the movies with cheaply made "rockploitation" films
with limited plots and numerous cameos by rockers singing their latest
hits. The biggest and best of which is "The Girl Can't Help It" starring
blonde sexpot Jayne Mansfield and featuring performances by Little Richard,
Fats Domino and Eddie Cochran.
- Feedback is invented by The Johnny Burnette Rock 'n' Roll Trio on their
record "The Train Kept A Rollin".
- Gene Vincent is convicted of public obscenity and fined $10,000 by the
state of Virginia for singing the erotic "Woman Love" on stage.
- "I Put A Spell On You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins sells over
a million copies but faces a complete radio ban due to its "cannibalistic
nature", thus becoming rock's first underground hit.
- On his final Ed Sullivan appearance Elvis Presley is filmed from the
waist up though the screams from the studio audience only makes what the
home viewer was missing even more suggestive.
- "Jailhouse Rock", considered the best rock film, starring Elvis
Presley introduces a precursor to the rock video, as the title song has
an elaborate setting in a jail cell choreographed by Presley himself.
- Bill Haley & The Comets tour Europe setting off riots and bringing
rock 'n' roll to that continent for the first time.
- An Australian tour featuring Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly follows
making rock a worldwide phenomenon. Lewis's performance of "Whole
Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" that July on The Steve Allen Show brings rock
music more reprimands as Lewis kicks over his piano stool and plays the
keyboards with disturbing wild-eyed intensity. The ratings however beat
the top-ranked Ed Sullivan Show for the first time that year.
- The stroll becomes the first dance associated with rock.
- Alan Freed has his short-lived televised rock 'n' roll show canceled
when complaints pour in over seeing black teenage singer Frankie Lymon
dancing on screen with a white girl.
- In the first move to tame down rock 'n' roll by society ABC television
launches the national version of a Philadelphia program called "American
Bandstand" which winds up promoting the more wholesome side of rock.
- The Everly Brothers hit "Wake Up Little Susie" is banned from
the airwaves in Boston for lyrical content.
- On a tour of Australia in the fall, Little Richard sees the Russian satellite "Sputnik" descending
to earth and takes it as a sign from God to quit rock 'n' roll and join
- Elvis Presley is inducted into the Army in March for a two-year hitch
- In April singer/songwriter Chuck Willis dies of a perforated ulcer at
- In May Alan Freed is indicted by Boston authorities for inciting a riot
at a recent rock 'n' roll show he promoted where the audience stormed the
stage during both Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry's closing sets.
- In June, Jerry Lee Lewis's first English tour results in scandal when
it is learned his 3rd wife is his 13 year old second cousin. He cuts the
tour short and is blackballed by American radio and television upon his
- Billboard magazine begins the Hot 100, expanding the Pop Charts to allow
more records to become certified hits.
- Rock's songwriting connection to its audience becomes more apparent with
the hits "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran, "Sweet Little
Sixteen" by Chuck Berry and Leiber & Stoller's #1 hit for the
Coasters "Yakety Yak", all focusing on teenagers struggles with
- Chuck Willis's double-sided posthumous hit "What Am I Living For"/"Hang
Up My Rock 'n' Roll Shoes" is the first rock record released in stereo,
engineered by Tom Dowd of Atlantic Records.
- The power chord first appears in records by guitarists Link Wray and
- Distortion for electric guitar is first used by Lowman Pauling of The "5" Royales
and a primitive form of fuzz bass is found on some of their records of
this time as well.
- "Hard Headed Woman" by Elvis Presley becomes the first Rock
Record to go "Gold", a new designation for singles established
earlier in the year.
- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper die in a plane crash while
on tour in Clearlake, Iowa on February 3rd. It will become known as "The
Day The Music Died" and memorialized in Don McLean's 1972 hit, "American
- Congress opens the payola hearings designed to squash rock 'n' roll DJ's
who receive money from record distributors in exchange for airplay, a common
practice in all forms of radio for years. Alan Freed is its main target
and becomes its biggest casualty, as he is found guilty and taken off the
air as a result.
- Radio stations respond by voluntarily putting severe restrictions on
what they will play, including widely adopting the Top 40 format which
limits how many songs are given approval for airing.
- Dick Clark acts quickly to distance himself from rock 'n' roll's bad
image as he increasingly showcases the talentless "teen idols" on "American
- The rock instrumental has its biggest year ever in response to rock music
facing bans for lyrical content.
- Ray Charles bursts into the mainstream after years as an R&B star
with "What'd I Say".
- A new version of the Drifters are produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
who become the first to use strings and introduce Latin rhythms to rock
with the hit "There Goes My Baby".
- Berry Gordy starts Tamla-Motown Records. It will eventually become the
most successful black-owned and operated company in American history, not
just in music, with 600 million records sold.
- Since 1955 the market share for rock 'n' roll has increased from 15.7%
to 42.7% making it the fastest growing style of music ever.