Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rock and Roll in the 1940s (The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 3)

In the popular imagination the blues is frequently a downtempo and slow form of music, in the same way that country music for many people means slow rhythms, but in the 1940s some musicians are taking the blues (and country) in a more uptempo, danceable direction.
The blues, country music, African-American gospel music, and boogie woogie are crisscrossing paths. The uptempo blues comes to be known as jump blues, and jump blues for all practical purposes is none other than what we now call rock and roll; it simply not called rock and roll yet. Labeling the music as rock and roll is a marketing tool that has not happened yet, but which will be used in the 1950s as a way to differentiate it from “race records” (music performed by Black people). In capitalism the selling, marketing and fashions are key to the music business, and it’s generally a good idea to make a product seem cool and trendy by giving it a name that suggests newness.
Boogie woogie influences the way that some musicians intensify the pace in songs. For example, the African-American pianist Albert Ammons’ performance of “Boogie Woogie Stomp” in the 1930s influences on the idea of fast or uptempo blues. Boogie woogie in general translates into music for dancing and in time this idea carries to the blues when it becomes jump blues ("rhythm and blues" is another common name for the music in this period). On the other hand, in country music you will find uptempo songs in Western swing dance music like Buddy Jones’ 1939 song “Rockin Rollin’ Mama.” The 1940 song “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” performed by Will Bradley and His Orchestra is another example of the danceable boogie woogie music that is popular at the time.
BUDDY JONES - Rockin' Rollin' Mama - 1939
Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar-Will Bradley Orchestra
Jump blues, though, is a bit of something else, something that we know as rock and roll starting in the mid 1940s and after. The lively beat in jump blues is meant to be contagious and make people move. Louis Jordan does a lot to popularize the vibe of jump blues. In 1945 Jordan has a hit with the song “Caldonia,” a work filled with a fun atmosphere through and through. The same year we have Champion Jack Dupree and his song “Let’s Have a Ball,” another track that makes audiences want to dance. In 1947 Stick McGhee does “Drinking Wine Spo-de-o-de.” These songs are characterized by a pep in the step so immediate upon hearing them.
(Champion) Jack Dupree Trio - Let's Have A Ball
Caldonia / Louis Jordan
Drinkin' Wine Spo-de-o-dee - Stick McGhee
Something is cooking and it won’t be long before more people catch the good smell of it. Often it was simply called rhythm and blues and the following year the music keeps on coming down the pipeline. By 1948 it really begins to sound like the rock and roll of the mid 1950s. There is “Good Rockin Tonight” performed by Wynonie Harris, which is a cover of the song that Roy Brown released in 1947, and Harris gives it a more uptempo feel, makes it less jazzy and more rock and roll. In 1948 Wild Bill Moore does “We’re Gonna Rock; We’re Gonna Roll” and Albinia Jones sings “Hole in the Wall Tonight.” Then in 1949 there is “All She Wants to Do Is Rock” (Wynonie Harris); “The Fat Man” (Fats Domino); “Atlanta Boogie” (Tommy Brown); “Let’s Have Some Fun” (Jesse Thomas); “Rock that Boogie” (Jimmy Smith).
Wynonie Harris - Good Rockin' Tonight
We're Gonna Rock by Wild Bill Moore 1948
Hole In The Wall Tonight
In 1949 “Rock Awhile” by Goree Carter has a nice, robust electric guitar in a prominent way. Louis Jordan continues his catchy music and in 1949 Jordan had a major success with “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” This song is notable for the both uptempo sound and for its rock and roll lyrics and vibe.
Goree Carter Rock Awhile (1949)
Louis Jordan - Saturday Night Fish Fry
As the 1940s end, rock and roll (in the 1940s: “rhythm and blues”; “jump blues”) is no longer an isolated song by one artist. It is a style that is picking up steam and reaching wider audiences. The contagious, upbeat sounds are hard to resist. The 1950s will begin just as the 1940s end: more rock and roll is on the way.
We’ll take a look at the 1950s in the installment of this series.

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