MONDAY, JANUARY 5, 2015
WEEK 1: RHYTHM & BLUES
So let’s kick things off by putting aside everything we’ve ever learnt about Elvis P being the Big Bang of modern music culture. The real Big Bang, and the music that inspired him the most, was rhythm & blues. Bizarrely, it was the Second World War that really lit the blue touch paper when for the first time ever, American society was shuffled and folks of different origins, backgrounds and colour were thrown together in the military and the cities where the factories were in full production.
In 1945 when it was all over, black music was still being bossed by the blues, but the ragged, pre-war, country blues of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson was rapidly being replace by the new electric guitars of rowdy big city blues and a move towards more noise, more excitement. In June 1949, chart compilers Billboard christened it rhythm & blues.
R&B never had been just one style and by 1949 it included a whole bagful, from the jump blues of Louis Jordan and Joe Liggins to the Chicago or bar blues of transplanted Mississippi delta boys Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and John Lee Hooker. There was also a new, gospel influenced style led by harmony groups like The Dominoes and The Drifters that would soon become known as doo-wop.
Naturally it was all good time music, danceable and unpretentious, particularly when compared to the mushiness of white music from the same period. Very often it was also straight about sex, using none of the standard crass sentiments about moonlight and roses. In fact, most of the time it was downright filthy, records like ‘Sixty Minute Man’ and ‘5-10-15 Hours’ typical of the big R&B hits banned by the prissy, white, radio stations.
Somehow R&B still managed to filter through to the more adventurous white kids. They loved its danceability and in the first spark of teen rebellion, found it shocked their parents, which they loved even more. Even so, despite the efforts of DJ’s like Alan Freed, right through the early fifties, white stations continued to block R&B from the airwaves. Worse still, black songs were often covered and castrated for the white market while the originals were ignored. Only Fats Domino, who’s happy tones didn’t sound in the least bit threatening to a white audience, went on to be widely known without making any radical changes.
From the start R&B gave Elvis and the best rock’n’roll a sense of style and integrity. But as the harsh boogie rhythms became a simple backbeat, and the lyrical references narrowed to teen dream adolescence and little else, R&B artists were forced to adapt or fall into obscurity. As rock’n’roll grew in popularity, right up to 1957 they faced the ultimate insult of white competition on their own R&B charts until both genres became virtually indistinguishable. Wholly black music would not rise again until the critical recognition of soul in the mid sixties.
01 JOE LIGGINS & HIS HONEYDRIPPERS ‘Honeydripper Pt 1’ (A Side May 1945)
02 LOUIS JORDAN & HIS TYMPANY FIVE ‘Choo Choo Ch Boogie’ (A Side August 1946)
03 ARTHUR ’BIG BOY’ CRUDUP ‘That’s All Right’ (A Side September 1946)
04 T BONE WALKER ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ (A Side October 1947)
05 WYNONIE HARRIS ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ (A Side March 1948)
06 MUDDY WATERS ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ (A Side May 1948)
07 JOHN LEE HOOKER ‘Boogie Chillun’ (A Side May January 1949)
08 FATS DOMINO ‘The Fat Man’ (A Side April 1950)
09 ROY BROWN ‘Hard Luck Blues’ (A Side July 1950)
10 THE DOMINOES ‘Sixty Minute Man’ (A Side May 1951)
11 JACKIE BRENSTON & HIS DELTA CATS ‘Rocket 88’ (A Side June 1951)
12 JAMES WAYNE ‘Junco Partner’ (A Side October 1951)
13 B.B. KING ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ (A Side December 1951)
14 RUTH BROWN ‘5-10-15 Hours’ (A Side April 1952)
15 THE CLOVERS ‘One Mint Julep’ (A Side April 1952)
16 LITTLE WALTER & HIS JUKES ‘Juke’ (A Side June 1952)
17 BIG MAMA THORNTON ‘Hound Dog’ (A Side April 1953)
18 LITTLE JUNIOR’S BLUE FLAMES ‘Mystery Train’ (A Side June 1953)
19 THE DRIFTERS ‘Money Honey’ (A Side August 1953)
20 GUITAR SLIM ‘The Things I Used To Do’ (A Side January 1954)
21 LOWELL FULSON ‘Reconsider Baby’ (A Side November 1954)
22 NAPPY BROWN ‘Don’t Be Angry’ (A Side April 1955)
23 BIG MAYBELLE ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’Goin’ On’ (A Side July 1955)
24 ETTA JAMES ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’ (A Side August 1955)
25 HOWLIN’ WOLF ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ (A Side January 1956)
26 THE FIVE SATINS ‘In The Still Of The Night’ (A Side September 1956)
27 JIMMY REED ‘Honest I Do’ (A Side February 1957)
28 JOHNNY ‘GUITAR’ WATSON ‘Gangster Of Love’ (A Side October 1957)