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Rock and roll (also spelled rock 'n' roll, especially in its first decade), is a genre of music that emerged as a defined musical style in the Southern United States in the 1950s, and quickly spread to the rest of the country, and the world. It later evolved into the various sub-genres of what is now called simply 'rock'. As a result, "rock and roll" now has two distinct meanings: either traditional rock and roll in the 1950s style, or later rock and even pop music which may be very far from traditional rock and roll. From the late 1950s to the mid 1990s rock was perhaps the most popular form of music in the western world. Rock and roll is most typically played with an electric guitar, an electric bass guitar, a drum kit, and sometimes a piano or keyboard. In the early rock and roll style of the early 1950s, the saxophone was often the lead instrument, replaced by guitar in the late 50's.

Precursors and origins

Main article: Origins of rock and roll Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be heard in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s(citation needed). Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz, and rhythm and blues with influences from traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel, and especially country and western. Going back even further, rock and roll can trace a foundational lineage to the old Five Points district of mid-19th century New York City, the scene of the first fusion of heavily rhythmic African shuffles and sand dances with melody-driven European genres, particularly the Irish jig. Rocking was a term first used by black gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. By the 1940s, however, the term was used as a double entendre, ostensibly referring to dancing, but with the hidden subtextual meaning of sex; an example of this is Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight." This type of song was usually relegated to "race music" (the music industry code name for rhythm and blues) outlets and was rarely heard by mainstream white audiences.

During the 1920s and 1930s, many white Americans enjoyed seeing and listening to African-American jazz and blues performed by white musicians. They often objected to experiencing the music as performed by the original black artists, but found it acceptable when the music was performed by whites. A few black rhythm and blues musicians, most notably Louis Jordan, achieved crossover success with whites and blacks, but most were rewarded with poverty and eventual obscurity. While increasingly it would became the fashion for rock and roll musicians to write their own material, many of the earliest rock and roll hits were covers of earlier rhythm and blues or blues songs. Blues recordings by such artists as Robert Johnson and Skip James also proved in the 1960s to be important inspirations for British blues-rockers such as The Yardbirds, Cream, and Led Zeppelin.

In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio, disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this type of music for a multi-racial audience, and it is Freed who is credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the rollicking R&B music that he brought to the airwaves. Freed also organized rock and roll shows attended by both whites and blacks, further helping to introduce African-American musical styles to a wider audience.

There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock and roll record. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was recording shouting, stomping music in the 1940s that in some ways contained major elements of mid-50s rock and roll. She scored hits on the pop charts as far back as 1938 with her gospel songs, such as "Rock, Daniel," "Up Above My Head", "Down By The Riverside", and "Rock Me". Another artist who was singing hard-rocking blues/gospel to a boogie piano player was Big Joe Turner, whose 1938 recording, "Roll 'em Pete," is almost indistinguishable from 50's rock and roll. Other significant recording artists of the 1940s and early 1950s included Roy Brown ("Good Rocking Tonight", 1947), more Big Joe Turner ("Honey, Hush", 1953, and "Shake, Rattle and Roll", 1954), and Fats Domino ("The Fat Man," 1949).

Rolling Stone magazine argued (with much controversy) in 2005, that "That's All Right (Mama)" (1954), Elvis Presley's first single for Sun Records in Memphis, was the first rock and roll record. And Bo Diddley's 1955 hit "Bo Diddley" backed with "I'm A Man" introduced a new pounding beat and unique guitar playing that inspired many artists. However, it is important to note that, if the heart of rock and roll is the beat, then rock and roll and boogie woogie are nearly the same. Both are 8 to the bar, 12-bar blues; the essential difference is that rock and roll has a greater emphasis on the back beat than boogie woogie...if you take any boogie woogie record of the 1930s or '40s, and sit a drummer down to play snare on the back beat, then you have turned it into rock and roll.

Little Richard exploded onto the music scene, combining boogie-woogie piano with a heavy back beat and over-the-top raspy, shouted, gospel-influenced vocals never before heard in recorded music. He has been credited by Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, and many other artists for starting a new kind of music. Further, James Brown and others have credited Little Richard's band for first putting funk in the rock and roll beat. Elvis Presley once told Little Richard, "Your music has inspired me. You are the greatest."

The first artists to score in a big way with secular rock 'n' roll hits were the influencial and pioneering: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. After Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1954), became the first rock and roll song to top Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts in early 1955, the door was opened for this new wave of popular culture. Within the decade crooners such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Pattie Page, who had dominated the previous decade of popular music, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed.

Early North American rock and roll (1953-1963)

Whatever the beginning, it is clear that rock and roll appeared at a time when racial tensions in the United States were coming to the surface. African Americans were protesting segregation of schools and public facilities. The "separate but equal" doctrine was nominally overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954. It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that a musical form combining elements of white and black music should arise, and that this music should provoke strong reactions, of all types, in all Americans.

The phrase "rock and roll" was heard on Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five's version of "Tamburitza Boogie", recorded on August 18, 1950, in New York City. However, there are earlier usages of the term, such as the 1949 record "Rock and Roll Blues" by Erline Harris, and the 1948 record by Wild Bill Moore, "Rock And Roll," as well as a record by Paul Bascomb with the same title, though a completely different song, in 1947. Even as early as 1922, Trixie Smith had a song titled "My Man Rocks Me with One Steady Roll," but the phrase was first recorded in 1916, on the Little Wonder record label, in a song called "The Camp Meeting Jubilee", where the singers say "We've been rocking and rolling in your arms, in the arms of Moses."

On March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Alan Freed (also known as Moondog) organized the first rock and roll concert, titled "The Moondog Coronation Ball". The audience and the performers were mixed in race; the evening ended after one song in a near-riot as thousands of fans tried to get into the sold-out venue.

The record industry soon understood that there was a white market for black music that was beyond the stylistic boundaries of rhythm and blues and so social prejudice and racial barriers could do nothing against market forces. Rock and roll was an overnight success in the U.S. making ripples across the Atlantic, culminating in 1964 with the British Invasion.


In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded at Sam Phillips' Sun studios in Memphis, the regional hit "That's All Right (Mama)." Elvis played a rock and country & western fusion called rockabilly, which was characterized by hiccupping vocals, slapping bass and a spastic guitar style. He became the first superstar rock musician.

It was the following year's "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets that really set the rock boom in motion, though. The song was one of the biggest hits in history, and frenzied teens flocked to see Haley and the Comets perform it, even causing riots in some places; "Rock Around the Clock" was a breakthrough for both the group and for all of rock and roll music. The song's inclusion in the film "The Blackboard Jungle" marked the beginning of a mutually beneficial marriage of the genre to film. It had been recorded in 1954 with limited sales, but exploded in 1955 after the release of the movie, which used it in the opening sequence.

If everything that came before laid the groundwork, "Clock" certainly set the mold for everything else that came after. With its combined rockabilly and R & B influences, "Clock" topped the U.S. charts for several weeks, and became wildly popular in places like Australia and Germany. The single, released by independent label Festival Records in Australia, was the biggest-selling recording in the country at the time. In 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly became the first rock musicians to tour Australia, marking the expansion of the genre into a worldwide phenomenon. That same year, Haley toured Europe, bringing rock 'n' roll to that continent for the first time.

Cover Versions

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, R&B music had been gaining a stronger beat and a wilder style, with artists such as Fats Domino and Johnny Otis speeding up the tempos and increasing the backbeat to great popularity on the juke joint circuit. Before the efforts of Freed and others, black music was taboo on many white-owned radio outlets. However, savvy artists and producers quickly recognized the potential of rock, and raced to cash in with white versions of this black music. White musicians also fell in love with the music and played it everywhere they could.

Covering was customary in the music industry at the time; it was made particularly easy by the compulsory license provision of United_States_copyright_law (still in effect). One of the first successful rock and roll covers was Wynonie Harris's transformation of Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight" from a jump blues to a showy rocker. The most notable trend, however, was white pop covers of black R&B numbers. Exceptions to this rule were found, such as Wynonie Harris covering the Louis Prima rocker "Oh Babe" in 1950, and Amos Milburn covering what may have been the first white rock and roll record, Hardrock Gunter's "Birmingham Bounce," in 1949.

Black performers saw their songs recorded by white performers, an important step in the dissemination of the music, but often at the cost of feeling and authenticity (not to mention revenue). Most famously, Pat Boone recorded sanitized versions of Little Richard songs, though Boone found "Long Tall Sally" so intense that he couldn't cover it. Later, as those songs became popular, the original artists' recordings received radio play as well. Little Richard once called Pat Boone from the audience and introduced him as "the man who made me a millionaire."

The cover versions were not necessarily straightforward imitations. For example, Bill Haley's incompletely bowdlerized cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" transformed Big Joe Turner's humorous and racy tale of adult love into an energetic teen dance number, while Georgia Gibbs replaced Etta James's tough, sarcastic vocal in "Roll With Me, Henry" (covered as "Dance With Me, Henry") with a perkier vocal more appropriate for an audience unfamiliar with the song to which James's song was an answer, Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie."

Teen idols

On February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were tragically killed when a plane Holly had chartered from Mason City, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota, crashed in a blinding snowstorm shortly after take-off, plunging the rock & roll world into mourning over its first major tragedy. The accident happened at a time when Elvis was in the Army (before focusing more on Hollywood), Chuck Berry was in jail for violating the Mann Act, Jerry Lee Lewis had disgraced himself by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal. The first golden sub-section of the rock and roll era had ended abruptly. The coronation of the teen idols was as symbolic as it was sudden. When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Holly's ill-fated tour) continued the following night, a trio of young clean-cut, teen-aged, sweater-clad singers were hired to finish out the schedule. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (renamed Bobby Vee) rocketed to stardom singing smooth, ballad-like, almost standard-type love songs, borrowing more from Pat Boone and Frank Sinatra than the guitar maestros and piano pounders who went before them. Clanton, Avalon and Vee opened the door for a virtual army of crooner types, like Neil Sedaka and Bobby Vinton, who dominated the rock and roll scene with their dreamy sounds. While the beach music that characterized the California sound was a sub-section unto itself, those with whom it came to be most associated (the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean) found themselves to be considered teen idols as well because of their popularity with the young ladies. While the teen idols managed to claim the period from 1959-1964 as their own, they couldn't duplicate the excitement of rock and roll's early days. But an upstart young quartet from England was about to change all that.

British rock and roll

The trad jazz movement brought blues artists to Britain, and in 1955 Lonnie Donegan's version of "Rock Island Line" began skiffle music which inspired many young people to have a go, including John Lennon, whose "The Quarrymen", formed in March 1957, would gradually change and develop into The Beatles. These developments primed the United Kingdom to respond creatively to American rock and roll, which had an impact across the globe. In Britain, skiffle groups, record collecting and trend-watching were in full bloom among the youth culture prior to the rock era, and color barriers were less of an issue with the idea of separate "race records" seeming almost unimaginable. Countless British youths listened to R&B and rock pioneers and began forming their own bands. Britain quickly became a new center of rock and roll.

In 1958 three British teenagers formed a good rock and roll group, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later renamed Cliff Richard and the Shadows). The group recorded a hit, "Move It", marking not only what is held to be the very first true British rock 'n' roll single, but also the beginning of a different sound ó British rock. Richard and his band introduced many important changes, such as using a "lead guitarist" (virtuoso Hank Marvin) and an electric bass.

The British scene developed, with others including Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Billy Fury vying to emulate the stars from the U.S. Some touring acts attracted particular popularity in Britain, an example being Gene Vincent. This inspired many British teens to begin buying records and follow the music scene, thus laying the groundwork for Beatlemania.

At the start of the 1960s, instrumental dance music was very popular. Hits such as "Apache" by The Shadows and "Telstar" by The Tornados form a British branch of surf instrumental music.

Social Impact of Rock and Roll

The massive popularity and worldwide scope of rock and roll resulted in an unprecedented level of social impact. Far beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language in a way few other social developments have equalled - see Social effects of rock and roll.


Over the years, Rock and Roll has evolved into subgenres with different characteristics. Many of these characteristics have affected the believe of the genre's authenticity depending on portions of Rock and roll's timeframe of existance. With the omission of instruments from rock and roll's early days; it has sparked dynamic belief from fans. The omitted instruments in todays rock music that were used in 1950s and 1960s rock include saxophone, organ, trombone, trumpets, etc. Since Heavy metal and soft rock are very distant ends of rock and roll, some fans believe that those forms may be an entirely different genre.

Since R&B is an ambiguously described genre that has distinct subgenres, rock and roll is an exception of R&B's common ground described by fans and radio DJs as rock and roll has derived from blues music.


Many fans of Rock and roll interpret danceability in some ways. Some fans believe that older type rock and roll (circa 1950's and 1960's) is more danceable than subsequent rock songs with the exception of the New Wave genres which people in the 1980's have danced to alot. People sometimes slow dance to soft rock. (Courtey of Wikipedia)

Rock and Roll is a style of popular music that originated in the USA in the mid-1950s that evolved by the mid-1960s into the more encompassing international style known as rock. Bill Haley and His Coments are generally credited with the first Rock and Roll hit song Rock Around The Clock in 1955.

The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame issued it's list of the top ten greatest Rock and Roll hits. The list is as follows: (1) Stairway to Heaven; (2) (I Canít Get No) Satisfaction; (3) Layla; (4) Light My Fire; (5) Purple Haze; (6) Yesterday; (7) Imagine; (8) Johnny B. Goode; (9) My Generation; and (10) Like A Rolling Stone.

Click below for the best in free Rock Lessons and Resources available on the web.


Barre Chords (MoneyChords)
Basics For Rock Guitar (Guitar People)
Getting a Grip on Bends (ActiveGuitar)
Cool Rock Chordal Ideas (Active Guitar)
Rock Lessons (pdf/Fender Players Club)


Instrumental Rock (Money Chords)
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame
Rock And Roll Progressions (MoneyChords)

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