There’s a great deal of debate among music historians as to what was the first rock ‘n’ roll record to ever be recorded and released. I go with those who maintain that the very first rock record was not a specific point in time but rather that it evolved over a number of years as the influences of different genres and styles, mostly R&B, along with blues, jazz, swing, big band, and folk combined to what was eventually considered to be rock music as we know it today.
When the debate, however, gets down to defining the key milestones along the way to the development of rock music, many point to “Rocket 88” recorded in Memphis on March 3rd or 5th, 1951 as the first rock ‘n’ roll record. It has all the elements and at the end of the day the debate is really just that, debate.
The interesting fact here is that Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Yep, that Ike Turner – of Ike & Tina Turner fame.
Brenston was the saxophonist in 19-year old Ike’s band and had written the tune which the band worked on during rehearsal sessions at The Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, MS. Brenston sang the vocals and the band supplied the rest. The song was a tribute to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 automobile which had recently been introduced. The song is based on Jimmy Liggins’ 1947 record “Cadillac Boogie“.
The song structure is a blend of jump blues and swing. It infuses a rawer, more distorted sound than had been heard previously. According to rock legend, the band’s guitar amp (used by Willie Kizart) had fallen off the roof of the car and to repair it, Sam Phillips (of Sun Records) stuffed the back of the speaker cabinet with newspapers creating an early “fuzz” tone. Ike Turner later disagreed with this tale and thought the fuzz tone came from the speaker getting wet when rain leaked into the trunk.
(l-r: Ike, Jackie)
[Trivia Note: The sax solo is by a then 17-yo Raymond Hill who was later t0 be the father of Tina Turner’s first child before she married Ike.]