Every Wednesday this summer, we're offering a quick course in early rock 'n' roll. Your professor will be Tom Moon, NPR contributor and author of the book 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. These overviews, mostly from the 1950s, are not intended to be comprehensive, but to help curious listeners dive in and explore some of the genre's often-overlooked building blocks. Whether you're a novice or a rock snob, join the conversation below...
THIS WEEK: JUMP BLUES
by Tom Moon
Way before the "official" dawn of rock 'n' roll, the rock 'n' roll spirit was on the loose in America — as jump blues, the loose party music known for its risque lyrics and ferocious horn solos.
Jump erupted in the late 1940s, and was hugely popular through the '50s — it's the direct link between swing, with its brassy shouted choruses and spry rhythms, and rock 'n' roll. One of its prime movers, the saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan, got his start playing in big bands — it was no problem for him to transfer the jitterbugging energy of the big bands to smaller, more employable combos. Then, crucially, he added a dollop of showmanship: On hits like 1950's rollicking "Saturday Night Fish Fry," Jordan reels off preposterous comic narratives, his casual phrases propelled along by the urbane, hard-swinging rhythm section. Here's one of his iconic shouts, "Caldonia."
Others came at jump blues from different angles. The Kansas City belter Big Joe Turner was fluent in the blues and boogie. Turner's undeniable, steamrolling sound contains all the essential ingredients of rock 'n' roll. Among his triumphs is the first-ever hit on "Shake, Rattle and Roll," in 1954.
Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five: "Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie," "Caldonia."
Big Joe Turner: "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Flip, Flop and Fly."
Wynonie Harris: "Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well," "Good Morning, Judge."
Roy Brown: "Good Rockin' Tonight."
Roy Milton and His Solid Senders: "The Hucklebuck."
Compare three versions of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" — those recorded by Big Joe Turner, Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley. Is it possible to tell where jump blues ends and rock 'n' roll begins? Do any of the latter-day jump-blues "revivals" catch the spirit of the music? (Points off for anyone who begins his or her response with the solo work of Brian Setzer...)
Chess Records and its Proto-Rockers: Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, etc.