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  • Writer's pictureMusic History Hall

Rock and Roll: Crossover in Memphis

Updated: Feb 3


American Music


Rock and Roll was created by musicians combining elements of roots music to create something new. Early rock and roll was blues-based with elements of gospel, rhythm & blues, and hillbilly music. An early form of rock and roll was called rockabilly. A disc jockey coined the name rock and roll.


Influences:


New Orleans Piano


New Orleans boogie-woogie piano and rhythm & blues-influenced rock and roll. Fats Domino was an early creator of rock and roll; his piano style had a major influence on the genre and his lyrics and storytelling style were a blueprint that laid the groundwork for the development of the new music.


Hillbilly Music


Rock and Roll was also influenced by hillbilly music -- the blues-based music that had more twang to it. Hank Williams and his twangy blues music were an early influence on rock and roll.


Gospel Music


Rock and Roll also had gospel influences. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a major influence on rock and roll and many rock and roll musicians. She is known as the "Godmother of Rock and Roll." A pioneer in her guitar technique, she played a style of "speeded-up blues" that was basically rock and roll before the term was coined.


The first people to put all of the elements together and create rock and roll were musicians like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They were the architects of rock and roll and wrote many rock and roll songs. Their songs were initially called "race records" and were not played on mainstream radio stations.


However, white teenagers in the 1950s would stay up late and listen to the black radio stations that would play blues and early rock and roll songs by black artists. Society was still segregated -- but they could not segregate the airwaves.


Meanwhile, a man named Sam Phillips opened a recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee - Sun Records. He recorded many blues musicians but was looking for an artist to cross over the music to a mainstream audience.


One day a local boy named Elvis Presley walked into Sun Records and asked if he could record a song for his mother -- and the rest is history.




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