Most people are probably aware that the first rock-and-roll records were recorded in Memphis. What many don't know is that the record often credited as the first-ever rock-and-roll release wasn't by Elvis or Jerry Lee or Buddy: It was "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (it was written by Brenston and Ike Turner and produced by Sam Phillips). The Canadian Press looked back at "Rocket 88" around the 60th anniversary of the iconic record.
The song was recorded back in March 1951, when Turner was only 19
years old. Phillips was 28 and wouldn't launch his influential Sun
Records imprint -- eventual home to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Lewis and
Roy Orbison -- for another year.
Brenston used the 1947 Jimmy
Liggins cut "Cadillac Boogie" for inspiration in writing "Rocket 88,"
named after a spiffy new car being sold by Oldsmobile.
The racism and racial politics of the 1950s appear to have doomed "Rocket 88" to relative obscurity in the face of better-known songs by white artists such as "That's All Right Mama" by Elvis and "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley, according to York University professor Rob Bowman:
At the dawn of the 1950s, black and white artists were played on different radio stations to mostly racially divided audiences.
song's) significance on white teenagers in '51 probably wasn't huge,
but it was a huge record on the black charts," Bowman explained. "I
mean, some white hipsters who were listening to black radio at the time
did hear it, and I think it had a big influence on those musicians."
course, that group includes Presley -- who, as legend has it, was a
religious listener of WDIA, Memphis's first black radio station. Another
white artist, Bill Haley -- who helped popularize rock 'n' roll with his
'54 version of "Rock Around the Clock" -- performed a popular cover of
"Rocket 88" a few months after Turner's band released the song, a
version Bowman now dismisses as "irrelevant."