All posts by Old Rocker

Ben E King

Ben E King was an American soul and R&B singer who rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s. He is best known for his hit song “Stand by Me,” which has become a classic of early rock and roll. Despite his relatively short career, King left a lasting impact on the music industry and remains an important figure in the history of popular music.

King was born in North Carolina in 1938 and grew up in Harlem, New York. He was influenced by gospel music and the sounds of rhythm and blues, which he heard on the radio and in local clubs. He began singing as a teenager and joined a doo-wop group called The Four B’s, which later became The Drifters. King was the lead singer of The Drifters from 1958 to 1960, during which time the group recorded several hit songs, including “There Goes My Baby” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

Spanish Harlem album cover by Ben E King
Spanish Harlem album cover by Ben E King

First With thee Drifters

In 1960, King left The Drifters to pursue a solo career. He signed with Atlantic Records and released his first single, “Spanish Harlem,” which became a hit. He followed this with “Stand by Me,” which was released in 1961. The song was written by King, along with songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and was inspired by a gospel song of the same name. “Stand by Me” became King’s biggest hit, reaching number four on the pop charts and number one on the R&B charts. The song was covered by many artists over the years and has become a classic of early rock and roll.

King continued to release successful records throughout the 1960s, including “Amor” and “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied),” both of which became top 10 hits. He was known for his powerful voice and soulful delivery, and his music was a fusion of gospel, R&B, and pop styles. He was also known for his social and political activism, and he used his music to address issues of race and equality.

One of the First Crossovers

King’s contribution to early rock and roll cannot be overstated. He was one of the first African American artists to have crossover success, and he helped to bridge the gap between R&B and pop music. His songs, such as “Stand by Me,” have become timeless classics and continue to be popular today. His influence can be heard in the music of many contemporary artists, and he remains an important figure in the history of popular music.

In conclusion, Ben E King was a pioneering figure in early rock and roll who left a lasting impact on the music industry. With his powerful voice and soulful delivery, he helped to bridge the gap between R&B and pop music, and his songs continue to be popular today. He remains an important figure in the history of popular music and a true icon of early rock and roll.

Ike Turner

Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm "Rhythm Rockin' Blues" album cover
Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm “Rhythm Rockin’ Blues” album

Ike Turner makes our list of founding fathers of rock and roll for his 1951 song Rocket 88. It’s considered as possibly being the first rock and roll song. There are several other contenders for this title as rock and roll wasn’t a new “out of the blue” type of music but rather an evolutionary change from Rhythm and Blues.  Many of the experts though credit Rocket 88, or Rocket “88” as it was originally known, as being the first true and pure, through and through, rock and roll record.

Turner’s music career started in high school where he joined a band called The Tophatters.   This was in the late 40s, and The Tophatters specialized in Big Band music.  The Tophatters eventually broke up with the band splitting in two directions.  Some of the originals stayed with the Jazz based big band dance music, and part was going towards blues and boogie-woogie.  The blues and boogie spinoff was led by Ike and named itself the Kings of Rhythm.  Ike kept the Kings of Rhythm name for his band throughout his music career.

Turner and his band found some influential friends along the way. B.B. King already had a recording contract with RPM records.  King helped them to get gig dates and introduced Ike to his producer at RPM, the legendary Sam Phillips, who later went on to found Sun Records.

Rocket 88

Label from Rocket 88. Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.
Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.

While driving to Memphis to meet Sam Phillips at Sun Studio, he and his band wrote Rocket 88.  It wasn’t Ike but Jackie Brenton, the band’s saxophonist that did the vocals.   Sam Phillips sold the record to another studio, Chess in Chicago, where it was released as coming from “Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats”.  Delta 88 sold somewhere around a half-million copies, a big number for a new band, and it became part of rock and roll history.

Rocket 88 launched the careers of two rock and roll giants.  Ike Turner and Sam Phillips. Sun Studios went on to record several of the other founding fathers of rock: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins.  Ike Turner didn’t fare so well at first.  Different accounts show him selling the rights to Rocket 88 at alternately $20 and $40.  And Jackie Brenton didn’t handle fame well.  He and several of Ike’s musicians went off on their own, soon went broke, and faded from the scene.

Turner spent the next several years as a session musician, songwriter, and producer for Sam Phillips and the Bihari Brothers while he rebuilt his band.  The Bihari’s were notable because they were white businessmen in a predominately black R&B world.  They had substantial success in crossing R&B, over to the white audiences of rock and roll.

Two big changes happened in the late 50s.  Many say that the musician lifestyle finally caught up to Turner.  The former clean-as-a-whistle star had his first couple of run-ins with the law.  It was the start of problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.  Later on, he would miss his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he was in jail.

The second change was in 1958 when he was introduced to Anna May Bullock.  Anna was eventually given a tryout and joined the band as a singer.  She started as “Little Ann”, but eventually changed her first name to Tina, and later took the last name of Turner.  It was only a stage name at first, although Tina says that they were eventually married in 1962 (Ike disagreed).

The Ike and Tina Turner Review was a big success until 1976 when they broke up for good.  Details of their rocky times together were made into a movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.

Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.


Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly wasn’t with us for long, yet he helped shape rock and roll into what it is today.    With just four years of full-time music performances out of his 22 years total, he earned his spot as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.

Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover
Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover

In the early days of rock where most songs were borrowed from R&B, Country, or other genres, Buddy Holly was one of the first that wrote, produced and recorded his own materials.  The results were unique and spectacular.

It seems like it’s always been that way, but music historians credit Buddy with defining the setup of the traditional rock band.   Most bands were still transitioning from the big band or jazz mix with orchestral instruments, pianos, horns, and woodwinds.  Buddy Holly set rock and roll standard setup: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums.

Music Career

Any band coming from Lubbock, Texas in the 50s had to feature country music, and Buddy’s was no exception.  Somewhere along the way he caught the R&B bug, probably from late night radio.  AM radio reception during the day was so-so, but at night, distant stations came through, and Buddy was hooked.  His style slowly changed.  Mix Country with R&B and you get rock.  Buddy was good at it; he rocked!

After high school, Buddy’s band was chosen to open for Elvis at several local concerts.  That led to a gig opening for Bill Haley & His Comets where he was noticed by a Nashville scout that led to a recording contract and an unplanned name change.  Buddy Holley’s name on the contract was accidentally misspelled as Holly, and that became his professional name.

The hits started coming from there.  “That’ll Be the Day” hit the charts and soon climbed to the top.  A contractual dispute prevented Buddy from putting his name on it so “That’ll Be the Day” is credited to just The Crickets.  Other hits soon followed as the problem was cleared and  “Peggy Sue” and “Oh, Boy” were released as coming from Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

By 1958, Buddy Holly was an international star after having toured England and Australia, mixed in with a couple of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Arthur Murray Party.

The Winter Dance Party Featuring Buddy Holly

Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly
Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly

Alan Freed’s Winter Dance Party was a high point of rock and roll history.   A group of the best of the early rockers toured the Midwest.  It was the first of it’s kind tour being dance music set in traditional concert theater settings.  The rest is the downside of the history.  The weather was terrible, and the tour buses had heat problems.  Buddy Holly charted a plane to skip the bus trip and fly himself, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper)to the next stop.  The plane crashed, killing all three, on the day immortalized by Don McLean’s song as “The Day the Music Died”.

Buddy Holly was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of its first class of inductees.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan at Washington protests 1963

It’s difficult to identify which branch of the rock and roll family tree Bob Dylan comes from.  As a folk singer, his early works were always on the edge.  He brought the protest to protest songs, nasty lyrics to rock’s vocabulary, deep poetry to style, and the electric guitar into the mainstream.  Some say that he even brought us The Beatles greatest works by introducing them to pot.

Dylans early work was definitely folk.  His first album, named Simply Bob Dylan, was mostly covers of folk standards.  Mixed in with the reworked songs were two original works.  “Talk’n New York” was his story of how he didn’t fit in as a mid-westerner singing in Greenwich Village coffee houses.  His second original release was “Song to Woody”, Bob Dylan’s tribute to his musical hero, Woody Guthrie.  The album sold very few copies and just barely broke even.  Yet the two original gems that it contained were  Dylan’s announcement that he was going to write and sing about what he wanted to.

His second album is where he broke loose.  “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” from 1963 was almost all original works and strongly anti-war.  It included “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Masters Of War”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”  The album soon became a best seller and is included in most surveys of the top albums of all times.

New albums followed soon after his Freewheeling’ success, and as Dylan matured, his musical scope expanded.  Many of his songs strayed from the traditional folksy and protest styles as they became more personal.  His musical style changed to and moved slowly towards rock.

Bob Dylan Shocks the Newport Folk Festival

It was a black day for folk and a big day for rock at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  Bob Dylan was one of the biggest folk stars and one of the festival headliners.   The crowd cheered him as he opened with three of his folk standards:  “All I Really Want to Do”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”.  Then he crossed the folk and rock line by plugging in a Fender Stratocaster and launching an amplified electric set backed by Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

They cranked out 3 amplified numbers before they left the stage.  Some say they were booed off the stage, others say it was planned to play only the three numbers and then go back to traditional folk. Whatever it was, there was no going back.  Bob Dylan had announced that the music world was going electric, and he was crossing the line as a rocker.

In 2008, Bob Dylan received a special award from the Pulitzer Prize committee for, as they worded it, “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”  It was well deserved.

The Electric Guitar Inventors

Think of a rock and roll band and what musical instrument comes to mind?  For most it’s the electric guitar, and it’s big cousin the electric bass.  It just isn’t rock and roll without the driving beat.  Rock wouldn’t be what it is without these electric guitar inventors.

Earliest History

Patent application for one of our electric guitar inventors, Adolph Rickenbacker's electric guitar.
Patent application for Adolph Rickenbacker’s electric guitar.

Guitars had been with us for a long time.  Its predecessors have been dated back to the 9th century or before.  But acoustic guitars didn’t put out enough volume to work well in a band until these electric guitar inventors came along.  Early efforts to mount a microphone in the guitar didn’t work well. Mikes of the time didn’t handle a full range of tones and picked up a lot of background noise, scraping sounds, and worst of all, feedback.

George Beauchamp was a guitarist in the 1920s who experimented with amplification for his Hawaiian guitar.  In 1931, Beauchamp partnered with Adolph Rickenbacker, an electric engineer, to invent what is considered to be the first electromagnetic pickup that produced clear sound.  Their invention was first mounted in a Hawaiin lap guitar.  The induction pickup directly sensed the vibration of the strings and wasn’t affected by ambient sounds or feedback.  The guitar was known as the “frying pan” for its shape and aluminum body.  Rickenbacker’s company manufactured them, and the electric guitar was born.

Hawaiin music was big in the 20s and 30s, and the guitar caught on quickly.  Musicians in other types of bands soon took a liking to it, and the need for more traditional electric guitars followed. Rickenbacker was the first of our big hero electric guitar inventors.

Electric Guitar Inventors: Les Paul

Les Paul was the next big electric guitar inventor hero.  His style was a mix of jazz, blues and country and the Hawaiin lap guitar didn’t quite fit in.  Les Pauls tinkering with electric guitar design led to a model he called “the log”.  Initially, it was little more than a 4-foot piece of lumber with hardware attached.  He later added the body of a sawn away Epiphone guitar for looks.

Patent application for one of our electric guitar inventors, Leo Fender's Bass Electric Guitar
“Fender Bass Guitar Patent” by C. Leo Fender, inventor – US Patent Office, Patent D187001.

Electric Guitar Inventors: Leo Fender

A few years later,  Clarence Leonidas Fender, better known as Leo Fender, improved on the basic design with a solid body.  His Fender Telecaster became the first successful mass-produced solid body electric in 1950, followed by the Fender Stratocaster in 1954, just in time for the birth of rock and roll.  The Stratocaster featured three separate pickups and a string bending tremolo bar.

Along the way, Fender also introduced the Fender Precision Bass and Fender Bassman Amplifiers that replaced the stand-up bass used by most groups with what we recognize today as the Bass Guitar.

Early rock bands had a piano or sax at as the lead instrument, a stand up double bass, and a drum set.  The guitar guys changed everything but the drums in most modern rock bands.   Leo Fender and Les Paul are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.






Classic Rockers

The classic rockers didn’t invent rock and roll, but they defined it.  Starting from different directions, four different flavors of rock worked toward the middle.

Classic Rockers #1: R&B Artists

One batch of classic rockers were the base rock and rollers: The black artists who brought rhythm and blues up a notch to what we know as rock today. Following WWII, many Southern blues artists moved North and some of the best ended up in Chicago which became a center for the blues. It was also the time that Leo Fender and Les Paul’s electric guitar advances were taking the guitar from a rhythm accompaniment to a lead instrument. Blues artists Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon were early masters of guitar driven performances.

Classic Rockers #2: Sam Phillips and Sun Studio

The story moves next to classic rockers Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis and his early artists. Sun Studios recorded many of the top black blues singers including B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis, Rufus Thomas, and Howlin’ Wolf, but in the 50s, it wasn’t socially acceptable for whites to buy records from black artists.

Label from Rocket 88. Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.
Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.

It was Sun Studios that released one of the contenders for the title of rock and roll’s first record. “Rocket 88″ was recorded by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. As a side note, the song was written, and the band was led by a young Ike Turner, who later went on to fame with Tina.

Classick Rockers #3: Elvis

The next flavor of classic rockers was led by the king, Elvis Presley. As a white performer, Elvis’ versions of black blues tunes were considered acceptable by white audiences. It sort of helped that he had a great voice and over the top stage presence too, but many of his first hits were all covers of black blues tunes. That’s All Right Mama was written and previously recorded by Arthur Crudup and Good Rocking Tonight came from Roy Brown, and later Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel.

The Sun Studio
The Sun Studio

Sam Phillips and Sun Studios would go on score hit after hit by bringing white performers together with black music. He was the tops in rock and roll records while Sun Studios was up and running, producing more records than anyone else. His first love was blues and said “The blues, it got people- black and white- to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out.” He was also quoted as saying “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Elvis wasn’t the only hero in the camp of classic rockers. It also included Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Billy Haley & the Comets, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, and Gene Vincent along with others.

One of the classic rockers, Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Of this list, many will say that Chuck Berry is the true “King of Rock and Roll”, but racial attitudes of the times just wouldn’t allow it. He, along with Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, and others received a lot more recognition as attitudes relaxed, but at the time had difficulty finding recording studios and distributors. Many big names of rock from The Beatles to the Rolling Stones credit their influence.

Classic Rockers #3: Rockabilly

The third flavor of early classic rockers was rockabilly. The name came from a combination of rock and roll and hillbilly music, and that’s just what it was. Carl Perkins is the acknowledged leader here with hits like Blue Suede Shoes and Boppin the Blues. Many of Elvis’ hits were rockabilly as were early hits by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and others. Rockabilly evolved quickly and by the early 1960s, it was merged into mainstream classic rock.

Banned Songs

Rock and Roll grew up with the post war baby boomers.  Living standards were better than ever before and teens in the 50s and 60s had more freedom than ever before.  Many had free time after school, allowances, and more freedom than their parents.

At the same time, new technologies made music more available.  Phonograph and radio prices came way down with new technology, and the invention of transistor radios allowed teens their own personal music players.

Rock and Roll was their music and parents weren’t happy!  It definitely wasn’t big band.  The beat was driving, the words weren’t always socially acceptable, and it wasn’t Frank Sinatra!

Of course, a couple of rock groups went a bit overboard … maybe more than a bit … and stepped on a lot of adult toes.  Here’s some of the worst … if you were a teen at the time you might say that they were some of the best.  Whichever way you see it, here are some of the banned songs and groups that got themselves censored in one way or another… which, of course, increased their sales and cool factor substantially.

censored banned songs
Censored and banned songs

When the Rolling Stones titled their song “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, they were asking for a ban.  Premarital sex was probably as common then as it is now, but it wasn’t discussed in public. It earned them a ban from the BBC for encouraging promiscuity. Mick Jagger didn’t help when he promised Ed Sullivan to change the words to “let’s spend some time together” for the family oriented Ed Sullivan Show and then jus mouthed the words so that the kids knew what he was singing.

The Beatles “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was banned from many station play lists because the title was thought to be a reference to LSD, a common hallucinogenic drug at the time.

Louie Louie by the Kinsmen was banned by many stations because … we’ll there really wasn’t a reason.  It was a suggestive story and a lousy recording.  Some people just imagined it to be dirty.  There’s more on Louie Louie here.  Louie Louie even got an FBI investigation!

Splish Splash by Bobby Darin was banned by some stations because it described a guy getting out of the bathtub and finding a party going on in his living room, then putting just his towel back on.  This song did wonders for Bobby’s teen idol image.

Wake Up Little Suzy was banned because it was about 2 teens sleeping together, even though they just fell asleep during a boring movie.

Puff the Magic Dragon drew the ire of no less than the Vice President of the US Spiro Agnew.   He labeled it as “blatant drug culture propaganda”.  Peter Yarrow claims he wrote the song about losing the innocence of childhood.  History has treated Peter well and Peter, Paul, and Mary are considered folk music gods and goddess.  Spiro Agnew had to resign as VP to serve some jail time.

And Chuck Berry had a lot of fun with his #1 hit “My Ding-a-Ling”.  It got banned by many stations.  The song had been around for a while and the words are clear and clean, but Berry twisted them in concert with loads of innuendo.

Flower Power – Make Love, Not War

Flower Power was a hippie concept in the mid 60s that made it’s way into mainstream American culture. The phrase is credited to poet Allen Ginsburg to express opposition to the Vietnam war, and later as a symbol of the non-violence ideology, but it was probably rooted in a 1961 Pete Seeger folk song:

Flower Power by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston, was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize
Flower Power by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston, was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Flower Power and it’s companion, Make Love, Not War, became the antiwar slogans of the times, and were given a boost by a famous photo from the 60s shows a teenager placing flowers in the barrels of National Guardsmen rifles.  Flowers were the symbol for Passive Resistance and non violence.

Ginsburg coined the phrase in a 1965 article “How to Make a March Spectacle”.  The concept was that protestors, rather than appearing threatening, should hand out “masses of flowers” to the police, authorities, and spectators.  The protests would then seem more like street theater and become more appealing to the mainstream.

Abbie Hoffman added to Flower Power during his 1967 Workshop in Nonviolence:”The cry of ‘Flower Power’ echoes through the land. We shall not wilt. Let a thousand flowers bloom.”

And of course, John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas wrote San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in your Hair) which is known as the unofficial anthem of the counterculture movement”.

At first it was just hippies and hippie wanna-bees that wore flowers but it rapidly spread mainstream.  The late 60s saw flowers from Flower Power merged into pschedelia and flowers began showing up everywhere. Pop artist Peter Max added day glow colors to a stylized design and flowers went mainstream.