May 042011

Leaving out first-generation rock ‘n rollers whose earliest recordings may have predated the blossoming of rock ‘n roll and leaving out novelty goofs on the genre by pre- or barely-rock artists like Pat Boone and his heavy metal album, what pre-rock ‘n roll musicians tried their hand at making an outright rock ‘n roll record?

Muddy WatersElectric Mud album springs to mind. It’s pretty bad, but it’s a wholesale rockified take on a well-established bluesman’s sound. I would think other blues artists who were being celebrated by 1960s rock ‘n roll kids made rock albums to some extent or another, but some old bluesman doing almost what he’d already done with the backing of The Yardbirds or Canned Heat isn’t really what I have in mind. Those records weren’t really the artist’s move into rock ‘n roll as much as they were sponsorship for a move into the rock ‘n roll bins of record stores.

Already established blues legends moving into rock ‘n roll must have been a fairly natural shift, as would some established country artists rocking up their sound, but I’m most curious to know whether the likes of a jazz musician or Big Band singer—someone from a genre that’s not considered a direct antecedent of rock ‘n roll—tried his or her hand at rock ‘n roll. Frank Sinatra dueting on a pre-rock or pre-rock style song with Bono doesn’t count.

Or if one doesn’t come to mind, let your imagination run wild. Which pre-rock musician would you have most liked to hear cut a real rock ‘n roll record, in a style of your choosing? Put the musician in a time machine, if you’d like, and speculate on the style of rock ‘n roll that may have best fit Nat King Cole, for instance.

I look forward to your comments.


  17 Responses to “Pre-Rock Musicians Who Tried Their Hand at Rock ‘n Roll, and Those Who Should Have”

  1. tonyola

    I think Cab Calloway would have been a natural for rock and roll had be been born a few decades later. He certainly has the spirit for it.

  2. Yes, and the hair. One might argue he’s a pre-rock musician who was doing rock ‘n roll before it had a name.

  3. Very interesting question. There seems to be more examples of rock-n-roll musicians moving to Jazz (Sting), Classical (Billy Joel, Keith Emerson), Opera (Linda Ronstadt), Country and other genres.

    I’ll go with the folksy Neal Young going electric but that may be a stretch.

    As for who I’d like to see try, how ’bout Chick Corea? That’d be awesome.

    On a side note regarding Nat King Cole Mr.M, there are a couple of really cool videos out there of a 12 year old Billy Preston jamming with him on his show.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    Scriabin was like the Julian Cope/insert-name-of-crazy-ass-psych-acid-casualty-here of the early 20th-century orchestral scene:

    “In 1909 he returned to Russia permanently, where he continued to compose, working on increasingly grandiose projects. For some time before his death he had planned a multi-media work to be performed in the Himalayas Mountains, that would cause a so-called “armageddon”, “a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world”.[8]”

  5. I would like to have heard Charles Mingus putting his band behind a pounding rock ‘n roll record rather than Joni Mitchell going jazz.

  6. Sounds like Peter Townshend or Roger Waters at their most pretentious and grandiose.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    Tonyola, you are correct — Scriabin as pretentious, over-ambitious rock opera author is much more appropriate.

  8. diskojoe

    The two pre-rock people that come to mind for me would be 1. Louis Jordan, who was influence on Chuck Berry & 2. Louis Armstrong, whose 20s music was pretty rock & roll in its impact.

  9. Back in the 90s, Capitol records released a “From the Vaults” series and I have a couple of those CDs. One singer who popped for me was big-voiced Jo Stafford, who could have sung any number of rock tunes. She died in 2008.

    Here’s a link to Teacher Teach Me — with subject matter explored many times in rock over the years.

  10. Good example. I’m surprised that some of these singers didn’t try to crossover and possibly extend their shelf lives.

  11. When he was a young, struggling country singer, George Jones (under the name “Thumper Jones”) tried to go rock.

    It, uh, didn’t go so well…

    And I agree that a Mingus rock record would have been interesting.

  12. Rowing to America

    Well, isn’t Bobby Darin a decent enough answer to the question “what would it have been like for a Big Band singer to transition into Rock n’ Roll”? By the time he teamed up with Don Kirchner to write songs in 1955 and signed with Decca the year after that I believe he had already been performing for a while with different combos in New York night clubs and Catskills resorts. I doubt very much it was Rock n’ Roll or proto Rock n’ Roll he was performing. But then his first real hit, then with Atlantic, was the bona fide rock single “Splish Splash”. Of course, he later transitioned in and out of other styles, including Folk Rock the following decade, while remaining true to the Big Band sound till the very end. He’s the popular music Zelig of the 50’s and 60’s.

  13. I didn’t think of him, Rowing to America, but yes, he’s the perfect answer to what I had in mind. Bravo!

  14. I had no idea. That is kinda bad, but I love the logo on that 45 label!

  15. BigSteve

    I always thought the honkytonk Patsy Cline recorded at the beginning of her career was really snappy, and she could have gone in a more rock & roll direction. Here’s a good example:

    I think this was in ’57, so technically she may not be pre-rock.

  16. Technicalities aside — good call BigSteve. Could she have been the first female country rocker? You can hear her in k.d. lang, Linda Ronstadt, Neko Case, Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, many more.

  17. bostonhistorian

    I can hear the Count Basie band and Joe Williams working in a Lloyd Price “Stagger Lee” vein…

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