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A History of Country Vol. 8: 1954-56

Some years ago, the brains at Rolling Stone grappled to identify the first ever rock & roll record. In the final face-off, they picked Elvis Presley”s debut single That”s All Right, a cover of R&B singer Arthur Crudup”s song, over Bill Haley”s Rock Around The Clock (itself a cover, though the song was actually written for the former western swing singer).

It is, of course, a fruitless mission to identify a “first” rock & roll song, because the genre is a jumble of diverse influences that convened, not always simultaneously, in an untidy evolution. One might as well seek to pinpoint the first piece of classical music or identify the inventor of the wheel. There is no single originator; there cannot be, because rock & roll is not a recipe consisting of essential ingredients. The genre has always been diffuse, subject to a broad sweep of influences.

Rock & roll grew from various strands of what we broadly term R&B, gospel and country. Alas, the latter influences are often relegated to the incidental. Rock & roll might have received its name from Cleveland DJ Allan Freed as a crossover term for black music, but what the genre became is not what Freed had in mind in 1951, at least not musically.

Indeed, it could (and, indeed, should) be argued that more than a genre of music, rock & roll was an attitude, a new ethos, a response to the times. Rock & roll was an assertive posture, a rejection of prescribed inhibition and the formulae of social expectations. It was a cultural insurrection, and politically helped nudge America towards racial integration. A social (and sexual) revolt, and, briefly, a musical uprising.

A bid to emphasise the contribution of country music to the rock & roll revolution must not be seen as diminishing the absolute centrality of black musical genres in the narrative. Almost all American music, save perhaps for Appalachian broadside ballads, has its roots in black sounds. But country and R&B were not driving on so segregated tracks that there was no cross-pollination before rock & roll. The reality is that in the South, where the roots of rock & roll are so deeply embedded, the social boundaries always were crossed when it came to music. The notion of white and black workers singing together in the cotton fields (proverbial and otherwise) is documented fact.  Some blues of the 1920s or “30s sounds much like some of what would come to be called country, and vice versa. Early country produced a huge number of songs with the word “blues” in the title, and these were indeed blues songs; not because these singers were consciously imitating black musicians (though they were profoundly influenced by them), but because the blues cut across the races. The father of country music, Jimmy Rodgers, had a catalogue full of blues songs. In short, as we saw in the first instalment of this series, early country owed a debt to black music, perhaps above all in the songs” authenticity. The late soul singer Brook Benton once described country music as a form of gospel music, “the soul of the country”.

Jazz also influenced some country. Bob Wills, the biggest name in western swing, commented in the 1950s that he was doing rock & roll already 25 years earlier: “Rock & Roll? Why, man, that”s the same kind of music we”ve been playin” since 1928! […] But it”s just basic rhythm and has gone by a lot of different names in my time. It’s the same, whether you just follow a drum beat like in Africa or surround it with a lot of instruments. The rhythm’s what’s important.” Wills also provided a prototype for one of rock & roll”s most pivotal songs. Chuck Berry”s Maybelline, another perennial contender for the first rock & roll song, was a reworking of Bob Wills version of the fiddle number Ida Red (as featured in Copy Borrow Steal Vol 4).

It is striking that Rolling Stone named as the “first” rock & roll records those by singers whose roots were in country (if I had been asked, I”d have nominated any number of songs by the jump blues and jazzman Louis Jordan, who sounded and acted rock & roll long before it became a thing). Bill Haley was a western swing musician, and Elvis might have grown up in a small white enclave in Tupelo”s black ghetto and hung out in Memphis” Beale Street, but his roots were in country. The first song Elvis ever sung in public, at 14, was Red Foley”s Old Shep.  After his handful of recordings at Sun, Elvis was signed to RCA by the label”s head of the country division, Steve Sholes; was often produced by country guitarist and producer Chet Atkins with legendary country pianist Floyd Cramer occasionally on the ivories and country harmonising quartet The Jordanaires on backing vocals.  And the b-side of That”s All Right was, of course, a country song, Bill Monroe”s Blue Moon Of Kentucky).

And surely there can be no denying the importance of rockabilly ““ a sub-genre of country that did not really sell well ““ in the rise of rock & roll. The most notable exponent of rockabilly was Carl Perkins, who was taught the guitar by bluesmen, but the musical styles rockabilly drew from had been around since the late 1930s. Buddy Jones” 1939 song Rockin” Rollin” Mama (featured in A History Of Country Vol. 3) is generally regarded as the first rockabilly record.

Likewise, rock & roll would not have been quite the same without the “hillbilly boogie” of Moon Mullican, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Cliffie Stone, the Delmore Brothers, Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant, Merril Moore or The Maddox Brothers & Rose (who drew also from rockabilly). The slap bass, so integral to early rock & roll (imagine Elvis” singles without Bill Black”s bass!), was standard in boogie, rockabilly and western swing.

Many leading rock & roll stars crossed over from country: Jerry Lee Lewis (whose piano style borrowed heavily from Merril Moore”s), Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddy Cochran, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, Ricky Nelson, Wanda Jackson and so on. Many of them intermittently returned to their country roots.

Several R&B performers were at home with country. Ike Turner (another regular “first” rock & roll song nominee) could do a mean country song, as could deep soul men Joe Tex and Solomon Burke. Ray Charles recorded a whole collection of country songs. Arthur Alexander, a massive influence on The Beatles, was known for his country-soul. Hank Ballard, another black rock & roll legend, identified as his most pivotal influence the singing cowboys, led by Gene Autry (of course, Hank was not his real name).

The mutual respect and shared sources of rock & roll may be summed up well by Carl Perkins. When he first heard Chuck Berry”s Maybelline, he recalled thinking: “Here is a man who likes country” ““ just as Carl loved the blues.


And so on to the country songs of the incipient years of the rock & roll era, itself a golden age for the genre.Some of these songs are country classics, some a relatively obscure (especially a handful of rockabilly tunes). There is a symbolism in my choice of opening and closing track: Jerry Lee Lewis covering Ray Price’s big hit.

1. Ray Price – I’ll Be There If You Want Me
2. Webb Pierce – More And More
3. Rudy Gray – Hearts Made Of Stone
4. Lefty Frizzell – I Love You Mostly
5. Hank Snow – The Next Voice You Hear
6. Kitty Wells – Making Believe
7. Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters – You’re Nothing But A Nothing
8. Doug Poindexter & the Starlite Ramblers – My Kind Of Carrying On
9. The Davis Sisters – Fiddle Diddle Boogie
10. Charlie Feathers – Peepin” Eyes
11. Johnny Cash – Hey Porter
12. Carl Perkins – Movie Magg
13. Jess Hooper – Sleepy Time Blues
14. Tennessee Ernie Ford – Sixteen Tons
15. Eddie Bond – Double Duty Lovin”
16. Hank Locklin – Love Or Spite
17. Werly Fairburn – I Guess I’m Crazy (For Loving You)
18. Terry Fell – That’s What I Like
19. Merrill Moore – Rock-Rockola
20. Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant – Caffeine Patrol
21. Maddox Brothers & Rosie – I Gotta Go Get My Baby
22. The Farmer Boys – It Pays To Advertise
23. Jimmy Newman – Teardrops In My Heart
24. Marty Robbins – Maybelline
25. Cliffie Stone – The Popcorn Song
26. Bonnie Lou – Daddy-O
27. Buck Owens – Down On The Corner Of Love
28. Kitty Wells – I Don’t Claim To Be An Angel
29. Johnny Horton – Honky Tonk Man
30. Elvis Presley – How Do You Think I Feel
31. Eddy Arnold – I Wouldn’t Know Where To Begin
32. The Louvin Brothers – Kentucky
33. Jerry Lee Lewis & his Pumping Piano – Crazy Arms

(includes front and back covers. PW here)

GET IT: https://rapidgator.net/file/27a79726e0911fafadcfe2c9daede6de/Cntry54-56.rar.html


Previously in A History of Country
More CD-mixes

  1. paul
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:34 | #1

    brilliant,thanks a lot

  2. Brian
    March 9th, 2011 at 16:26 | #2


    Thanks for this. However, I am having difficulty in downloading – each time I try, the Mediafire link goes back and starts again. I have tried previous Mediafire links without problems …. any ideas?

  3. Douglas
    March 9th, 2011 at 17:02 | #3

    Nicely done once again, Dude!

  4. halfhearteddude
    March 9th, 2011 at 17:21 | #4

    It works fine on my side. Can you try again? Perhaps Mediafire was playing the fool for a brief while…

  5. Brian
    March 9th, 2011 at 19:00 | #5

    Thanks for checking it out ……. still going wrong here, which is strange because I’ve downloaded a LOT of mediafire stuff today, and that has all gone fine …… I’ll leave it and try again tomorrow – pity because I ALWAYS look forward to this series!!!

  6. wandlimb
    March 9th, 2011 at 19:42 | #6

    really really good. thanks again!

  7. George
    March 12th, 2011 at 17:35 | #7

    This is terrific. Thanks very much.

  8. March 1st, 2014 at 18:19 | #8

    Just a quick message to thank you for the Cliffie Stone track. I didn’t find it in my database as I needed the mp3 for my post. Great comp by the way. Regards, Bob.

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