The blues are undeniably the roots of early rock and roll. Rock today has mutated so much that the basic blues patterns have been all but lost. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the birth of, and evolution of rock and roll by focusing on three of the arguably greatest rock musicians of the sixties and seventies.
The origin of the blues can be traced to the emancipation of the slaves in the rural black areas of the south, where most of the people worked on share-cropping farms. Musically the blues are defined as a 12-bar chord progression, harmonized with the corresponding scales and patterns. The chord progression pattern is four measures of tonic chords followed by two measures of sub-dominate chords, two more measures of tonic chords, one measure of dominate chords, one measure of sub dominate chords, and finally two
measures of tonic chords.
Blues performers would travel around the south singing about their loss of love and family, and the pains they were forced to endure. The music became popular because nearly every one who heard it could identify with its message. This type of Blues later became known as country blues because it was rooted in rural areas. The Blues became more main stream and popular in the 1920’s because of the recording industry coming into existence. More instruments were added such as pianos, organs, and wind instruments.
Big Band and Rhythm and Blues stemmed from City Blues.
Rock and Roll then stemmed from Rhythm and Blues, in fact, many of the first recorded “Rock” songs where simply white musicians re-recording Rhythm and Blues songs originally written by black artists.
It took Bob Dylan 23 years to realize that he wanted to become a rock musician. Bob Dylan, whose birth name was Robert Allen Zimmerman, had a relatively uneventful childhood in a Minnesota mining town. He adopted his pseudonym when he went to the University of Minnesota. “Dylan” came from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, with whom Zimmerman was frequently compared in the University folk circles. After leaving the University, Dylan moved to New York’s Greenwich Village to follow his folk hero, Woodie Gunthrie. In fact, his main goal of moving to the Village was simply to meet his hero. He not only met the folk guru, but became a member of his group of followers, or groupies. They also became good friends.
Gunthrie got him a couple of gigs at various nightclubs around the Village. Dylan got enough attention at his nightly gigs to be noticed by the Columbia Record Company, specifically the producer John Hammond. His first record, Bob Dylan, was just his renditions of previously recorded songs, but it was popular enough to gain him a long term contract. The recording was so bare bones that the record cost only $402 dollars to make, not including production.
The songs Bob Dylan wrote weren’t used by him exclusively,. He actually got his first important recognition when a song he wrote was used by the Byrds. The song was “Mr. Tambourine Man” and it went to number 1 on the charts. The introduction into the mainstream or pop arena was extremely important to folk-rock, giving it the recognition it desperately needed. Before this song was released the Folk-Rock genre was hardly viewable in the public eye, and was only popular in small folk circles.
Bringing the American folk scene mainstream did gain Dylan a lot of popularity, but it also got him some unwanted criticism from folk musicians across the Atlantic. In particular from a big name in British folk music , Ewan MacColl. “I have watched with fascination the meteoric rise of the American idol and I am still unable to see him as anything more than a youth of mediocre talent. Only a completely non-critical audience nourished on the watery pap of pop music could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel. ‘But the poetry!’ they say, what poetry? The cultivated illiteracy of his (Bob Dylan’s) topical songs, are the embarrassing fourth grade schoolboy attempts at free verse.” MacColl failed to see that American youth were not as interested in an idol following literary protocol as they were in the message and the overall sound.
Despite the criticism, Dylan produced many more incredibly successful songs for himself and others including: Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, the immortal “All Along the Watchtower” performed by Jimi Hendrix, and the eerily infectious “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” By Guns n’ Roses.
His first musical stance was as a war protest folk singer. . During the Cuban missile crisis he wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It was a warning and a portrait of what a nuclear war would be. Dylan gained the title of spokesman for his generation when he switched from folk to rock with Highway 61 Revisited.
In 1966 he [reportedly] broke his neck in a motorcycle accident. Whether he did or didn’t, he got a chance to escape from the spotlight He did make several albums privately after that but many said that he had lost his musical power, and the accident had broken his spirit as well as his neck. If he had broken his neck in the accident he would have achieved “mythical status.”
John Lennon began his musical career in high school, with he band called the Quarryman. In his sophomore year he met Paul McCarntey. A short time later, McCartney introduced Lennon to his friend, George Harrison, who was only 13 at the time. The band had a number of names besides The Quarrymen before they finally decided on the Beatles, intentionally misspelled so it would have the word “beat” in it.
Like Bob Dylan They gained the attention of a record company by putting on an excellent show in a club. However, unlike Dylan, the recognition they received wasn’t direct.
They had played as the backup band on a Tony Sheridan record.. The two final songs on the record they wrote and performed themselves. Word got around , and one record store owners noticed that he couldn’t keep that specific record on the shelves. Brian Epstein (the record shop owner) talked to the band, told them what was happening with the record and asked them to make a demo recording to send to several record companies. After being rejected by two other labels, George Martin at Colombia like what he heard and signed the band. His only condition was for the Beatles to loose Pete Best, their drummer. They did, and hired Ringo Starr, who had sat in for Best several times, as the full time drummer.
In 1962 they released their first single, “Love Me Do”. It sold like crazy locally, but only reached number 17 on the charts, still very good for a debut. Their next single, “Please Please Me”, made it to number one on the charts. They had become Britain’s top rock band virtually over night. Their popularity could only grow with the releases of two more number one singles: “From Me to
You”, and “She Loves You”. When they released the album, Please Please Me., it stayed at number one for 30 weeks. The release of the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964 sparked on of the most important musical events of this century, The British Invasion of America.
The British Invasion was a movement of British music and musicians across the Atlantic to America. Bands such as Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones and The Zombies, Ccme through the hole that the Beatles had made. Another phenomenon the song sparked was “BeatleMania”.
“BeatleMania” saw it’s beginnings when the Beatles made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. When the Beatles toured the U.S. for the first time, the crowds exhibited a kind of “mob adulation”. Their first album was on the top over every chart it could be on in both the U.S. and Britain. The only thing that could take it from its place was their second album (Rock Giants). The name of the album was Meet the Beetles. It stayed at the top of the British charts for 22 weeks, and was selling extremely well all around the world. The singles from the LP all went straight to number one on the pop charts, replacing each other in succession. The sixth single of the album had the largest advanced orders in recording history.
The Beatles produced six more albums for a total of eight, all of which went to number one. The Beatles where also the creators of several films including The Yellow Submarine , which has become a musical cartoon classic.
By the time the Let It Be tapes came out in 1970, the “Fab Four” where falling apart, Paul desperately tried to keep the band together, but when he realized he was the only one who still cared about it, he gave up as well. The group disbanded in 1971, through a law suit. John ‘Lennon had a fairly successful solo career with Yoko Ono after the band’s breakup, until he was assassinated in 1980. Paul continues to have a successful musical career to this day. The number of
number one Beatles’ singles, 20 in the United States, “has never been matched, nor is it likely to be”(Rock Giants).
Jimi Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. His entire family was very musically inclined. His father and aunt played together at the local Baptist Church. His main influence was his father’s immense collection of Blues and R & B records.
In 1959, he dropped out of high school and joined the military. He was discharged when he hurt himself in a parachute drop (Rock Giants). After he was discharged he joined a circle of big name black performers, such as Little Richard and Wilson Pickett and others. This is where he would learn some of his most impressive stage tricks like playing over his head and behind his back.
Hendrix didn’t think that he could ever become a big name in Rock and Roll star, because of his unworthy voice. But when he heard Bob Dylan, he realized that the voice wasn’t important as he thought it was.
In 1965 he formed Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and began touring Greenwich Village. While playing at these clubs he started incorporating some of his trademark techniques into his performances, such as feedback and fuzzboxes. Jimi got his break while The Animals where touring in the United States. Chas Chandler, the bassist of The Animals, heard Jimi playing and convinced him to move to Britain.
Chandler matched Jimi with Mitch Mitchel and Noel Redding, to for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group rose to fame in a matter of months playing in popular clubs. Their first single, ” Hey Joe”, and their second, “Purple Haze”, where both fairly successful, and they where both included on the group’s first album, Are You Experienced. His sound, matched with his talent, is a phenomenon no musician has ever been able to duplicate. For example, he could give the impression that he
was playing two guitars at once. Hendrix made five albums in total but was only satisfies with Electric Lady Land, which contained his most successful single: Dylan’s “All along the Watchtower”. Hendrix’s most memorable performance was in 1969, at Woodstock, where he played his immortal “Star-spangled Banner”, however it is still unclear if he played the song in such an unpatriotic, angry style in protest of the war, or from the pressure from black militant groups. In 1970 Hendrix died from inhaling his own vomit after an intoxication of barbiturates. The debate has never been put to rest over whether it was suicide or carelessness. “Jimi Henrix was and original, and, unlike most great rock musicians suffered no imitators” (Rock Giants).
Rock and roll has become one of America’s greatest musical culture contributions. Indeed, America would not be the same if it did not have rock and roll. One of the reasons rock has become so great is that rock groups in more present time have tried to follow the highly creative musical standards set by the musicians in this paper. If rock continues to follow the trends set fourth by the greats, Neil Young’s lyrics may prove true, “Hey, hey, my, my, rock and roll will never die.”