Rock - The Pioneers - Rock '51 - '63 | Rock '62 - '69-The British Invasion | Rock '68 - '74
Influential Rock Musicians
(Click on individual Musician's Biography section to visit Musician's Home Page)
Pioneers of Rock n' Roll
Alan Freed - Amos Milburn - Big Joe Turner - Boswell Sisters - Buddy Jones - Cecil Gant - Chick Webb - Danny and the Juniors - Dick Clark
Ella Fitzgerald - Erline Harris - Etta James - Gene Vincent - Hardrock Gunter - Harry Gibson - Ink Spots - Jackie Brenston - Jimmy Preston - Johnny Otis
Les Paul and Mary Ford - Lonnie Donegan - Louis Jordan - Mills Brothers - Paul Bascomb - Paul Williams - Ray Charles - Roy Brown - Sam Phillips
Sister Rosetta Tharpe - T-Bone Walker - The Treniers - Trixie Smith - Wild Bill Moore
Throughout the history of music individual performers have had a major impact on the music scene. These influential/notable musicians have left their mark by expanding the envelope of their respective genres, either through technical proficiency, experimentation/exploration, or persona. The following list of notable/influential Rock Musicians is by no means complete. The musicians listed are those that readily came to mind, and any additions to the list can be sent using the link at the bottom of the page. The individual home pages for the musicians listed can be reached by clicking on their name in the bio section
Alan Freed - Albert James "Alan" Freed was born on December 15, 1921, to Maud Palmer, age 22, and Charles S. Freed, age 28, in Windber, Pennsylvania. In 1933, Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio (Charles and Maude Freed and three sons, including Al J., were already in Salem, Perry Township, Columbiana County, Ohio, for the April, 1930, U.S. Federal Population Census), where Freed attended Salem High School, graduating in 1940. While Freed was in high school, he formed a band called the Sultans of Swing in which he played the trombone. Freed's initial ambition was to be a bandleader; however, an ear infection put an end to this dream. While in college, Freed became interested in radio. Soon after World War II, Freed landed broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations, including WKST (New Castle, PA), WKBN (Youngstown, OH), and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in 1945, he became a local favorite for playing hot jazz and pop recordings.
Amos Milburn - (April 1, 1927 – January 3, 1980) was an American rhythm and blues singer, and pianist, popular in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born and died in Houston, Texas. One of thirteen children, by the age of five Milburn was playing tunes on the piano. He enlisted in the United States Navy when he was fifteen and earned thirteen battle stars in the Philippines, before returning to Houston and organizing a sixteen-piece band playing in Houston clubs, and mixing with the Houston jazz and blues scene. He was a polished pianist and performer and in 1946 attracted the attention of an enterprising woman who arranged a recording session with Aladdin Records in Los Angeles. Milburn's relationship with Aladdin lasted eight years during which he cut over seventy-five sides. His cover of "Down the Road a Piece" (1946), a blues with a rocking Texas boogie beat that bordered on rock, was ahead of its time. However, none caught on until 1949 when seven of his singles got the attention of the R&B audience. "Hold Me Baby" and "Chicken Shack Boogie" landed numbers eight and nine on Billboard's survey of 1949's R&B Bestsellers.
Big Joe Turner - ( May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985, was an American blues shouter from Kansas City, Missouri. Although he came to his greatest fame in the 1950s with his pioneering rock and roll recordings, particularly "Shake, Rattle and Roll", Turner's career as a performer stretched from the 1920s into the 1980s. Known variously as The Boss of the Blues, and Big Joe Turner (due to his 6'2", 300+ lbs stature), Turner was born in Kansas City and first discovered his love of music through involvement in the church. Turner's father was killed in a train accident when Joe was only four years old. He began singing on street corners for money, leaving school at age fourteen to begin working in Kansas City's club scene, first as a cook, and later as a singing bartender. He eventually became known as The Singing Barman, and worked in such venues as The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano playing partner Pete Johnson became resident performers. The Sunset was managed by Piney Brown. It featured "separate but equal" facilities for white patrons. Turner wrote "Piney Brown Blues" in his honor and sang it throughout his entire career. His partnership with boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson proved fruitful. Together they headed to New York in 1936, where they appeared on a bill with Benny Goodman, but as Turner recounts, "After our show with Goodman, we auditioned at several places, but New York wasn't ready for us yet, so we headed back to K.C.". Eventually they were spotted by the talent scout, John H. Hammond in 1938, who invited them back to New York to appear in one of his "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts at Carnegie Hall, which was instrumental in introducing jazz and blues to a wider American audience. Due in part to their appearance at Carnegie Hall, Turner and Johnson scored a major hit with "Roll 'Em Pete". The track contained one of the earliest recorded examples of a back beat. It was a song which Turner recorded many times, with various combinations of musicians, over the ensuing years.
Boswell Sisters - were a close harmony singing group that attained national prominence in the USA in the 1930s. Sisters Martha Boswell (June 9, 1905 - July 2, 1958), Connee Boswell (December 3, 1907 - October 11, 1976), and Helvetia "Vet" Boswell (May 20, 1911 - November 12, 1988) were raised by a middle-class family on Camp Street in uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. Martha and Connee were born in Kansas City, Missouri. Helvetia was born in Birmingham, Alabama. They came to be well known in New Orleans while still in their early teens, making appearances in local theaters and radio. They made their first recordings for Victor Records in 1925. However, the Boswell Sisters did not attain national attention until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with Okeh Records in 1930, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records from 1931-1935. These Brunswick records are widely regarded as milestone recordings of vocal jazz.
Buddy Jones - (1906- October 20, 1956) was an American Western swing musician who recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. He was born in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1935 he made his first recordings for Decca Records. He recorded some 80 tracks over the next six years, including country blues as well as risqué honky tonk numbers such as "I'm Going to Get Me A Honky Tonky Baby" and "She's Sellin' What She Used to Give Away". Some of his recordings were duets with Jimmie Davis, and he also recorded with his brother Buster Jones on steel guitar. He also made recordings with a band including pianist Moon Mullican, fiddler Cliff Bruner and Bob Dunn (steel guitar). Buddy Jones is one of the most interesting, but sadly overlooked, figures of early honky tonk. A police officer from Shreveport, LA, Jones recorded several singles for Decca Records during the late '30s and early '40s before abandoning his musical career. Jones began singing with Jimmie Davis, a fellow Louisiana politician, in 1935, recording a number of duets for Decca over the course of the next year and a half. Jones went solo in 1937, recording with his brother Buster on steel guitar. After releasing a series of singles, which were nearly all risqué honky tonk, Bob Dunn, a former steel guitarist for Cliff Bruner, replaced Buster in Buddy's band.
Jones continued to record for Decca until 1945, when he essentially retired from the music business.
Cecil Gant - (April 4, 1913 - February 4, 1951), was a Nashville blues, ballad, and boogie pianist who appeared on local radio there in the mid 1930's. He toured the South with his own band, from the late 30's until W.W.II, when he served in the army on the west coast. There, he played in bond rallies and was billed as "The GI Sing-Sation." In 1944, he recorded the crooning ballad "I Wonder," under the name "Private Cecil Gant," and the record went to the top of Billboard's charts. Though the tune was not rock and roll, his 1945 "Cecil's Boogie" was pretty close. So were his late 40's "Screwy Boogie," "Rock the Boogie," "Syncopated Boogie," "Hogan's Alley," and "Boogie Woogie Baby." However, six of his seven records that made the R & B charts were slow ballads. Some of his records featured local Nashville "country" musicians as back-up, giving them an early rockabilly sound. Gant's last Billboard hit was in 1949, but he recorded some red-hot rock and roll in New Orleans in 1950, where he covered but greatly personalized Wild Bill Moore's "We're Gonna Rock," and some more in NYC in January of 1951, where he cut "Rock Little Baby". That NYC session, however, turned out to be his last. He died 16 days later...all the books say of pneumonia or alcohol poisoning, in a Nashville hospital on Feb. 4, but singer Billy Wright said, "I was with him when he passed. He was with us on Saturday, laughing and talking and we had a good time. He was supposed to meet us that Sunday night, but before my show went on that Sunday night, a call came in that he had had a heart attack and fell dead." Feb. 4, 1951 was indeed a Sunday. While this account does not rule out an alcohol overdose, it certainly rules out pneumonia. Gant was only 38, probably the first rock and roll casualty. Cecil Gant, as well as others like Amos Milburn, were important in the change in piano style, from the boogie woogie of WWII and earlier, to the rocking and rolling piano style that came later.
Chick Webb - William Henry Webb, (February 10, 1905–June 16, 1939), was a jazz and swing music drummer as well as a band leader. Webb was born in Baltimore, Maryland to William H. and Marie Johnson Webb. Since childhood, he suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, leaving him with short stature and a badly deformed spine. He supported himself as a newspaper boy to save enough money to buy drums, and first played professionally at age 11. At the age of 17 he moved to New York City and by the following year, 1926, he was leading his own band in Harlem. Jazz drummer Tommy Benford said he gave Webb drum lessons when he first reached New York. He alternated between band tours and residencies at New York City clubs through the late 1920s. In 1931, his band became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He became one of the best-regarded bandleaders and drummers of the new "Swing" style. Drumming legend Buddy Rich cited Webb's powerful technique and virtuoso performances as heavily influential on his own drumming, and even referred to Webb as "the daddy of them all". The Savoy often featured "Battle of the Bands" where Webb's band would compete with other top bands (such as the Benny Goodman Orchestra or the Count Basie Orchestra) from opposing bandstands.
Danny and the Juniors - Danny & The Juniors, individually Frank Maffei, Danny Rapp, Joe Terranova and Dave White, began singing together in the early 1950's at ages 13 and 14 in Philadelphia where they were fans of the local rhythm and blues radio stations. It was there they heard the first stirrings of a new music soon to become known as Rock 'n Roll. The Juvenaires, as they were called then, quickly decided to become part of the new movement and began to perform the new songs as well as their own original material at school dances, local clubs and restaurants. At that time, record companies were engaged in a frenzied search for young people who could perform the new music. It wasn't very long before they discovered the youths, re-named them Danny & The Juniors and recorded them singing one of their own original songs called At The Hop. The song quickly became a monumental hit on five continents reaching #1 on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts. It stands today as the #23 all-time biggest record according to The Billboard Magazine List Of #1 Hits. The Group immediately followed with another hit, Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay, which became an anthem of the era, plus dance classics Twistin' USA and Pony Express. These were the first of a string of eleven charted recordings. Their latest albums are the 1992 MCA' release Rockin' With Danny And The Juniors and the 1997 Collectibles release Danny And The Juniors - Classic Golden Greats.
Dick Clark - born November 30, 1929, is an American television, radio personality, game show host and businessman. "Affectionately known as “America’s oldest teenager,” Dick Clark was significant in transforming the record business into an international industry. As host of American Bandstand, Clark provided many acts with the opportunity to reach a national audience via television, spreading the gospel of rock and roll to teenagers across the country. Born Richard W. Clark in 1929, he entered the music business as a sales manager for an upstate New York radio station at age seventeen. In 1952, he began doing a radio show ("Caravan of Music") at WFIL in Philadelphia. The station’s TV affiliate had a teen-oriented show called Bandstand that was taken over in 1956 by Clark. He was such an affable, magnetic host that Bandstand was picked up for national distribution by ABC in 1957. With Clark as businessman, personality, music lover and host, American Bandstand catapulted to popularity and, in 1996, celebrated its fortieth anniversary.
Ella Fitzgerald - (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996, also known as "Lady Ella" and the "First Lady of Song", is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.) She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities.
Erline Harris - Erline Harris was an American rhythm and blues singer in the 1940s and early 1950s. Little is known of her life. She made her first professional appearance in 1939 at the Club Plantation in St. Louis. In 1949 and 1950, she recorded several singles for the DeLuxe record label. The first, "Rock and Roll Blues", was one of the first jump blues songs to use that phrase in its secular context, with the lyrics "I'll turn out the lights, we'll rock and roll all night" The label credited her as Erline "Rock and Roll" Harris, and she was also credited as the writer of the song. Her next record, "Jump and Shout", was another strong contender as one of the first rock and roll records, featuring a strong walking bass line, and honking saxophone by Plas Johnson of the Johnson Brothers from New Orleans. Johnson later went on to become one of the country's leading session musicians. In all, Harris recorded 12 tracks in all for DeLuxe, but they do not appear to have had much commercial success.
Etta James - born January 25, 1938, is an American blues, soul, R&B, rock & roll, gospel and jazz singer and songwriter. James is the winner of four Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame both in 1999 and 2008. In the 1950s and 60s, she had her biggest success as a blues and R&B singer. She is best known for her 1961 ballad "At Last", which has been featured in many movies, television shows, commercials, and web-streaming services since its release.
Gene Vincent - born 2/11/35, died 10/12/71, landed his contract with Capitol Records largely because he sounded like Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent quickly established himself as a rockabilly pioneer and the very personification of rock and roll rebellion. Born Vincent Gene Craddock, he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and served in the Korean war as an enlisted navyman until a motorcycle accident resulted in a crippling leg injury. Vincent listened to country music as a youngster and picked up the guitar in his teens, so it was a natural progression for him to embrace rock and roll. A radio station-WCMS in Hampton Roads, Virginia-solicited talent for Country Showtime, a Grande Ol Opry-style showcase aired live from a local theater on Friday evenings, and Vincent showed up. He won a spot owing to his uncanny covers of Elvis Presley songs. He also had a song of his own called “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” A tape sent to a Capitol Records A&R man landed Vincent a contract, and he and his band found themselves recording in Nashville in May 1956. They struck paydirt with “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” a simmering, reverb-drenched rocker that rose to #7. A rockabilly classic, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” ranks with “That’s All Right (Mama),” by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” as pure rockabilly gold. Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps recorded prolifically for Capitol in the late Fifties and were rewarded with such hits as “Lotta Lovin’” and “Dance to the Bop.”
Hardrock Gunter - Sidney Louie Gunter Jr. born 27 February 1925, Birmingham, Alabama, known as Hardrock Gunter, is a singer, songwriter and guitarist whose music at the turn of the 1950s prefigured rock and roll and rockabilly music. He formed his first group, the Hoot Owl Ramblers, in his teens, and also performed a solo novelty act in talent shows. In 1939, he joined Happy Wilson's Golden River Boys, a country swing group, and acquired his nickname when a van trunk lid fell on him before a show and he never flinched. After wartime service he returned to work with the group, before leaving to become their agent and starting to appear on local TV. As a popular local personality, he was approached to record by Birmingham’s Bama label. He recorded his own song "Birmingham Bounce" in early 1950, the Golden River Boys being renamed the Pebbles on the record. It became a regional hit, and led to over 20 cover versions, the most successful being by Red Foley. Gunter’s original version has become regarded as a contender for the first rock and roll record, predating "Rocket 88" by a year. Gunter followed up with "Gonna Dance All Night", one of the first records to feature the actual words "rock’n’roll". When the Bama label folded, Gunter signed to Decca, and his 1951 duet with Roberta Lee, "Sixty Minute Man," was one of the first country records to cross over to R&B audiences. In 1953 he began working at a radio station, and also remade "Gonna Dance All Night" and recorded "Jukebox Help Me Find My Baby", both of which were issued by Sun Records and became regional hits. He continued to record with limited success, and in the 1960s left the music business to develop a career in insurance, based in Colorado. In 1995 he began to perform again at festivals and now lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
Harry Gibson - (June 27, 1915-May 3, 1991) was a jazz pianist, singer, and songwriter. Gibson was rocking and rolling, decades before Elvis. His 15 minutes of fame were during the mid-40's, after which he drifted into obscurity, only to be rediscovered during the 1980's. He was a genius at the piano, master of boogie woogie, Dixieland, bop, blues, classical, ragtime, stride, Bach, and styles of his own. He sang of subjects that got his records banned from radio stations...drugs, adultery, drinking, murder, and frantic freaks, but he maintained a cult of devout followers. Almost all of his recordings were his own compositions, most were unusual and brilliant.
Ink Spots - The Ink Spots were a popular black vocal group that helped define the musical genre that led to rhythm & blues and rock and roll, and the subgenre doo-wop. They and the Mills Brothers, another black vocal group of the 1930s and 1940s, gained much acceptance in the white community. The Ink Spots formed in the early 1930s in Indianapolis. The original members were; Orville "Hoppy" Jones (February 17,1902- October 18, 1944 ,(Played bass guitar) , Ivory "Deek" Watson ( July 18, 1909- November 4, 1969), (Played guitar and trumpet) , Jerry Daniels ( December 14, 1915 - November 7, 1995), (Played guitar and ukulele) , Charlie Fuqua (October 20, 1910 - December 21, 1971), (Played guitar)
Jackie Brenston - (August 15, 1930- 15 December 15, 1979) was an American R&B singer and saxophonist who recorded, with Ike Turner's band, the first version of the proto-rock and roll song "Rocket 88"Jackie Brenton was playing tenor sax and singing in Ike Turner's band in Memphis in 1951, and when the band was recording there that year he was given the microphone to record this number, which had been written by Turner. Ike Turner, born in 1931, started gigging at the age of 9, and soon was playing professionally with Howlin' Wolf, BB King, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc., in the Memphis area. In his teens he was also a DJ, and a talent scout for the Modern and Chess labels, and he played piano on many of those records. In 1951, at Sam Phillips' tiny recording studio in Memphis, Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm recorded "Rocket 88," with Jackie Brenston on sax and vocals, but Phillips shipped the tape to Chess Records in Chicago as having been performed by "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats," and Chess released it as such. Songwriting credit on the record also went to Brenston, though Turner wrote it. "Rocket 88" was in many ways similar to the 1947 record by Jimmy Liggins called "Cadillac Boogie," which was a song about "sporting around" in an old fishtail. "Rocket 88" was the first hit record for Phillips, who would use the cash to start his own record label, Sun Records, out of this studio, the same fabled studio that also gave BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Junior Parker, and Elvis Presley their starts.
Jimmy Preston - (August 18, 1913 – December 1984), was an R&B bandleader, alto saxophonist and singer who made an important contribution to early rock and roll. His first R&B hit was with "Hucklebuck Daddy", but his main claim to fame was to record, as Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians, the original version of "Rock the Joint" for Gotham Records in Philadelphia in 1949. The sax breaks on "Rock the Joint" were the work of tenor player Danny Turner (1920-1995). “Rock The Joint” was re-recorded by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen in 1952. In 1950 tenor saxophone player Benny Golson and pianist Billy Gaines were added to new line-up and recorded songs like "Early Morning Blues" and "Hayride". Preston moved to Derby Records and had a final R&B hit with a cover of Louis Prima’s “Oh Babe”. He gave up playing music in 1952 without realizing that he would later be identified as one of the founders of rock and roll.
Johnny Otis - born December 28, 1921 in Vallejo, California. He grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where his father owned and operated a neighborhood grocery store. He began his musical career in 1939 as a drummer with Count Otis Matthew's West Oakland House Rockers. In 1943, at the recommendation of Nat "King" Cole and Jimmy Witherspoon, he moved to Los Angeles to join Harlan Leonard's Kansas City Rockets at the Club Alabam. By 1945 he was leading his own band, and had his first big hit that year with "Harlem Nocturne". In 1948 he joined with Bardu and Tila Ali, and Johnny Miller to open The Barrelhouse in Los Angeles, which was the first nightclub to feature Rhythm & Blues exclusively. In 1950 he had ten songs that made the Top 10 on Billboard Magazine's Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records list. With this success, he went on the road with his California Rhythm & Blues Caravan, and became the hottest musical attraction in black America. In the early 1950's, remaining active as a writer, performer, and producer, Johnny began a radio career and became one of the most popular disc jockeys in southern California. His career in radio has now spanned almost 50 years. His early radio broadcast success led to a weekly variety show on television. "The Johnny Otis Show" was on TV in Los Angeles for eight years.
Les Paul and Mary Ford - Lester William Polsfuss was born on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin and Iris Colleen Summers was born on July 7, 1924, in Pasadena, California. As Les Paul & Mary Ford they together revolutionized the recording industry and dominated the Hit Parade with their unique sound. Les Paul is credited as a pioneer in the development of the electric guitar and the father of multi-track recording. Dropping out of high school in his teens he was performing as a country music guitarist on KMOX radio in St. Louis, Missouri and in the 1930’s as a jazz musician on radio in Chicago, Illinois. Les Paul teamed with Mary Ford, a country music singer in 1946 and by 1949 they were married. Using the technique created by Les, Mary was recorded singing multi harmony resulting in a #1 Hit Parade topper in April, 1951, “Mockin’ Bird Hill”, followed that summer with another #1 hit, “How High the Moon” and two more top five hits — "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" and "Just One More Chance" — before that year would end. They hit in 1952 with, "Tiger Rag", “In the Good Old Summertime”, “I’m Confessin’ that I Love You.” "Smoke Rings" and a top five instrumental from Les “Meet Mr. Callaghan”. In the top ten of 1953 were "Bye, Bye Blues" and "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World." But it was the song that stayed on the charts for a record breaking 35 weeks, 11 weeks straight at #1, “Vaya Con Dios” that was the biggest hit of the year for Les and Mary. The flip side, "Johnny Is The Boy For Me," also nearly landed in the top ten. In 1954 their were three more top ten hits, "Whither Thou Goest," "I Really Don't Want To Know" and "I'm A Fool To Care". In 1978 Les Paul and Mary Ford were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1983, Les received a Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievements. In 2006 at the age of 90, Les Paul won two more Grammys. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Les Paul and Mary Ford have also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Mary Ford died in Arcadia, California on September 30, 1977. She was 53 years of age. Les Paul died on August 12, 2009.
Lonnie Donegan - (April 29, 1931 - November 4, 2002 ), the King Of Skiffle and 'first real British pop superstar' shot to fame in 1956, when Rock Island Line sold an unprecedented 3 million copies, shooting into the British and American top ten. Donegan was the first person to become famous playing skiffle in the United Kingdom, and went on to have an influential hit in Britain and America with "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour", released in 1959 and 1961 respectively. Skiffle is a type of folk music with jazz, blues and country influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments such as the washboard, tea chest bass, kazoo, cigar-box fiddle, musical saw, comb and paper, and so forth, as well as more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitar and banjo. Skiffle and jug band music are closely related. Skiffle was particularly popular in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s
Louis Jordan - (July 8, 1908- February 4, 1975), the Father of the Rhythm & Blues came out of the blues world of Brinkley, Arkansas, to play in Chick Webb's swing band from 1932 to 1938; he played alto sax and participated in comedy routines. He began recording for Decca in 1938 with his own Tympany Five, remaining on the label until 1953. He had his first million-seller in 1944 with "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't Ma Baby?" -- having previously attracted attention with "Knock Me A Kiss" and "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town," the latter a classic Blues. His second million-seller was "Caldonia (What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?)," followed in 1946 by two million-sellers, "Beware, Brother, Beware" and "Choo Choo Ch 'Boogie," the biggest seller of all. In all these, he pursued a basic rhythm of Shuffle Boogie, later taken over by early Rock 'n' Roll. As he said, he "made the blues jump," and in so doing, influenced B. B. King, Chuck Berry, and Bill Haley.
Mills Brothers - were a major African-American jazz and pop vocal quartet of the 20th century producing more than 2,000 recordings that sold more than 50 million copies and garnered at least three dozen gold records. The Mills Brothers were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. The group was originally composed of four brothers all born in Piqua, Ohio : John Jr. (October 19, 1910 - January 23, 1936) basso and guitarist, Herbert (April 2, 1912 - April 12, 1989) tenor, Harry (August 19, 1913 - June 28, 1982) baritone, and Donald (April 29, 1915 - November 13, 1999) lead tenor. Their parents were John H. (February 11, 1889 – December 8, 1967) and Eathel Mills. John Sr. owned a barber shop and founded a barbershop quartet, called the '"Four Kings of Harmony"'. As the boys grew older, they began singing in the choir of the Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Piqua. After their lessons at the Spring Street Grammar School, they would gather in front of their father's barbershop on Public Square or at the corner of Greene and Main to sing and play the kazoo to passersby. They entered an amateur contest at Piqua's Mays Opera House. That fateful day, while on stage, Harry discovered he had lost his kazoo. He cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated a trumpet. The success of his imitation led to all the brothers taking on instruments to imitate and created their early signature sound. John Jr. accompanied the four-part harmony first with a ukulele and then a guitar. They practiced imitating orchestras they heard on the radio. John, as the bass, would imitate the tuba. Harry, a baritone, imitated the trumpet. Herbert became the second trumpet and Donald the trombone. They entertained on the Midwest theater circuit, at house parties, tent shows, music halls and supper clubs throughout the area and became well known for their close harmonies, mastery of scat singing, and their amazing ability to imitate musical instruments with their voices.
Paul Bascomb - (February 12, 1912 - December 2, 1986), was an American jazz tenor saxophonist, noted for his extended tenure with Erskine Hawkins. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Bascomb was a founding member of the Bama State Collegians, which was led by Erskine Hawkins and eventually became his big band. Bascomb's brother Dud played in this ensemble as well. Bascomb remained in this ensemble until 1944, aside from a brief interval in 1938-39 where he played in Count Basie's orchestra after Herschel Evans's death. From 1944 to 1947 he and Dud co-led a septet which evolved into a big band. He recorded several sessions for United Artists in the 1950s, some of which were reissued by Delmark Records in later decades. He was active as a performer nearly up until the time of his death.
Paul Williams - (Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams - July 13, 1915 - September 14, 2002). Paul Williams was born in Lewisburg, Tennessee and grew up as an only child. At the age of two, he and his family moved to Bowling Greene, Kentucky, and at age thirteen they moved to Detroit, Michigan.
Williams started playing sax in junior high and while still in school teamed up with Lloyd Henderson and began playing in a Detroit club playing the top 40 tunes for predominantly white audiences.It wasn't until after World War II while working at the Sensation Club with Clarence Dorsey’s band that Mr. Williams played for his first black audience. Paul next teamed up with King Porter where he recorded for the Paradise and Savoy labels. With a hit record entitled "Thirty Five Thirty" Paul began touring with his own group "The Paul Williams Band". Paul's arrangement of the Andy Gibson tune "D-Natural Blues", recorded on Savoy's Label in 1948, had a profound effect on the current music/dance scene and propelled Williams into the limelight. The tune renamed "The Hucklebuck", a blues shuffle showcasing Paul's sax skills, held the charts for 32 weeks and sparked the dance craze of the early fifties.The Blues Shuffle, a style of groove that is based on triplet notes, gave rise to the rock and roll explosion that has been evolving ever since. Paul Williams had a number of hits for Savoy between 1947 and 1951, and became a part of R&R history when he was on the bill at the Moondog Coronation Ball, a show at the Cleveland Arena on March 21, 1952 promoted by the disc jockey Alan Freed and now known as the first ever rock concert. Paul Willaims and his band were the only ones having a chance to perform before the Cleveland fire marshall closed the show due to overcrowding.
Ray Charles - (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), was an American pianist and singer, who shaped the sound of rhythm and blues. He brought a soulful sound to country music and pop standards through his Modern Sounds recordings, as well as a rendition of "America the Beautiful" that Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes called the "definitive version of the song, an American anthem — a classic, just as the man who sung it." Frank Sinatra called him "the only true genius in the business". In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Charles number ten on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and also voted him number two on their November 2008 list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Few artists can claim to have had such a wide ranging impact on the music we love, and even fewer have altered the course of so many musical streams - from his soul-jazz combos to his crucial R&B bands, to his landmark country music recordings, "Modern Sounds in Country Music." Starting his recording career in the late 1940's, Charles soon began experimenting, mixing genres. He began establishing a name for himself in clubs around the northwest, evolving his own music and singing style, which later included the famous back up singers, "The Raelettes."
During a career that has spanned some 58 years, Charles starred on over 250 albums, many of them top sellers in a variety of musical genres. Charles appeared in movies, such as "The Blues Brothers," and on television, and starred in commercials for Pepsi and California Raisins, among numerous others. Blessed with one of the 20th century's most advanced musical minds, Charles became an American cultural icon decades ago.
Roy Brown - (September 10, 1925 May 25, 1981) was a blues musician who brought his soul/gospel style of singing to the emerging genre of rock and roll. Brown started as a gospel singer. His mother was an accomplished singer and organist in church. After a move to Los Angeles, California some time in the 1940s, and a brief period spent as a professional boxer in the welterweight category, he won a singing contest in 1945 at the Million Dollar Theater covering "There's No You" by Bing Crosby. In 1946 Brown moved to Galveston, Texas, where he sang in a club. His numbers included "Good Rocking Tonight". He returned to New Orleans in 1947. Brown and his band "The Mighty Men" were spectacular performers, with the kind of crowd pleasing stage histrionics for which Little Richard would soon be famous. Unfortunately, tastes changed and Brown could not keep up. The decline of his fortunes coincided with his successfully winning a lawsuit against King Records for unpaid royalties in 1952, one of the few African American musicians to do so in the 1950s. This has led some, such as author Nick Tosches (in his book Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll, which contains a chapter on Brown) to believe that Brown may have been blacklisted. When his popularity ebbed in the rock and roll era, he tried teen-slanted songs like "School Bell Rock", but had little success and more or less retired. His popularity was at its lowest at the end of the 1950s, but he sporadically managed to find work through the 1960s. To supplement his income, he worked as an encyclopedia salesman. In 1970 Brown closed The Johnny Otis Show at the Monterey Jazz Festival. As a result of the crowd reaction he recorded "Love For Sale", which became a hit for Mercury Records. In the late 1970s a compilation album of his old work brought about a minor revival of interest. In 1978 he had a successful tour in Scandinavia following the release of Laughing But Crying and before the release of Good Rocking Tonight. Shortly before his death he performed at the Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood, California and headlined the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival during the spring of 1981.He died of a heart attack, in San Fernando, California at the age of 55, in May 1981. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame the same year. In 2008, two of his songs, Butcher Pete and Mighty, Mighty Man were included in the game Fallout 3.
Sam Phillips - his Sun Records label was also an early home to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf and more of rock and roll’s greatest talents. Sun produced more rock and roll records than any other label of its time. They included the songs that served as the foundation for rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley’s first five singles , Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” Phillips not only recorded the varied streams of ethnic music that flowed throughout the South in the Fifties - from blues and R&B to country and gospel music - but was convinced he could bring them together in one irresistible package. As a producer, label owner and talent scout, Phillips pioneered a new style of music called rockabilly. In 1952, Phillips launched Sun Records on its 16-year, 226-single run. (That figure doesn’t include the 71 singles released on Sun’s sister label, Phillips International!) Those 45s and 78s with the familiar Sun logo amount to a treasure of music whose greatest moments mark the spot where rock and roll originated and thrived
Sister Rosetta Tharpe - (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was a pioneering Gospel singer, songwriter and recording artist who attained great popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with a unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and early rock accompaniment. She became the first great recording star of Gospel music in the late 1930s and also became known as the "original soul sister" of recorded music. Willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing her inspirational music of 'light' in the 'darkness' of the nightclubs and concert halls with big bands behind her, her witty, idiosyncratic style also left a lasting mark on more conventional gospel artists, such as Ira Tucker, Sr., of the Dixie Hummingbirds. While she offended some conservative churchgoers with her forays into the world of pop music, she never left gospel music.
T-Bone Walker - born on May 28, 1910 in Linden, Texas. As a boy he lead legendary Bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson around the streets of Dallas. He saved his money from playing church socials on weekends and bought his first guitar when in high school. T-Bone Walker's big break came in 1929, winning first prize in a amateur show with first prize being a week with Cab Calloway's band. This lead T-bone to recording for Columbia Records under the name Oak Cliff T-Bone and released Witchita Fall Blues and Trinity River Blues that same year. T-Bone Walker was one of the first Blues musicians to experiment with the electric guitar, and between 1935 and 1936, T-Bone Walker was using a prototype of the electric guitar. On June 17, 2006 Linden, Texas held its inaugural T-Bone Walker Blues Fest to honor this icon in American Music. Sanctioned by the Estate of T-Bone Walker, The T-Bone is destined to become a premiere blues event.
The Treniers - The Treniers were an American musical group led by identical twins Cliff and Claude Trenier, with James Johnson on bass. Active since the 1940s, they played a cross between swing and early rock n' roll. Though their sound is more swing influenced, the Treniers incorporated a thumping backbeat and copious songs that included the words "rock" and "roll" - "Rocking on Sunday Night" and "It Rocks! It Rolls! It Swings!", for example, and in the 40's were already playing "Rockin' Is Our Bizness," which was a reworded version of Jimmie Lunceford's "Rhythm Is Our Business" of the 1930s (the Trenier twins got their start playing in Lunceford's band). They were also known for the humorous content of many of their songs, and their on stage acrobatics were seen as precursors to the wild antics of many later rock and roll groups.
Trixie Smith - (1895 – September 21, 1943), was an American blues singer, recording artist, vaudeville entertainer, and actress. She made four dozen recordings. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, with a middle class-background, and it is believed that she attended Selma University in Alabama before moving to New York around 1915. She worked in minstrel shows and on the TOBA vaudeville circuit, before making her first recordings for the Black Swan label in 1922. Among these were "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" possibly the first secular recording to reference the phrase "rock and roll". Her record inspired various lyrical elaboration’s: "Rock That Thing" by Lil Johnson, "Rock Me Mama" by Ikey Robinson, and so on. Also in 1922, Trixie Smith won first place and a silver cup in a blues singing contest at the Inter-Manhattan Casino in New York, sponsored by dancer Irene Castle, with her song "Trixie's Blues," singing against Alice Carter, Daisy Martin and Lucille Hegamin. She is most remembered for "Railroad Blues," (1925) a song that featured one of Smith's most inspired vocal performances on record, and "The World Is Jazz Crazy and So Am I" (1925). Both songs feature Louis Armstrong on cornet. A highly polished performer, her records include several outstanding examples of the blues on which she is accompanied by artists such as James P. Johnson, and Freddie Keppard. She recorded with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra for Paramount Records in 1924-1925.
Wild Bill Moore - ( June 13, 1918 – August 8, 1983), was an American R&B tenor saxophone player. Living in Detroit, he was Michigan's amateur Golden Gloves light heavyweight champion in 1937, and turned professional for a while, but also played alto sax. By 1944 he had switched to tenor, influenced by Chu Berry and Illinois Jacquet, and made his first recordings with Christine Chatman, the wife of Memphis Slim. The following year he began performing and recording in Los Angeles with Slim Gaillard, Jack McVea, Joe Turner, Dexter Gordon and others, including playing on Helen Humes’ hit “Be-Baba-Leba”. In 1947 he moved back to Detroit and began recording with his own band, which included baritone player Paul Williams, later famous for “The Hucklebuck”. In December of that year he recorded the frantic "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll", for the Savoy label. The record was a modest hit, and is remembered today as one of many candidates for “the first rock and roll record”. It was one of the first records played by Alan Freed on his "Moondog" radio shows in 1951. However, by the standards of its time it was quite a primitive recording, notable mainly for the juxtaposition of the magic words “rock” and “roll” and the battling honking saxes of Moore and Williams. In 1949 he cut a much better recording called, simply and to the point, "Rock And Roll", reportedly featuring Scatman Crothers on vocals.
Additions to the list? Contact us here.
Blues| Country | Jazz | Family Bands | Female | Folk | Metal | Power Trios | Punk | Reggae
Rock - The Pioneers - Rock '51 - '63 | Rock '62 - '69-The British Invasion | Rock '68 - '74
Site Map Comments or Questions Submissions