(Information courtesy of relayer, BBS#23 and this can originally be found at http://www.worldwatchonline.com/music.htm.)
Sam Phillips, born January 5, 1923 in Florence, Alabama, is best known as producer and owner of Sun Studios and discovering Elvis Presley, but prior to Elvis and the "birth of rock 'n' roll," Phillips and his Sun Studios played a very important and influential role in Memphis blues; at Sun he recorded future greats like BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Roscoe Gordon and others. Phillips was to Memphis blues what Leonard and Phil Chess were to Chicago blues.
In 1951, Phillips did not have Sun set up yet, but he had a deal with Chess Records; Phillips recorded "Rocket 88," written by Jackie Brenston, and leased it to Chess. Often called the first rock 'n' roll record, "Rocket 88" went to the top of the R&B charts and forced Chess, RPM and other labels to take a serious interest in Memphis music, paving the way for Phillips' Sun Studios and the rise of rock 'n' roll...
Until the general public embraced the new sound coming out of Memphis and took it to their hearts and to the top of the charts, the major music centers in New York and Los Angeles ignored and even ridiculed it. Sam Phillips and the Sun musicians didn't give a damn. It was their music, real, honest and from the soul. It became popular without being pop, accepted without being acceptable. Still today, Memphis musicians share the non-conformist attitudes of the Sun Studio revolutionaries, refusing to manufacture the corporate sound being force-fed to America by the major labels. One of the most common comments made by visitors to Sun Studio, after seeing its tiny size and its primitive form, is that they can't believe it could all have happened here. The truth is, it probably could not have happened anywhere else.
Whether "Rocket 88" was indeed the first rock 'n' roll record is subject to debate. But for many the song did sound and feel like a rock 'n' roll record, and it may have provided an important link to the black R&B records that preceded it.
Jackie Brenston may be best known for this song. A saxophone player and singer from Clarksdale, Mississippi, Jackie wrote the song and recorded it with Ike Turner's band in early 1951 at the Sun Recording Studio in Memphis. Similar to Jimmy Liggins's "Cadillac Boogie," "Rocket 88" climbed to the top of the R&B charts and, overall, was the second most successful R&B record of 1951, yielding only to the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man."
Jackie released a few more singles between 1951 and 1953, but none of them came close to matching the success of "Rocket 88"; Brenston wound up playing sax in Lowell Fulson's band until 1955 when he teamed up with Turner again. He remained a member of Turner's band until 1962. He died in Memphis in 1979.
The song being played as Buckaroo takes the stage (played by Billy Vera and the Beaters) is none other than "Rocket 88." It was written by Brenston to showcase his souped-up boogie-woogie piano playing skills, hence the "88," the number of keys on a piano. "Rocket 88" was an ode to cruising - the name derives in homage to that fabled Oldsmobile engine spoken of in the Garage.
This page was last updated on June 10th, 2016.
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