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The Number One "Rocket 88"

Thursday, May 31: 4:50 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
"Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats is often cited as the first rock and roll record

In June 1951, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats had the Number One single on the Billboard R&B charts with "Rocket 88." More pointedly, the recording – along with Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (1949), Wild Bill Moore's "Rock and Roll" (1949), Fats Domino's debut single "The Fat Man" (1949) and Jimmy Preston's "Rock the Joint" (1949), among others – ranks among the first incarnations of the genre that would come to be known as rock and roll. In fact, many consider "Rocket 88" the first rock and roll record.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Jackie Brenston was a forceful singer and a capable baritone sax player. By the close of the 1940s, he had joined the Kings of Rhythm, which had formed around the nucleus of Ike Turner in Mississippi. Farther north, in Memphis, Tennessee, Sam Phillips had opened his Memphis Recording Studio alongside the Sun Records label at 706 Union Avenue at the start of 1950 (he would later change the name to Sun Studios). Although the operation would go on to record the works of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name but ...


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A Million Dollar Jam Session

Thursday, September 29: 4:43 p.m.
The Million Dollar Quartet. Photo credit: Memphis Press-Scimitar

The story of rock and roll is often reduced to a happy mix of rhythm and blues and country music, but it is actually a far richer and more complicated comingling of styles, genres, instruments, cultures and people. For our Rock and Roll Night School last night, my colleagues and I researched a rather famous moment in rock and roll history featuring some of its greatest musicians playing together at an impromptu jam session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956. Coined the “Million Dollar Quartet” by local journalist Bob Johnson who stopped by to chronicle the session, I was struck by the versatility of these legends and the diverse repertory they had in their wheelhouse.

Earlier that day, rockabilly king Carl Perkins had recorded some songs with Sun newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis on piano.  Former Sun superstar (and then RCA recording artist) Elvis Presley was home for the holidays and dropped by with his girlfriend. Johnny Cash swung by for a time as well. As the musicians began to play together, Phillips placed a microphone in the middle of the room and pressed record. What followed were hours of musical exchange, experimentation, improvisation, imitation ...


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