Rock & Roll turns sixty!

Cut at Sam Phillips' legendary Sun Studio in Memphis on 5 March 1951, "Rocket 88" was a hymn of praise to the joys of the new Oldsmobile car. It paved the way for everything that followed musically and everyone from Elvis to Eminem owes a debt to this one record.

Credited to Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, the record also featured a young pianist: Ike Turner was a DJ in Clarksdale, Mississippi when BB King suggested he try his luck with Sam Phillips in Memphis. Ike got teenager Jackie Brenston to sing, and together the group piled into a car for the journey. Legend has it that the single‟s distinct sound came from the amplifier tumbling off the car roof on the way to the session; with no time to repair it, the distorted sound captured on disc came to represent the raw sound of rock & roll.

Years later, Sam Phillips recalled: “We had no way of getting it fixed, so we started playing around with the damn thing, stuffed a little paper in there and it sounded good”.

There had been claims before, but the status of "Rocket 88" was finally recognised in 1991, when the song was inaugurated into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the first rock & roll record.

Sam Phillips had opened his Memphis Recording Service in January 1950 advertising “We Record Anything - Anywhere - Anytime”. And Sam truly did record Anything… Anywhere… Anytime, lugging his tape recorder to weddings, bar-mitzvahs, beauty pageants… But Sam‟s true love was the music of black America, a courageous stance in the rigidly segregated south of the 1950s.

Sam produced "Rocket 88" in Memphis, licensed it to Chess Records in Chicago, and watched it become the No.1 R&B record in the USA. The success of "Rocket 88" meant that Sam could give up night-time DJ-ing; recording funerals and taking care of the PA system at the Peabody Hotel! That one single ensured a career for the founding father of rock & roll.
Of course it wasn‟t only Ike Turner and "Rocket 88"… through the doors of Sam Phillips' Memphis studios later came a legion of influential blues and R&B artists, and in 1954, three years after "Rocket 88", Sam began recording a teenage truck driver called Elvis Presley.… But that‟s another story for another time.

For more information on "Rocket 88", Memphis, Sam Phillips and Sun Records visit: memphis-missisippi.co.uk; memphistravel.com; sunstudio.com or email info@deep-south-usa.com