Most of the R&B artists were from the South and doo-wop artists were from the North. What elements of each region’s culture and upbringing influenced their music? When responding to at least three of your peers, offer an example of music from R&B and an example of music from doo-wop from this era. Does your musical example agree with what your peers have said in their initial response? How are doo-wop and R&B styles similar or different? Make sure to make formal connections to our readings and materials from this unit. When sharing your musical selections with the class, please use the mashup tool for YouTube.When sharing your musical selections with the class, you may use the mashup tool for YouTube. If you are uncomfortable with that or would like to post a traditional text response, that is acceptable as well. Below are the Mashup direction should you choose to use that option. Using Mashup is NOT mandatory.
The Emergence of Rhythm and Blues
By the time Billboard’s renamed chart made its first appearance on June 25, 1949, rhythm and blues had become a small but significant part of the record industry. During World War II, what we now call rhythm and blues was just an occasional blip on the radar screen of popular music. After the war ended, rhythm and blues took off—maybe not as fast as Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88”—but quickly enough to get the attention of Billboard’s staff. However, it was in the 1950s that rhythm and blues began to expand its niche in the pop marketplace, even as it carved out its distinctive sound identity. In less than a decade, rhythm and blues became an integral part of a new pop world.
The commercial growth of rhythm and blues during the 1950s was mainly a product of three factors: the economic and social empowerment of blacks, the growing interest of whites in black music, and the crossover appeal of the music itself.
Change font size
37-1Black Social and Economic Issues in the 1950s
The central issue for blacks after World War II was equality: racial, economic, and social. Black and white soldiers had fought for the United States during World War II, sometimes side by side, but more often in segregated units. The irony of blacks fighting to defend freedom in a country that did not treat them as free men was not lost on President Truman. In 1948, he signed an executive order demanding an end to discrimination in the armed services. This was one of numerous postwar developments that moved the United States—however painfully—closer to an integrated society.
If World War II brought the question to the fore, the postwar economic boom, the massive emigration of blacks from the rural South, and the Cold War gave the United States the reasons to respond to it. The flourishing postwar economy meant more and better-paying jobs. It put more money in the pockets of blacks, although not at the same rate as whites, and it reduced competition for jobs, which was one reason for trying to maintain the racial status quo, especially in the South. The migration of blacks to the North and West, which had begun in earnest after the turn of the century, accelerated during and especially after World War II. There they had the right to vote, which enabled them to exert pressure on politicians.
Another factor was the evident hypocrisy between the United States presenting itself to other nations as a defender of freedom and denying it to some of its citizens. During the Cold War, schoolchildren recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day, reiterating that the republic was “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Observers outside of the South, as well as those in other countries, were increasingly reminded that so long as all Americans were not equal under the law, this pledge—what the nation professed to believe and practice—was in fact a lie.
The two events that catalyzed the civil rights movement occurred within a year of each other. The first was the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which rescinded the “separate but equal” policy sanctioned by the Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Plessy, the Court had held that blacks could be educated in separate (or segregated) schools as long as they were “equal” in quality to the schools whites attended. Now, the Court said that there could be no equality unless blacks and whites had equal access to all schools.
Following this decision, the civil rights movement gained momentum in the courts and on the streets. In 1955, Montgomery, Alabama native Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person. When she was arrested and sent to jail, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the municipal bus service for a year. Two years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which advocated nonviolent protest modeled after that used by Mahatma Gandhi in India. All of this laid the foundation for the major advances in civil rights during the 1960s.
Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in the film Caledonia, 1942.
Unlike jazz musicians such as Charles Mingus, rhythm-and-blues artists did not lift their voice in support of the civil rights movement during the 1950s. Their contribution was indirect: the appeal of their music helped heighten awareness of black culture. At the same time, rhythm and blues benefited from the increased attention given to race relations in the media; it was a two-way street. The first R&B style to emerge in the postwar era was the up-tempo music of the jump bands, and especially the music of Louis Jordan.
37-3“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”
“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” was a big hit in 1946 for the jump band Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five. Louis Jordan (1908–1975) first made his mark as a saxophonist in Chick Webb’s fine swing band. He played for Webb from 1936 through 1938, then formed his own smaller group a year later. Unlike many later rhythm-and-blues artists, Jordan got a record deal with a major label, Decca, with whom he signed a contract in 1939. This undoubtedly helped build his audience.
The song begins with the pianist laying down a medium-tempo boogie-woogie bass while the horns play a simple riff. The first part of Jordan’s vocal is a series of six short phrases, all of which rhyme and all of which develop from a simple repeated riff. Although the words happen over a blues harmonic progression, they do not follow the standard form of the blues lyric. Instead, they serve as a storytelling verse to the catchy chorus that follows. The theme, of course, is life on the railroad—certainly a common topic for songs of that era. (Note the reference to “ballin’ the jack,” that is, getting the train moving.) Like numerous other up-tempo blues songs, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” adapts the conventional blues form to a verse/chorus pattern; the hook of the chorus provides an easy point of entry into the song.
“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” (1946)
Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five.
STYLE Jump-band song • FORM Blues-based verse/chorus form. Verse contains six 2-bar phrases over blues progression; chorus is last eight bars of blues progression.
Listen For …
Vocal, rhythm section (piano, bass, drums—using brushes—and guitar), and small horn section
Shuffle rhythm (intensified four-beat rhythm), with a light backbeat
Vocal and horn parts move in tandem with shuffle rhythm, with occasional strong syncopation
Blues progression in verse; chorus = last two-thirds of a blues chorus (IV-I-V-I)
Melody plus background riffs and rhythmic accompaniment during vocals
Essentially a streamlined swing band: a full rhythm section plus a mixed horn section—trumpet(s) and saxophones
Long/short division of each beat intensifies swing rhythm
Both vocal line and solos are built mainly from riffs
FLEXIBILITY OF BLUES FORM
Another verse/chorus blues: blues progression in verse; last two-thirds of progression in chorus
Popularity of trains in black music reflects not only the useful sounds but also their importance to transportation at mid century
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
In a jump band like Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, the roles of the musicians are clearly defined: the bass walks; the drummer plays a shuffle beat; the guitar and/or the piano also helps keep the beat—the pianist may also play fills and solo; the saxophone honks riffs, either behind the vocalist, in response to him, or in a solo; and the other horns join the sax in creating harmonized response riffs.
The tone of the lyric is humorous and self-deprecating; we sense that the “I” in the song is a happy-go-lucky kind of fellow. (The wanderer has pretty much disappeared from our twenty-first-century lives, but even a half century ago, hoboes—men who “rode the rails” from place to place [stowed away on trains], working odd jobs in exchange for food, a roof, and maybe a little cash, or simply begging—were more common. Their mystique, a holdover from the Great Depression, was still powerful in the years after World War II.) The music—with its bouncy shuffle beat, catchy riffs (not only in the vocal parts but also in both the piano and the sax solos), and pleasant vocal style—helps capture the mood of the lyric.
This became the formula for Jordan and many of the jump bands that followed him. One reason for the increasing appeal of these songs, to black Americans and gradually to whites as well, was the easy points of entry: upbeat lyrics; repeated riffs, either sung or played on a honking saxophone; a clear beat, usually in a shuffle rhythm; and a chorus-based form.
37-4Big-Beat Rhythm and Blues
During the early 1950s, the rhythmic foundation of the most rhythmic rhythm and blues did not change, but it did get stronger, more active, and louder. With the aid of amplification and an amplified guitar, the increased prominence of rhythm section instruments, and a fair amount of muscle, the rhythms of the rhythm section came out from behind the rest of the band, as we hear in “Rocket 88.”
“Rocket 88” (1951)
Jackie Brenston and
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.
STYLE 1950s big-beat rhythm and blues • FORM twelve-bar blues
Listen For …
Vocal, saxophone, electric guitar, piano, bass, drums
Severe distortion in the electric guitar
Strong shuffle rhythm with occasional triplets layered in and pounded out by prominent rhythm section
Prototypical blues progression outlined by guitar riff
Thick sound, with guitar in low register (covering bass), sax riffs in low middle register, Brenston’s vocal in mid range, and Turner’s piano in a higher range
A strong shuffle rhythm with occasional triplets adding to rhythmic activity; the interaction between layers clarifies the long–short pattern of the shuffle rhythm
Kizart’s busted amplifier leads to a novel sound: the severely distorted guitar is a happy accident!
The guitar line clearly outlines the most basic version of the twelve-bar blues progression and blues form.
This recording features standard jump-band instrumentation—rhythm section with electric guitar plus saxophones, with the saxophone in the spotlight, but the rhythm instruments are prominent.
A SONG ABOUT CARS
Like trains, cars were an appealing topic during the postwar years in transportation-happy America.
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” (1951) was a big rhythm-and-blues hit with a big beat. Although Brenston was the singer on this date, it was pianist Ike Turner’s band that Brenston fronted, and the most distinctive sound on this recording is Willie Kizart’s distorted guitar, not Brenston’s singing. The story of how it found its way onto a record is the stuff of rock-and-roll legend.
According to most accounts of the making of this record, the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, with their instruments strapped on top of the car. At some point, the guitar amp fell off, or was dropped, and the speaker cone was torn. As a result, the guitar produced a heavily distorted sound, even after Kizart had stuffed it with paper. When recording engineer Sam Phillips heard it, he decided to make an asset out of a perceived liability, so he made the guitar line, which simply adapts a shuffle-style boogie-woogie left hand to the guitar, stand out.
37-4aActive Rhythms in Postwar Rhythm and Blues
The rhythm of “Rocket 88” sounds more active mainly because of two features, the use of triplets and the increased prominence of the shuffle rhythm. The term triplet identifies a rhythmic pattern that divides each beat into three equal parts. Before the early 1950s, triplets were seldom used in blues, jazz, and pop, and when they were used, it was mainly in slower tempos. After 1950, triplets became a staple in slow rhythm and blues and were also used to add rhythmic energy in medium-tempo songs.
Kizart’s guitar line provides an explicit outline of the shuffle rhythm. In Figure 37.1, we see represented the relationship among the beat; the guitar part, which lays down the shuffle rhythm; and the piano part, which plays triplets intermittently. (At this tempo, it would be very challenging physically to play triplets all the way through the song!)
Rhythmic relationship between shuffle and triplet rhythms, as demonstrated in “Rocket 88.”
Notice the way in which the shuffle rhythm lines up with the triplets: The long note in each beat lasts as long as the first two notes of the triplets, whereas the short note lasts as long as the third triplet. The triplets enable us to hear precisely the 2:1 ratio between the long and short notes of a shuffle rhythm.
The shuffle rhythm is not the characteristic rhythm of rock, although it was occasionally used as an alternative to rock rhythm in rock-era songs. However, as it is heard here—played loudly on a guitar with a distorted sound—it conveys the kind of energy that we associate with rock, because there are insistent rhythms that move faster than the beat. This rhythm is in the foreground throughout the song; it is this feature—loud, insistent, active rhythms—that seemed to attract teens, both black and white, and repelled so many adults, who wanted such rhythms heard gently in the background.
37-4bThe Sound of 1950s Rhythmic Rhythm and Blues
In other respects, the song is right in step with the up-tempo songs of postwar rhythm and blues; rhythmic rhythm-and-blues bands were as consistent in their approach to instrumentation as they were in their approach to rhythm and harmony. “Rocket 88” is typical. The band behind Jackie Brenston consists of a full early-1950s-style rhythm section—electric guitar, piano, bass, and drums—plus two saxophones, one of which takes an extended solo. In 1950s rhythm-and-blues songs, we expect to hear bands with a rhythm section and at least one saxophone; the saxophone will be a solo instrument as well as an accompanying instrument, and both accompaniments and solo passages will feature repeated riffs.
“Rocket 88” poster showing Jackie Brenston, with Ike Turner at the piano, 1952.
The lyric tells a story over a blues progression. Its subject touches on a recurrent theme: cars. “Rocket 88” was inspired by Joe Liggins’ 1947 recording, “Cadillac Boogie,” and it is one link in a chain that passes through Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” to the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe.” There is the obligatory honking sax solo—a good one—and a nice instrumental out-chorus (the final statement of the blues progression) that’s straight out of the big-band era.
Both the distortion and the relative prominence of the guitar were novel features of this recording—these are the elements that have earned “Rocket 88” so many nominations as “the first” rock-and-roll record. From our perspective, “Rocket 88” wasn’t the first rock-and-roll record, because the beat is a shuffle rhythm, not the distinctive rock rhythm heard first in the songs of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Still, the distortion and the central place of the guitar in the overall sound certainly anticipate key features of rock style.
Muddy Waters (1915–1983), born McKinley Morganfield, grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the northwest part of the state, in the heart of what is called the Delta region. The population was mostly black, and for the vast majority, life was brutal. Both males and females worked as sharecroppers, often from childhood; Waters was a farm laborer as a boy. Most lived at subsistence level, trapped in an unending cycle of economic dependence. From this harsh and isolated environment came what Robert Palmer called deep blues , a powerful music that gave expression to, and release from, the brutal conditions of the Delta.
Waters heard this music while he was growing up and began to play it in his teens. He started on the harmonica, then took up the guitar, because, “You see, I was digging Son House and Robert Johnson.” By his late twenties, Waters had become a popular performer in the region.
Like many other southern blacks, Waters moved north during World War II, settling on Chicago’s South Side. He continued to play, first at house parties, then in small bars, and recorded for Columbia in 1946. (The recordings were not released until many years later.) Still, it was not enough to pay the rent, and Waters was working as a truck driver when he approached Aristocrat Records about recording for them. Aristocrat, which had just been bought by the Chess brothers, would soon become the Chess label, and Waters would become their biggest star before Chuck Berry.
38-2The Sound of Electric Blues
Muddy Waters’ singing and playing retained its earthiness and passion after he moved north; he added the power of amplification and a full rhythm section during his first years in Chicago.
In the music of Waters and other like-minded Chicago bluesmen, electric blues found its groove during the fifties. By the end of the decade, it had settled into its classic sound. Its most consistent features include:
· Regular blues form (or an easily recognized variant of it)
· Rough-edged vocals
· Vocal-like responses and solos from the lead guitar or harmonica
· A dense texture, with several instruments playing melody-like lines behind the singer
· A rhythm section laying down a strong beat, usually some form of the shuffle rhythm popularized in forties rhythm and blues
Its stars attracted a loyal following, mostly in the black community. Records by Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Lowell Fulson, Elmore James, and Bobby Bland consistently found their way onto the R&B charts. They were not as well-known as the pop-oriented groups, but far better known—within and outside the black community—than their country kin from previous generations.
Muddy Waters (left) and harmonica player Isaac Washington, performing in New York, 1959.
38-3“(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”
“(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” the 1954 recording that was Waters’ biggest hit, epitomizes the fully transformed electric blues style. It retains the essence of country blues in Waters’ singing and playing. Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy described Waters’ appeal in this way:
It’s real. Muddy’s real. See the way he plays guitar? Mississippi style, not the city way. He don’t play chords, he don’t follow what’s written down in the book. He plays notes, all blue notes. Making what he’s thinking.
Willie Dixon’s lyrics make references to love potions and voodoo charms, sexual prowess and special status; Waters’ singing makes them credible. It is easy to conjure up such a world and envision him as the hoochie coochie man. That much remained virtually unchanged from the rawest country blues of the twenties and thirties. Plugging in and adding a rhythm section simply amplified the impact of the message.
The song alternates between two textures: the stop-time of the opening, where instrumental riffs periodically punctuate Waters’ vocal line, and the free-for-all of the refrain-like finish of each chorus. The stop-time opening contains two competing riffs—one played by the harmonica, the other by the electric guitar. In the chorus, everybody plays: harmonica trills, guitar riffs, piano chords, thumping bass, and shuffle pattern on the drums underpin Waters’ singing. Each of the melodic and rhythmic strands is an important part of the mix, but none is capable of standing alone. The dense texture they produce, with independent but interdependent lines, was almost unprecedented in small-group music before rock.
The electric blues of the fifties brought nastier guitar sounds into popular music. The overdriven guitar sounds that jumped off numerous blues records were intentional. Almost as soon as they went electric, blues guitarists began to experiment with distortion in order to get a guitar sound that paralleled the rawness of singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Among the leaders in this direction were Buddy Guy and Elmore James, both based in Chicago through much of the fifties.
The influence of electric blues on rock came in two installments, first in the music of Chuck Berry, then in the blues-based rock of the 1960s.
“(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” (1954)
Muddy Waters, guitar and vocal; Little Walter, harmonica; Willie Dixon, bass; Jimmy Rogers, guitar; Otis Spann, piano; and Fred Below, drums.
STYLE Electric blues • FORM Modified blues form: First phrase is doubled in length; it serves as a verse; last two phrases are the refrain.
Listen For …
Vocal, electric guitars, harmonica, piano, bass, and drums
Waters sings passionately, with great rhythmic freedom, over both the stop-time and strong, active rhythm
Strong contrast between stop-time in verse section and shuffle+ triplet rhythm in the refrain segment, all at slow tempo
Blues progression with first phrase expanded to eight bars on I chord
Dense, dark sound, from several instruments active in low and mid register
EXPANDED BLUES FORM
The first phrase is twice as long as in a conventional blues; the last two phrases serve as a refrain
VOCAL-LIKE INSTRUMENTAL RESPONSES
Both the guitar and harmonica answers sound almost vocal in style: Harmonica player Little Walter almost sings through his instrument
Stop-time at beginning of each chorus; rhythm guitar and drums lay down a strong shuffle rhythm, piano adds triplets, over which Waters’s vocal and Walter’s harmonica soar freely
BLUES AS “REAL” MUSIC
Waters’s singing is especially passionate in the refrain-like part of the song; Little Walter’s harmonica mimics vocal style; rhythm instruments add to impact
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
Early Doo-Wop Ch. 39
39-1The Sound of Upbeat Doo-Wop
The Chords’ eye toward the pop charts is clearly evident in “Sh-Boom,” which we might describe as “jump-band lite.” Because many of these groups developed their songs a capella and were given backup studio musicians—many of them jump-band performers—they took on the jump-band’s shuffle rhythm and instrumentation: rhythm section plus saxophone. But the beat is discreet—very much in the background—and the good saxophone solo straddles the boundary between jazz and honking R&B. Moreover, the song is not a blues; its form and underlying harmony use “Heart and Soul,” a familiar pop standard, as a model.
The song focuses on the voices; the instrumental accompaniment is very much in the background. The Chords’ sound is typical: a lead singer (Carl Feaster) with a pleasant but untrained voice, plus four backup singers, including the requisite bass voice (William “Ricky” Edwards), who steps into the spotlight briefly. When singing behind Feaster, the backup singers alternate between sustained chords and the occasional rhythmic interjection—“Sh-Boom.” During the saxophone solo, the voices mimic a big-band horn section playing a riff underneath a soloist.
39-2Doo-Wop: Voices as Instruments
“Life could be a dream, life could be a dream”; “doo, doo, doo, doo, Sh-Boom.” The first part of the lyric is typical of the romantic pop of the era; the second is the defining feature of doo-wop . As the song unfolds, the lyric alternates between explaining why life could be a dream and nonsense syllables like “hey, nonny ding dong, shalang alang alang.” “Sh-Boom” returns regularly between phrases of the lyric; it is like a gentle prod that keeps the rhythmic momentum going. Significantly, the title of the song comes from one of these nonsense syllables, not from the first phrase of the lyric.
The practice of using the voice to imitate instruments, especially percussive-sounding instruments, is a distinctively black practice. Before doo-wop, it was evident in such diverse music as Louis Armstrong’s jazz-like scat singing, the rhythm section-like support of backup singers in male gospel quartets, and the nonsense syllables used in 1940s rhythm and blues, in such hit songs as “Stick” McGhee’s “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.” With doo-wop, the practice became so integral to the music that it gave the style its name. The term doo-wop—borrowed from songs that used the phrase—was applied retrospectively to this music to acknowledge its most salient feature.
The function of the nonsense syllables is to inject rhythmic energy into the song. The syllables are typically rich in consonant sounds that explode (b) or sustain (sh or m). In the “Sh-Boom”–like parts of the song, the voices become instruments. They are not percussive instruments per se, because they have pitch, but the vocal sounds have a percussive quality, like the plucking of a string bass or the slapping of an electric bass.
<a rel='nofollow' target='