Before Rock and Roll, there were a host of artists and recordings, in a few different genres, that shared the spirit and feel of Rock and Roll. Big Mama Thornton's guitar-driven Gospel, Hank Williams' lean, story-driven Country, Howlin' Wolf's rough Blues: all have strong ties to the music that was yet to come. But perhaps Rhythm and Blues is the most closely related to Rock and Roll. In Fats Domino's view, Rock and Roll was just a new name for the thing he'd been doing since the late 40s.

This chapter looks at pre-Rock and Roll Rhythm and Blues but also at the ensemble sounds that fed into Rhythm and Blues from popular Jazz. Since the time of his first single in the mid-50s, Chuck Berry has been vocal in crediting Louis Jordan as a primary influence on his writing. Jordan, first fronting a Swing band, helped develop what is sometimes called Jump Blues, recording a string of hits in that vein, the very hits with which Chuck Berry connected as a young man in St. Louis.

The lessons in this chapter will include explorations of Louis Jordan's remarkable career but also look into the Rhythm and Blues that came after that. Atlantic Records, the home of Rhythm and Blues artists including Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, and Ray Charles, will be given special attention. The label that would one day be the home of not just Aretha Franklin but Led Zeppelin, Atlantic played a major role in guiding popular music from Rhythm and Blues into the Soul years.

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The Influence of Rhythm and Blues

What did R&B bring to early Rock and Roll, and how was early Rock and Roll different?
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World War II and the Shrinking of the Ensemble

How did wartime restrictions and other factors cause popular music ensembles to shrink in size during the 1940s, helping to set the stage for the small “combos” of Rock and Roll?