Revising history: Louisiana Rocks
We all know rock & roll entered mainstream white America in Memphis in the 1950s when Elvis Presley released “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
Well, not everyone.
Some folks say Bill Haley and His Comets laid good claim for the breakthrough with “Rock Around the Clock.”
Since Elvis and Haley did not create rock & roll, but rather tapped into an existing mother-lode vein of black music, gave it an earth-shaking spin and cleaned it up for a mass market of American teenagers, the real rock & roll debate boils down to this: Where did all that revolutionary music came from in the first place?
Current rock & roll history tells us that Elvis hung out in Memphis with black musicians, learned his moves and ended up discovered by Sam Phillips at Sun Records.
Great story, everyone knows it.
But, Tom Aswell, author of “Louisiana Rocks - The True Genesis of Rock & Roll,” recently published by Pelican Publishing Company in Gretna, argues that the origins of rock & roll really began in New Orleans, seven years before Elvis released “Good Rockin' Tonight.”
Aswell says when native New Orleanean Roy Brown recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1947 at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Recording studio on North Rampart Street, rock & roll was born.
And, he notes that Brown wasn’t rockin’ alone in Louisiana. Fats Domino recorded “The Fat Man,” at J&M in 1949, a song some historians claim might be the first rock and roll song. Also, Hank Williams, living in Bossier City in 1949 and performing regularly at the Louisiana Hayride, recorded “Lovesick Blues,” a song considered the precursor, or bridge song, that led to Elvis’ famous early rockabilly sound.
If Aswell is correct, Louisiana and New Orleans, areas of the country with rich musical heritages, were knee deep in the early waters of rock & roll, maybe even the primordial stew where rock was created.
While no one questions that jazz began in New Orleans’ Storyville district, a New Orleans and Louisiana claim to the birth of rock & roll is a long way from general acceptance.
Aswell wastes little time bemoaning accepted rock history.
His book will astonish even Louisianans with the richness of their state’s pop culture musical importance in the past 60 years, and leave skeptics of the state’s claim to the birthplace of rock & roll searching for something to counter the deluge of material in “Louisiana Rocks.”
Though the book is a procedural documentation of the amazing songs and personalities that make up the state's rock & roll history, it reads like a page turner covering Louisiana and American R&B, blues, Cajun and Zydeco, Swamp Pop.
You may know of Slim Harpo, the great blues harmonica player, but did you know he was from Port Allen? Readers meet more one-hit wonders from Louisiana than they could imagine before reading this book. And they’ll discover more behind the scenes stories of rags to riches success and shooting star careers coming out of Louisiana than ever dreamed possible.
It’s also fun to learn how much time seminal rock n' rollers and rhythm and blues giants like Little Richard, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and even Elvis spent in the Crescent City.
Expect to learn things you never knew about rock & roll from “Louisiana Rocks,” but don’t expect to tear straight through the book.
It’s pretty hard to sit for more than a chapter or so without plugging in some Louisiana rock & roll and jumping around when you have a book this much fun in your hands.