Updated 13 March 2019
As America wound down after World War Two, white Chicago blues pioneer, Lester Melrose, still hadn’t finished tinkering with the development of the blues (see BluesMuse8).
|Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup|
He didn’t know it then, but Lester was busy helping create rock & roll. Albert Ammons, also from Chicago, had started the ball rolling ten years earlier (see Blues Muse10).
Now in 1946, Melrose was in the studio with black Delta blues singer, song-writer and guitarist, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, up in Chicago from Mississippi. The pair recorded and released two up-tempo Crudup songs called ‘That’s All Right’ and ‘I Don’t Know It’, which were two different sets of lyrics over virtually the same music. Unfortunately, the records didn’t sell as well as Crudup’s earlier, slower-paced blues releases.
In March 1949, RCA released the song under a new title, ‘That’s All Right Mama’, as their first Rhythm & Blues release in America’s new 45 rpm single record format. That did all right, fortunately for rock ‘n’ roll.
‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ helped launch rock ‘n’ roll onto the world stage when it became Elvis Presley’s first single in 1954. Another 1940s Crudup song, ‘My Baby Left Me’, was also recorded by Elvis in the 1950s.
It begs the question, since releases one and five were from Chicago, how much claim does Chicago have as the city that invented rock & roll?
‘That’s All Right’ was also the first guitar-driven rock & roll record. Have a listen at the bottom of the post.
But first, read this bit of rock ‘n’ roll history, straight from the horse’s mouth, below:
Remembered Lester Melrose in his 1970 interview with American Folk Music magazine:
“I retired from the music business in February, 1951, and at the time was living in Tucson, Arizona. I moved back to Chicago in 1954 and was contacted at once by Steve Sholes of RCA Victor.
He informed me that a fellow by the name of Elvis Presley had recorded one of my blues selections on the Sun label and that the record was selling like wildfire.
The selection was That’s All Right, composed by Arthur Crudup, and that is the selection that got Presley off to a good start. Even though I have never met Elvis Presley or talked to him on the phone, he did record two more of my selections.
I suggested to Steve Sholes that he should have some of his talent, such as Hank Snow or Eddie Arnold, record That’s All Right. He answered that he didn’t have any talent that could compete with Elvis Presley. History has proven that he was right.”