Remembering the Early days of Rock and Roll: Five Must Know Artists

To really claim to be passionate about rock 'n' roll, I think it is necessary to acknowledge its roots in country, blues, and folk as it was a combination of these styles that would give rise to what was first recognized as rock 'n' roll. I also think it is necessary to acknowledge some of the early major rock 'n' roll artists and so I compiled a short list of what might be considered the top 5 of the early rockers. Certainly not a definitive list as there are many of rock 'n' roll artists that should be appreciated.

I'm not an expert on early rock 'n' roll as although I love the genre, I haven't listened to it nearly as long as other genres like blues and classic rock. Still, each of these artists represents something special to me and I think they should be remembered by all upcoming rock musicians as whether they like it or not, they owe them for starting the rock 'n' roll genre and making it so popular.

This is just a brief bit on each, and just a little bit about why I personally like their music. In the future I might write a more in depth articles on them.

5. Buddy Holly
Most people I think would recognize a Buddy Holly song if they heard it. Songs like "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be the Day" are so well known that they are easily identified even by those who don't know that it was Buddy Holly who recorded them long before they were covered by other groups of the British Invasion. He can be credited with being a major force behind changing rock 'n' roll's image with his glasses and look that would later be copied by people like Elvis Costello. Also, Buddy Holly was one of the first people to make the fender Stratocaster guitar popular; an instrument that would later be picked up by such greats as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. What is probably most interesting is that his impact is felt years after his death, even though his career was incredibly short, maybe only 18 months at best. Holly's music to me is fun and upbeat with a distinctive heavy rhythm guitar track that put the instrument much more in the for front than with other artists of his time making the guitar rock 'n' roll's choice instrument for years to come. Guitarists and rock 'n' rollers alike own him our respect and gratitude. Plus the song "American Pie" was later written about his, and two other musicians' tragic death.

4. Little Richard

An endearing rock 'n' roll legend for all generations, few people can match the fun and vocal prowess of Little Richard. His songs have been covered by many different artists, all good, but they can never surpass the original. Song's like "Keep a Knockin'", "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" are so upbeat with a feel that definitely can get any audience dancing that it is no wonder this crazy rock 'n' roll music took off like it did. His vocal style inspired many musical groups including the Beatles and remains soulful and powerful to this day. Little Richard will always remain one of my favorites from early rock 'n' roll because his music just rocks so hard. Few artists can write songs so fun and powerful that they can be played 50 years later and still make audiences get up and dance.

3. Jerry Lee lewis
Somewhat of a counterpart to Little Richard (in that they both played rapid speed rock 'n' roll on piano) Jerry Lee Lewis embodies something far different in rock 'n' roll: living on the edge. Known affectionately as "the Killer" to some, his piano rock stomps like "Great Balls of Fire", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" and "Matchbox" are just as fun and lively as any of his rock counterparts but few would stand up and kick the piano bench away when the tempo would kick, driving the audiences wild. Jerry Lee Lewis is definitely one of the first bad boys of rock 'n' roll and his career was quite turbulent, but throughout all of it, his passion is evident. I like Jerry Lee Lewis because he definitely lived his life and his music reflects that in every sense. He is also one of the first artists to successfully work within several genres paving the way for other artists to successfully experiment with blues, country and other genres. There is definitely something to be said for those who put their passion and fire into everything they do no matter what the consequences and Jerry Lee Lewis is definitely someone who does just that. His songs remains some of my favorites and some are songs I regularly play myself.

2. Chuck Berry

Probably the father of every rock 'n' roll beat ever written, to listen to rock 'n' roll and not know Chuck Berry is probably a crime in most states. Not only did he directly influence how the music is written, how the guitar is played and how lyrically complex rock 'n' roll could be, but he also gave birth to rock's most famous stage move: the duck walk. Listening to Chuck Berry, it is also quite evident the amount of blues he infused into the genre. Classics like "Johnny B. Goode", "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Maybellene" are rock and roll staples and directly influenced the great rock 'n' roll acts to come, namely the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. His guitar playing also is quite impressive and his style and flourish has influenced many different players including myself. A lot of his guitar licks have become rock 'n' roll and blues staples that are still played by dozens of artists to this day. Chuck Berry's music will always remain as some of the greatest rock 'n' roll ever written and I firmly believe that without him, the genre would be quite different and the world a much sadder place.

1. Elvis Presley

Well, definitely a man who needs no introduction and nothing written about why he has been such an influence, Elvis is...well, the King. His music is everywhere and he should be credited as being the artist who took rock 'n' roll from being one of many genres, to the genre of the 1950s and 60s. Perhaps the first true superstar, he was eventually eclipsed by those who worshiped him (bands like the Beatles). Some people would claim that Elvis's best work is from his early period, but I have favorites from all across his career. Also, oddly enough, I never felt as influenced by his music as I did by some of the other artists I've mentioned in this article. Still, songs like "That's All Right", "Hound Dog", "Jail House Rock", and "A Little Less Conversation" will always be some of my favorites. I don't think anyone will argue with the influence Elvis has had on the world and so I don't think anything else needs to be said about the king.

In Conclusion

If you're new to early rock 'n' roll, these 5 artists are a great place to start your exploration as they are where I started mine. There are other artists I considered including, like Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Bo Diddly, and many others, but in the end I felt that for someone new to this age of rock 'n' roll, these 5 might be the best starting points (also some fit better under other genres. I love Johnny Cash, but I would place him more under country and folk despite his incredibly influence on rock 'n' roll). Plus I personally consider each of them to have had a big influence on my musical tastes, my guitar playing and my understanding of rock 'n' roll.

This article is in a way an homage to these early rock 'n' roll artists, but was also a way for me to remind all of us rock 'n' rollers where the music came from and what it is really all about.

Rock 'n' roll has thousands of different faces now, but without the early artists, it never would be what it is today. So next time you sit down to rock out, maybe play a little early tune as a homage to those early artists who got the ball rolling and helped make rock 'n' roll the juggernaut that it is today.


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