Writer Lou Marrelli recounts six of the musical icons that inspired the cross-genre "King of Rock 'n' Roll."
Elvis Presley, 1957. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, LC-USZ6-2067.
A famous Liverpool rock musician was once quoted as saying, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
It wasJohn Lennon,and while his comment was probably ironic, there was certainly a lot "before Elvis". Presley may have worn the crown as a pioneer of rock 'n' roll, but his creation is far more nuanced. Its success was a synthesis of multiple musical styles and influences that predated its emergence on the rock 'n' roll frontier.
Rock 'n' roll came about whenthe blues, gospel and country began to merge into a new sound. Several key artists play prominent roles in shaping Presley's sound and style, and he openly acknowledged that they left an indelible mark on his persona as "The King."
1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "The Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll"
Forgotten until recentlySister Rosetta Tharpeis as far back as you can go to trace the roots of rock 'n' roll. AGospel singersThroughout her life she was the first performer toStrange things happen every day', which hit #2 on Billboard's (now the R&B chart) 'Race Record' chart in 1945. She carried an electric guitar and could strum and strum her fluid fingers like any modern rock star.
"She had a huge influence on artists like Elvis Presley,"said Gayle Wald,Professor and Tharpe biographer. “When you see Elvis Presley singing songs early in his career, imagine him channeling Rosetta Tharpe. It's not an image I think we're used to seeing in rock 'n' roll history. We don't think about the black woman behind the young white man.”
About the master
Sister Rosetta Tharpe• Musician •March 20, 1915–9. October 1973
Original Little Richard band poster
2. Little Richard, "The Architect of Rock'n'Roll"
Like Presley, Little Richard grew up in the Deep South and recalled singing for change as a child.The first songhe recalled that the singing was fittingly from Tharpe„Strange things happen every day.” Like other black artists of his day, Little Richard was seen as an affront to sane values because of his wild and lewd performances on stage. There was a visceral energy that certainly attracted young people of all races. By incorporating similar moves into his performance, Presley took that raw sensuality and made it more palatable to an America that's still deeply racially divided.
3. B.B. King, "The King of the Blues"
B. B. König, the man who gave the blues a three-piece suit, strove to banish the genre from jukerooms by sporting it on some of mostprestigious stages of music. It's an image that belies his humble beginnings, growing up in the Mississippi Delta not far from Tupelo, where Presley grew up in similar conditions. Presley grew up surrounded by the black community in Tupelo and heard this music on the streets and in the clubs in his neighborhood. This cultural affinity between the two men would be evident in the music they listened to and pursued. Presley and King, both anointed by the sweat and songs of southern country life, would do itmeet early in their careersand stay friends.
About the master
B. B. König• Blues Guitarist and Singer •16.9.1925–14. May 2015
Portrait of singer Jimmie Rodgers, 1921
4. Jimmie Rodgers, "The Father of Country Music"
Jimmie Rodgers has been cited as an early influence on Presley and King. Another white Mississippian raised among black railroad workers, Rodgers was also a source of inspiration for some blues singers in the mid-20th century, certainly B.B. King among them. Rodgers had a famous yodel that gave him credit and earned him the nickname "the father of country music," and you can hear its echo in Presley's singing.
5. Fats Domino, "The True King of Rock 'n' Roll"
1949,Fett Dominoreleased The Fat Man, which many consider to be the first rock 'n' roll album.„The New Orleans-based pianist and singer/songwriter rose to prominence as one of the early practitioners in the development of rock 'n' roll music in the mid '50s and early '60s. From 1950 to 1963 dominoeswould garner 37 top 40 hits, which even rivals Presley's hitting skills. "The King" would further acknowledge Domino's formative role in shaping the art form in 1957 when he told Jet Magazinean interview:
"Rock 'n' Roll was here long before I came. . . . Let's be honest. I can't sing it like Fats Domino. I know that."
Presley and Domino didn't cross paths in the early years of rock 'n' roll. It wasn't until 1969 that they actually met in Las Vegas when Domino was performing at The Flamingo Hotel. Returning to live performance after a nearly decade-long filmmaking career, Presley was in Las Vegas to promote his return to the stage. He invited Domino to the press conference, and when a reporter dubbed him the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," Elvis drew the room's attention to Fats Domino, insinuating that he was the real king.
„[Domino] was one of my early influences,”said Presley.
About the master
Fats (Antoine) Domino Jr.• singer and pianist •February 26, 1928–24. October 2017
6. Dean Martin, "The King of Cool"
Of all the artists Presley was exposed to in his formative years, there is one artist who is rarely referred to and who spanned a generation to inspire Presley's work - Dean Martin. The swagger and easygoing delivery of his vocal style was a clear influence on "the sexy, shaky, almost sobbing baritone voice', which became Presley's signature. In his early career, many of his arrangements for songs drew heavily on Martin's. In 1955, Presley actually covered a Dean Martin song,„I don't care if the sun doesn't shine“which Martin recorded in 1950 and appeared in the 1953 film Scared Stiff.
Perhaps because Dean Martin was his eldest — there was a nearly 18-year difference between them — Presley's respect for the man was obvious. When Presley performed at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in January 1970, he realized that Martin was in the audience, singing Martin's hit song as a tribute to his idol.„everyone loves someone”It wasn't the first time that Presley confirmed his admiration for the famous crooner. Martin's daughter Deana quoted Presley as saying:
"'They call me 'The King of Rock and Roll,' but your father is 'The King of Cool.'"
Appearance: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin
The legacy of Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley's legacy is complicated. There are those who claim that he simply lifted an existing form of music out of black culture and popularized it because the songs were more acceptable when they came from a white man's throat. But there are also black artists who credit him with opening up a lot of opportunities for them by making their music accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Always quick to pay tribute to those who had made the music before him, Presley often publicly dismissed his nickname as "King of Rock 'n' Roll".
“I spoke to Elvis about music from an early age, and I know that one of the great things in his heart was this: music belongs to the whole universe. It's not exclusive to black or white or any other color. It is shared in and by our souls.”—B.B. König
1 – "Before Elvis there was nothing" | Qrius 6 - Getting Elvis' Legacy Right - The Atlantic 7 - Blues legend B.B. King, inspiration to generations of musicians, dies aged 89 - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com) 8 - The Definitive Truth About Elvis Presley And Racism According To B.B. King | Elvis Interviews 10 - Fats Domino's Low-Key Brilliance: A Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Criminally Overlooked (thedailybeast.com) 12 - Fats Domino dead: Why the late musician was the reason Elvis Presley hated being called 'The King' | The Independent | The Independent 13 – https://www.angelfire.com/jazz/thecoparoom/deanelvis.html 15 – Dean Martin (elvisinfonet.com) 16 – Elvis Presley called Dean Martin the King of Cool (elvispresleynews.com) 17 – B.B. King, others knew and defended Elvis Presley against all racist claims - Clever Journeys Barnard, S. (1981). [Review of Elvis: Pictures and Fantasies; Elvis Presley: A Music Study; Elvis: The Final Years, by J.L. Tharpe, R. Matthew-Walker, & J. Hopkins]. Popular Music, 1, 200-203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/853257
1 – "Before Elvis there was nothing" | Qrius
6 - Getting Elvis' Legacy Right - The Atlantic
7 - Blues legend B.B. King, inspiration to generations of musicians, dies aged 89 - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
8 - The Definitive Truth About Elvis Presley And Racism According To B.B. King | Elvis Interviews
10 - Fats Domino's Low-Key Brilliance: A Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Criminally Overlooked (thedailybeast.com)
12 - Fats Domino dead: Why the late musician was the reason Elvis Presley hated being called 'The King' | The Independent | The Independent
13 – https://www.angelfire.com/jazz/thecoparoom/deanelvis.html
15 – Dean Martin (elvisinfonet.com)
16 – Elvis Presley called Dean Martin the King of Cool (elvispresleynews.com)
17 – B.B. King, others knew and defended Elvis Presley against all racist claims - Clever Journeys
Barnard, S. (1981). [Review of Elvis: Pictures and Fantasies; Elvis Presley: A Music Study; Elvis: The Final Years, by J.L. Tharpe, R. Matthew-Walker, & J. Hopkins]. Popular Music, 1, 200-203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/853257