Rock N Roll History: Non-Rock Musicians Who Influenced Rock Music
Rockn roll music has a rich history. It was a progression of many other musical genres, such as country and blues. Many artists in other genres heavily influenced the musicians who made rock music as popular as it is today.
Rock music may dominate today's pop charts, with numerous subdivisions such as Alternative, Metal, Pop and Punk to choose from. It wasn't always that way in American popular music, however. Although 'Rock and Roll' music had been around since the early 1950s, it was not unusual to see a Chuck Berry belter replaced by a Dean Martin crooner or Perry Como ballad even into the mid-1960s. Early rock music was viewed as a temporary distraction by the adult crowd, despite its obvious popularity with the younger set. Even among the youth of the time, rock and roll records may have sat next to Patti Page or Johnny Ray albums. During the early days of its existance, rock music's success was by no means guaranteed.
But where did this new musical form come from? Any number of sources can be found for the blend of sounds known as rock music. Country sounds mixed with blues, pop jazz merged with so-called 'race music', and the result was a high energy music genre unlike anything that has come before or since. Here are some of those artists who influenced the pioneers of rock and roll music.
1. Robert Johnson. Acknowledged master of the Delta blues guitar, Robert Johnson lead an enigmatic existence playing the juke joints and road houses that dotted the Southern landscape in the 1930s. Legend had it that Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary talent on the slide guitar. Whether or not there is any merit to that claim, one thing is for certain- Robert Johnson's blues style would later influence an entire generation of guitarists looking for a roots sound. Although his recorded volume of work is notoriously slim, many of his songs have found their way into rock legend, including 'Crossroad Blues' and the ultimate paeon to the Chicago blues scene 'Sweet Home, Chicago'. Listen for the Robert Johnson influence in Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, among other British blues/rock bands.
2. The Mills Brothers. Although the Mills Brothers continued to have hits throughout the early days of rock music, they really hit their stride during the jive era of the 1940s. Their trademark close harmonies and acceptance by white audiences would open the door for the Doo Wop sound coming out of the inner cities. Few working class kids could imagine creating a hit jazz combo or fronting a big band like Sinatra, but the Mills Brother's musical harmonies were accessible goals for numerous amateur doo wop groups on street corners. When rock music started gaining popularity, musical executives looking for the next Mills Brothers were eagerly offering recording contracts to some of these pickup groups. Music intended for the common people would now be made by the people themselves.
3. Frank Sinatra. "The Voice", as many of Sinatra's fans referred to him, became the prototype for the teen idol, the lone crooner who could switch easily from a high powered swing tune to a romantic ballad and succeed wildly. Although his vocal stylings and pacing contributed greatly to the rock genre, it was his flamboyant and controversial lifestyle that influenced early rockers such as Elvis Presley, Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon. Following in the path of Sinatra, performers would incorporate their private lives into the show, and publicists were more than eager to keep their client's names in the press for reasons other than singing.
4.Hank Williams. If Sinatra was the 'larger than life' side of the entertainment world, then Hank Williams was the polar opposite. Hank Williams wrote most of his own music and performed with an intensity of feeling that few musicians had reached before. He lived his music, making little effort to hide his excesses in order to please the Old Guard of country music. When these personal demons caused him to be banned from many of the traditional music venues, Williams took to the road and sought out the people who were buying his music. Tragically, he died at the age of 29, while headed to yet another performance on the road. His influence can be heard on the country/rock performers of the late 1960s and 1970s, including Gram Parsons and Steve Earle. He also helped usher in the era of the singer/songwriter, with such artists as James Taylor, Harry Chapin and Bruce Springsteen.
5. Patsy Cline. Much like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline performed on her own terms. Although she relied on the songwriting ability of others, including a young Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline knew precisely how to make a song hers. Her interpretations of such classics as 'Crazy' and 'Walking after Midnight' were as distinctive as her clear alto voice. Although modern listeners may associate Patsy Cline with pure country music, many contemporaries had difficulty accepting Cline's jazzy arrangements of classic country songs. Some felt that Cline's musical leanings were closer to a Pop sound, and would spell disaster for many other traditional country artists. Her tragic death in a plane crash in 1962 may have put such concerns to rest, but many critics still speculate on what twist and turns Cline's later career may have taken, much like the debate over Buddy Holly's future sound. As controversial as her sound may have been in life, her 'crossover' singing influences can be seen in such artists as Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Reba McIntire.
6.Woodie Guthrie. Armed only with a guitar and a burning curiosity to see the real America, Guthrie
wrote literally hundreds of songs documenting the plight of the common man. When artists such as Bob Dylan and the Byrds decided to take rock music in a more socially-conscious direction, they all looked to Guthrie's music for inspiration. In the early 1970s, a new breed of singer/songwriter would emerge, making the message of the music just as vital as the melody or the artist. Listen for the Guthrie influence in Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Harry Chapin, among others.
7.Miles Davis. This innovative, often controversial, jazz trumpeter did more than influence his own music genre with his daring departures from the norm. His ability to re-invent himself with each new album inspired many rock musicians as well. Rock musicians felt free to experiment with various fusions of competing styles, such as jazz-funk, or soul/rock.
Others, such as David Bowie and Madonna, used each of their albums to express a new persona, much in the way that Miles Davis used each of his albums to introduce a new variation on jazz.
8.The Carter family. Before the Osmonds and the Jacksons, there was the Carters. Taking the sounds they had perfected in the Tennessee hills they called home, the Carter family dominated early country music for years. Because they had such a strong familial bond, their harmonies were tighter than anything that had come before. This idea of forming close harmonies with siblings or extended family members would influence the sound of the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds, among others. A more recent development inspired by the Carter family is the emergence of second and third generation singers from the same family.
9. Lonnie Donegan. Perhaps not the first choice that comes to mind, but consider this. Donegan played skiffle, a rollicking guitar-driven form of English folk music. The insistent beat and relative simplicity of the skiffle sound would inspire many young English boys to form their own skiffle groups, much as many of today's youth might form 'garage bands'. In 1956, the leader of the skiffle group The Quarrymen would meet another would-be musician at a garden party, and decide to work with him on some original songs. By 1962, their new group, The Beatles, would already be climbing the English pop charts and be poised to set off the British Invasion a few years later.
10. Thomas A. Dorsey. Not to be confused with the band leader Tommy Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey would probably have died in relative obscurity if it hadn't been for his tremendously popular gospel hymns. His best known hymn, Take My Hand Precious
Lord, would influence many of the early architects of rock and roll, including Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Dorsey's hymns could be sung in a very hushed, intimate style, unlike the traditional hymns that called for a straightforward interpretation. When early rock musicians wanted to express a less frenetic side, it was the gospel style of Thomas Dorsey that inspired their songs. In fact, Elvis Presley would have several hit covers of Dorsey's songs, including Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley.