Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Three Recordings Of "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston, Chris Powell, & Bill Haley

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Slight revisions - August 8, 2016]

This post showcases a sound file of the 1949 Jump Blues song "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston and the Prestonians. A 1949 cover of "Rock The Joint" by Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames, and a 1952 cover of "Rock The Joint" by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen are also showcased in this post.

Information and comments about that record are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and aesthetic reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composers of this song. Thanks also to Jimmy Preston, Chris Powell, & Bill Haley as well as their singers and musicians for their musical legacies. In addition, thanks to all those quoted in this post, with a special hat tip to Joseph Scott. Also, thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

From "Rock The Joint!", Monday, 18 July 2011
"It [“Rock The Joint”] was a wild and raucous jump blues recorded in May 1949 by Jimmy Preston and his Prestonians. It was covered by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen in 1952, and thus became a milestone in the development of rock and roll. That’s what most fans of R&B and early rock and roll know about “Rock The Joint.” But there’s much more to the story of this record than that short summary.

Our playlist starts with three records which influenced “Rock The Joint.” They were recorded within a few days of each other at three widely separate locations. There’s also the first cover version by a white band, which preceded the Bill Haley version, and that brings us to a whole music and dance scene which was a conduit for white kids picking up on R&B but which is rarely mentioned in histories of rock and roll, at least not the ones I’ve read...

A follow up [to Jimmy Preston and the Prestonians‘ early 1949 hit jump blues song “Hucklebuck Daddy”] in the same vein was obviously called for and Gotham A&R man Doc Bagby brought along “Rock The Joint,” a song he had co-written with his band assistant Wendell Keane and his band singer Harry Crafton...

The resulting performance was even more frantic than “Hucklebuck Daddy,” but without the single entendre lyrics. “Rock the Joint” was a clarion call to have a whale of a time with its pounding beat, squealing saxophones and drunken yelling. It sounded like a small riot (not many injured) was taking place in the studio. The disc achieved the same success as "Hucklebuck Daddy,” peaking at number 6 in Billboard’s renamed Rhythm and Blues chart."...

On September 22nd, 1949, Columbia Records recorded a cover version by another Philadelphia jump band, Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames. “Combo pitches a mad ball in the “Good Rockin’ school. Gangbuster tenor, handclapping, unison chanting and a live beat add to a solid side,” noted Billboard in its issue on the 12th November, 1949"...
That entire post is a must read for those interested in the real history about this song and about early Rock & Roll and Rockabilly.

"Rock the Joint", also known as "We're Gonna Rock This Joint Tonight", is a boogie song recorded by various proto-rock and roll singers, notably Jimmy Preston and early rock and roll singers, most notably Bill Haley. Preston's version has been cited as a contender for being "the first rock and roll record", and Haley's is widely considered the first rockabilly record....

The song's authorship is credited to Harry Crafton, Wendell "Don" Keane and Harry "Doc" Bagby, who were musicians contracted to the Gotham label in New York...

The version by Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians was recorded in Philadelphia in May 1949 and released on the Gotham label, reaching #6 on the national R&B chart later that year....

Two years later, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen had already achieved some success with their cover of Ike Turner's (and/or Jackie Brenston's) "Rocket 88", but were looking for another hit. They were persuaded by their producer, Essex Records owner Dave Miller to cover "Rock The Joint" - a song which, like "Rocket 88", had already been successful with R&B audiences. Haley recorded the song (the exact location is unknown but is believed to have been recorded in the band's hometown of Chester, Pennsylvania [1]) in February or March 1952, but made up verses of his own to appeal to his country audience, named a succession of hillbilly dances (such as the Sugarfoot Rag and Virginia Reel) in place of Preston's hucklebuck and jitterbug, and also used different instrumentation on the track, and more back echo."...

From Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR, GUEST,Joseph Scott, : 10 Feb 15 - 02:18 PM

[Pancocojams Editor: This is an excerpt of a comment (which is one of several comments) that was posted by GUEST,Joseph Scott on a Mudcat Folk music forum discussion thread about a NPR radio show. That show discussed White American folklorist collector Alan Lomax's collection of African American folk music.

In two later comments Joseph Scott identified himself as a blues researcher. Scott wrote that that NPR show "is partly about giving Alan credit, whether or not you actually know what you're talking about, to balance it partly being about criticizing Alan, whether or not you actually know what you're talking about)" and "the show gets almost nothing right" .]
Here's that excerpt:
"..."One more [point that was made on that radio show]: "It's possible that without Alan Lomax we wouldn't have had rock and roll as we know it."

Oh my God hahahahahaha! The rock and roll sound a la "Rock The Joint" by Chris Powell 1949 and "Rock That Boogie" by Jimmy Smith 1949 existed as of 1949 because black jump blues musicians got the idea to update mid-'40s jump blues to sound like gospel music as a sacrilegious joke. ("Rocking," deacons, etc. in the lyrics were references to "rocking in the bosom of Abraham" etc., and the prominent backbeat had not been in almost any mid-'40s jump blues and was brought over from black gospel to serve the obvious joke, which offended black parents, which pleased black kids.) The fully developed rock and roll sound a la late '50s Little Richard was already top ten nationally on the black charts in 1949 ("Boogie At Midnight" Roy Brown, etc.). That modernistic jump blues made for young blacks had NOTHING to do with researching old folk songs, it had to do with professional jazz-oriented black-pop-oriented black musicians putting a new (fairly slight, all and all) twist on the likes of professional jazz-oriented black-pop-oriented mid-'40s Louis Jordan, Roy Milton, etc. Roy Brown didn't know who Son House was at the time, because why would he want to? He was in the music _business_ and trying to get young blacks _interested_ in dancing to his music as of 1947-1949."...
As the title to that Mudcat thread suggests, many of the commenters to that thread took offense to that NPR (National Public Radio) show about Alan Lomax. Read that excerpted comment in full and in particular read later comments posted by Joseph Scott which provide point by point debunks (with the pertinent minute in that radio show] about why that guest blogger disagrees with the interviewee Karl Hagstrom Miller.

Additional information and comments about "Rock The Joint" are found after the sound files showcased below.

"To rock" means "to dance with a lot of energy and otherwise have a good time"
(In the context of this song title) "joint" is an African American slang term for a place (a building).

These sound files are presented in chronological order based on the song's recording date, with the oldest record given first.

Example #1: Rock The Joint - Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians 1949

60s70sTheBest, Published on Jul 27, 2014

In the later part of the 1940's, a craze had begun in the Rhythm and Blues market for songs about "rocking" thus giving birth to a new underground genre of music. In 1947, Wild Bill Moore recorded a modest hit "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll" that is considered as one of candidates for the first rock and roll record.A record by R&B Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians in 1949 called "Rock the Joint" definitely helped fuel that movement. Preston later would be identified as one of the founders of rock and roll. The same song was covered by Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames the same year and is believed to have strongly influenced Bill Haley to record his own hopped-up "Rockabilly" version that attracted the attention of the white listening audience eager for the new style of music. Later, Haley's (and His Comets) recording of "Rock Around The Clock" became a milestone in the emergence of Rock and Roll.
Jimmy Preston? His biggest hit was a 1950 cover on the Derby label of Louis Prima’s “Oh Babe.” In a Joe Lutcher style moment of clarity or madness, depending upon your point of view, he gave up music in 1952, having decided to go about the Lord’s work. He died in Philadelphia in 1984.

Example #2: Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames - Rock the Joint

Mario Roberts, Uploaded on Jan 31, 2012

Recorded September 22, 1949 and issued on Columbia 30175. This was a Philadelphia based R&B group. This recording was a cover of the original version done earlier in 1949 by Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians, another Philadelphia area group.
"Drummer / vocalist Chris Powell continued to record for Columbia and its subsidiary Okeh until 1952. He then recorded for Philadelphia label Grand and thereafter for Groove until 1956. And then he was gone."
Selected comment from that video's viewer comment thread:
Joseph Scott, November 2014
"Here's an example of the outright falsehoods that are being told by some about rockabilly and rock and roll: the subtitle of the 2007 book The Rockabilly Legends by Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday is They Called It Rockabilly Long Before They Called It Rock And Roll. But the historical evidence shows the exact reverse. E.g., a 1951 press release for the Dominoes ("Sixty-Minute Man") called them "the greatest Rock and Roll performers in the world," and there are NO known examples of anyone calling anything rockabilly that early (which only began happening after people began combining the rock and roll sound, such as this, with the hillbilly sound -- a combination that itself only started happening after the rock and roll sound was a top ten fad on the black charts in 1949)."

Example #3: Bill Haley & The Comets-Rock The Joint

Fantupo Marsupialis, Published on Sep 23, 2011

Selected comment from that video's viewer comment thread:
Joseph Scott, 2014
[In response to an earlier comment]
“Has to be amongst the very first rock and roll tunes" Some of the earliest rock and roll recordings were "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston, "Rock The Joint" by Chris Powell, "Rock That Boogie" by Jimmy Smith, "Rockin' All Day" by Jimmy McCracklin, "Rock And Roll" by Bill Moore, "We're Gonna Rock" by Bill Moore, "Hole In The Wall" by Albennie Jones with Sam Price and his Rockin' Rhythm, "Boogie At Midnight" by Roy Brown, and "Jump And Shout" by Erline "Rock And Roll" Harris. Those were all recorded before 1950.”
"Bill Haley became a global superstar. His “Rock Around The Clock” is the top selling rock and roll disc of all time. But fame and money and reputation are transitory and wilder and more youthful rock and roll acts pushed him aside. Although the hits soon petered out (his last Billboard Top Twenty placing was in 1956) he remained a big name, especially in the UK. He was served poorly by many rock and roll histories"...

UPDATE: February 13, 2016
Hat tip to Chris Gardner for alerting me to a 1951 cover version by Jimmy Cavallo which was used as the theme music for the WPWA (Chester, Pa.) Radio Programme "Judge Rhythm's Court". Read Chris' comment below.

Jimmy Cavallo - Rock The Joint - R&B 45

CheesebrewWaxArchive, Published on Feb 7, 2015

Jimmy Cavallo & His House Rockers, Rock The Joint, BSD Records 1005
Recorded 1955, New York

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  1. Hi Azizi,

    Thanks for quoting my comments about early rock and roll. The way many writers of the '60s-'70s and on artificially contrived to imagine the rock and roll sound not being possible without white contributions, somehow (not all explaining the supposed details nearly the same way), is a lasting embarrassment. Examples of writers who have written about early rock and roll far more sensibly are Morgan Wright and Nick Tosches. None of the known leaders or sidemen who recorded blues-form recordings about quote "rock"ing with prominent backbeat (such as Jimmy Preston and Wild Bill Moore) before mid-1949 was white. Zero percent. Elvis Presley said at his Sep. 2, 1957 press conference, “Rock and roll was around a long time before me, it was really rhythm and blues. I just got on the bandwagon with it.” Elvis was a music buff who knew music that sounded like Chris Powell's "Rock The Joint" and Jimmy Smith's "Rock That Boogie" (both 1949) long before many of his peers did. Two of the recordings that particularly show what kind of music Elvis, Scotty, and Bill imitated in 1954 (when, some writers would say, they were "inventing" rock and roll) are "Love My Baby" by Little Junior and "Where Did You Stay Last Night" by Arthur Crudup. "We're Gonna Rock This Joint" by the Jackson Brothers is from 1952, on RCA Victor, and so obviously sounds like late '50s rock and roll that it's ridiculous how many people have tried to imagine rock and roll as "starting" later than 1952.

    1. You're welcome, Joseph.

      I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge on this subject with me and the other folks who read pancocojams posts.

      I plan to showcase some of the records you mentioned.

    2. The Cash Box mentioned "the rock and roll brand of boogie" on August 5, 1950, page 11.

    3. Thanks for sharing that info, Joseph Scott!

    4. Hi Joseph.

      I took the liberty of re-quoting this comment on Part II of a two part pancocojams series that this comment inspired: Seven Examples Of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (also known as "in The Pines" & "Black Girl")

    5. I've been meaning to ask you, who is Scotty in this sentence "Two of the recordings that particularly show what kind of music Elvis, Scotty, and Bill imitated in 1954"?

    6. Scotty Moore and Bill Black accompanied Elvis. I read an interview with Moore in which he said he was influenced by R&B guitarists back then but he couldn't tell you their names because their names weren't shown on the record labels of the singles then (which is true, for the great majority of the labels).

    7. Thanks for that information, Joseph Scott.

      I appreciate it.

  2. Hi - a very interesting page. There is another important link in the story of how the R&B song from 1949 came to be recorded by Bill Haley (then leading a "cowboy jive" band called the Saddlemen) in 1952. This is the 1951 cover version by Jimmy Cavallo which was used as the theme music for the WPWA (Chester, Pa.) Radio Programme "Judge Rhythm's Court". This was broadcast immediately before Bill Haley's afternoon radio show and was most likely how Bill discovered the song. Here's a link to the recording:-

    1. Thanks Chris Gardner for sharing information about that 1951 record.

      Here's a hyperlink to that recording

      I've also added it to the post itself.

      Also, as an aside, this is the first time I've come across the term "cowboy jive". Was this term coined to refer to White American bands in the 1950s covering Black Rock and Roll music?

      I tried to find a definition for "cowboy jive" but didn't find anything but links to YouTube videos. These videos seem to mostly be Asian couples dance performances that appear to be based on Jazz dance (swing) with the men dressed up like "cowboys". Here's a link to one of those videos:

    2. According to Marshall Lytle of the Comets, Haley listened to Jimmy Preston's version of "Rock The Joint": "There was a white D.J. [at WPWA] playing what was then called race music. He came to Bill one day and he said, “Hey, Bill, there’s a record here that’s getting really a lot of requests. It’s really a jump beat sort of number. You ought to listen to it and maybe learn it.' It was called 'We’re Gonna Rock This Joint Tonight,' by Jimmy Preston. We started doing it two or three times a night in a bar in Glouster, New Jersey. Bill would say, 'All right, all you hillbillies – we’re gonna do some rockin’ now!' and we’d do 'Rock This Joint Tonight' and they loved it. And Bill said, 'Man, we’re gonna record this.'"

      WPWA was in Chester, Pennsylvania, and Jimmy Preston was a Chester native.

    3. Thanks for sharing that quote with us, Joseph Scott.

      And yah! for Chester, Pennsylvania. My adopted city is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- about 6 hours away from Chester, but I'll claim that city just cause it's in PA. :o)