Rock and roll as a music form has its roots in blues and R&B. It’s important to separate rock and roll from rock; the genre we refer to covers the popular music of the 1950s and early 1960s. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, and others are the names to know here–at least as far as performers are concerned. However, the first true rock and roll artist is Bill Haley. The band Bill Haley and His Comets wrote what most people consider the representative song for rock and roll, if not the entire decade of the 1950s: “Rock Around the Clock.”
But there is one lesser-known person, a record producer named Sam Phillips, who was instrumental in making the genre as popular as it became. He would allow musicians who were unable to get recording deals with other major studios. His studio, Sun Records, played host to Elvis Presley, a name that should need no introduction. Elvis by himself didn’t impress Phillips. By accompanying Scotty Moore and Bill Black on the Arthur Crudup hit “That’s All Right,” Elvis started to be noticed by music producers because he fused different sounds and brought in a wider demographic.
Rock and roll owed more to R&B than most listeners think of today. Other than Elvis, other genre pioneers were Little Richard, whose hit “Tutti Frutti” was also covered by Elvis; Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bing Crosby.
Toward the end of the decade, more Black musicians were taking up the guitar: we’ve already mentioned Little Richard, but Chuck Berry of “Johnny B. Good,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” fame. He is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
However, rock and roll started to decline in popularity during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The most prominent artists suffered misfortune and untimely death (Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran), switched their sound altogether (Bill Haley), or stopped making music completely (Elvis and Little Richard).
The story of rock doesn’t end on the so-called “Day The Music Died”. Over in the United Kingdom, two groups, in particular, would be inspired by the music and become part of the cultural landscape of the upcoming 1960s: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.