Rock’n’roll isn’t dead. But you can count the pioneers of the genre who are still alive on two fingers: Jerry Lee Lewis and Wanda Jackson. They’re 84 and 82. Lewis was a wild rocker signed with Sun Records who made history by igniting his instrument and transforming church music, country and boogie-woogie into wicked rock'n'roll. Jackson was a country singer who had a brilliant career alongside Elvis. Going from Little Richard to Chuck Berry, not forgetting Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Hank Williams, Qobuz pays tribute to the precursors of rock.
Little Richard died in May 2020, Chuck Berry in March 2017 and Bo Diddley in June 2008. These three artists were inimitable, irreplaceable and recognisable right from the very first second – the first for his voice, the second for his guitar and the third for his rhythm. Little Richard was completely unrestrained. A cross-dressing farcical entertainer, he was the prototype of the transgressive rocker and the King (or rather Queen) of raspy, high-pitched shouted vocals. Recorded in a studio in the crazy party town of New Orleans, his songs for the label Specialty (Tutti Frutti, Lucille, Long Tall Sally, Jenny Jenny, Rit It Up, Keep A-Knockin'...) were so devilish and wild that Little Richard himself was afraid of them. He soon returned to the safety of the church and stopped playing them.
Though only momentarily, thank God. Among this trio of black rockers, Chuck Berry had the arguably the biggest influence. In 1955, when rock’n’roll was at its peak, the Missouri singer was ten years older than his colleagues. He didn’t seem to discover rock by making it; he led the way, he mastered it. He was a magician on the guitar who brought the harshness and efficiency of blues, the sophistication of jazz, a touch of country and the border with Mexico. With a guitar style that was completely his own, Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll was something special. As dancing and sexy as it was intellectual, poetic and romantic. If you want to rediscover the teenage mindset of 1950s America, like when you stick a shell to your ear to hear the ocean, then Chuck Berry's timeless songs are perfect. And there’s a lot of them – from Roll Over Beethoven to Maybellene to Carol to his classic Johnny B. Goode. Like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, who grew up in Chicago, recorded his best records on the local label Chess Records. It was a blues label and Bo Diddley was almost a blues musician. Even before the blues. The syncopated rhythms of his songs - the famous Diddley beat - came from Africa via the Caribbean. It’s a strong rhythm that also sounded out in Baptist churches, over which Bo Diddley unveiled his gritty vocals and uncomplicated guitar chords. Bo Diddley had invented his style, releasing one of the first and most furious live albums in rock history - Bo Diddley’s Beach Party in 1963.