"Rocket 88" is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded at Sam Phillips' recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 March or 5 March 1951 (accounts differ). It is claimed by some , including Phillips—later to become owner of Sun Records, and pioneer rock and roll record producer—to be the "first rock and roll song".
Original version by Ike Turner
The original version of the 12-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who took the song to number one on the R&B charts. The band did not actually exist and the song was put together by Ike Turner and his band in rehearsals at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and recorded by Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Jackie Brenston (1930-1979), who was a saxophonist with Turner, also sang the vocal on "Rocket 88", a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88", which had recently been introduced.
The song was based on the 1947 song "Cadillac Boogie" by Jimmy Liggins. It was also preceded and influenced by Pete Johnson's "Rocket 88 Boogie" Parts 1 and 2, an instrumental, originally recorded for the Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records label in 1949.
Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, superimposing Brenston's enthusiastic vocals, his own piano, and tenor saxophone solos by 17 year old Raymond Hill (later to be the father of Tina Turner's first child, before she married Ike). The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, ever recorded, played by the band's guitarist Willie Kizart.
The legend of how the sound came about says that Kizart's amplifier was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. An attempt was made to hold the cone in place by stuffing the amplifier with wadded newspapers, which unintentionally created a distorted sound; Phillips liked the sound and used it. Robert Palmer has written that the amplifier "had fallen from the top of the car", and attributes this information to Sam Phillips. However, in a recorded interview at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington, Ike Turner stated that the amplifier was in the trunk of the car and that rain may have caused the damage; he is certain that it did not fall from the roof of the car. Link Wray had a similar story.
Full article ▸