Roots of rock & roll: “hillbilly & blues/R&B”

I came across this 1951 video of the great Western Swing Band, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys on Twitter recently (posted by Afropop Worldwide no less!), singing their 1930’s hit “Ida Red”  — a song first recorded a decade earlier (by Fiddlin’ Powers and Family), and has roots back to an 1878 popular song, “Sunday Night”.

The video is a terrific capture of one of the seminal bands that pushed country music boundaries in the pre-World War Two era. Wills was known as the “King of Western Swing” and recorded over a 40 year period.

But the song made its mark in rock & roll history as well.

Bob & The Texas Playboys…

In 1955, and unknown, but ambitious blues guitar player from St. Louis managed to connect with Leonard Chess whose Chess Records had established itself as the blues label of Chicago. His biggest star, Muddy Waters, was the one who sent the young Chuck Berry to seek out Chess.

It turns out, Chess wasn`t as impressed with Berry`s blues number as his reworking of the old “hillbilly” (as country music was termed) classic, “Ida Red”. The song kept some of the country roots, but added a more driving beat, and new lyrics, set in a highway race.  Chess wasn’t crazy about Berry’s title of “Ida Mae” (too “rural”, and it might cause copyright issues). The song ended up taking its title from the brand of a mascara box spotted nearby.  “Maybellene” helped launch rock & roll, and is the subject of this 2000 NPR broadcast, part of its series on the “100 Most important American musical works of the 20th Century”