One of the most important records in the development of rock ‘n’ roll was recorded on Feb. 15, 1954.
Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner made him one of the great R&B stars of the era. The record itself is a milestone, as rhythm and blues began to be combined with other elements to form rock ‘n’ roll.
The song has deep Kansas City roots, and I think you can make a case that you can’t have rock ‘n’ roll without the influence of Kansas City music.
Kansas City and the
Development of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Classic Kansas City jazz, best typified by Count Basie, is built on a riff—a melody line most often played in unison by the sax section. The unision riff easily transitioned into early rhythm ‘n’ blues records, which typically had a single tenor sax playing the riff.
In the mid 1930s, a major player in the Kansas City scene was Jesse Stone, a pianist and arranger who was born in Atchison, Kan., about 60 miles north of Kansas City. So was Turner, who was born in Kansas City and started performing in clubs when he was 14.
In 1936-37, a student from New York attended Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (now Kansas State University). He regularly drove to Kansas City to take in the music. He heard Turner sing and most likely encountered Stone, too.
That student was Jerry Wexler, who became one of most important record producers in the second half of the 20th Century.
In the 1950s, their lives converged at Atlantic Records, where Wexler was a producer and part owner, Stone a songwriter and arranger, and Turner an artist.
On Feb. 15, 1954, they recorded Shake, Rattle and Roll, a song Stone specifically wrote for Turner. The record was released in April 1954 and hit No. 1 on the R&B chart that June.
Turner’s version did not cross over onto the pop charts. Bill Haley & His Comets recorded their version the same week that Turner’s reached the top of the charts. It was released later in the summer and was the Comets’ first Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 7 in August 1954.