The Birth of Rock and Roll
Taking its cues from 1940s Black artists such as Louis Jordan or
Fats Domino, rock and roll fully emerged as a genre in 1951, with
the release of Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88, widely considered
to be the first rock and roll song ever recorded.
With the USA still divided by racial tensions in the early 1950s, the music industry
first sought out Caucasian performers to take advantage of the new rock craze. One
of the most famous examples of this phenomenon was Elvis Presley,
whose early career success was fuelled by successfully re-recorded songs from Black
artists, like Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog, Otis Blackwell's Don't Be
Cruel or Wynonie Harris' Good Rockin' Tonight.
In 1953, Bill Haley and the Comets released the first rock and
roll hit song with Crazy, Man, Crazy, followed by Rock Around the Clock
the next year, a song that showed rock's strong ties to the big band and swing
sound of the 1940s. With the success of Elvis Presley also came the subgenre of
"rockabilly" – an amalgamation of "hillbilly" with "rock".
Similar acts included Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins,
Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson
and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Rock and roll's wild and exciting side truly unfolded with the arrival of Gospel-inspired
provocative artists like Esquerita and, especially, Little Richard,
with songs like Tutti Frutti (1955) or Lucille (1957). Both artists
wore make-up and frenetically played the piano while singing with an animal-like
verve, a style Jerry Lee Lewis later imitated.
Have Guitar, Will Rock
In time, the guitar ended up taking precedence over the piano as rock and roll's weapon
of choice. Contributing to this phenomenon were groundbreaking artists like
Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry,
who was the first to introduce the electric guitar as lead instrument in 1955.
In 1958, Link Wray championed the fuzz-tone guitar sound with Rumble,
introducing, along with Duane Eddy, the instrumental and guitar-driven
song to the public. The genre was further made popular by The Ventures
with their hit Walk, Don't Run (1960), while the UK had The Shadows'
Apache (1960). The instrumental craze blossomed into the California-based
"surf" music style, a term coined and spearheaded by Dick Dale
in 1961, and made famous thanks to The Beach Boys' Surfin'
(1961), Jan and Dean's Surf City (1963), The Surfaris'
Wipe Out (1963), and The Trashmen's Surfin Bird
(which took from The Rivingtons' Papa Oom Mow Mow).
Over in the UK, "skiffle" music was all the rage in 1955 - a style popularised
by Lonnie Donegan and his song Rock Island Line - later progressing into
the Mersey Sound in 1963, with Liverpool, and The Beatles, at its
centre. In their formative years, the Fab Four regularly covered songs by the likes
of Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
By 1964, American blues-influenced groups like The Rolling Stones
or The Animals were bursting into the UK music scene. Other groups
like The Kinks (You Really Got Me, 1964), The Who
(My Generation, 1965) and The Yardbirds (Shapes of Things,
1966) were playing a louder and more aggressive form of rock, exhibiting rawness
that some credit as the beginnings of heavy metal.
In the United States, an insurgence against pop music was also taking place, with
groups like The Kingsmen (Louie Louie, 1963), The
Sonics (Psycho, 1964), Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
(Wooly Bully, 1965) and The Young Rascals (Good Lovin',
1965) laying the foundations for what would later be known as "garage rock",
consisting mostly of lo-fi rock groups inspired by The British Invasion, like
Count Five (Psychotic Reaction, 1966), The Strangeloves
(I Want Candy, 1965), ? & The Mysterians (96 Tears,
1966), Paul Revere and the Raiders (Kicks, 1966) and
The Music Machine (Talk Talk, 1966).
In 1966, California was experiencing a folk-rock, acid pop and psychedelic revolution
with bands like The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane,
Strawberry Alarm Clock, Love, The Doors
and Grateful Dead. At the same time, New York City had a more avant-garde
outlook, with the Velvet Underground and Nico, featuring John
Cale and Lou Reed, an art ensemble that would influence
a multitude of groups thereafter, and one that many believe to be the purveyors
of the punk movement 10 years later.
Other iconic American figures of the psychedelic movement were guitarist Jimi
Hendrix, Steppenwolf and their biker anthem Born to Be
Wild (1967) and Texas legends The 13th Floor Elevators.
The British psychedelic movement favoured more outlandish and melodic, drug-induced
musical experimentations and arrangements, with groups like Pink Floyd
and The Moody Blues following the template set by The Beatles'
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The 1970s in the UK were marked by the natural evolution of psychedelic into progressive
rock, a style that elevated rock to a new standard of compositions, arrangements
and lyrics, usually epic concepts and stories, drawing from jazz and classical influences.
Key groups were Yes, King Crimson, Genesis
as well as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Canada's
most important contribution to this sub-genre was power trio Rush.
Incorporating prog's fantasy and theatrics but with more sexual overtones - most
of the time advocating androgyny -, glam rock appeared soon after with David
Bowie, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Sweet
and Marc Bolan's T. Rex.
The genre was less popular in the US for its flamboyant use of sexually ambiguous
costumes, make-up and lyrics, although The New York Dolls enjoyed
a great deal of cult success in the early-1970s, blending right into the New York
scene, which in 1976 was bursting with a new wave of anti-establishment groups,
namely The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads,
Patti Smith, Television and Richard Hell.
Anarchy in the UK
Inspired by the NYC scene, punk took a flight of its own in the UK, with The
Sex Pistols causing a stir in 1977 for their anti-establishment lyrics,
attitude and sometimes violent on-stage antics. Britain's political and social climate
collided with the angry youths of this generation, with groups like The Clash,
Generation X (with Billy Idol), Siouxsie and
the Banshees, The Undertones or The Buzzcocks
at its core.
In the early 1980s, punk rapidly faded away, with guitars taking a back seat to
make room for new wave and its synthesizers. Pop bands like Duran Duran and Culture
Club were all the rage, but rock's fortunes were soon revived by The Police,
who peaked with their no 1 album Synchronicity in 1983, and U2,
whose anthemic songs, including New Year's Day and Sunday, Bloody
Sunday, soon allowed them to fill stadiums and sports arenas worldwide.
Classic, Heavy and Alternative Rock
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the saviour of rock'n'roll enjoyed his second
coming: nearly 10 years after Born to Run made him a serious contender,
Bruce Springsteen finally conquered classic rock's world
heavyweight champion title thanks to Born in the U.S.A. (1984). Around the same
period, heavy metal managed to enter the mainstream, with artists such as Ozzy
Ozbourne, Van Halen, Def Leppard
and Iron Maiden causing quite a commotion.
Other guitar bands were to develop a keen following, especially on American college
campus radio. For lack of a common style or set of aesthetics, groups like R.E.M.,
Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements
and Pixies were filed under the alternative rock label, as were
their British indie cousins The Smiths, The Cure,
The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo & The Bunnymen.
Smells Like Grunge
Rock went through another serious shake-up in the early 1990s with the arrival of
grunge. Rooted in an anti-corporate and anti-music industry attitude, the sub-genre
favoured an apathetic attitude and detached lyrics. Strongly influenced by bands
like Sonic Youth as well as Neil Young's Freedom
(1989), the purveyors of this new style were Pearl Jam, Screaming
Trees, Soungarden, Mudhoney as well
as Nirvana, whose Smells Like Teen Spirit single (1991)
caused a worldwide sensation. Ironically, grunge (like punk) would eventually be
co-opted by the very industry it stood against.
Around the same time in the United Kingdom, a new wave of musicians started taking
their cues from 1960s and 1970s rock/pop deities like The Beatles and The Kinks.
Blur, Oasis and Supergrass were
among the bands which spearheaded a new musical scene dubbed Britpop by the specialized
Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!
At the end of the 1990s, rock was about to be pronounced dead - again - by many
an expert, ushering in a new era with the emergence of electronica and the rise
of the DJ as the new rock star. But like the Phoenix from the flames, rock stood
up once more at the beginning of the New Millenium. Its latter day champions included
The White Stripes, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand
and several others.
Finally, as if this were necessary, let us offer this undisputable truth of rock's
lasting nature: nearly 50 years into their careers, The Rolling Stones
aren't planning to start gathering moss any time soon. And to think that these former
bad boys are now rubbing elbows with the world's leading politicians and personalities…
Rock is dead? Well then, long live rock.
Rock at the Festival
Many rock legends graced the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal stage
throughout the years, among them rockabilly giants Wanda Jackson
and Brian Setzer - who opened the event in rockin' fashion. British
combo The Moody Blues, American poet and rocker Lou Reed,
guitarist Marc Ribot, Newcastle-born singer Eric Burdon
and his Animals, 1970s rock stalwarts The Doobie Brothers and
Steve Miller, and Montréal-based outfit The Besnard Lakes
all received a warm welcome during the 31st edition in 2010.
Other headliners from past editions worthy of a mention are the indefatigable
George Thorogood and the Destroyers (2001, 2004, 2007), the legendary
Bob Dylan (2007), America über-duo Steely Dan
(2008), guitar hero Jeff Beck (2009), singers Joe Cocker (2009)
and Jackson Browne (2009) as well as local axemen
Steve Hill (2009) and Olivier Langevin (2009),
to name but a few.