Various Artists: Inspiring Elvis: The Music Behind The King of Rock and Roll

Rating: ★★★★

Record and Artist Details


Fats Waller
Ethel Waters
Hot Lips Page
Louis Jordan
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band
Memphis Minnie
Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup
T-Bone Walker
The Tempo Toppers
Little Richard
Wynonie Harris
Pine Top Smith
Big Joe Turner
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Golden Gate Quartet
Rufus Thomas
Big Mama Thornton
Josh White
Dinah Washington
Amos Milburn
Mahalia Jackson
Pete Johnson
Ray Charles




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Rec. 1929; 1933; 1936; 1937; 1938; 1939; 1943;1946; 1947; 1948; 1952; 1954

We can’t be sure that Elvis knew and was influenced by all these African American artists and their recordings, but it’s a reasonable bet that he knew many of them.

Anyway, that’s the premise of compiler John Petters’ fascinating selection. His booklet spells it out well and it seems entirely reasonable to suggest that Tupelo-born Elvis absorbed much of what is on offer here via the many and varied regional radio outlets then around. We do know that Sam Phillips heard Elvis singing bluesman Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s ‘That’s All Right Mama’ during a break in his self-financed demo session in Memphis’ Sun studios in 1954 and knew that he had a hit in the making. Let’s hope Crudup benefited too. Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog’ (written by Leiber and Stoller) doubtless had the same impact- not so sure about Rufus Thomas’ ‘Bear Cat’ which Phillips put out to counter Elvis, only to find himself in a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Anyway, all these tracks are here and pretty rumbustious they are.

Opening with Smith’s 1929 ‘Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie’ with its invitation to ‘mess around’ was a master-stroke, Petters maintaining that this amalgam of ‘jazz, blues, gospel, and boogie started here. From then, it’s a heady mix of Big Joe Turner in stentorian form – his seminal ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ comes last, Ethel Waters upholding her faith with ‘The Crucifixion,’ Kid Ory doing ‘Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho,’ The Golden Gate Quartet with the chugging ‘Gospel Train and Harris’s marvellous ‘There’s Good Rockin’ Tonight’, plus plenty more. Treat this collection as a kind of compendium of influences, some direct, others less so, but each one a part of the glorious palimpsest of rock and roll.

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