Left from Center: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

By Jacob Kolkman Posted December 17, 2008

When you hear rock ‘n’ roll you usually think of Elvis Presley in Vegas, with his shaking hips and bright rhinestone jumpsuits. Most people contribute the creation of rock and roll to Elvis. The supposed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was a little late getting on the rock ‘n’ roll wagon; Elvis may be credited as the first person to bring rock and roll into the mainstream but he wasn’t the creator of this classic genre that has been influencing American culture for so many decades.

While rock ‘n’ roll did originate in the south it didn’t originate with Elvis Presley. A group of underappreciated rockabilly and blues musicians should be credited for the creation of rock. Musicians such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Muddy Waters created the foundation for rock ‘n’ roll in the late fifties and early sixties.

Elvis did influence future musicians like John Lennon and other artists of the British Invasion of the sixties. However, Ottis Day, B.B. King, and other blues musicians influenced bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks. British youngsters, especially those who had grown up during Europe’s reconstruction after WWII, strongly identified with the pain and sorrow of the blues. That pain and sorrow even convinced a few of those teens to pick up an instrument and become some of the most influential artists of our time.

You might find this hard to believe, but some say Elvis might have only written a few of his songs; others say he didn’t write any of them. Rather, his songs were written by musicians like Chuck Berry and other artists who were not credited with their songs.

I call this a “Nirvana Complex”; in the early 1990’s hair metal was dying and grunge was on its way up. Most people contribute the death of hair metal solely to Nirvana for being the “first” grunge band. While they were the first to bring it into the mainstream, just as Elvis was the first popularize rock, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains had been releasing albums a few years before Nirvana. Elvis was really a marketing tool for record companies so they could promote a new form of music that was popular in the Deep South. The record companies thought if they could get a white guy to sing rock ‘n roll, then maybe rich, white kids around the country would buy the albums and the record companies would profit. The music wasn’t selling because African Americans were advertising it, and it wasn’t until Elvis became the face of rock ‘n’ roll that the music became popular nationwide.

So there it is, the truth behind the king of rock ‘n’ roll. While Elvis was an influential person in rock ‘n’ roll, some people are too quick to call him the king. Go buy some old blues and rockabilly albums and experience the true origins of this great and noble genre.

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