Bill Haley combined country and western with rhythm and blues. His "Rock Around the Clock" played over the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle. It appealed to both black and white listeners and started the rock and roll revolution.
A poor white boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis absorbed a variety of musical styles including pop, country, gospel and rhythm and blues. In 1954, he cut his first records for Sun Record Studios in Memphis. His irresistible blend of black and white musical styles thrilled teenagers. In late 1955, his newly appointed manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, got him a record deal with RCA and the rest is history.
"Little" Richard Penniman, recorded "Tutti Frutti" in1955. It became the first of a string of hits featuring Little Richard's trademark pounding piano and screaming vocals. In 1958, he gave up rock and roll to be a Pentecostal preacher. His eventual return to rock music never recaptured the dynamism of his early recordings.
Buddy Holly's musical background was pure country and western. But after meeting Elvis Presley in 1955, he spiced up his performances with a dash of rhythm and blues. "That'll be the Day" was a hit in 1957 and was followed by classics such as "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy!" Holly was an atypical rock star. He wore nerdy glasses and a bow-tie and avoided the lifestyle excesses of his rock and roll contemporaries. He was a talented musician, and wrote and produced many of his own songs. He pioneered rock's standard instrumental line-up: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar and drums. In 1959, his untimely death in an aeroplane crash sent shockwaves through the music world.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis signed-up with Sun Records in 1956. He combined elements of country music with hard-rocking rhythm and blues and for a time looked set to rival Elvis Presley. Hits such as "Great Balls of Fire" and "Breathless" featured his pounding boogie-woogie piano and energetic vocals. His live performances were even more outrageous than Little Richard's: he would kick away his piano stool, bang the keyboard with his feet, and once set fire to the piano on stage. On a tour of England in 1958, Jerry's marriage to his 13-year-old second-cousin was discovered. The record-buying public were scandalised, and his popularity plummeted on both sides of the Atlantic.
Chuck Berry signed with Chicago's Chess Records in 1955. He created a number of rock and roll classics, including "Johnny B Goode", "School Days" and "Roll Over Beethoven". His innovative guitar style helped establish the electric guitar as rock's primary instrument and continues to inspire today's performers. His lyrics, dealing with everyday teenage concerns, were a cut above those of other early rockers.