Note: I’m working on an improved blog post series about black musicians: more information and better readability. Part one can be found here. Thank you!
Rock and Roll is a black American invention. The first rock stars were black. Rock and Roll started picking up in popularity in the 50s with musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Goree Carter (some say he made the first rock song: “Rock Awhile”), Jimmy Preston, The Isley Brothers, Wes Montgomery, and Fats Domino. Every rock musician you can think of from the 60s and 70s and beyond took inspirations from these musicians from this era. Songs by these musicians have been covered by many rock bands. For example, The Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA” borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”. The Beatles have covered Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”. They have even covered both “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (although “Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by The Top Notes). They covered “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (that was a blues song that Little Richard covered). The Beatles also covered Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. The list goes on. Let’s explore the history of black rock musicians from the 60s and 70s!
- “A Fool In Love”, Ike and Tina Turner’s debut single was released and it was a success, reaching #2 on the US R&B charts and making it to #27 on the Top 100. Tina Turner sang lead vocals on this song. Anna Mae Bullock saw Ike Turner perform at a club in St. Louis and became a guest vocalist for him, known as Little Ann, later becoming Tina Turner. One of my favourite songs of theirs was released in 1964 “I Can’t Believe What You Say”.
- Chuck Berry released the song “Let It Rock” – it charted at #6 in the UK, but did not chart as high in the US.
- Bo Diddley released the song “Road Runner”. Many members of British Invasion groups loved the song and bands such as The Animals, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, The Pretty Things, The Zombies, and The Who released their own cover versions.
- The Isley Brothers released “Twist and Shout”, which reached top 20 in the United States. They were formed in the 50s in Cincinnati by brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald Isley. Their influences were gospel and doo-wop music, but they incorporated rock and roll as well.
- Stax house band Booker T. & The MGs formed. They did backing music for Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. They were one of the earlier multiracial bands. Before Santana, before the Jimi Hendrix Experience, before Sly & The Family Stone, before The Foundations, before The Equals, before Thin Lizzy, before Queen. They were famous for their instrumentals, especially “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight”. They played on songs such as “Hold On (I’m Comin)”, “Soul Man”, and “Try A Little Tenderness”.
- British singer Kenny Lynch gets a Top 10 hit in the UK with a cover of “Up on the Roof” in December 1962.
- The Ronettes release their first hit, “Be My Baby”. This song was written by the famous Greenwich-Berry songwriting team along with Phil Spector, who signed The Ronettes to his record label. This song inspired Brian Wilson to write “Don’t Worry Baby”. Other hits of The Ronettes include “Baby I Love You” (covered by The Ramones), “Walking in the Rain”, and “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love”.
- Kenny Lynch gets another Top 10 hit in July 1963, “You Can Never Stop Me Loving You”. Also that year he released a cover of The Beatles’ “Misery”.
- James Brown released the hits “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Feel Good”. James Brown started recording music ever since 1956 with the Famous Flames. This song was an important part of the beginning of the funk genre.
- Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band released their first album, Hand Clappin’ Foot Stompin Funky-Butt… Live!. Most of the band were from England, but Geno Washington is an American who was stationed in England with the Air Force. The band broke up in 1969.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first single, Hey Joe. It was a hit in the UK, reaching #6, but it did not chart in Jimi Hendrix’s native US.
- Ike and Tina Turner release the song “River Deep – Mountain High”. This song was written by Phil Spector and the Greenwich-Berry songwriting team. This song was more of a commercial success abroad than it was in the United States, reaching #3 in the UK. The Rolling Stones approached them to open for them on tour, and they accepted the offer.
- Love release their first album, a self titled debut and followed up with Da Capo that same year.
- Kenny Lynch did backing vocals on a Small Faces song he also co-wrote, “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”. This went #3 in the UK
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience release their first album, Are You Experienced, in May of that year. Later that year, in December, they released Axis: Bold As Love. Jimi Hendrix was originally from Seattle and moved to England in 1966 after Chas Chandler, a manager, former member of The Animals, found out about him through Linda Keith, Keith Richards’ girlfriend at the time.
- The Foundations released their debut single “Baby Now That I’ve Found You”. Many of the musicians in the band were of Caribbean descent. There was a wide diversity in musical backgrounds and ages of the members. The Foundations were the first multiracial band to have a hit in the UK.
- The Electric Flag form. Their drummer was Buddy Miles. He later on worked with Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. They released their first album in 1968.
- Sly and The Family Stone release their first album, A Whole New Thing. They were one of the first multiracial bands to have both male and female members in the United States.
- The Parliaments, later to be known as Parliament released their first single “(I Wanna) Testify”. They were led by George Clinton.
- PP Arnold released a single, a cover of a Cat Stevens song, “First Cut Is The Deepest”. This peaked at #18 in the UK. PP Arnold also sang “If You Think You’re Groovy” with The Small Faces. This song was also recorded in 1967, but released in 1968. PP Arnold was formerly an Ikette. She moved to England to do a solo career.
- Love release their legendary album Forever Changes. The leader of the band was Arthur Lee. Johnny Echols played lead guitar on the album.My favourite tracks on the album are “Alone Again Or” and “Bummer In The Summer”.
- Richie Havens releases his first album, Mixed Bag. A single was released that year called “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” – This song was covered by Yes in 1970 and was a track on the album Time and a Word. Richie Havens was the first act to perform at Woodstock. His music had all sorts of influences from different genres like folk, soul, and R&B. He even covered a couple of Beatles songs such as “Here Comes The Sun” and “Lady Madonna”.
- British rock band The Equals release two hits, “I Get So Excited” and “Baby Come Back”. They were one of Britain’s first multiracial rock bands.
- “Time Has Come Today” is a hit for The Chambers Brothers, peaking at #11 in the US. For the best listening experience, listen to the 11 minute version.
- The Foundations release “Build Me Up Buttercup” in December 1968, becoming a hit in 1969, #3 in the US, #2 in the UK
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience release their last album, Electric Ladyland. Jimi Hendrix also recorded with Band of Gypsys, a band that included musicians Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Jimi Hendrix, after recording Electric Ladyland, wanted to try something different from a rock trio, so he worked with more musicians for an expanded band lineup. At Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix performed with a larger band known as “Gypsy Sun and The Rainbows”.
- The sound of Funkadelic, which was part of the Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk) collective, started to evolve from doo-wop and soul to a mixture of genres from psychedelic rock to funk rock. George Clinton was really inspired by musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Frank Zappa. Funkadelic is what George Clinton and his group recorded as after they were not able to record as Parliament due to a dispute with their record label.
- Dance To The Music was released by Sly and The Family Stone. The band soared in popularity in late 1967 and in 1968 with the release of the singles “Dance To The Music” and “Everyday People”. The former charted at #8 in the US and the latter was a chart topper.
- Rock band Black Merda (pronounced like Murder) were formed. In the mid-early 60s they were playing session and backup work as The Impacts. They did backing music for Edwin Starr, Billy Butler, The Chi-Lites, and The Temptations. They released their first album on Chess Records in 1970.
- Psychedelic rock band Sweetwater release their first album. Black members of the band include Albert Moore, August Burns, and Pete Cobian. The following year they performed at Woodstock. They were supposed to open the festival, but there were complications. They did end up being the first band to perform at the festival. Their debut album is excellent and a great example of the 60s sound from America. This album is great if you like Jefferson Airplane and The Doors.
- The Isley Brothers released the single “It’s Your Thing” – peaked at #2 in the US and #3 in Canada.
- Sly and The Family Stone released the album Stand! The best known songs on the album were the title track, “Sing a Simple Song”, and “Everyday People”.
- The Allman Brothers band were formed in Jacksonville, Florida. Jai Johanny Johanson, also known as Jaimoe, is the drummer and an original member of the band. Before joining the Allman Brothers Band he was in Otis Redding’s touring band in 1966 and toured with Sam & Dave, famous for the songs “Hold On, I’m Comin'” and “Soul Man”. The Allman Brothers Band were not just a country rock band; they took influences from blues and jazz music. My favourite song on their first album is “Whipping Post”.
- Shuggie Otis released his first album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis. This is a great album and key tracks to listen to are “Bootie Cooler”, “Funky Thithee”, “Shuggie’s Boogie”, and “Hurricane”.
- Buddy Miles released the album Them Changes. The title track of the album is a favourite of Eric Clapton’s. Other tracks I like from the album are “Heart’s Delight”, “Dreams”, and “Memphis Train”.
- Thin Lizzy released their first album. Their frontman/bassist was Phil Lynott, whose mother was Irish and whose father was Guyanese. When you think of Thin Lizzy and who the face of that band was and who the most recognisable member was, it’s none other than Phil Lynott. He wrote most of their songs including hits “The Rocker”, “The Boys Are Back In Town”, “Jailbreak”, “Dancing In The Moonlight”, and “Waiting For An Alibi”. Another song I recommend of theirs is “Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend”.
- Former member of Band of Gypsys, Billy Cox, released the album Billy Cox’s Nitro Function. The album has a heavy, psychedelic sound to it. There’s a cover of “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks on this album and I enjoy their psychedelic spin on this classic British Invasion song. I really like the track “Not My Time”.
- “Make It Funky” was a hit for James Brown.
- “Proud Mary” was released as a single and was a hit for Ike and Tina Turner. This was a cover of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song. This is one of their best known songs.
- Detroit protopunk band, Death, formed. They were founded by brothers David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney. At the time they were known as RockFire Funk Express. They released an album in 1974 called …For The World To See. This album was released before The Ramones and The Clash released their first albums.
- Funkadelic released Maggot Brain. I highly recommend this album. It has a bit of a prog/space rock sound.
- The Isley Brothers released the single “Love The One You’re With”. This song was written by Stephen Stills.
- Shuggie Otis released his second album Freedom Flight. This song had the original “Strawberry Letter 23”
- Bassist Willie Weeks joins psychedelic/prog rock band Gypsy for their sophomore album In The Garden. This album has a bit more of a funky sound than their self-titled debut. Key tracks on this album are “As Far as You Can See (As Much as You Can Feel)”, “Here (In The Garden) Parts 1 & 2”, and “Blind Man”. It’s a great album overall. Willie Weeks has also done session work with musicians like George Harrison and David Bowie. He also tours with a lot of musicians.
- Funk rock band Mother’s Finest were formed in Atlanta, Georgia. The classic lineup were vocalist Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy, vocalist/percussionist Glenn “Doc” Murdock, bassist Jerry “Wyzard” Seay, guitarist Gary “Moses Mo” Moore (not to be confused with the Irish guitarist), keyboard player Mike Keck, and drummer Barry “BB Queen” Borden.
- That same year, they released their self-titled debut on RCA Records. Overall it’s worth a listen. My favourite songs are “Love is All I Need”, “Dear Sir and Brother Man”, “Sweeten the Air You Breathe”, and “You Make Me Feel So Good”. There are two covers, “Love the One You’re With” and “Feelin’ Alright”.
- In 1976, Mother’s Finest released another self titled album, but this time on Epic Records. It’s a lot more rock and roll than the last one. My favourite songs on the album are “Fire”, “N*****z Can’t Sing Rock & Roll”, “My Baby”, “Fly With Me (Feel the Love)”, and “Dontcha Wanna Love Me”
- In 1977, they followed up with Another Mother Further. Love the title of the album. It’s funkier than the last one. My favourite songs on it are “Truth’ll Set You Free”, “Burning Love, and “Dis Go Dis Way Dis Go Dat Way.”
- In 1978, they released Mother Factor. My favourite tracks on the album are “Tell Me”, “Watch My Stylin”, “Give it Up”, “I Can’t Believe”, and “More and More”.
- Betty Davis released her first album. Her music has a funk rock sound. Betty Davis was married to jazz musician Miles Davis and was influential in his music in the late 60s, getting him into the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. One single she released that year was “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up”.
- The Isley Brothers released the single “That Lady”.
- Bassist Dartanyan Brown joins the jazz rock band Chase. They recorded their last album in 1974, called Pure Music. One good song from that album is “Run Back to Mama”. Here’s a video of Chase performing their biggest hit “Get It On” in 1974.
- The song “Hihache” was released by French based funk rock band Lafayette Afro Rock Band. They were made up of American funk musicians who relocated to France. They were known for their usage of break beats and this song has been sampled in many hip hop songs. A single called “Darkest Light” was released the following year and that was also sampled in many hip hop songs.
- Punk band Bad Brains formed in Washington DC. The band members had a wide range of influences from jazz fusion to hard rock to reggae. They released their first album in 1982.
- Fishbone form. Their influences range from ska to funk to hard rock to soul. They continue to release music to this day.