Composer: - Jackie Brenston
Publisher: - B.M.I. - Arc Music Corporation
Matrix number: - U-7316 - Master (2:48) Acetate
The first rock and roll tune on the Memphis Recording Service.
Recorded: - March 5, 1951
Memphis Recording Service
706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Released: - April 1951
First appearance: - Chess Records (S) 78rpm standard single Chess 1458-A mono
ROCKET 88 / COME BACK WHERE YOU BELONG
Reissued: - 1986 Charly Records (LP) 33rpm SUNBOX 105 mono
SUN RECORDS - THE BLUES YEARS 1950
Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Jackie Brenston - Vocal and Baritone Sax
Raymond Hill - Tenor Sax
Eugene Fox - Tenor
Ike Turner - Piano
Willie Kizart - Guitar
Jesse Knight -
Willie Sims - Drums
Reached at number 1 at the Billboard's Rhythm and Blues charts
The story had become muddied in the re-telling, but a front-page article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal dated march 28, 1951 was so soon after the event that it's possible: ''B.B. King of Memphis, one of the race artists of
Sam Phillips has been recording, passed the word along to Ike Turner, a negro band leader of Clarksdale, Mississippi, that the marked was open. Ike brought his band up for audition''. In one of Ike's accounts, they had only covers when they set out, but arrived
with four original songs. If they'd driven across country, we might believe that, but they's driven 75 miles. That said, ''Rocket 88'' was almost a cover. Most of the melody and even some of the lyrics were lifted from Jimmy Liggins' 1947 recording of ''Cadillac
Boogie''. The different lay in ''Rocket 88'' explosiveness, and for that some credit must go to Sam Phillips. Willie Kizart inadvertently created fuzz toned guitar when his amp either fell off the back of the car en route or was rain-damaged in the trunk.
Turner insisted upon the latter, but the sound is more consistent with a sliced speaker cone. Phillips recalled, ''WE had no way of getting it fixed so we started playing around with the damn thing, stuffed a little paper in there and it sounded good. Sounded
like a saxophone''. In a later interview with Richard Buskin, he explained how Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm became Jackie Brenston & the Delta Cats: ''I had to tell Ike that I wanted to know if he had somebody in his band who could sing. Ike was
singing and of course he was a hell of a talent, but I knew his voice was not quite what I was looking for. Anyway, he told me that Jackie Brenston had a song called ''Rocket 88''. Jackie played the sax, but I put a mic in front of him and, man, as a singer
he was a natural''. The distorted guitar and piano created a thunderous rhythm track, although Tuner thought nothing of it at the time: ''Man, we were just tryin' to cut a record the way we thought one was supposed to be cut. I had the boogie-woogie bass movin'
on the bottom, Willie was tryin' to play guitar like Robert Nighthawk, and we were fond of Joe Liggins in those days, so that's how Jackie sang''. Brenston's vocal drips confidence and Raymond Hill's sax solo builds in momentum to a screeching climax. After
the session was over and the paperwork underway, Phillips realized that Brenston was underage and the contract had to be signed by his mother, which seems wildly at variance with the carefree, hedonistic image he was projecting.
The Biharis believed that they had first call on ''Rocket 88'' by virtue of their pre-existing
deal with Phillips. Joe Bihari told John Broven that Leonard Chess was in town and paid spot money for ''Rocket 88'', but it's likelier that Chess had left town with a better offer on the table. The Commercial Appeal stated that Phillips sent out a lacquer
to Chess by Air Express the night of the session. it was a 16-inch acetate because, as Phillips told Nadine Cohodas, ''I wanted all the little nuances to be conveyed to them''. Apparently the Chesses couldn't handle 16-inch discs and called to ask for a 12-inch,
but once they heard it, they jumped on it. The Commercial Appeal article talked as if the record was already out and gaining traction. This was on March 28, just three weeks after the session. On March 30, Brenston was back at Phillips' studio to pick up an
$85 advance and was back again on April 10 for another $200, suggesting that ''Rocket 88'' was already selling well. On May 7, Brenston got another $100 and the same day Phillips fronted him $165 for a PA system. ''Rocket 88'' finally charted on May 12, and
hit number 1 on June 9. Five days later, a then-unknown Pennsylvania hillbilly bar band, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, recorded what was probably the first cover version. On June 28, an entry in Phillips' logbook states that Brenston assigned all future royalties
on ''Rocket 88'' to Phillips in lieu of the $910 already advanced to him, but Brenston's name is still on the song. When ''Rocket 88'' became a not-very-valuable copyright in the later 1050s and 1960s, it's conceivable that Phillips simply forgot that he owned
it. Under then-existing American copyright law, the song came up for renewal in 1979, and at that point, Phillips as the songwriter could have grabbed the publishing for his company, but didn't.
Sam Phillips and Chess Records had their first hit; Brenston had his first and last. The longstanding, unenforceable claim
that ''Rocket 88'' was the first rock and roll record is borne out by Little Richard, who ought to know. Richard liked it so much, he stole the intro for ''Good Golly Miss Molly''. Phillips' original acetate was auctioned in 2002. It contained ''Rocket 88''
and one of the Ike Turner songs. In recognition of its totemic status, it fetched nearly $14,000. (CE)