John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

The Birth of Rock and Roll

Author and collector extraordinaire Jim Linderman was born the year that Hank Williams died, and the year before Elvis Presley made his first recordings. While both of those events were a cosmic coincidence—to hear Jim talk about it, you might call it a sign.

According to Linderman, rock and roll did not emerge with one single event or person. It wasn’t Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, (disc jockey) Alan Freed, or any other person you might believe started it. Instead, it emerged gradually, in basements, garages, burlesque halls, brothels, honky tonks, and church revival meetings. Linderman has also been known to  say, "There is no first rock and roll record.”

Sure, there were those with star power who propelled the genre forward—but the reality is that there was no cause and effect event. To help make his case, Linderman went looking for the forgotten snapshots of those music fans who documented these events with a camera. He came away with hundreds of vernacular images of people listening and dancing to music, the best of which make up his incredible new book, The Birth of Rock and Roll.

I called Jim to ask him about his premise. “Rock and Roll is a misnomer, and despite all the history—it’s been around in various forms for over a hundred years. This stuff is just a blip in the scheme of things,” he said without hesitation. “And now it’s over—gone.”

“So, where did it start?” I asked him.  

“Well, it started off with a handful of guys with banjos, to be honest. I feel so fortunate to have lived during more than half of this period of time, that I got to sit ten feet away from so many musicians before they were names. rock and roll was taboo because it mixed races. All these forces came together in one century to create rock and roll. Racism and integration had a lot to do with it, gospel, blues, hillbillies, minstrels in blackface, even the Hawaiian music craze. The preachers got it right about one thing—much of it this music was about sex. It was about dancing and making out and losing your virginity in the backseat of cars.” 

The Birth of Rock and Roll was produced by the All-Star lineup of Lance Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital and Martin Venezky as the designer. Linderman also enlisted the writing talent of Joe Bonomo, who has numerous music books to his name.

Jim Linderman is the keeper of the highly popular blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb (“the only swear words his father ever used,” he says), and numerous books on non-mainstream music and culture. His blog Old Time Religion covers the faith-healing community of yesteryear. And as Linderman puts it, “I write the posts for this blog every Saturday night while the rest of you are out sinning.” His former blog Vintage Sleaze “had more page views than the Taj Mahal.” 

The Birth of Rock and Roll has 160 pages and 134 images. The book is available now and can be ordered here.

All digital images © Jim Linderman and Dust-to-Digital, and may not be reproduced for any purposes without expressed written permission from both.

Jobs | May 22