Ed Ward covers the first half of the history of rock & roll in this sweeping and definitive narrative - from the 1920s, when the music of rambling medicine shows mingled with the songs of vaudeville and minstrel acts to create the very early sounds of country and rhythm and blues, to the rise of the first independent record labels post-World War II, and concluding in December 1963, just as an immense change in the airwaves took hold and the Beatles prepared for their first American tour.
In this first volume of a two-part series, Ward shares his endless depth of knowledge and through engrossing storytelling hops seamlessly from Memphis to Chicago, Detroit, England, New York, and everywhere in between. He covers the trajectories of the big name acts like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles, while also filling in gaps of knowledge and celebrating forgotten heroes such as the Burnette brothers, the "5" Royales, and Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips's assistant, who played an integral part in launching Elvis's career.
"A dean of rock journalism delivers the first volume of a magnum opus on a subject that never ceases to fascinate.... A spry study that should inspire listening with newly informed ears to old tunes." (Kirkus)
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Author's blindspots mar this book
I enjoy Ed Ward's NPR pieces about little known rock performers very much, but significant omissions and biases keep this from being an authoritative history of rock. This book purports to cover 1920-1963, but the author skips rather quickly from 1920 to about 1950 with only brief mentions of important artists like Louis Jordan and Bob Wills. He then gives short shrift to Bill Haley whose important role in the evolution of early rock, predates Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis. Ed Ward is evenhanded in his approach to other performers here, but he is not only outright derisive of Haley ("his ridiculous spit curl") but worse, he perpetuates the uniquely American myth that Haley was an insignificant anomaly.
- Mark Clark
Better than several college texts on the topic