Roll 'Em Pete

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"Roll 'Em Pete"
Single by Joe Turner & Pete Johnson
Released 1939
Recorded December 30, 1938
Genre Blues
Length 2:50
Label Vocalion Records 4607
Writer(s) Joe Turner and Pete Johnson[1]

"Roll 'Em Pete" is a rhythm and blues song, originally recorded in December 1938 by Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson.[2] The recording is regarded as one of the most important precursors of what later became known as rock and roll.[3][4][5]

Original recording[edit]

Johnson was a boogie-woogie pianist in Kansas City, who in the early 1930s had developed a partnership with Turner, who was working at the time as a club bartender.[6] Turner would shout blues rhymes to Johnson's music. In 1938, the pair were invited by music promoter and producer John Hammond to the first From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.[7]

While in New York, Turner and Johnson had a session with the Vocalion record company, recording the 12-bar blues "Roll 'Em Pete" on December 30, 1938. The song was an up-tempo boogie woogie which had become Johnson's signature tune in the Kansas City clubs. In performance, Turner often included many well-rehearsed blues verses, or improvised lyrics, to extend the performance for an hour or more.[8][9]

According to Paul Oliver, the recording "features spectacular piano playing by Johnson and a forceful vocal by Turner in the style he made famous - half-shouted and with repetitive phrases building up tension at the close."[8] Larry Birnbaum wrote that:[9]

".."Roll 'Em Pete may well be regarded as the first rock'n'roll record. Although earlier songs contain elements of rock'n'roll, "Roll 'Em Pete" is a full-fledged rocker in all but instrumentation ... Johnson's bass line is a simple Chuck Berry-like chug, and his furious right hand embellishments anticipate Berry's entire guitar style. Some of Turner's verses are the stuff that rock is made of ... But others are too mature for teenage listeners. If anything, Turner's brilliant phrasing and Johnson's breathtaking keyboard technique are too sophisticated for rock'n'roll; the music has yet to be formularized for mass consumption."

"Roll 'Em Pete" contained one of the earliest recorded examples of a back beat; the song is also notable for its use of straight rhythm – well into the 1950s, most, if not all, similar recordings were played in shuffle rhythm.[original research?] Turner later recorded many other versions, with various combinations of musicians, over the ensuing years, particularly in the 1950s when he became a star of rock and roll.

Later versions[edit]

The tune was later recorded by many other artists, including:

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - Big Joe Turner | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  2. ^ Scott Yanow. "The Boss of the Blues - Big Joe Turner | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  3. ^ Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll, Secker & Warburg, 1991, ISBN 0-436-53203-4
  4. ^ Peter J. Silvester, A Left Hand Like God : a history of boogie-woogie piano (1989), ISBN 0-306-80359-3.
  5. ^ M. Campbell, ed., Popular Music in America: And the Beat Goes on (Cengage Learning, 3rd edn., 2008), p. 99. ISBN 0-495-50530-7
  6. ^ "Biography by Scott Yanow". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 29, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Big Joe Turner: inducted in 1987 | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Rockhall.com. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  8. ^ a b Paul Oliver, "Blues", in The New Grove Gospel, Blues and Jazz, Macmillan, 1980, ISBN 0-333-40784-9, p.91
  9. ^ a b Larry Birnbaum, Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013, pp. 111–112
  10. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - Albert Ammons, Johnson, Pete Johnson, Lewis, Big Joe Turner | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. 1998-06-19. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  11. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - Count Basie,Joe Williams | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  12. ^ Ron Wynn. "Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings - Count Basie,Joe Williams | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  13. ^ Ron Wynn. "Black and Blue - Lou Rawls | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  14. ^ "Paris Concert: Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  15. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - T-Bone Walker,Jimmy Witherspoon | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. 1998-12-28. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  16. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete [Live, 1982] - The Blasters | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. 2002-03-05. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  17. ^ "Oldie Blues". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  18. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - Bill Wyman,Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  19. ^ "Roll 'Em Pete - Jimmy Witherspoon | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-21.