What we know as rock ’n’ roll was not born, nor was it invented, in any particular place or time. It evolved out of different music genres that were played by all kinds of people early in the 20th century, most who never recorded their music. Author and photograph collector Jim Linderman wrote a book called The Birth of Rock and Roll that includes many found photographs of the types of musicians who contributed to what eventually became known as rock ’n’ roll music.
“We have this notion that rock ’n’ roll started in Memphis in 1955, and it really didn’t,” Linderman says. “Bob Wills was playing in the ’30s and ’40s in Oklahoma, and Chuck Berry modeled ‘Maybellene’ on a Bob Wills song. The roots of rock go back a lot further than we realize. It came from the church, from vaudeville, from the music played in after-hours clubs, from juke joints. Some of it came from Ireland. It’s such a conglomeration, and that diversity is the real back story of rock ’n’ roll. Without any trouble at all, I was able to include people of all races in this book. I was able to show the melting pot in America, which came together to create this phenomenon.
“I was especially happy to be able to include so many women performers, because they never got their due,” he continues. “Which is why we don’t know who they are now. I love being able to illustrate how broad the music used to be, because now it’s so narrow and pigeonholed. It seems we’ve lost some of the breadth that used to be there.”
Linderman talked to Collectors Weekly about the dive bars, state fairs, churches, and back porches that were the collective incubators of music that crossed racial lines and led to the explosion of rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s and ’60s.