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By this point in rock’s evolution, thirty months since the music exploded onto the scene, there’s absolutely no sign of it letting up.

The charts – both the national Billboard listings and the regional Cash Box surveys – are jammed packed with rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s already laid to waste the polite jazzy vocal records that had ruled the roost throughout the 1940’s and has increasingly shown the inherent folly of black vocalists who were attempting to conform to the white pop music ideals in the hopes of being accepted with open arms in the decidedly restrictive mainstream.

Though white America still remained blissfully ignorant of the entire rock movement that would in a few years finally overtake their staid pop charts forever, the message was already clear in Black America… rock ‘n’ roll was definitely here to stay and the public proclamations of this fact were becoming increasingly explicit.


He’s Real Gone
It’s rather surprising – or then again maybe not – that this record which so blatantly celebrates the music in no uncertain terms isn’t more widely known today.

The reason why you’d think this would be one of those records which appears in every article and book about the subject is fairly obvious… the title!

Though we’ve had multiple rock songs to date using the same three words in unambiguous fashion as their title, they’re not all the same song even though they’re all proudly touting the same music. Of them, this Rock And Roll seems to be the least talked about, trailing Wild Bill Moore’s 1949 effort and even Manhattan Paul’s 1948 cut by this name.

Maybe though that’s to be expected because of who is being credited with the record. Surely most people scanning the label (whether in the Twenty-First Century or even back in 1950 when it came out) and see the names LaVerne Ray and Arlene (misspelled Arleen) Talley and think it’s two ladies.

While rock ‘n’ roll may have done more than most styles of music to break down social barriers it’s always been fairly sexist, at least when it comes to giving proper recognition for the ladies. (Doubt me? How many all-time greatest rock artist lists fail to include Aretha Franklin and Madonna in their Top Ten or Twelve and don’t even feel the need to justify their exclusion?!?!?). A lot of insecure guys can’t even bring themselves to praise a female rock act unless she sings in a decidedly uninhibited “masculine” way.

Well, maybe they should be told that in THIS case it’s not two females, but rather one, because LaVerne Ray is a guy. It’s an unusual male name, yes, but rest assured Ray is a card carrying member of the XY Chromosome Club.

The other – less insidious – reason why this record and these artists have been eternally overlooked is because the record itself failed to make a dent in the consciousness of the audience, despite acting as an advertisement for the hottest brand of music in the black community at the time. But while it may not have scored commercially, artistically it’s a different matter altogether for this fits nicely into the music’s ongoing narrative, acting almost like a public victory lap for rock’s mounting triumphs in the industry.


Rocks To The Left
The two featured artists here were not associated with one another outside of this specific song. LaVerne Ray was always on the fringes of the record industry, cutting his first single for Jubilee a full year earlier that passed without notice.

Arlene Talley may have wound up with the more rewarding career, though she too had just sporadic record deals, starting here at 17 years of age, however she enjoyed a long career singing in New York jazz clubs for the rest of the Twentieth Century. On Rock And Roll she proves she had what it took to be a valued member of the rock community if she so chose, and while her pairing with LaVerne Ray is bound to add to the uncertainty over gender identity over just who is who, the end results manage to overcome that unfortunate confusion.

The song starts off rather timidly with horns in the higher register playing a jaunty riff but one that hardly elicits any strong gut reactions leaving you to wonder if this might be a case of simply hopping on a currently hot term and slapping it on something ill-suited to carry such a title. But as it coalesces and the pieces start to fall into place you’re happy to see the rhythm getting emphasized even as the music takes a back seat to the singers.

Talley’s the one getting the most to do here and she definitely has the voice for it. A little high in tone but full-bodied and dripping with confidence, she’s brings to this the authenticity that a song like this needs to excel – an attitude that seems to be intrinsic in rock’s DNA.

By contrast Ray’s responsorial role is key in giving this depth, not so much in what he says but just the fact he’s simply backing up the main treatises, bringing a unified outlook to the position that this brand of music is worth rejoicing over.

In that regard, though the lyrics offer more of a theme than a story, boasting about those who play and sing this music, they nail the mindset effortlessly. Maybe the best way to put it into proper perspective is to imagine recruiting some rock fans in 1950 and asking them to express in their own words what it is they find so alluring about rock and these are the kind of sentiments you’d expect them to offer up.

To that end they highlight the energy of the music, the swagger of its performers – and by extension the casually self-assured conviction of its listeners – in ways that don’t feel forced and artificial. It comes across as realistic self-expression rather than a scripted roll call of its attributes.


Rolls To The Right
Helping them with this job is someone who was now also making his career in rock ‘n’ roll, guitarist René Hall.

Though still largely unknown to the public, despite his own recent efforts as the credited artist on René’s Boogie, he’ll go on to make his name as one of the top session guitarists and arrangers in rock and he shows here that he too has the right personality to carry this off.

Rock And Roll might not be the leading exponent of the music in terms of how all of its musical facets are being highlighted individually but Hall never fails to keep it churning effectively which elevates the entire production because there’s no false steps.

It’s a simple game plan that starts by emphasizing the bottom simply by letting the drummer actually go to work rather than lay back and then using the horns and guitar just to contribute additional colors throughout, more intent with keeping the mood right rather than showing off. Even the solo by the tenor is somewhat restrained without losing the proper feel for the topic. It vacillates between gritty and whimsical at times but never deviates from the main goal which is to provide a constant forward momentum for the singers to jump back on when the break ends.

The most crucial decision by Hall on the studio floor was to have the musicians simply follow the lead of the vocals rather than try and make statements of their own proficiency. He correctly pinpoints the back and forth exchanges of Hall and Ray as the driving force of the song and works to see that everything else being done merely supports them, most notably in the stop-time section where the instruments act as the punctuation for the lyrics rather than trying to compete with them.

By joining the two components in lockstep gives the record a cohesive feel that bolsters the urgency and drive of the record as well as giving it more of a festive atmosphere even if he never lets it get too wild. Maybe considering the topic you’d rather see him take a few more chances, but when dealing with two singers without much of a track record behind them to show they deserve a longer leash you can’t criticize Hall too much for being more prudent than ambitious, especially when it pays off so efficiently in the end.


Jumps All Day
Songs like this… or rather titles like this… probably have a steeper hill to climb in historical retrospectives such as this, almost as if the records themselves have to live up the full scope of the meaning such a title conveys.

That’s unfair of course, Rock And Roll wasn’t trying to be a genre defining statement in 1950, but rather merely trying to establish LaVerne Ray as a bankable artist while giving Jubilee Records a chance to be something more than a one-horse label… or one bird group label as it were.

Though technically it failed in those regards as it neither became a hit nor did it alert the world to the talents of either of its vocalists, the record itself holds up fairly well. Yeah, it might be something of a journeyman effort – a straightforward story with serviceable, if somewhat generic, lyrics without a dynamic arrangement to bring much attention its way – it’s at least nice to be able to say that the pieces all fit, everybody involved is in the right frame of mind and even those somewhat rote broader sentiments are certainly accurate in what they describe.

Remember, rock ‘n’ roll, the style of music, not this record, is largely about conveying a specific feel that is never so elusive that it can’t be grasped instantly by anyone who comes in contact with it and if nothing else this is perfectly reflective of that spirit.


(Visit the Artist page of LaVerne Ray for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)