Houston Music

Rock & Roll: Invented In Houston?

Rocks Off is pulling double shifts this week - are we ever - so on our "break" that ended a few minutes ago, we repaired to a nearby watering hole for a couple of beers (only a couple) and to peruse an advance copy of a book we got in the mail earlier this week: Preston Lauterbach's The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'N' Roll.

Naturally, we turned straight to the section dealing with Houston, which begins with Chapter 6, "The Loser Goes to the Hospital, the Winner Goes to Jail."

Uh huh. That part is mostly about how, long before SXSW, late nightlife impresario Don Robey and his cronies put Houston and all of Texas on the touring map for big-time African-American performers - from Nat King Cole to Louis Jordan - while incubating their own crop of more locally- and regionally-based talent.

That's not what really caught our eye, though. It was in the next chapter, "The Bronze Peacock" - we pray to God you've heard that name by now, somewhere - and an excerpt from the Houston Informer, once the city's leading black newspaper.

"The term rock, deployed in a musical rather than a sexual context... gained popularity right around the time Louis Jordan and his small band blew up in the summer of 1942, and some permutation of it in noun, verb or adjective form could be found sprinkled throughout the black music vocabulary thereafter," writes Lauterbach, a music journalist based in Memphis. He continues:

Houston Informer reporter Ted Williams wrote in his paper's August 5, 1942 edition, 'On Friday night of the past week, I happened to be on hand when [Doctor Clayton] sang a couple of songs at the Eldorado and take it from me had the whole house rockin' in rhythm.

Emphasis Lauterbach's, whose book is out in July. From what we read this evening, could the first recorded instance of the word 'rock' describing a kind of music - or at the very least the effect of a kind of music - be traced back to the Eldorado Ballroom, which has been on our minds lately anyway, during that sweltering summer of '42?

Seems that way. Rocks Off will have more on both The Chitlin' Circuit and the Houston Informer once all this March Madness is over, but for now we can't get over the idea that the maelstrom we are about to enter has at least one of its twisted, tangled roots at the corner of Elgin and Dowling.

We don't know whether to laugh or cry.


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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray