MODESTO – Disc jockey Alan Freed, as legend has it, coined the term “rock and roll.”
Some sources say that it was during his tenure in Cleveland, where Freed first recognized that white teenagers were flocking to record stores to buy up rhythm and blues records not typically found in suburban homes in the 1950’s.
Others say it was it was after 1954 when he moved to WINS in New York – specifically used to described the style of music played Bill Haley and Haley’s Comets when they performed the smash hit “Rock Around The Clock.”
But almost no sources, at least from what I could find within a few keystrokes, say that Freed ever had anything to say about Modesto, let alone having the city pegged as the birthplace of the music that helped redefine a generation and give birth to a musical movement that still continues to this day.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a movement underway to recognize Stanislaus County’s largest city as the place where the first rock and roll notes were played.
And there might be merit to that argument.
On Wednesday night the attendees of the 14th Annual Modesto Area Music Awards were subject to a special treat when Don Maddox – part of the early country music group “Maddox Brothers and Rose” – took the stage to play a few of the songs that very well could laid the groundwork for each of the artists that sat in the State Theater that night.
It seemed like a stretch. How is it possible that this man, standing on the stage in a 10-gallon hat, a western suit and a cowboy bandana – fiddle in hand – is one of the fathers of rock and roll music? Or even an early ancestor, as my anthropology instructor would say.
The lineage goes something like this – in 1937 Fred and Clay Maddox and their 11-year-old sister Rose played Modesto’s KTRB as the “Alabama Outlaws” and Fred’s unique “slap-style” approach to the upright bass created a sound that was distinct and different.
It caught on like wildfire. It was direct – World War II took some of the brothers overseas to fight for the Allied Front, but the family – which also included brothers Don, Cliff and Henry – reunited and ended up cutting records as Maddox Brothers and Rose upon returning.
They toured the country as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band.”
And it all hinged on the sound that was made when Fred’s fingers slapped those heavy bass strings against the thick frets and then pulled them back – setting a tempo that was different than the traditional down-home country that people were used to at the time.
The first notes of rock and roll music?
It’s no secret that rock and roll as a genre – true rock and roll music – is nothing more than a mishmash of a variety of styles all poured into a Crockpot and then turned up to 375 degrees for four hours. A brisket of hillbilly music that had been cured to rockabilly music seasoned with some blues and notes of jazz and gospel and an uptempo beat – anything that’ll keep the feet moving.
Think Jerry Lee Lewis. Think Elvis Aaron Presley.
That upright bass that Fred Maddox used to pound his fingers on now sits on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle – essentially Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s private music collection and museum – because of its musical significance and, allegedly, because the “first notes of rock and roll might have been played on it.”
So there stood this man from Boaz, Alabama – fiddling away a bandana around his neck – and it seemed like nobody under 25 seemed to care what that moment meant not only for the city, but also in their own musical lives.
Even if it is a stretch, it’s one helluva story.
I don’t think they’ll be adding “rock and roll” to “water, wealth, contentment, health” anytime soon, and I think Cleveland has a foothold on that whole Rock and Roll Museum thing.
But stake that flag Modesto.
You might just be on to something.