Here is my second contender for the first rock’n’roll song of them all – That’s All Right by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – from 1946.
No one would argue that Elvis Presley’s cover of this song was anything but rock’n’roll – it pretty much defined the genre when it came out in 1954.
And no one would argue that Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup from Mississippi was anything but a delta bluesman.
But the swing he put into this tune, and the rolling rhythm of that bass and drums, earns it a claim to the title at a time when Elvis was an 11-year-old boy up the road in Tupelo.
Crudup certainly didn’t sound much like other bluesmen at the time, and he was a rather rudimentary guitarist who had not even picked up the instrument until he was 30 years old. But he made his mark on music history.
Born into a family of migrant workers, Crudup grew up singing gospel music in Mississippi but became a bluesman, paying his dues in the clubs of Clarksdale before migrating to Chicago around 1940.
Times were tough at first; he was playing for spare change on the streets and living in a packing crate underneath an elevated train track when powerful RCA/Bluebird producer Lester Melrose dropped a few coins in Crudup’s hat.
Melrose hired Crudup to play a party that 1941 night at Tampa Red’s house, attended by the cream of Melrose’s stable: Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Lil Green. A decidedly tough crowd to impress – but Crudup overcame his nervousness with flying colours and earned himself a record deal.
In 1946 he wrote and recorded the original version of That’s All Right, backed by bassist Ransom Knowling and drummer Judge Riley, borrowing a few lines from a traditional blues tune recorded 20 years earlier by Blind Lemon Jefferson.
It wasn’t a hit, and Crudup didn’t receive any royalties from Presley’s version until the 1960s, when he finally received back royalties totalling $60,000.