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How Los Angeles and Hollywood Took Rock ‘N’ Roll Around The World

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“Growing up in LA, white kids weren’t listening to white radio, we were listening to KGFJ and during the day, it was an AM station and it was the radio station for the black community, it was 1000 watts. Down at the beach when I was surfing in the late ‘50s I would be listening to Hank Ballard & The Midnighters.” – Bruce Johnston, The Beach Boys

By 1930, when Hollywood was beginning to capture the world’s imagination, Los Angeles had a population of 1.2 million people, having doubled in size during the previous decade; by the mid 1950s the population had doubled again. During the war years men and women flocking to the city for work had swelled the city’s residents and in the post war years many ex-servicemen settled there, attracted by the climate and the possibility of living the California dream.

To cater to the demands of, particularly, the expanding black population numerous record labels started up during the 1940s. Bronze, Four Star, Super Disc, Imperial, Gilt Edge, Imperial, Aladdin, Modern and of course Capitol issued blues, jump and jazz as well as proto-rock ‘n’ roll records.

The Aladdin label was started by Eddie and Leo Mesner who set about signing some of the best jump blues artists in Southern California, including Amos Milburn and Charles Brown. Modern was started a few months later by the Bihari Brothers, Jules, Joe and Saul; the Bihari’s had a penchant for guitar Blues; among Modern’s early signings were PeeWee Crayton and Johnny Guitar Watson. They also distributed records, from even smaller labels, and were pivotal in the early success of B.B. King and Elmore James on their subsidiary labels, RPM and Flair.

One of the first labels to become established in Los Angeles was started by the Rene Brothers – Leon and Otis. Excelsior had their first big hit as ‘The Honeydripper’ by Joe Liggins that got to No.1 on Billboard’s Race Records chart in 1945. It is closer to rock ‘n’ roll in spirit than in musical form but it was very influential to many performers. In 1944 Art Rupe, a native of Pittsburgh, and a UCLA graduate, founded Jukebox Records. Their first release was ‘Boogie No.1’ by the Sepia Tones; it secured the label’s short-term future when it sold 70,000 copies in Los Angeles. By 1946 Jukebox had become Speciality, an even brighter future was assured when Roy Milton and His Solid Senders had a big hit with ‘R.M. Blues’; the first of over 19 R&B hits that the band and their label had over the next 7 years. By the 1950’s their roster would include Lloyd Price (‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’), Guitar Slim, Sam Cooke and Little Richard. Another Specialty rock ‘n’ roll star was Larry Williams who had big hits with ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ (covered by The Beatles) and ‘Bony Moronie’ (covered by John Lennon).

Capitol Records became a key player in Los Angeles in 1942 and was started by songwriter Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs who owned the biggest record store in the city. To begin with their output was all about big bands, and singers. 1948 was the year they established themselves with No.1s by Nat King Cole, and Peggy Lee among others. In 1953 they signed Frank Sinatra and besides Cole their other star names were Les Paul and Mary Ford. With the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll Capitol were keen to get in on the act and they signed Gene Vincent. They also tapped into the local R&B scene when they signed Johnny Otis a local bandleader who had recorded a whole host of hits for the Savoy label. His first recording for Capitol was ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ that got to No.9 on the Billboard chart in 1958. Having been bought by EMI in 1955 Capitol would of course play a pivotal role with two of the biggest bands of the 1960s. They eventually got around to releasing The Beatles records, but only after Vee Jay in Chicago had released their first records and they signed The Beach Boys in 1962 – the following year their ‘Surfin’ USA’ was based on Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’.

The stars that came from Los Angeles and the surrounding areas included Richie Valens and Ricky Nelson. While Valens reflected his Hispanic heritage, an important aspect of the city’s musical development, Nelson was very much a product of Hollywood’s approach to rock ‘n’ roll (not that it should devalue his career in any way). Perhaps Los Angeles’ greatest influential on rock ‘n’ roll were the films that were made in Hollywood and shown around the world.

The 10 Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies

1. The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)
2. Mister Rock and Roll (1957)
3. King Creole (1958)
4.. Jailhouse Rock (1957)
5. Shake Rattle and R-O-C-K (1956)
6. Rock Around the Clock (1956)
7. Rock, Rock, Rock (1956)
8. Don’t Knock The Rock (1956)
9. High School Confidential (1958)
10. American Graffiti (1974) Because it captured the spirit of it all

It was in the 1960s that Los Angeles began to vibrate to the sound of music that was largely inspired by the rock ‘n’ roll that had gone before. The city’s importance to the music industry and the music we love took on a whole new meaning.

Check out our Ultimate Rock ‘N’ Roll jukebox playlist

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Marjorie Martin

    July 27, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It is so much fun looking back at the great entertainers.

  2. Pat Houle

    July 27, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Growing up in LA County, this brought back a lot of great memories. Wish we could turn the clock back to that great time in our lives. The best years to grow up and the best place….Southern California!

  3. barry roach

    July 28, 2014 at 12:06 am

    i love rock and roll and like some parents mine did not critise i think my dad loved music as much as i did mum played piano and we had sing songs on sunday afternoons during my early years that certainly helped my love of music

  4. Yvon La Croix

    July 28, 2014 at 12:44 am

    The golden years of music.

  5. jerry thompson

    July 29, 2014 at 12:06 am

    The best music I still enjoy until the day I gone I enjoy the sounds everday it made successful in life.

  6. Ron W

    July 29, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Started our “garage band” in 62. Actually made it to the “big stage”… at the local movie theater. Many WONDERFUL memories of those times and that music!!

  7. Hiroshi Maeda

    October 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks.

  8. Stan

    October 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    You missed another great movie, “The Hollywood Knights”.

  9. DIANE STEVENS PINKIARD

    October 5, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    LOVE TO SEE JAYNE MANSFIELD MENTIONED.

  10. jan smeding

    October 7, 2014 at 9:06 am

    How about “Blackboard jungle” ?
    For the first time we hear Bill Haley!

    • Carlos

      September 9, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      You are very right. Even the song is heard not complete at the beginning and at the end of the movie. For me is the greatest, and where Rock and Roll really started. Regards.

  11. "Rockin' Rudi" VEIGL

    January 21, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Beautiful posters!
    I do have 4 big Posters from the fifties.
    Have a look on my Homepage.
    Greetings from ol’ Vienna

  12. johnny pablo

    January 21, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I too loved the posters which brought back memories of the first time i watched all these movies as eagerly awaited new releases in and around the suburbs of Liverpool,,AS soon as I heard Little Richard,Elvis and Fats Domino ,,I knew….’thats what I wanna do’,,,I’m the same age as Macca now,,,and like Paul,Ive kept on rockin’….Three times around the world with adventures in Argentina,Uruguay,Holland,Deutschland,Norway,Spain,Tenerife,Africa(in the German Navy),Germany again(in the British Army)France Belgium,,,and of course all over the U.K…..and I still love Rock n Roll.

  13. Mitch Schecter

    January 21, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I disagree with that top 10 list.Ommitting “A Hard Days Night” is a gross error.That film defined what rock and roll would become in the 60’s in the same way that the Alan Freed movies defined the 50’s.

  14. brian garrett

    March 9, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I think you have missed one. Disc Jockey Jamboree, i’m sure that was the same title in the US.

  15. J a y Rodriguez

    July 1, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks, i like your presentation. I grew up with Rock ‘n’ R, at the age of 14 while in jrhigh through h. School it was years of fun parties . Today i sing them and perform those great songs of the babby boomers. Repectfully JayR

  16. marlene saturnino

    July 21, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks I like rock and roll

  17. Michael Feiner

    July 25, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    “In the Still of the Night” has to have involvement with Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Just say’n

  18. Jim Parnell

    July 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

    “American Hot Wax” has got to be in the top 10 somewhere.

  19. BILL CHELTON

    July 28, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    AMERICAN GRAFFITTI DEL SHANNON RUAWAY A GREAT SOUNDTRACK

  20. Wayne Carew

    February 22, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for an outstanding site. This is my world……..wandered for a few years, but now I’ve found a familiar landing spot.. I’ve compiled over a period of 10 years, a collection of about 1200 Rock ‘n’ Roll tunes from the late 50’s through the 60’s. Some easy to find, and others that took somewhat longer (obscure tunes that don’t usually find their way onto anthologies). Many have been digitized from my 45 & album collection, that proved difficult to clean (made easier by Adobe Soundbooth). Had the privilege of meeting Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield back in the mid 70’s, a memory that grounds me when I get a little lost in time. My all time favorite however, has to be Bobby Vee. ‘Nuff said. Mega-thanks!

  21. Frank Gidlow

    March 25, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    My wife and I sang a lot of Rock and Roll in our career with our covers band “Gemini” in Sydney Australia through the 1970’s and 80’s.From the hundreds of songs we had in our repertoire these were the songs that filled the dance floors and we were lucky enough to have both retained lots of them during our teenage years.

  22. Bob Maule

    June 4, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Loving You’ and ‘King Creole’ were all better rock movies than ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’.

  23. ORLANDO

    June 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    TOP TEN ROCKANROLLER

    WHITE ROCK & ROLL : 1º ELVIS, 2º EDDIE,3º BUDDY, 4º GENE, 5º CARL or JERRY 6º BILL

    BLACK ROCK & ROLL : 1º CHUCK or LITTLE, 2º LITTLE or CHUCK, 3º BO, 4º FATS

  24. Kev

    June 3, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    You forgot The Wanderers still a cult film in the UK a great portrayal of early 60s USA. Oh and The Lords of Flatbush as well. Both 70s classics looking back to the golden age.

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