THAT’S ALL RIGHT – The song that started a musical revolution

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– The song that started a musical revolution –

By Mariusz Ogieglo

THAT’S ALL RIGHT – The song that started a musical revolution. Entering the recording studio on September 6, 1946, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup (actually Arthur William ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, which was his full name), could not even have guessed that the song he recorded that day – blues “That’s All Right”, almost a decade later, will forever change the face of the then music scene and light the fuse for an unprecedented socio-cultural revolution.

At that time, it was only one of at least two compositions recorded for a new single. The second one was the song “I Don’t Know It”, the melody of which was very reminiscent of the above-mentioned “That’s All Right”.

The author of both compositions was Arthur Crudup himself. A black singer, songwriter, composer and guitarist who, in the late 1930s, after a short stint with the popular gospel quartet The Harmonizing Four, decided to continue his musical career as a soloist. Initially, however, Crudup’s solo career did not go according to his plans. After moving from Clarksdale to Chicago, the bluesman performed mainly on the city’s busy streets, entertaining crowds of busy passers-by with his music. However, this form of musical activity was unable to provide him with either fair remuneration or decent living conditions. Not to mention any artistic fulfillment.

The situation improved when one day the musician was noticed by Lester Melrose – a music producer, who then introduced him to the popular Chicago bluesman, Hudson Whittaker (better known in the community as Tampa Red). This, in turn, led to Crudup signing a contract with the RCA Victor label.

Shortly thereafter, in 1945, songs he sang such as “Rock Me Mama”, “Keep Your Arms Around Me” and “Who’s Been Foolin’ You” were already among the top of Billboard’s list of the most popular R’n’B recordings . (taking third and fifth places respectively).

” All I ever wanted was to be as good as Arthur Crudup, whom I saw in 1949 ,” Elvis Presley would say many years later (interviewed around 1969/1970), when, during a conversation with a Dutch journalist, he was asked whether he had ever thought that he would achieve so much in music and showbiz. At that time, Elvis was already a world-class star, whose performances attracted crowds of fans from all over the world to Las Vegas every evening and filled the concert hall of the largest hotel in the city to capacity.

During that conversation, Presley did not specify where exactly he saw Crudup perform. However, taking into account the fact that after establishing cooperation with RCA Victor, the bluesman successfully performed in many popular nightclubs in the Southern United States at that time, it cannot be ruled out that he also appeared in one of the then fashionable venues on Beale Street in Memphis. The street that Elvis often visited after moving from Tupelo in 1948.

” I once heard old Arthur Crudup banging on his guitar just like I do now ,” Presley said in 1956. ” I thought then that if I ever get to a place where I feel everything that old Arthur feels, I will be a musician the likes of which the world has never seen before .”

Undoubtedly, one of the songs that Elvis remembered from that concert, and which he recalled with such nostalgia at various stages of his career, was the composition “That’s All Right”. Crudup’s current hit, which RCA re-released as a single in 1949.

And here’s an interesting fact. Just two years earlier, in 1947, the same song had appeared on the B-side of the seventy-eight rpm single “Crudup’s After Hours” (RCA 20-2205) under the title “That’s All Right.” At that time, however, the recording did not achieve any spectacular success and performed much worse than the earlier compositions of the popular bluesman.

However, when the song went on sale again in March 1949 (RCA 50 – 0000), the title was changed to “That’s All Right (Mama)” and RCA promoted it as the first rhythm’n’blues recording made in a completely new record format – forty-five revolutions per minute (this format was available on the market only from December 1948). ” When introducing the first 45 rpm turntables, RCA Victor realized how important it would be to have not only one recording made in this format but also a cross-section of different artists and styles from which listeners could choose, ” wrote one study. “ For this reason, in February 1949, the first batch of forty-five rpm records sent to stores included a little bit of everything. They were delivered to retailers in custom envelopes bearing the words ‘Here’s a preview of RCA Victor’s new line of 45 RPM records .’

Each of the seven titles released at that time was embossed in a different color. “That’s All Right (Mama)” was released on a cherry red album. It is worth explaining at this point that each color was reserved for a different music genre. This cherry-red or, according to other sources, orange color – was attributed to rhythm’n’blues. In turn, green for country & western music, blue for international music and black for popular music.

In a way, due to the above historical background, the innovative solutions introduced and its inclusion in a collection so important for American phonography, one could safely say that Arthur Crudup’s song turned out to be a breakthrough even before Elvis Presley (who at that time could hardly imagine allow the purchase of the original album) he reached for it during his first official session at SUN Studio.


The official’s word is the key here because it is worth remembering that before Presley recorded his own version of “That’s All Right (Mama)” in July 1954, he had already made several visits to the legendary Sam Phillips studio.

However, these usually ended with him recording a few of his favorite songs at his own expense, mostly ballads from the repertoire of other artists, such as “My Happiness”, “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”, “I’ll Never Stand In Your Way” or “It Wouldn’t Be The Same (Without You), which Phillips immediately pressed on acetate (and the only copy of the album).

The breakthrough came only in the summer of 1954, when the famous producer decided to find the performer and composer of the ballad “Without You”, which someone had delivered to his studio. Unable to find it, he was persuaded by his secretary, Marion Keisker, to record the song with Elvis.

Despite the hopes placed in the young singer from Memphis, the attempt ended in complete failure. Elvis not only failed to record a satisfactory version of the mentioned ballad, but also failed to complete the next recording proposed to him – “Rag Mop”. Nevertheless, Sam Phillips decided to give the aspiring singer a chance and asked him to sing some of his favorite songs. In response, he heard… dozens of them.

” I must have sat there for at least three hours ,” Elvis later told one journalist. ” I sang everything I knew, pop, spirituals, everything I could remember .”

Most of the material presented at that time were hits by Dean Martin, Presley’s favorite singer. Perhaps that is why, in some studies, one can still find information that the third song recorded by Elvis at that time was “That’s Amore”, promoted by Martin only two years earlier.

As the story goes, also during this session, or rather during the short break ordered during it, Presley confided to Phillips that he was looking for a band to perform with. The producer, who that day, as Todd Slaughter writes, heard ” something ” in the young, ambitious singer’s voice, offered his help and arranged a meeting for him with a friendly guitarist from The Starlight Wranglers, Scotty Moore.

The musician met with Presley at his home on Bill’s Avenue in Memphis on July 4, 1954. ” He sat next to me and played and sang everything ,” Moore recalled Sunday’s audition. ” He looked like he knew every song in the world .”

Meanwhile, Bill Black joined them. The Starlight Wrangler’s double bassist, who at the time only listened to these unusual jam sessions, later admitted that Elvis did not make a good impression on him. ” Just a cocky kid dressed up in these crazy clothes ,” he was reported to have said in a conversation with his bandmate (Elvis came to Moore’s house wearing a light pink shirt, leather (also pink) pants, and white shoes).

Nevertheless, reporting the course of the meeting to Sam Phillips a few hours later, Scotty Moore stated that Elvis had a good voice, but the songs he sang did not sound much better than the original. Hearing this, the studio owner told the musician to contact Presley again and invite him to a recording session. “ You and Bill come too. You’ll have to find the right music for it ,” the producer reportedly said.

Lots of noise and… a local earthquake!

The next day, July 5, 1954, after finishing work, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black showed up at Sam Phillips’ studio. The session at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis began around ten o’clock in the evening (or at least that was what Scotty Moore remembered).

The recordings began with the recording of the country ballad, “I Love You Because” from the repertoire of Leon Payne. In 1950, the above composition, sung by its author, stayed at the top of the Country Jockey Chart for two weeks. Presley’s version, according to Scotty Moore, was simply ” good “.

Similarly to the rest of the song recorded that day, “Harbor Lights”, which Elvis may have recognized from the Roy Fox Orchestra and Sammy Kaye.

However, none of them met the expectations of either Sam Phillips or Presley himself. ” Our session turned out to be a very frustrating activity ,” said Judd Phillips – the brother of the famous producer – in the book “The Private Life of Elvis”. ” (Elvis, author’s note) He wasn’t happy with any of the songs we offered him. Nothing seemed to fit his style .”

However, the course of the session changed dramatically during the break.

During it, the musicians sit in the corner of the studio, talking and drinking Coca-Cola. Elvis was, according to band members, upset and concerned that the recordings were not going as expected. After a few minutes, he stood up, walked over to the microphone, and began nervously strumming his guitar. ” I picked up the chords and then Bill started accompanying us on the double bass ,” Scotty Moore told the author of The Private Life of Elvis. ” Suddenly Elvis started jumping around the studio like a fool and we broke into ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ .”

The spontaneous jam session initiated by Presley, according to his guitarist, did not yet herald (or at least none of those taking part in it even thought about it) the coming revolution in pop music – ” at that time it seemed to us that we were just making a lot of noise , ”he said. However, Sam Phillips had a different opinion and when he heard what was happening in the studio, he ran out of the control room shouting: ” what the hell are you doing? “. ” We don’t know ,” he replied. ” Well, you better find out and don’t forget it ,” he shouted excitedly. ” Play it again and we’ll put it on tape .”

After these words, he hurried back to his control room and turned on the tape recorder. And the stunned musicians played “That’s All Right (Mama)” again in the same way as before (” Elvis jumped the same way ,” Scotty Moore reported). According to Scotty Moore’s memories, the song was repeated two or three times before the proper version was recorded (his words are confirmed by fragments of that historic session preserved to this day).

“That’s All Right” (the note “Mama” did not appear on Presley’s original album), along with a similarly arranged bluegrass composition by Bill Monroe, was recorded on an album that a few days later became the first official single (released under the catalog number SUN 209) on Elvis Presley’s rich discography. ” I’ll never forget the night my father, Sam Phillips, brought home Elvis’ first record ,” recalled Knox Phillips, son of the legendary producer. “ It was a forty-five rpm single with the songs ‘That’s All Right’ and ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky.’ He was so excited that he wanted my mother Becky, my little brother Jerry and me to listen to it immediately . According to Knox, the ” emotions on his father’s face ” as the album played were like ” a summary of everything he had been working on for so long .”

However, when the momentary excitement wore off, Sam Phillips, who had been saying for several years that if he could only find a white boy who could play and sing like a black guy, he would make a lot of money, realized that he had more than just a potential hit on his hands. He also has a big problem!

” It’s not country, it’s not pop ,” he reportedly said. “ No one has been making records with just guitar and bass since the 1930s. I won’t sell it .” The producer’s concerns were even more justified because the single included two songs that, at a time when there were huge racial divisions in the United States, should never have been next to each other – the black blues ” That’s All Right (Mama)” and the song by a white composer, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” Promoting the single on any radio station was associated with a wave of protests and criticism. ” A ‘colorful’ song, a white singer and the American South. The vast majority of white presenters did not want to touch ‘black’ music, and blacks did not want to have anything to do with ‘white’ music ,” Leszek C. Strzeszewski described this difficult situation in the book “ELVIS” from 1986. There was also a question – which of these categories did the then nineteen-year-old Elvis fit into?

Fortunately, Phillips quickly found a way out of this difficult situation. Just a few days after the end of the session, on July 8, 1954, he took the freshly recorded demo to the WHBQ radio headquarters located in the Chisca Hotel on S. Main Street, where Devey Phillips worked – one of the most popular radio DJs at that time, who in During his radio program “Red, Hot And Blue”, he presented albums by black singers and bands.

After hearing the material brought by the owner of SUN Records, the presenter agreed to play Presley’s songs on the air. On July 10, 1954, at 9:30 pm, “That’s All Right (Mama)” performed by Elvis Presley hit the airwaves for the first time. What happened next exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations… Just a few minutes after the broadcast, a local earthquake began in the city and in the studio . The editorial office was filled with calls from delighted listeners demanding a repeat of the song. To meet their expectations, Phillips played “That’s All Right (Mama)” fourteen times throughout the broadcast! People calling the editorial office and, over time, also gathering outside the hotel (” white kids listened to black music, black kids listened to white music – there was no racial segregation during Deve’s ‘Red, Hot & Blue’ ,” one website wrote ) wanted to know who is Elvis Presley… Is he White or Black? How old? And finally, the most important question – what is the name of the type of music he performs?

The only person who could answer all these questions was Elvis himself, who, fearing that his recordings would be played on the radio… went to the cinema to watch the movie. And it was from there, at Sam Phillips’ request, that his parents took him and took him to the radio headquarters, where he gave his first interview.

A few days after the debut of the single “That’s All Right (Mama)” on WHBQ radio, the SUN studio received five thousand orders for an album by a previously unknown truck driver from the Crown Electric Company. The single wasn’t even pressed yet!

“ The nineteen-year-old Humes High student had just signed (July 26, 1954) a recording contract with SUN Record Co. “in Memphis and already has an album that promises to be the biggest hit SUN has ever released ,” wrote Howard Edwin of Memphis Press-Scimitar a few days later (July 27).

“That’s All Right” did not go on sale until July 19, 1954. According to The Commercial Appeal, Elvis’ first album ” sold at least 6,300 records in Memphis in less than three weeks .” In total, over twenty thousand copies were sold throughout the South!

However, at the end of October, the song “That’s All Right (Mama)” was already in third place on the local Country Music Chart.


Interestingly, shortly after Presley (perhaps encouraged by the success of Elvis’s album or sensing the song’s potential), other white singers began to boldly (and, more importantly, successfully) use Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s composition. The first to record his own version of “That’s All Right”, in September 1954, was the highly respected country singer, Roy Smiley Maxedon. In turn, three months later, in December of the same year, Marty Robbins also did it – an American singer, composer, lyricist and performer of such hits as “I’ll Go On Alone” and “I Couldn'”, who has been enjoying unflagging popularity for several years. tKeep From Crying.”

His joyful country rendition, full of musical flourishes and violin sounds characteristic of the genre, was released on the Columbia label with the ballad “Gossip” in early 1955. Both versions – Presley’s version and Robbins’ version – differed not only in their interpretation but also in the length of the text. Elvis’s performance, which was the result of a spontaneous jam session, contained only three verses, most likely remembered by the singer, while Robbins sang as many as four of them. The lines Elvis omitted were:

“ I should mind my dad, guess I’m not smart

If I was, I’d leave you, go before you break my heart

But, that’s all right, that’s all right

That’s all right mama, anyway you do ” *

However, Robbins’ correct, polite and catchy performance never caused such a stir among listeners as Presley’s energetic recording. Nevertheless, it was his version that in 1955 reached the high, seventh position in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart.

Paradoxically, when Marty Robbins was achieving success on the country charts by singing Elvis’ first major hit, he himself, while presenting it at the Grand Ole Opry – the temple of country music, was told only a few months earlier, in October 1954, that he should end his adventure with music and consider returning to drive a truck…

His own distinctive style

Fortunately, Elvis never gave up singing and just a few days after the premiere of his debut single, he began to successfully present songs from it during his performances.

Starting with his first professional concert at the Overton Shell Amphitheater in Memphis on July 30, 1954, through performances as part of the Louisiana Hayride program, popular in the 1950s, to his later television programs and regular concerts.

Like the studio recording, the concert performances, and especially the way they were presented (especially in the 1950s and early 1960s), differed significantly from both Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s original and many later versions.

” Just a few weeks ago, a young man from Memphis, Tennessee recorded a song on the SUN label ,” said popular radio host Frank Page, announcing Elvis’ historic first appearance on the “Louisiana Hayride” in October 1954 . a few weeks later, that recording shot up the charts. And it’s doing really well across the country. She’s only nineteen years old and has a new distinctive style. ” Elvis Presley .”

In turn, Scotty Moore, recalling the concert at Overton Shell, wrote: ” When we heard our names, we went on stage and, standing in front of the audience, we saw rows of fans who had no idea what to expect [.. .] We were scared to death. All these people and us with these three little instruments. We started with ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ . According to Moore, Elvis was so nervous that he unconsciously began to stand on his toes and move his legs in time to the music. Some of these moves were very similar to those he performed during the July session at SUN. The audience’s reaction surprised everyone. “ To his surprise – to his horror – the young girls in the audience started going crazy , screaming and applauding .” Back then, no one knew why…

It is estimated that between 1970 and 1977 alone, Elvis sang “That’s All Right” – the song that made him recognizable and allowed him to appear in the music show business – two hundred and ninety-four times! For almost a decade, it was not only an integral part of his concert set list, but, alternating with the bluesy “See, See Rider”, it also often opened his performances in the largest American halls, including the famous Madison Square Garden in New York or the Hilton (formerly International) in Las Vegas. Vegas.

When announcing it, the singer always returned with sentiment to the day he recorded it in Sam Phillips’ small studio. “ Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to play a song now from my first album, which we did with the people at SUN Record in Memphis, Tennessee. We were just getting started back then… I hope you still remember her. “The song is called ‘That’s All Right (Mama),’ ” he said over the unrelenting applause and loud screams of excited devotees gathered at the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in March 1961.

In turn, seven years later, during one of his famous concerts, the so-called sit down show, which was part of the breakthrough NBC television program in 1968, he said about his first hit: ” We would like to play you an old rhythm’n’blues song called ‘That’s All Right Mama’. We only had two or three instruments back then. We had a guitar, a bass and… another guitar. And we came up with something like this .

He talked about it similarly almost a decade later, during one of his last concerts. “ The first song I ever recorded,” he said in Rapid City on June 21, 1977 (it was the last time he sang it ‘live’). “ Back then we only had a guitar, an electric guitar and a bass. That’s all. And it sounded like this .

“That’s All Right” accompanied Elvis at every stage of his career. It resounded both in her most breakthrough moments and in the privacy of her home. ” Elvis and Linda came to visit me at the house he bought for me ,” said Sam Thompson, who in November 1973 managed to record a “home version” of this groundbreaking song. “ At the time I was playing an old guitar, a Gibson, which he gave me. He just started playing and singing .

The song that changed the world

” Elvis didn’t do it the same way I did ,” said its composer, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, complimenting Elvis Presley’s July 1954 song “That’s All Right.” “He made it kind of like a hillbilly record. I liked it. I knew it would be a hit. Some people like the blues and some don’t. However, the way he did it pleased everyone.”

As history has shown, Crudup’s composition turned out to be groundbreaking not only for the career of the future king of rock’n’roll. It also became a milestone in the history of all pop music. A symbol of the era and the entire era of rock’n’roll as well as the changes that have occurred in popular music over the years.

Presley’s single was considered by music historians to be the first rock’n’roll album, and the song itself had countless covers, dozens of various interpretations (although most of them had echoes of Presley’s recording) and performances.

Over the following decades, “That’s All Right (Mama)” was played by the world’s biggest song stars. From the previously mentioned Marty Robins through Carl Perkins (who wrote the hit “Blue Suede Shoes”), who included it on his November 1958 LP “Whole Lotta Shakin'”, Roy Orbison, Billy Fury (1963), the Beatles, who recorded it for the BBC Light Program in July 1963, Rick Nelson, who recorded it between 1978 and 1979 in Memphis and the Epic label released it on his final album, “The Memphis Sessions”), Billy Swan, Hoyt Axton, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart to the Greatful Dead, Green Day, Austin Butler and Peter Gabriel.

” Until rock ‘n’ roll came along in England, only ballads were popular ,” explained Paul McCartney, who also recorded his own version of “That’s All Right (Mama)” in the 2001 documentary “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (including the program even with members of Elvis’s old band, Scotty Moore and DJFontana). “ And then, suddenly, things that sailors brought to us from the United States began to appear on the radio. We listened to some of your (in the video he addresses Scotty Moore and DJFontana, author’s note) songs and we just wondered… what is it?! “

Polish stars were also willing to listen to “That’s All Right (Mama)” as foreign artists, an example of which is Wojciech G?ssowski’s performance on the album “Love Me Tender” from 1981. ” In the years of our youth, Elvis Presley was an incredible idol ,” recalled the performer of such hits as “Where did those parties go” or “Zielone Hills nad Solina” in an interview for Polish Radio. “ It was something amazing: an amazing career all over the world, even though he had never performed anywhere in the world. […] He was an idol all over the world, the same in Poland. Today I wonder what it would be like if, as a young boy, I had not started listening to rock’n’roll music, especially Presley. The first songs I started singing to myself while playing the guitar were Elvis Presley songs. And the first song I sang in front of an audience was ‘Love Me Tender’ .

Andrzej “Papa” Gonzo – the leader of the rhythm’n’blues group Gang Olsena, popular in Poland, also recorded his own, more rock version of the song “That’s All Right”. The song was recorded as part of the “Burning Love Project”, in which the artist reminded listeners of several of Presley’s greatest hits in completely new, often surprising arrangements. ” Elvis’ music has accompanied me all these years ,” Andrzej “Papa” Gonzo recalled during our conversation in 2009. ” Even as a youth at school and at sports camps, while I was training in “Pogo?” in Ruda (Ruda ?l?ska – the town where the artist lived, author’s note), I played the guitar and performed songs such as ‘Love’ during various celebrations and meetings. Me Tender’, ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’, ‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Are You ‘Lonesome Tonight?’ etc. Later, I came across analog records of Polish performers who recorded Elvis songs. Wojciech G?ssowski and his album ‘Love Me Tender’ and Krzysztof Krawczyk with the album ‘Good All Rock’n’Roll’. I also went to a traveling show directed by Janusz Józefowicz entitled ‘ELVIS’, where Elvis’ songs were sung by, among others, Micha? Milowicz. However, everyone sang the king’s songs in versions well known to all of us.

In 2007, August 16 was the 30th anniversary of Elvis ‘ death and I thought of recording one of his songs in a new arrangement, paying tribute to the king. The choice of song was almost instinctive. It was ‘Burning Love’. I gathered professional musicians from Silesia and we first recorded a song and then made a music video for it .

Gang Olsen, who has been present on the Polish stage for thirty-six years, still likes to use “That’s All Right (Mama)” during their concerts.

In 1998, Presley’s recording of “That’s All Right” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of lasting historical significance.

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine listed Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right” as number one hundred and thirteen on its list of the Five Hundred Greatest Songs of All Time. ” Elvis Presley was the first person to combine blues, country, pop and gospel, forever changing the face of pop culture .” And it all happened at a small SUN studio in Memphis, exactly seventy years ago.

  • The verse added to Marty Robbins’ version was not from Arthur Crudup’s original performance. The latter’s version contained additional lines that were not sung by Presley or Robbins:

[verse 3]

“Baby, one and one is two,

Two and two is four

I love that woman

But I’m ready to let her go”

[verse 4]

“Baby, now if you don’t want me

Why don’t you tell me so?

You won’t be bothered with me

“Round your house no more”

It’s also worth remembering that Crudup used lines from earlier blues recordings in his recording, including “The Black Snake Moan,” recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926.

Article written and provided by Mariusz Ogieglo, EP Promised Land (Poland)

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