Was San Jose actually the site for First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot?

After I sent out a little bulletin about the historical significance of the 1956 San Jose riot to my friends on MySpace, I got a reply back from my pal Joey Myers:

Eric, I wish S.J. could claim the first R & R riot but it can’t. Cleveland Ohio beat us by 4 years when the Alan Freed sponsored Moondog’s Coronation Ball went totally apeshit nuts. I would think it more of a big of band/r&b riot but looking at the talent roster you’ll notice most of these cats were pre-rock ROCKNROLLERS….So in my opinion it counts as a the first r&r riot. But whatever, what was the first r&r record? It’s all a matter of opinion.

Alan Freed's Moondog Coronation Ball poster

This is a very interesting point Joey made. The Moondog Coronation Ball was something that I originally thought was after the San Jose riot. The performers on this bill aren’t exactly household names. Does anyone still remember Paul Williams & His Hucklebuckers, Tiny Grimes & the Rocking Highlanders, Danny Cobb, or Varetta Dillard? Certainly no self-respecting musicologist can deny the significance of (Billy Ward &) the Dominoes, which launched the careers of both Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson. Were these guys actually considered “rock and roll?” Or was this merely just a out-of-control rhythm & blues show that somehow that got connected with the genre that was just being invented?

The term “rock and roll” has interesting origins. As many historians will tell you, “rock and roll” was an old African-American slang term for sex or dancing. One of my favorite reference guides is the out-of-print “What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record” book written by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes, which lists 50 contenders to the title, including a 1944 track entitled “Blues, Part 2” on the Jazz at the Harmonic album featuring some wild saxophone work by Illinois Jacquet and Jack McCrea. There’s also the 1922 track by Trixie Smith entitled “My Baby Rocks Me With One Steady Roll” that cannot be ignored, even it doesn’t sound like your typical “rock ‘n’ roll.”

For many people, rock and roll started with Alan Freed, and Bill Haley & the Comets. When I worked on a video project with the original Comets, bass player Marshall Lytle told me he believed rock ‘n’ roll was invented when Alan Freed heard the recording of “Rock This Joint” by Bill Haley & the Saddlemen (they hadn’t become Comets yet) and began using phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” to describe this kind of music. “Rock This Joint” was released in March 1952. The Moondog Coronation Ball happened on March 21, 1952. Could this be a coincidence? I think not.

So, I stand corrected, or amended with this information. Thank you, Joey for sharing this!

For the record, I would like to state that I now believe the San Jose riot of 1956 should be actually defined as the “Second Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot in the America.” It’s not as catchy as being number one, but that’s life…..

My buddy Ken Kaffke wanted to add more to this subject:

Rock n Roll, Swing and the Jazz (’50s, ’40s, ’20s) were the birth of youth explosions, freaking America out by the free mingling among white, black and brown races.

The first clampdown resulted in the closing of clubs in Harlem, and in June 1943 Zoot Suiters rioted in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere.

Songs that celebrated the 1943 youth rebellion included:
“Hey Pachuco” by Royal Crown Revue, and “Zoot Suit Riot” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

Here’s a web page with some pics of the riots:

By the time I first entered Aptos Junior High School in San Francisco, all that remained of the Pachucos (in 1965) was a hand-out warning new students not to wear the Pachuco uniform: black peg-leg trousers and black shirt with a white cross.

34 years after the Zoot Suit riots I was involved in the Houseboat Riots of Richardson Creek.

Pics, vids and the water squatter story are on MySpace blog.

Good luck Louie – hope this helps your research on the 1st teenage riots!

1 comment to Was San Jose actually the site for First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot?

  • andrew

    hello–I am looking for ORIGINAL 1950’S buddy holly and alan freed concert posters.I know buddy toured the states heavily in 1957 and 58 and toured with alan freed on the big beat tour in 1958..Id be willing to pay 10,000 for an original poster.If someone knows of one than please let me know.Would also love to find an ORIGINAL 1959 buddy holly winter dance concert poster…thanx for the help and feel free to call…310-346-1965..

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