Although Mississippi is noted for Blues music, there are many firsts in Rock and Roll music from the Magnolia State.

Johnny Valentine Record  Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall
Johnny Valentine Record
Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall

The first rock and roll record to be released world-wide was a song by the original Rolling Stones from Mississippi. The group was formed at Mississippi State College (later named Mississippi State University) in the mid-1950’s and consisted of Andy Anderson, William “Cuz” Covington, Joe Tubb, Bobby Lyon and Roy Estes. In the summer of 1957 the Rolling Stones entered the Mid-South Talent Contest in Memphis, TN. The prize was a recording contract with London Records who wanted to branch out into rock and roll music after being well known for their classical recordings.  The Rolling Stones won the contest and went to Bradley Recording Studio in Nashville to record “Johnny Valentine.”  When they arrived, the band members were told they couldn’t be on the record because they weren’t members of the musicians’ union; instead, studio musicians were used to back Andy Anderson, lead singer. Other people on the record in were Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland, lead guitar; Bobby Moore, bass; Buddy Holland, drums; and back-up singers, The Jordanaires. The record was released world-wide on the Felsted label and was a big hit.  The band members were upset that they did not get to play on the record and severed all ties with London Records. They did not copyright the name “Rolling Stones” – London Records kept the name, discovered Mick Jagger, and the rest is history.

Dick Clark Cliff Barbara and Ed Thomas Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall
Dick Clark Cliff Barbara and Ed Thomas
Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall

Another Mississippi first was by a group comprised of siblings, Cliff, Ed and Barbara Thomas. While returning to Jackson, MS from college classes at Notre Dame, a song came to Ed. When he got home Ed and Cliff “worked it up” – developed the words and wrote the music.  They went to Sun Studios in Memphis and played it for Sam Phillips who liked it and put it out on the Phillips International Label. The name of the song was “I’m On My Way Home.”  This record was a hit and they became the first Mississippians to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.  At the time, ABC television did not have an affiliate station in Jackson, MS.  Their parents were able to see the TV show by taking a television set to the telephone building’s basement and getting a direct feed from New York.

Cliff Thomas’ release “Sorry I Lied” was the first time a B-3 organ was used on a rock and roll record.  This song featured Ed Thomas as the organist.  Up until this record, pianos were the only keyboard instrument used.

One of the first known echo chambers used in a recording studio, was by Bob McRee, also of Jackson, MS.   He converted his family garage into a recording studio in 1958.  Garages in this period had dirt floors and Bob dug a pit to make the echo chamber and nailed egg cartons to the walls to improve the acoustics.  Flashlights were used for lighting.  The first group to use this “echo chamber” was the “Midnighters,”  an opening act for the “Red Tops”, a popular group from Vicksburg, MS.  The “Midnighters” were discovered by Tim Whitsett.  There was another group known as “Hank Ballard and The Midnighters” so Tim changed the “Midnighters” name to “The Vels.”   During the recording of their first song, “Please Be Mine”, the lead singer was afraid to go into the echo chamber because it was so dark.  Bob gave him a flashlight and the recording session began.  Today this record is a collector’s item.

Buddy Rogers Record Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall
Buddy Rogers Record
Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall

Bob McRee was also the first person to use a synthesizer or sound creator on a record. He did this by recording the actual cutting of a piece of wood with a saw which you can hear it at the beginning of the Buddy Rogers’ song “Waiting For The Sun To Go Down” right before Buddy sings the lyric, “I saw the log.”

In 1967 Tim Whitsett and The Imperial Show Band of Jackson, MS became one of the first integrated bands to tour the country.  Tommy Tate, an African-American from Pickens, MS, was the lead singer.  While on tour, their engagement in Reno, Nevada was cancelled because of the group’s mixed race make-up; however, they were allowed to play in Las Vegas and the remainder of the tour. The irony is the group was widely accepted in segregated Mississippi.

Tim Whitsett and The Imperial Show Band Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall
Tim Whitsett and The Imperial Show Band
Photo Courtesy of Johnny Sumrall

2 thoughts on “Rock and Roll Firsts from Mississippi by Johnny Sumrall

  1. I was surprised that there was no mention of The Down Beats from Ole Miss. An 8piece band that played all over the SEC, they were known for powerful covers of Bo Diddley tunes and many Ray Charles tunes. They were worthy rivals of The Red Tops, Andy and the R.Stones..They were among the first artists signed by Ardent Records of Memphis and had regional hits with “Geraldine”,” The Hucklebuck”, “Memphis Blues” and others…….Bobby Jones, former member and lead singer..

  2. In 1960 a group of seniors at Senatobia City School threw a big party at the Legion Hut in Coldwater. We got a great band, all black, from Clarksdale, or somewhere in the Delta. I believe they were The Midnighters. We were “cutting edge” for that time and place. The dance was a real throwdown, with guests from all over North Mississippi, and we all had a fabulous time. I’m sorry to say I have no photos or other souvenirs.
    This work you’ve done is fantastic, Johnny. Your stories are bringing up some memories!!!

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