Contrary to popular myth, rock ‘n’ roll didn’t spring into existence when Elvis Presley first swiveled his hips. There were many contributing musical streams across the spectrum of the post-war scene, including country honky-tonk, R&B shout-outs, and a mÃ©lange of bluegrass and western swing and vocal group harmony and sonic explorers like Les Paul (to be sure, his own genre). Yet for me, there is one group that seemed to point the way to a boppin’ electric music performed with sass and style, and that is the Maddox Brothers and their Sister Rose.
Fred Maddox had decided cotton pickin’ was not for the family after they’d moved from Alabama to California during the Depression, and by 1937, had encouraged his siblings to join him in a band. Playing over the radio from their home base in Modesto, they originally called themselves the Alabama Outlaws, and because the station wanted a female singer, placed his younger sister in the forefront of the band. Rose was hardly in her teens, and Fred’s doghouse bass was joined by Cal on guitar, Cliff on mandolin, and Don fiddling. They were carving out a circuit throughout California when the war intervened, and three of the four brothers were drafted.
Luckily, all four brothers and Rose were reunited after war’s end, and they signed with Fred Foster and Don Pierce’s 4-Star label. They stayed there for the crucial years of 1946-51, from which the recordings on these sets were taken, and the elements of country boogie and high-octane guitar pickin’ are pushed to the fore. There’s a lot of string-band past (“New Mule Skinner Blues”) and some iconic forward motion. But when “Texas Guitar Stomp” lets loose, with some great guitar work-outs from Roy Nichols (later to star with Merle Haggard) and steel guitarist Bud Duncan, you know you’re hearing the sound of the future unfold.
The group would sign with Columbia in 1951, and continue their rock-a-willy ways, but by 1956, when they disbanded, the teen sensibility of rock ‘n’ roll had marginalized them. No matter: Listening here, you can hear rock ‘n’ roll being invented, in all its joyous exuberance and incandescent discovery.