By May 9, 2013 Read More →

The Birth of Rock and Roll

The BigView – Monthly Feature

Rock and Roll is Born in Modesto. History of Rock and Roll Roots First in a Musical Series. By Chris Murphy

The trail of the history of Rock and Roll and the music and the people that inspired Rock and Roll leads directly to Modesto’s doorstep. Yes my friends, Rock and Roll was born right here in Modesto USA in 1937. Not another Modesto, our Modesto. The same Modesto that is the home of American Graffiti is also the cradle of the modern music civilization. How can this be? Why don’t we have billboards on the freeway and giant museums celebrating our birthplace? These are good questions and now is the time to change all of that and take our place in the Roots of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So pull up a chair, and listen up my friends, because there is a musical tale that begins in Boaz Alabama and leads to Modesto and then to the rest of the world. Was this information hard to find? No it was right under our noses the whole time.

Although there were some earlier R & B songs like Rocket 88 in ‘51, the first song commonly agreed as the opening chords of Rock and Roll was “That’s All Right (Mama)” by Elvis Presley recorded in 1954 at Sun Studios in Memphis. This song has direct roots to the string slappin’ sounds played on a big stand up string bass by Fred Maddox in Modesto. Yes, these first notes of Rock and Roll were slapped right here in Modesto USA.

In 1937 these sounds were broadcast live for the world to hear on our own KTRB 860 Radio by Fred and Clay Maddox and their 11 year old sister Rose playing as the Alabama Outlaws. This radio station at the corner of Sylvan and McHenry had a transmitter built by Modesto’s own Cecil Lynch. There are many roots of rock and roll, but the root that made Rock and Roll “ROCK” came from Modesto USA.

This rockin’ stand up bass sound that was so exciting was the “clickity-clackity” of the big fat strings being slapped against the finger board. The strings were plucked so hard that the string back slap made a percussion sound and Fred Maddox would even just beat on the strings to make it clack even more. This boogie bass sound of Fred Maddox was changing music and became known as Hillbilly Boogie. Fred Maddox’s bass is on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. It is there because the first notes of Rock and Roll maybe been played on that instrument. (1)

The story begins: The Maddox family escaped the Dust Bowl of Alabama and made their way to California. After attempting to settle in LA and Oakland, the railroad brought the Maddox Family to Modesto where they picked fruit and vegetables in the fields up and down the central valley. Fred Maddox, tired of field work, encouraged the family to get into the music business and persuaded Rice Furniture to sponsor a radio show. See Jennifer Allsup’s highlight to read more about this first show.

The Maddox sound was fun, catchy and made you want to dance. They were clever and Don and Fred were the comedians of the group and they became famous on the radio and the Maddox Brothers and Rose began performing around the region. The string bass player was the comedian in many of the early swing bands, but it was the rockin’ sound of Fred’s bass combined with the songwriting and the wit of the Maddox family that made hillbilly boogie famous.

When the Maddox boys returned from war and returned to Modesto, they started recording and began wearing the flamboyant suits and made quite a name for themselves, touring across the country. Through the years they would play the local places like the Uptown Ballroom and many other local “Honky Tonks” around the area like the El Rancho and George’s Playhouse in Stockton. The Riverbank Club House became the crossroads for a sound that now was known across the nation that would be host to many of the music legends of that time. Hank Williams made a memorable appearance here in Modesto and played a live performance on KTRB, then under the guidance of Chester Smith, himself a hillbilly music legend and radio star.

The Maddox sound became famous across the USA on radio, recordings and their memorable live performances. The Maddox Bros & Rose were known as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band”. Fred’s bass sound influenced musicians across the USA, and in particular, one Memphis, TN based Bill Black who had returned to Memphis after the war.

Bill Black was the legendary bassist for Elvis Presley in those early Sun sessions. “That’s All Right”, a cover of Arthur Crudup’s 1946 song, was recorded after an accidental uptempo rehearsal track. This new “rockin’” version was quickly recorded and sent to radio and radio went wild. The Rhythm and Blues that was popular up and down Highway 61 in the late 40s and early 50s, was blending with the hillbilly boogie slappin’ bass sound that made the music “Rock”. Bill Haley’s Rock around the Clock, also released in 1954 featured the rockin slappin’ bass sound. (1) Around the same time, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed would popularize the term “Rock and Roll”.

(1) The Blue Moon Boys, The Story of Elvis Presley’s Band, By Ken Burke, Dan Griffin – 2006 Chicago Review Press The rest is history.

Don Maddox, a living legend KC “Don Juan” Maddox is still with us today and he has more energy and sense of humor than most any other 90 year olds you meet, or anyone for that matter! His voice is loaded with character and energy and we chatted about the origins of Rock and Roll, Rockabilly and the Maddox Bros & Rose Sound.

ModestoView: How did the Slappin’ Bass sound start? Don Maddox: Fred just started with the string bass and he really wasn’t that good and it and he just slapped it to get this percussion sound and he would just beat on it. People would come to see us and say, “you have the best bass player” but he wasn’t that good, he was just slappin’ it like crazy and having a great time. Don recounted how a young Elvis would be on the same concert bill and Bill Black would sit in with the Maddox and Elvis would admire their flashy outfits, many that were made here in Modesto. Elvis commented to Don at one of these shows, “someday I will have a suit like this”. The Maddox influence was felt everywhere in music.

According to Don, as the youngest, he learned how to play by going to the dances and watching the band play and after the war joined the band as the fiddle player and one of the chief comedians for their legendary sound. Their colorful live recordings are still available and some of their KTRB radio jingles are on You Tube. Don Maddox is still making music and his CDs and merchandise will be available very soon. ModestoView will keep you informed.

See for a list of links to recordings. The Maddox Story will be continued in ModestoView

Reverend Horton Heat’s Jim Heath spent some time with us when he played in Modesto recently and we talked about the history of Rockabilly, the Maddox Brothers and the roots of Rock and Roll. “Rockabilly wasn’t just Elvis and Bill Haley, it was a outgrowth of everything. It was the hillbilly people listening to R&B one thing lead to another”. Jim continues “Rockabilly has kind of been the kicking dog of the music business and I hope someday that Rockabilly will get its place in history. Whether that really happens or not, we’ll see, but that’s what I hope”. In fact, the word Rockabilly was used as a ‘hillbilly insult” in the early years and the term was not really used widely until the early 50s.

10th St. is our History Row Modesto has a special opportunity. There are very few streets in our downtown that have that retro charm. In 2012, the section of 10th and 11th Streets between K and G was designated as the Modesto Historic Cruise Route and a 25 marker history tour is there today. These were the actual streets where the cruising, then called “dragging” would happen from 1946 through the mid 60s. These are the same streets where the old nightclubs and the record stores featured the music of the Maddox Brothers, Chester Smith and the early pioneers of hillbilly boogie music that would become Rock and Roll. We have an amazing opportunity to create a special historic zone in this area, encourage retro designs and make sure that our incredible music history as the “Birth of Rock and Roll” and our unique place as the home of “American Graffiti” can be celebrated.

On this month’s cover is one of those visions that makes a future out of our past. It is a way to create civic pride out of the knowledge of our history and use our own history and streets to draw visitors to Modesto USA from around the world. Now, people visit for our American Graffiti, Agriculture, business, relationship to Yosemite and now they can visit us as the birth place of Rock and Roll and Rockabilly.

To get involved in this project, please email

Rockabilly History Tales By Jennifer Allsup

Maddox Brothers & Rose In 1933 The Maddox family decided to move west to California from Alabama. The agriculture state of California is where we will find our riches. As, the Maddox family ended up in Modesto Ca. Rose Maddox recalls, they became “fruit tramps” following the harvest season through the Central Valley. As for her brother Fred he insisted that he couldn’t stand to work. So, Fred approached the local Rice Furniture Company in Modesto with an offer, Fred thought they couldn’t refuse.

Fred wanted to see if the owners of the Rice Company would be interested in sponsoring a country music show on local radio stations. The Rice company said “Yes, as long as you have a female singer” ! Fred said” Don’t you worry about that, not only will be have a female singer we will have the best female singer”. Fred brought in his eleven year old sister Rose. In 1937 the Maddox Brothers & Rose performed over station KTRB in Modesto Ca. Doing what they knew , Hillbilly music.

Stay tuned for some more factual information where Rock n Roll began with Maddox Brothers and Rose !



Posted in: Graffiti, news

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.