1937 – The Birth of Rockabilly

Modesto’s Rockabilly Roots put the “Rock” in the Roll
By Chris Murphy

In 1937, the first notes of Rock and Roll aired over Modesto radio station KTRB 860.

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.

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.

The Maddox sound was fun, catchy and made you want to dance. 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 and Don joined the band. Their music was fun, uptempo and clever and Don and Fred were the comedians of the group. They had a regular show on KTRB radio and the Maddox Brothers and Rose began performing around the region. They started recording for 4 Star records 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” and a young Elvis would regularly open for the Maddox Brothers and Rose, admiring their flashy suits.

Learn more at www.modestomusichistory.com

The rest is history.

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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.