It’s a question that’s been debated for almost as long as the genre itself. Depending on the criteria there are a number of contenders and all have an interesting story. David and Jordie Kilby discuss some of the front runners.
Rock ‘n Roll captured the imagination of millions of teenagers in the 1950s and its word wide popularity was largely due to the release of Bill Haley and the Comets single Rock Around the Clock in mid 1955 and its subsequent use in the credits for the film Blackboard Jungle.
Johnny O’Keefe, often recognised as the first true star of Australian Rock music, didn’t enjoy his first hit until mid 1958. During the years in between a number of Australian artists tried their hand at making records for the new dance craze.
The Schneider Sisters - Washboard Rock ‘n Roll - Magnasound Records - 1956.
Mary and Rita Schneider has been performing as the Schneider Sisters for several years before recording this track in November 1956 for Bill Armstrong’s Magnasound record label in Melbourne.
Needing a fourth track for their Rockin’ With The Schneider Sisters E.P they wrote it in an hour the night before the recording session. Several records precede this release but all are cover versions of American rock songs.
This is the first to be written and recorded by and Australian act.
Frankie Davidson - Rock A Beatin’ Boogie - Danceland Records - 1956.
Frankie Davidson was a popular singer in the mid fifties playing many dances around Melbourne at venues like the Ziegfeld Palais. In July 1956 he fronted the Max Bostock danceband and entered the studios to record his take on the Bill Haley song "Rock A Beatin’ Boogie".
The backing betrays the bands jazz roots but the vocal from Frankie rocks from start to finish. Frankie had heard Bill Haley’s records before cutting this making it the earliest rock record produced in Australia influenced by its American cousins.
Vic Sabrino - Rock Around The Clock - Pacific Records - August - 1955.
Vic Sabrino was born George Assang on Thursday Island. He moved to Sydney in the early 50s and began singing with jazz bands. His recording of Rock Around The Clock was probably made in July/August of 1955.
Given this time frame it would be interesting to know whether or not Vic had heard the Bill Haley version of the song before recording his own, though a quick listen would suggest that perhaps he and the band had only seen the sheet music which was normal for the day.
Les Welch - Saturday Night Fish Fry - Pacific Records - 1954.
Les Welch was a very popular jazz pianist and bandleader who began wowing Sydney audiences in the late 1940s. He was very fond of American boogie woogie and jump blues and covered several proto rock records in the early 50s including this Louis Jordan rhythm and blues classic.
Interestingly enough Welch was also a central figure in the history of Festival Records, who released Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, and was the man responsible for securing the rights to release the song in Australia.