Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers and Hillbillies

How America Gave Birth to Rock and Roll


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About the Book

Rock music today is universal and its popular history is well known. Yet few know how and why it really came about. Taking a fresh look at events long overlooked or misunderstood, this book tells how some of the most disenfranchised people in a free and prosperous nation strove to make themselves heard—and changed the world. Describing the genesis of rock and roll, the author covers everything from its deep roots in the Mississippi Delta, key early figures, like deejay “Daddy-O” Dewey Phillips and gospel star Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and the influence of so-called “holy rollers” of the Pentecostal church who became crucial performers—Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

About the Author(s)

Attorney James A. Cosby is a regular contributor on pop culture matters for and other outlets. He lives in Philadelphia.

Bibliographic Details

James A. Cosby

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 264
Bibliographic Info: 20 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6229-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2538-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments viii
Preface 1
Introduction: Rock in the Free World 3
1. “What Is Wrong with Us?” 11
2. Boom Time—and Cracks in the Foundation 20
3. The Oral Tradition 31
4. Being Black 42
5. The Early Blues 55
6. The Delta and the Devil—and Freedom 67
7. The American Hillbilly and Country Music 85
8. A Prelude and a Melting Pot 104
9. The Church and Rock 112
10. Memphis, Sun, and the Dawn of Rock 120
11. Mr. Presley 142
12. Mr. Berry and the First Wave of Rock 173
13. A Changed World 194
Conclusion 204
Chapter Notes 211
Bibliography 235
Index 245

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A lot of useful, thoughtful, and engaging information throughout the work…provides an illuminating and intriguing look at how the genre became a cultural touchstone”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Well researched, well organized, and well thought-out…those who are just starting out their research on the history of rock and roll will find this book useful, while even the more seasoned rock and roll scholar will glean some new information”—ARSC Journal
  •  “You can read a hundred histories of early rock and roll, and still not understand exactly how the spark of a century was generated. History can be messy, but is there any way to tell the story concisely? James A. Cosby does a more than creditable job of that in his new book”—Minnesota Public Radio
  • “James A. Cosby’s book on the roots of rock and roll is a fascinating look at the historical aspect of this comprehensive music. He carefully traces some of the earliest examples of what later evolved into what we recognize as rock and roll, and the journey on which this book takes us is consistently informative and enlightening. The author covers the music’s history with careful, accurate details, and also adds an appreciation for its aesthetics. It allows even those who already have some understanding of the music’s roots to learn more details and obtain a deeper understanding. Highly recommended. It is one of the quintessential books on rock music’s roots.”—Examiner
  • “Thoughtfully written and meticulously footnoted”—Broad Street Review
  • “Chapter after chapter, it will have you reaching for your record player”—The Current
  • “Informative and entertaining and likely to appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music”—Penniless Press
  • “The wealth of information [Cosby] shares, and the way it is presented, makes this book worth owning”—102.9 WMGK Classic Rock