Jackie Brenston (August 15, 1930 – December 15, 1979) was an American R&B singer and saxophonist, who recorded, with Ike Turner’s band, the first version of the proto-rock and roll song “Rocket 88” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats
Brenston was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Returning to Clarksdale from army service in 1947, Brenston learned to play the tenor saxophone, linking up with Ike Turner in 1950 as sax player and occasional singer in his band. The local success of Turner’s Kings of Rhythm prompted B. B. King to recommend them to studio owner Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee, where the band made several recordings in early March 1951, including “Rocket 88”, on which Brenston sang lead and which he was credited with writing.
“Rocket 88” (originally written as Rocket “88”) is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 March or 5 March 1951 (accounts differ). The recording was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. The record reached no.1 on the Billboard R&B chart. Many experts acknowledge its importance in the development of rock and roll music, as the first rock and roll record.
The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, as well as feedback ever recorded, played by the band’s guitarist Willie Kizart. The legend of how the sound came about says that Kizart’s amplifier was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. An attempt was made to hold the cone in place by stuffing the amplifier with wadded newspapers, which unintentionally created a distorted sound; Phillips liked the sound and used it. Robert Palmer has written that the amplifier “had fallen from the top of the car”, and attributes this information to Sam Phillips.
Phillips passed the recordings on to Chess Records in Chicago, who released “Rocket 88” as by “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats”, rather than under Turner’s name. The record soon reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart and stayed at that position for over a month. Phillips’ later claimed that this was the first rock and roll record, this has often been repeated by others, although there are numerous other candidates. Phillips used the success of the record to start Sun Records the following year.