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"Roll 'Em Pete" is a rhythm and blues song originally recorded in 1938 by Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson. The recording is regarded as one of the most important precursors of what later became known as "rock and roll".

Original recording

Johnson was a boogie woogie pianist in Kansas City, who in the early 1930s had developed a partnership with Turner, who was working at the time as a club bartender. Turner would shout blues rhymes to Johnson's music. In 1938, the pair were invited by music promoter and producer John Hammond to the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hallmarker in New Yorkmarker.

While in New York, Turner and Johnson signed with the Vocalion record company, recording "Roll 'Em Pete" on December 30, 1938. The song was an up-tempo boogie-woogie which had become Johnson's signature tune in the clubs, with Turner singing (or half-shouting) many well-rehearsed blues verses. It contained one of the earliest recorded examples of a back beat; the song is also notable for its use of straight rhythm - well into the 1950s, most, if not all, similar recordings were played in shuffle rhythm. Turner later recorded many other versions, with various combinations of musicians, over the ensuing years, particularly in the 1950s when he became a star of rock and roll.

Later versions

The tune was later recorded by many other artists, including Albert Ammons, Count Basie, Joe Williams, Lionel Hampton, T-Bone Walker, The Blasters and Bill Wyman.

References


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