How a Buzzy Guitar Amp Changed Musical History

Simon Whistler of Today I Found Out looked back at how a buzzy broken amplifier on a single song changed musical history. Rocket 88 by Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm has long been considered to be the first rock song. While it had a humble 12-bar blues arrangement, the sound was a bit more primal and raw due to the buzz coming out of guitarist Willie Kizart‘s amp after it took a spill on Highway 61 between Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee.

In 1951 Ike and his Kings of Rhythm set off on a Hopeful Road Trip to visit Memphis. But before they arrived there, a significant twist of fate occurred, one which played a pivotal role in the development of rock and roll. …whilst driving from Clarksdale to Memphis along Highway 61 the band’s car suffered a flat tire. they stopped to dig out the spare and in the process Willy Kizard’s guitar amplifier fell from the car. Both the woofer the part of an amp dedicated to producing the low frequency sounds and the cone the diaphragm essential to converting movement to sound suffered major damage….

The new sound was welcomed by producer Sam Phillips.

The extent of the problem became evident as no replacement amplifier was available Philip stuffed newspapers into the holes as a makeshift remedy when Kizard plugged in his guitar and began to play, it produced a loud buzzing tone. Philips, far from being disappointed, was delighted he had long been drawn to unconventional sounds and methods and insisted that the band should go ahead and record the song 

The song, which has further history and controversy, staked its claimed as a pioneer of rock and roll.