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Lyon in Coahoma County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
 

Rocket “88”

— Mississippi Blues Trail —

 
 
Rocket "88" Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, May 23, 2021
1. Rocket "88" Marker
Inscription.  The 1951 classic Rocket “88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats has often been cited as the first rock ’n’ roll record. Waxed at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, it was also the first No. 1 rhythm & blues hit for Chicago-based Chess Records. The Delta Cats were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm from Clarksdale. Brenston and Raymond Hill, who played the saxophone solo on the disc, are buried in Heavenly Rest Cemetery on Highway 61 just north of the Lyon city limits.

Rocket “88” was recorded in 1951, when the term “rock ‘n’ roll” had yet to be widely applied to musical styles. The band that traveled up Highway 61 to make the record in Memphis consisted of Ike Turner, Jackie Brenston, Raymond Hill, Willie Kizart (or Kizeart, as he usually spelled it), and Willie “Bad Boy” Sims, all aged 17 to 20. On the trip Kizart’s amplifier fell out of the trunk, and Sam Phillips said he stuffed the amp’s broken speaker cone with brown wrapping paper in the studio; many historians opine that the distorted buzz in the guitar sound and the song’s raw, youthful energy and driving boogie rhythm qualified it as the first example
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of rock ‘n’ roll. Phillips, who was recording talent for other labels prior to founding Sun Records, submitted samples to Chess Records of two singles--one by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rythm [sic], featuring Turner on vocals, and another by Brenston singing with the same band, renamed Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. The disputed recording date was actually March 7, according to Peter Guralnick, author of Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. Phillips' studio logbook contains a note that Brenston’s mother Ethel signed a guardian approval contract, since Jackie was still a minor.

Brenston rocketed to a brief period of stardom, taking off on his own to tour the country in 1951-1952, but he sold his rights to “Rocket ‘88’” to Phillips and never had another hit. He finally rejoined Turner’s band as a sideman in St. Louis. Brenston later reflected, “I was a greenhorn. I had a hit record and no sense.” His last job was as a truck driver in Clarksdale. Brenston died on December 15, 1979. The birthdate on his headstone, August 24, 1928, was a false date he used to appear old enough to enlist in the Army in 1946. He was actually born in 1930.

By various accounts “Rocket ‘88”—named after a popular model of Oldsmobile—was rehearsed at the Riverside Hotel, written on the way to Memphis, or crafted in the studio. Brenston admitted, “I had been doing a
Rocket "88" Marker (reverse) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, May 23, 2021
2. Rocket "88" Marker (reverse)
tune Jimmy Liggins did some years ago called ‘Cadillac Boogie.’ So if you listen to the two you’ll find out they’re both basically the same. The words are just changed.” Brenston might not have sung on the session at all had the Kings of Rhythm’s primary vocalist Johnny O’Neal not just left the band when an earlier trip to the studio had been planned, Turner said.

Raymond Hill was born in Clarksdale on April 29, 1933. His parents, Henry and Ollie Mae Hill, ran a roadhouse 2½ miles north of Lyon where Sonny Boy Williamson and others performed, as well as cafes in Clarksdale. Hill led his own band, recorded for Sun Records, and hosted a radio show on WROX (as did Ike) but worked mostly as a sideman with Turner, Albert King and others. He was the father of Tina Turner’s first child before Ike and Tina became a team. Hill died on April 16, 1996.

Hill and Brenston were laid to rest in Heavenly Rest Cemetery, where DJ Early Wright, performers Lorenzo Nicholson and Foster “Mr. Tater” Wiley, juke joint owner L.S. Thomas, and Lucille Turner Lane (proprietor of Turner’s Grill and sister of pianist Ernest Lane) are also buried.
 
Erected 2017 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 200.)
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, Music
Closeup of photos & captions on marker reverse side. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, May 23, 2021
3. Closeup of photos & captions on marker reverse side.
Entertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail series list. A significant historical date for this entry is March 7, 1951.
 
Location. 34° 13.092′ N, 90° 32.494′ W. Marker is in Lyon, Mississippi, in Coahoma County. Marker is on Park Street south of Hopson Street, on the right when traveling south. Located at the Lyon Town Hall. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 111 Park St, Lyon MS 38645, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Tennessee Williams (approx. 2 miles away); Clarksdale (approx. 2.1 miles away); J.W. Cutrer House (approx. 2.1 miles away); W. C. Handy (approx. 2.1 miles away); Wade Walton (approx. 2.1 miles away); Hicks-Tarzi Memorial Grotto (approx. 2.1 miles away); Sam Cooke (approx. 2.1 miles away); Ike Turner (approx. 2.2 miles away).
 
Also see . . .
1. Wikipedia entry for Jackie Brenston. Excerpt:
Returning to Clarksdale, Mississippi, from army service, Brenston learned to play the tenor saxophone and linked up with Ike Turner in 1950 as a tenor sax player and occasional singer in Turner’s band, the Kings of Rhythm. The local success of the band prompted B. B. King to
Rocket "88" Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, May 23, 2021
4. Rocket "88" Marker
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 was credited with writing. Turner led the band but provided no vocals for “Rocket 88.” Brenston later said that the song was not particularly original; “they had simply borrowed from another jump blues about an automobile, Jimmy Liggins’ ‘Cadillac Boogie’”.
(Submitted on March 2, 2023.) 

2. Rocket “88” - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. 3 minute YouTube audio of the 78 RPM record. (Submitted on March 2, 2023.) 
 
Lyon Town Hall with Rocket "88" Marker in background. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton
5. Lyon Town Hall with Rocket "88" Marker in background.
Jackie Brenston image. Click for full size.
From theatre handbill. Photographer unknown. (Fair Use)
6. Jackie Brenston
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 26, 2023. It was originally submitted on May 27, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 409 times since then and 43 times this year. It was the Marker of the Week March 5, 2023. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on May 27, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.   6. submitted on March 2, 2023, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

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Apr. 20, 2024