Grace Lichtenstein

Musical Gumbo: The Music of New Orleans

[Excerpt] "Much has been written about the transition of rhythm and blues into rock ā€˜nā€™ roll, the term coined by disc jockey Allen Freed to describe the irrepressible music that caught the fancy of white teenagers in the middle fifties. But the transition was summed up best during a session at the J & M studio, when a flamboyant gay black pianist from Georgia sang ten syllables that shook the world: 'A WOP BOP ALOOBOP A WOP BAM BOOM.'

"Little Richard recorded 'Tutti Frutti' with the J & M house band in September 1955, and in the process altered the course of popular music. But even before 'Tutti Frutti' hit jukeboxes and radio stations in January of 1956, J & M was becoming a rollicking incubator for the big beat....

"[W]hat in the world did 'a wop bop aloobop a wop bam boom/Tutti Frutti/aw rooty' mean? [Pianist Earl Palmer recalled that after the first take, he turned and asked "[saxophonist Red] Tyler, 'What's he saying?' Tyler shrugged. 'What does it matter? He won't be able to explain it anyway.' To many, the dirty street-talk origin of the lyrics was obvious, beginning with the title. [Mac] Rebennack and he friends realized, as he commented later, 'This is not about ice cream.'

"Today, there still isn't much to explain. 'Tutti Frutti' was a cannon shot among the first volleys that heralded a new age, a 150-proof nonsense song that distilled the essence of rock 'n' roll