The sleepy town of Newport, Rhode Island, is home of the Naval War College and dozens of spectacular robber barons’ mansions dating from its days as a summer resort. It doesn’t seem like it would have been the site of rioting Allman Brothers fans, but in 1971, at the Newport Folk Festival, it was. George Wein invented the contemporary music festival with his Newport Jazz Festivals, dating back to 1954. By 1971, he had branched out to folk festivals and some rock music, and was looking to try something new, so he booked Frank Zappa, Led Zepplin, and a little-known Southern blues-rock band featuring Gregg and Duane Allman. (Jimi Hendrix was turned away, as there was no room on the bill.) By the summer of ‘71, the Allmans were the hottest band in the country, and all hell broke loose. Wein decided never to have anything to do with rock music again. But the Newport Folk Festival’s place in rock history had been cemented six years earlier. In 1965, the folk fans of America booed and the folk musicians of America went apoplectic. The Newport Folk Festival, the most visible stage for commercially successful folk music, was where Bob Dylan went electric. People were experimenting with electronic instruments in general since the nineteenth century, but the electric guitar was a twentieth century phenomenon. Its breakthrough role was in support of Hawaiian bands, of all things, but George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker‘s odd-looking invention (the first model was known as the "frying pan" and doesn’t look much like a guitar at all) was going to change the world. Their company was called Electro String, but Rickenbacker’s stamp was put on the guitars since it was harder to mispronounce than "Beauchamp" and because of its association with Adolph’s distant relative, the famed World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker; now known as Rickenbacker International, it’s still in business today. Other guitar pioneers got involved; radio repairman Leo Fender for Fender Electric, guitarist Les Paul for Gibson Guitar.
The advent of the phonograph and loudspeakers (link via 0xDECAFBAD) had already changed the way people experienced music, removing it from the . The microphone would soon usher in a new era of singers, "crooners", whose style — some call it "microphone singing" — was utterly dependant on not having to belt out songs. But with the advent of the electric guitar, you can hook up to a Marshall amp and turn it up to 11. And that’s why Bob Dylan was booed, why Pete Seeger almost charged the stage. Dylan was going to play it inauthentic, as the the denizens of the ‘65 Folk Festival saw it. He was going to turn his back on the folk traditions of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Doc Watson, regardless of whether Guthrie, Ledbetter, and Watson would care. He was going to crank up the amps and play it loud. Dylan had sold his soul to rock and roll.
The question of the first rock and roll song is an open one; black southern and Chicago blues musicians had picked up electric guitars and started playing some loud, dirty R&B well before Bill Haley and the white kids who would adopt the form arrived on the scene. But one contender is an Izear Luster Turner song, performed by the Kings of Rhythm and sung by Jackie Brenston, recorded for Sam Phillips, the man who would later launch the careers of Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash. When the band was driving to Sun Records to record their set, they damaged their speaker; they liked the bass-y fuzz enough to keep it in. (That year, Leo Fender would create the modern electric bass.) The torn speaker cone produced the first intentionally guitar noise put to disc, and that, not Brenston’s great performance or the lean and hungry genius of Ike Turner, is what makes the top R&B song of 1951 rock and roll. Blow your horn, Rocket, blow your horn!