Philadelphia writer James A. Cosby has just released his first book called “Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers and Hillbillies” with the subtitle: How America Gave Birth to Rock and Roll. (McFarland & Co Publishers)
The book focuses on the origins of rock music.
Cosby spent much of his youth listening to rock and wondered how something that had such a positive effect on his life could have once been considered the “Devil’s music.” What was this dark side of music? He wanted to look at it and find out where that came from.
He was wondering, what was the first rock record? Rock music is the biggest cultural phenomena of the 20th century, and he didn’t even know where it started. He considered himself a hardcore rock fan yet he didn’t really know how rock music began. That got him motivated to write a book to find out how all of this happened.
As he began his research, he noticed that Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley were all raised in the Pentecostal church. This religion was especially prevalent deep in the South in the 1950s. The term “holy rollers” came about because the parishioners would be “slain in the spirit” and would be lying in the ground, writhing in the church aisles with wild music. They would “speak in tongues” – a kind of stream of consciousness gibberish.
If you were to make a short list of these rock ‘n roll icons, the wildest, most unhinged, out there performers, the short list would be Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley. There are other major performers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly but not like the wildness of those three people. He thought, that’s not a coincidence – those three were raised Pentecostal.
As he researched Pentecostalism, he came across Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was a gospel R’n B crossover star way back in the 1940s and 1950s that came from the Pentecostal church. In the last couple of years she’s gotten a lot of attention even though she passed away in 1973, partly because American Masters did a segment about her.
Cosby’s is the first rock history book to put Tharpe in the center of the story, but there are so many others he focuses on that make his book notable.
One glance at the pages of Chapter Notes reveals the depth of research Cosby uncovered to create this comprehensive look at America’s rock roots. He drew from bios, books, articles, DVDs, websites and more. The wealth of information he shares, and the way it is presented, makes this book worth owning for any rock fan, scholar or history buff.
Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers and Hillbillies
How America Gave Birth to Rock and Roll
By James A. Cosby
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Available now online at amazon.com