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Oldies Music Encyclopedia: "Instrumental Rock"


A typical Instrumental Rock album

A typical Instrumental Rock album

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Definition: Although "instrumental rock" appears to be a self-explanatory term, referring to rock music that is wholly (or primarily) without vocals, the term as it applies to the first generation of rock and roll refers to a genre of bands that performed nothing but instrumental music during the late Fifties and early Sixties. These bands grew out of the traditional jazz "dance band," which would typically travel around and play small-to-medium size gatherings, serving much the same function that a DJ does today. Since jazz, as a musical thread, moved through American blues and R&B, it was only natural that rock and roll versions of these "dance bands" would appear on the new scene.

The typical instrumental band (or "combo") would feature a rhythm section, with solos being taken by saxophone, piano, organ, or most commonly, guitar. They often played variations on a standard I-IV-V blues progression, which would allow them plenty of room to move around melodically; the rock and roll boom, however, meant that these bands would often simply develop one specific groove or riff that was interesting enough to hold a listener's attention, then break it up occasionally with a solo or bridge. The first group to establish itself as an all-instrumental combo was Britain's own Shadows in 1959, while the Ventures and other bands followed soon after.

Although surf/hot-rod music is the most popular and familiar instrumental rock, several different elements typically appear in classic instrumental rock songs: blues, R&B, country and western picking, Latin rhythms, even traditional pop melodies. The genre mostly died out as rock became bigger business in the late Sixties and began to focus on central personalities, that is, stars; however, funk, soul, and later, prog-rock and jam-band groups would benefit considerably from its early influence.

Also Known As: Surf Music, Hot Rod Music
  1. "Rebel Rouser," Duane Eddy
  2. "Tequila," The Champs
  3. "Walk - Don't Run," The Ventures
  4. "Apache," The Shadows
  5. "Last Night," The Mar-Keys
  6. "Telstar," The Tornadoes
  7. "Rumble," Link Wray
  8. "Raunchy," Bill Justis
  9. "The Happy Organ," Dave "Baby" Cortez
  10. "Red River Rock," Johnny and the Hurricanes
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