Songwriter's Corner|

By Ben Finley, Associated Press (AP) | Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup helped invent rock ‘n’ roll. His 1946 song “That’s All Right,” an easygoing shrug to a lover, would become the first single Elvis Presley ever released. Rod Stewart would sing it on a chart-topping album. Led Zeppelin would play it live.

But you wouldn’t have known it if you saw Crudup living out his later years on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, dressed in coveralls and leading a crew picking cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

Despite being dubbed “the father of rock ‘n’ roll,” Crudup received scant songwriting royalties in his lifetime because of a recording contract that funneled the money to his original manager. Crudup died 50 years ago, leaving behind one of the starker accounts of 20th century artist exploitation.

“Of course materialistic things don’t mean everything,” says Prechelle Crudup Shannon, a granddaughter. “But they took so much more than just money. They left him with all of the burdens of a poor Black man. And even more so because they left him with a broken heart.”

In recent years, Crudup has received flashes of recognition. He was briefly portrayed by Gary Clark Jr. in the 2022 biopic “Elvis” and mentioned last year by a California reparations task force examining the long history of discrimination against African Americans.

The 70th anniversary of Presley recording “That’s All Right” is Friday — many historians consider July 5 a cultural milestone — and comes as the state of Virginia plans a highway marker honoring Crudup.

“Among others who covered Crudup were the Beatles, B.B. King, and Elton John,” the marker will state. “Rarely receiving royalties, Crudup supported his family as a laborer and farm worker.”
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Crudup recorded some 80 songs for Bluebird between 1941 and 1956, including “That’s All Right,” “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine.” He held the rights to none.

His original manager had them.

“I wouldn’t record anybody unless he signed all his rights in those tunes over to me,” Melrose once said, according to Alan Lomax’s book, “Mister Jelly Roll.”
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‘A kind of hillbilly record’
In 1954, Presley was on a break during his tryout session in Sun Studios when “this song popped into my mind that I had heard years ago,” according to Peter Guralnick’s book, “Last Train to Memphis.”

Sam Phillips, the studio’s legendary founder, immediately recognized Crudup’s song. Phillips was amazed the 19-year-old knew it and felt his version “came across with a freshness and an exuberance.”

A Memphis, Tennessee, radio station soon broadcast Presley’s recording. The response was “instantaneous,” with phone calls and telegrams asking the station to replay it, Guralnick wrote.

“It was by far Elvis’s biggest seller on the Sun label and set him off on what would soon become his almost unimaginable path to stardom,” Guralnick tells The Associated Press.

Although Crudup is often elided from accounts of Presley’s rise, the singer did publicly credit the songwriter.

“Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now,” Presley told The Charlotte Observer in 1956, “and I said if I ever got to the place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

Crudup himself liked Presley’s interpretation.
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Photo: Inspired Songwriting (from their Facebook page)

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