First-Generation Rockers: Who’s Still With Us?

Share This:

Jerry Lee Lewis (Photo via his Facebook page)

With the death of Don Everly on August 21, 2021, we lost the second half of one of the great harmony duos in popular music. (His brother, Phil, passed in 2014.) When Little Richard died on May 9, 2020, we lost one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century.

In recent years, Lloyd Price passed on May 6, 2021. We previously lost Chuck Berry on March 18, 2017.  And on Oct. 24, 2017, Fats Domino died at 89. Their deaths got us thinking: How many of the first-generation rock ’n’ rollers are still with us? Certainly, a scroll through the list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees—particularly those who made it into the first few classes—is sobering. We lost Buddy Holly all the way back in 1959, of course, and since then, Elvis, James Brown, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison and so many others. Each of them left so much behind that future generations will savor.

But the good news is that more than a few of the founders of the music still walk this Earth in 2021. They’re all getting up there in the years, so let’s honor them now. After all, they gave us rock ’n’ roll!

Here are several who shaped the music. A few criteria: We restricted the list to individuals who made their mark as recording artists under their own names. Hence, folks who are chiefly songwriters, producers, studio musicians, etc.—albeit all-important behind-the-scenes movers and shakers—are not being considered for this mini-survey. Secondly, each artist has to have recorded his/her first hit in the 1950s. And finally, we kept it to artists who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there are, thankfully, quite a few other worthy elders who qualified for the list.

Here’s our salute to the survivors, in alphabetical order…

Dion (July 18, 1939): If you ask a youngish listener today their favorite song by Dion, chances are they’ll think you’re talking about Celine Dion. No, silly. We’re talking about the single-named guy from Da Bronx (no one ever called him by his last name, DiMucci) who, whether working with his group the Belmonts or on his own, was the picture of cool. He’s even cooler now, mostly playing the blues, his first love. He’s recorded a new album, Stomping Ground. The all-star collection, arrives Nov. 5, 2021. Hits: “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Ruby Baby,” “Abraham, Martin and John”

Related: Our feature on “Abraham, Martin and John”

Duane Eddy (April 26, 1938): Like Chuck Berry, he virtually invented a guitar technique. In Eddy’s case, it was the “twang,” an echoey, bottom-heavy, country-influenced sound that sent many a wannabe heading to guitar shops. Hits: “Rebel Rouser,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” “Because They’re Young”

Rudolph and Ronald Isley (“Rudy”: April 1, 1939; Ronald: May 21, 1941): Along with third founding sibling O’Kelly Isley, who died in 1986, they were among the most malleable of R&B teams, adapting to the changes in the music as the decades rolled on. There’s still a version of the group in action today, too. Hits: “Shout—Part 1,” “Twist and Shout,” “It’s Your Thing,” “That Lady (Part 1)”

Wanda Jackson (October 20, 1937): Even today, we still tend to think of the early rockers as guys. And for the most part that’s true. But there were plenty of young women cutting raw, nothing-held-back rockabilly tunes and this Oklahoman was one of the finest. She was actually successful in Japan before she hit here, and when she finally got noticed in her home country in 1960 it was with a two-year old track. She later had much more success in the country field, but those early Wanda Jackson rock ’n’ roll sides for Capitol Records were the real deal. In 2021, at age 83, she released a new studio album, Encore. Hits: “Fujiyama Mama,” “Let’s Have a Party,” “Mean Mean Man,” “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad,” “Honey Bop”

Brenda Lee (December 11, 1944): Like fellow Southerner Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee had to work just a little bit harder to find her way into the male-dominated rock ’n’ roll world. And she, too, later had much greater success in country music. But for several years, she was all over the best-seller charts, with both stone rockers and emotional ballads. Hits: “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I’m Sorry,” “I Want to Be Wanted,” “All Alone Am I”

Jerry Lee Lewis (Sept. 29, 1935): The Killer, plain and simple, was one of the great rock ’n’ roll bad boys of all time, and one of its defining personalities. With his wild blond mane and wilder ways, and his manic pumping piano—which even detractors had to admit he could play like a mutha—he was exactly what parents meant when they said rock ’n’ roll was a threat to the youth of the day. Hits: “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Breathless,” “High School Confidential”

  • Sign up for the Best Classic Bands Newsletter

Jeff Tamarkin
Share This:

23 Comments so far

Jump into a conversation
  1. recordhound
    #1 recordhound 22 March, 2017, 06:41

    No Neil Sedaka????

    Reply this comment
  2. hardboiled
    #2 hardboiled 23 March, 2017, 03:58

    I realise your available space & time are not unlimited, but the named list of departed greats might (should?) have included Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran

    Reply this comment
  3. Jakob Skjernaa Hansen
    #3 Jakob Skjernaa Hansen 23 March, 2017, 18:50

    Also, Dick Richards and Joey Ambrose of Bill Haley’s Comets, Jerry Allison of Buddy Holly’s Crickets and Dickie Harrell and Tommy Facenda of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, all inducted into the hall of fame in 2012, are still with us.

    Reply this comment
  4. Billy K.
    #4 Billy K. 26 October, 2017, 05:58

    As great as Dion is, it seems he’s part of the next wave of rockers, more so, than the pioneers of rock. Both stylistically and by chronologically.

    Reply this comment
  5. Gene
    #5 Gene 26 October, 2017, 09:19

    You may just as well as asked for Pat Boone. This article is about Rockers…not Teeny Boppers. Just kidding, sort of, but I like Greg’s response that only ROCK and Roll Hall of Famers still with us. (Besides, there are more Best Classic Bands articles to come, plenty of time to wait on fan favorites).

    Reply this comment
    • Marc D
      Marc D 25 August, 2021, 01:43

      Yesterday Once more

      When I was young i listened to the radio
      Oh those times made me smile …

      Reply this comment
  6. Ezyrider
    #6 Ezyrider 2 February, 2019, 00:21

    Dion DiMucci is still the man with the golden voice. He’s had his ups and downs like everyone else but has come through it as a survivor. He was touring with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper & Richie Valens and won the coin toss to take the plane that went down but decided to let Bopper take his place. The rest is history. Pure luck that saved and changed Dions life. If he plays in your town, don’t miss his show. He’s still a great songwriter and singer…

    Reply this comment
  7. Stevano
    #7 Stevano 2 February, 2019, 12:02

    Dion is one of the Great singers of any generation. And has maintained a also has grown as a performer. His 2014 album
    “New York Is My Home” Is one of the best albums of his genre and Rock n Roll in a very long time, it’s just not main stream, (ugh) today.

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin Author 2 February, 2019, 20:07

      Yes, it’s an excellent album! As you said, he continues to move forward with his music while still paying respects to his past.

      Reply this comment
  8. Clean Gene
    #8 Clean Gene 27 October, 2019, 22:48

    How about a late 2019 update of this list?

    Reply this comment
  9. Another 3
    #9 Another 3 6 December, 2019, 01:48

    How about Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka & Frankie Avalon???

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin Author 6 December, 2019, 07:45

      They’re not first generation. Some might question whether they’re rockers. But thanks for the suggestions.

      Reply this comment
  10. WLD
    #10 WLD 8 December, 2019, 18:22

    How about Chubby Checker? His first record came out in 1959, and he is still alive and working. He actually had a chart hit as recently as 2008, and a new single as recently as 2013.

    Reply this comment
  11. Gregg
    #11 Gregg 13 May, 2020, 10:44

    Little Anthony, every bit as much as Dion and the Isley Brothers, should be on your list.

    Reply this comment
  12. Gagdad Bob
    #12 Gagdad Bob 29 September, 2020, 20:27


    Reply this comment
  13. Philinburb
    #13 Philinburb 30 September, 2020, 00:52

    Neil Sedaka hello!

    Reply this comment
  14. Joe
    #14 Joe 22 May, 2021, 00:48

    Frankie Valli?

    Reply this comment
  15. 122intheshade
    #15 122intheshade 30 September, 2021, 00:02

    He may not be PHYSICALLY with us but Les Paul LIVES ON. I maintain that “How High the Moon” was the first rock & roll record. You can find it now in digital stereo. It’s terrific.

    Reply this comment

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.