Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Early Influence Candidates

Criteria: Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Early Influence Candidates (Eligible artists who have yet to be inducted and are not among this year's nominees). Names are in alphabetical order.

(Note: DDD is not affiliated with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame)

Last Updated: 2020-07-19
QUALIFICATIONS (on a scale of 1-10)
10 - The Immortals
9 - Deserves To Be A First Ballot Lock
8 - Should Be Guaranteed An Induction
7 - An Eventual Induction Is Likely
6 - Should Be Nominated At Some Point
5 - Worthy Of At Least A Debate For A Nomination
4 - Not Insignificant, But Shouldn't Be Nominated
3 - No Business Being Debated By Committee
2 - No Business Being Even Mentioned
1 - No Business Visiting The Hall Of Fame Without a Ticket
Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Early Influence Candidates
The most misunderstood, misused and mistreated category in the Hall Of Fame. It got off to a poor start by inducting countless "name" artists from far-flung styles (country, blues, jazz, pop) with little tangible connection to rock's birth and negligible influence on its evolution. It then went nearly dormant for years until the Hall began making its corruption of the voting process more transparent by inducting artists who'd failed to make it on the ballot for Main Performers as "Early Influences" instead, oftentimes when their careers began well after rock had crossed over.

The problem starts with the fact that the majority of rock fans, and the entirety of the so-called historians in charge of the Hall Of Fame have absolutely no knowledge when rock itself began. For the record that was the fall of 1947 and so, any artist coming after that date and performing in a rock setting by definition were full-fledged rockers and should be inducted as Main Performers. However, that's never going to be the case and so, while railing against their collective ignorance might be cathartic, it wouldn't be productive. As a result we'll concede that the earliest of rock stars, pre-1950, are going to have their only chance for induction here and include them in this section, as we will for a handful of early 50's artists with less mainstream familiarity who would be more apt to be considered for this category as well. That doesn't mean we agree with their classification, but unfortunately the Hall's lack of understanding of the very thing they claim to champion forces an uneasy compromise here.
Early Influence Candidates
Faye Adams
Tough to peg her strictly as an Early Influence rather than a Main Inductee since her entire career was at the peak of the first rock era, but as the latter she'd probably have absolutely no chance of gaining entry so here's where she'd have her best shot. Three #1 R&B Hits in two years, including the immortal "Shake A Hand" in 1953, one of the biggest and most important records in rock's formative years that blurred the line between the sacred and secular and brought intensity to the forefront of rock.

Qualifications: 7
Leon T. Gross, professionally known as simply "Archibald", was the unquestioned forefather of the New Orleans piano style that dominated rock's first two-plus decades. Though he had only one hit, a definitive version of the standard "Stack-O-Lee" aka "Stagger Lee", his influence on every piano player in rock from Professor Longhair to Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John is undeniable. 

Qualifications: 5
Big Maybelle
Another who is fully deserving as a Main Performer but has no modern recognition to be considered there. One of the greatest and most versatile female singers in history made her name in the early 50's with bawdy rockers and smoldering torch songs and a decade later in deep soul. Revered for her skills, but since her early death has been too long overlooked. 

Qualifications: 8
Earl Bostic
Widely viewed as one of the most technically skilled saxophonists ever, Bostic was seen as something of a sell-out for abandoning jazz for the more commercial rough hewn field of rock in the late 40's. His move was validated with a number of hits though and he became the premier alto-sax player of rock's first decade.

Qualifications: 6
Tiny Bradshaw 
As the 40's jump blues morphed into the early 50's R&B Bradshaw was at the forefront of the change. Today all he may be known for is being the originator of the classic "Train' Kept A Rollin", but he had a string of big hits from 1950-1953 that shaped the direction of rock 'n' roll.

Qualifications: 8
Roy Brown
The father of the modern day solo artist in many ways and a crucial influence on New Orleans rock, not to mention revered by artists from Elvis Presley to James Brown. The writer of "Good Rockin' Tonight", which many call the first rock song, and possessor of two #1 R&B Hits, plus one of rock's first classic sides in "Rockin' At Midnight". Brown should've been in by year two at the latest, yet here it is more than 20 years later and he's still on the outside looking in. If a voter can't identify at least three of Roy Brown's songs they're not qualified to even discuss rock 'n' roll history credibly, let alone vote on its greatest artists.

Qualifications: 10
Goree Carter
Rock's first guitar hero, laying down the template for much of what followed, including essentially sketching out the style Chuck Berry would get so much acclaim for years later. Finally got some belated credit for his groundbreaking "Rock Awhile" from 1949, but his full contributions to rock's evolution have yet to be recognized by most.

Qualifications: 8
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
His potential induction would stem entirely from his connection to Elvis Presley who covered Crudup's "That's All Right" as his own debut single on Sun and later cut another Crudup song, "My Baby Left Me" while with RCA. Crudup's influence can clearly be seen in Presley, which then spreads it even further, and with Hall voters who look for big-name association he could actually be elevated over more deserving candidates here.

Qualifications: 5
Frank "Floorshow" Culley
One of the first sax players of note in rock, both with his own hit instrumentals but also playing behind others, most notably introducing the sax solo to the vocal group milieu on the Clovers first hit, "Don't You Know I Love You" in 1951, which was enormously influential as it quickly became a standard feature in that style forever after.

Qualifications: 7
Larry Darnell
Versatile New Orleans singer who's debut session in 1949 produced two of the biggest hits of rock's earliest years, the #1 smash "For You My Love" and the two-part dramatic reading of "I'll Get Along Somehow" which hit #2 and created pandemonium with female audiences. His subsequent career never matched that initial wild success but he was considered a top vocal talent who recorded steadily through rock's crossover years in the mid-to-late 50's.

Qualifications: 7
The Dixie Hummingbirds
One of the longest lasting and most influential gospel groups of all-time, featuring Ira Tucker, who's been with them for 70 years, starting out as 13 year old in 1938. The group's theatrics, intricate vocal style and show-stopping performances made them a top draw for decades. John Hammond featured them in New York City in the 40's and as late as the 70's the original group backed Paul Simon on his gospel-esque hit "Loves Me Like A Rock". Most groups of the peak gospel decades of the 40's and 50's were taking something from the Hummingbirds.

Qualifications: 8
Bill Doggett
Though his biggest hit, a candidate for greatest all-time rock instrumental, "Honky Tonk", came after the crossover of the style in the mid-50's, as the Hall has shown with others who came along even later, the chronology doesn't always matter. So Doggett's candidacy is more viable as an Early Influence, which he was as well, doing more than anyone to popularize the organ in both jazz in the 40's and rock in the 50's.

Qualifications: 6
Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi
Gospel group formed by students at the Piney Woods School For The Blind, originally called the Jackson Harmoneers, featured the powerful Archie Brownlee on lead vocals, one of the pioneers of the intense hard-singing style that rock picked up on. In the early 50's they were considered virtually unbeatable on stage and had the rarity of scoring a Top Ten R&B Hit with a pure gospel song, "Our Father". 

Qualifications: 7
Cecil Gant
A one-hit wonder but that one hit helped to open the doors for R&B's rise when "I Wonder" became a national sensation during World War Two. A prolific pianist with a fine boogie woogie style, but who gained more attention as a balladeer. Gant died in the early 50's without ever getting full credit for his role in helping to plant rock's early seeds so his modern familiarity is limited.

Qualifications: 6
Paul Gayten
Multi-talented figure in rock for well over a decade as singer, pianist, talent scout, A&R producer and songwriter with a number of hits for himself as well as for others. Gayten had the first New Orleans based R&B hit in 1947 which led to an immediate upsurge in recording contracts for artists from the Crescent City and the subsequent birth of rock that followed.

Qualifications: 7
Tiny Grimes
Highly skilled guitarist made the move from jazz to rock in the late 40's and helped establish the instrument as a key feature of the genre. Though he had just one hit, he brought respectability to the genre and helped launch the careers of some notable figures, including Red Prysock and Screamin' Jay Hawkins over the years.

Qualifications: 6
Lionel Hampton
If the Hall Of Fame wants a huge name to attract mainstream audiences that actually had something to do with rock's birth, then why not Hampton? His work with Illinois Jacquet on "Flying Home" was one of the movement's first sightings, while "Hamp's Boogie Woogie", "Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" and "Blowtop Blues" were also crucial in its development. From the jazz field he was every bit as influential to rock as Charlie Christian who made it easily.

Qualifications: 6
Wynonie Harris
Other than Louis Jordan no other Early Influence on Rock was as MUCH of an influence on rock's birth as Harris was. The prototypical rock frontman - dashing in appearance, exuding sexuality on stage and a hellraiser off it - his work in the 40's and early 50's literally made rock possible. In "Good Rockin' Tonight" he popularized the term itself and followed that up with "All She Wants To Do Is Rock", another #1 hit that only solidified the expression in the public consciousness. His failure to be voted in as an Early Influence while pop crooner Nat Cole makes it in under that designation is the equivalent of inducting Perry Como to the Rock Hall before Elvis Presley. By far the most important artist in any category not yet in.

Qualifications: 10
Ivory Joe Hunter
Though he scored major hits in the mid-50's for Atlantic, including the all-time rock slow dance classic "Since I Met You Baby", his biggest success came in rock's earliest years at the turn of the decade when he was among its most popular stars with numerous hits, as well as being the first to consciously merge country styles with rock.

Qualifications: 8
Bull Moose Jackson 
Popular replacement for frontman Wynonie Harris in Lucky Millinder's band went on to have a stellar solo career of his own with two #1 hits and three others that cracked the Top Three on the Charts, as his songs "I Love You Yes I Do" and "I Want A Bowlegged Woman" have been covered by legendary rock artists. A multi-instrumentalist as well as a powerful singer with both risque uptempo songs and tender ballads. Another true forefather typically ignored by myopic voters.

Qualifications: 7
Illinois Jacquet
Only two minor hits to his name, one with Wynonie Harris on vocals, but it was Jacquet who fully introduced the honking tenor sax solo to the lexicon when he was playing in Lionel Hampton's band in the early 40's on the immortal "Flying Home". That sound ignited a revolution and laid much of rock's groundwork and for that record alone, certainly one of the handful of most influential ever released in any style, Jacquet deserves to be honored.

Qualifications: 7
Albennie Jones
It's doubtful anyone associated with the Hall even knows who she is, let alone her contributions as rock's first female artist. A tremendous singer, powerful but versatile and nuanced as well. Though she had no hits on the skimpy Race Charts at the time, her body of work, while small, is a bedrock of the early rock sound.

Qualifications: 6
Smiley Lewis
Though his most remembered songs, including the immortal "I Hear You Knockin", and original version of "One Night", came well into rock's crossover period, he has zero chance of being recognized for that in the Main Performer inductees, so his fate rests as an Early Influence for his role in establishing the New Orleans sound of the early 50's.

Qualifications: 7
Jimmy Liggins
While his older brother Joe wracked up lots of hits in a more sedate pre-rock style on piano, little brother Jimmy played guitar and sported a rambunctous attitude as one of the first rock hit makers and a seminal influence on the emerging sounds, most famously with his "Cadillac Boogie" being later ripped off for "Rocket 88". 

Qualifications: 6
Little Willie Littlefield
While still in his mid-teens Littlefield scored his first hit, in the process introducing piano triplets as a cornerstone of the burgeoning rock style. He also was a storming boogie woogie pianist and scored a few more hits on the tightly constrained R&B Charts and was among the first artists to record material written by the legendary Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, including the original version of what became known as "Kansas City".

Qualifications: 7
Percy Mayfield
One of the most acclaimed songwriters ever and a top balladeer in the early 50's with the immortal hit "Please Send Me Someone To Love". Later wrote extensively for Ray Charles, a connection that may have increased his chances while Charles was alive to induct him. Now that Ray has passed have Percy's chances passed as well? Could make it as a writer but it's as an early influence that he is most deserving. Either way, as an overall music figure Mayfield is an easy choice.

Qualifications: 8
Big Jay McNeely
The man most responsible for the wild acrobatic instrumental showman in rock, McNeely's shows featured him walking along the bar, lying on his back, and bent over backwards while playing his tenor sax, hitting squealing high notes and guttural low notes and giving birth to the idea of rock as performance art. "The Deacon's Hop" remains one of rock 'n' roll's most influential records and he continued successfully into the late 50's and is still playing and wowing audiences in his retirement years to this day. Please put this giant in while he's still on this earth to accept the honor he's so rightly due.

Qualifications: 9
Amos Milburn
Pianist and singer Milburn was a huge star in the 40's and 50's when his drinking-themed records were consistent hits on the R&B Charts, including four that hit #1. His run of 19 Top Ten hits from '48 to '54 marked the exact time that rock 'n' roll was coming into its own and Milburn, with his subject matter and boogie piano, was at the forefront. Another huge omission by the Hall for someone who should've made it within the first few elections.

Qualifications: 10
Roy Milton
One of the first R&B stars of the mid-to-late 40's who's back beat driven music set the stage for rock 'n' roll. A drummer and vocalist who scored 19 Top Ten Hits, including the immortal "R.M. Blues", a #2 hit in 1946, that was one of the essential pre-rock records. His work with pianist Camille Howard, who had her own big hits, only adds to his credentials.

Qualifications: 7
Wild Bill Moore
In 1946 Moore recorded "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll", a raucous sax instrumental that wasn't released until 1948 when it introduced the words into the post-war musical lexicon and signaled a new style on the horizon. Though Moore had no other hits, his work was consistently good and his contributions on one immortal record alone is worth commemorating.

Qualifications: 5
Joe Morris
Bandleader and trumpet player Morris was among the most important music figures of early 50's rock 'n' roll, shepherding hits for Laurie Tate, Al Savage and most famously Faye Adams. In addition he led one of the hottest touring ensembles - the Joe Morris Rhythm & Blues Cavalcade - throughout those years and owned and ran two L.A. nightclubs in the 40's - Club Plantation and Little Joe's - which offered significant opportunities for other black performers to play extended engagements in one of the country's largest cities.

Qualifications: 6
Charley Patton
As the Hall Of Fame has inducted numerous pre-rock bluesmen it is downright incomprehensible how Patton, the forefather of the modern blues movement and among the first to bring a strong sense of on-stage antics to the music, has not been recognized. Of course, the Hall voters more often go for modernly familiar names in this area at the expense of more qualified candidates, but Patton is easily more deserving than Robert Johnson in this category and since Johnson waltzed in, Patton is glaring in his absence.

Qualifications: 7
Little Esther (Phillips)
Even though her career spanned 1949 to her death in 1984 with hits throughout that entire time her most compelling case for induction comes as an Early Influence from the period when she was a mature beyond her years teenage vocalist for Johnny Otis starting in 1950 scoring numerous #1 hits along the way, in the process helping to establish rock as a growing artistic and commercial force.

Qualifications: 8
The Pilgrim Travelers
Groundbreaking gospel act that featured one of the most revered and influential lead singers in history, Kylo Turner, as well as introducing many flourishes to gospel music, from stage choreography to previously taboo instrumentations, including saxophone, which helped bridge the spiritual to the secular. Vastly underrated, unrecognized and under appreciated in rock's evolution.

Qualifications: 8
Jimmy Preston
His 1949 hit "Rock The Joint" was one of the first true rock songs and was later covered by Bill Haley which brought it to a different audience. His career peak didn't last long, but at a time in the late 40's when this new music was emerging, Preston was at the head of the line in performing it and without his contributions rock would likely not have evolved as it did.

Qualifications: 5
The Ravens
The true father of the modern black vocal group has been ignored for two decades of voting while the Ink Spots, a fine group but one that were well before the Ravens (and therefore well before rock 'n' roll) as well as being much farther removed stylistically from rock's origins, were inducted instead. The Ravens two lead singer format, featuring high tenor Maithe Marshall and legendary bass Jimmy Ricks, was extremely innovative and influential while their songs paved the way for the vocal group explosion of the 50's. Even their name instigated a huge onslaught of "bird groups" in rock's first decade and their unique adaptation of standards set that as a precedent in vocal harmony outfits as well. Criminal that they haven't gotten in yet as one of the true early influences.

Qualifications: 10
Johnnie Ray
Maybe his rock influence was limited to just a few songs before he became a pop superstar in the early 50's, but those songs happened to be among the influential recordings of that time. "Cry" hit #1 on the R&B Charts, with its flip, "The Little White Cloud That Cried", also cracking the R&B Top Ten, an unheard of feat for a white artist before the music became more integrated. Audiences initially believed Ray was black and possibly female because of his emotional delivery. Though he quickly was steered towards mainstream pop fare to guarantee the then-wider white adult audience, those first songs and his early performances at the black club The Flame Bar in Detroit, along with lifelong friend Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Famer LaVern Baker, showed that rock could be made by whites as well as blacks.

Qualifications: 7
The Sensational Nightingales
Gospel group featuring Julius (June) Cheeks, one of the powerhouse leads that gospel relied on to move the audience. In addition to his screaming, which was Wilson Pickett's model, Cheeks was a flamboyant showman, running up and down the aisles and involving the crowd physically as well as emotionally. The Nightingales were the cornerstone of Houston's Peacock Records stable for years. 

Qualifications: 6
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
Technically she was a contemporary of the very people she influenced, among them, through covers of her two most famous songs, Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin, but for artists like her without the mainstream success themselves the Early Influence category is better suited for her candidacy. Because of her status as the originator of two of rock's most enduring songs, "Hound Dog" and to a lesser extent, "Ball & Chain", she probably stands a better chance than even more qualified contenders in this area.

Qualifications: 5
The Treniers
Another early 50's act who has a better shot at induction as an influence than as a main performer since they never hit big with white audiences once the crossover of the music took hold in mid-decade. Their wild acrobatic stage show was legendary in its time and was the primary model for Bill Haley's Comets. They also boast the distinction of being the first professional black rock act to be shown on network television and though they were likely booked as a novelty act they exposed to the world the excitement of the music long before most had heard of it.

Qualifications: 8
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
Unique and versatile performer who moved from jazz to R&B with ease. After starting out as the featured vocalist for Cootie Williams Orchestra, where he hit big with "Cherry Red" and "Somebody's Got To Go", he struck out on his own and scored an enormous hit with "Old Maid Boogie",as well as wracking up other notable records in the late 40's. His bald head and dapper appearance were vital in presenting rock as a visual medium.

Qualifications: 6
Clara Ward Singers
You'd be hard pressed to find too many more influential vocalists to rock's evolution than Marion Williams, lead singer of Clara Ward's gospel group, but thus far it hasn't been recognized by Hall voters who remain clueless to rock's true origins. Little Richard's singing style owes a lot to Williams and for that alone rock 'n' roll is in this group's debt.

Qualifications: 8
Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams
If he did nothing other than his massive dance classic, "The Hucklebuck", which topped the charts for an astounding 14 weeks in 1949 and made that dance a reference point in rock songs for the next decade, he'd deserve consideration. The rest of his output was solid though as well, including "House Rocker" and "The Twister", which was influential to another rock dance craze down the line. Williams kept his hand in rock for years, working with Atlantic Records, James Brown and others well into the 60's.

Qualifications: 6
Billy Wright
Stylistically Wright was Little Richard's biggest overall influence and a flamboyant southern star on the black chitlin circuit for years in the early 50's before rock's breakthrough to wider audiences. He had a number of hits, though is not well-known today, but Wright was a crucial figure in rock 'n' roll's early development, both in its appearance and its musical style.

Qualifications: 7

More Music Lists