The record was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, but the band did not actually exist. The song was written by Ike Turner and recorded by him with his band, the Kings of Rhythm. Brenston (1930-1979) was a saxophonist with Turner and also sang the vocal on "Rocket 88", a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 automobile (see: Oldsmobile 88), which had just been introduced in 1949. Brenston also was given author credit not Turner; it is now agreed that Brenston's contribution was overstated for obscure, non-musical reasons.
Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat and superimposing Brenston's enthusiastic vocals and tenor saxophone solos by "Raymond" and Brenston. The song also features one of the first examples of distorted, or fuzz guitar ever recorded. Reportedly, a speaker was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee but Phillips liked the sound and used it.
"Rocket 88" is the prototype for hundreds of other rock and roll records in musical style and lineup, not to mention its lyrics in which an automobile serves as a metaphor for romantic prowess.
The claim that "Rocket 88" was the first rock and roll record is perhaps overstated, but it was the second-biggest rhythm and blues single of 1951 and much more influential than some other "first" claimants.
"Rocket 88" was successfully covered by the country music group Bill Haley and the Saddlemen early in his career, leading to his own impact on popular music. Those who subscribe to the definition of rock and roll as the melding of country music with rhythm and blues believe that it is Haley's version of the song, not the Turner/Brentson original, that is the first rock and roll record.
Turner's piano introduction was copied note for note by Little Richard on his "Lucille" several years after that.
Brenston left Turner's band after the record's success and released several more singles between 1951 and 1953, but they were slavish copies of the original and had little success. Brenston rejoined Turner's band as a saxophonist in 1957 and continued with him until 1965.