The Online Roots of Rock

The Online Roots of Rock

R O C K . A N D . R O L L
the evolution of music notation in america
O R I G I N S . A N D . H I S T O R I E S

Bessie Smith - Empty Bed Blues

milton brown
milton brown
milton brown
milton brown




Keep A-Knockin' was a R&B/Pop hit for Little Richard in 1957. It's become a Rock classic.
The origin and history of the song is fascinating.
On Little Richard's recording, composer credit was given to R. Penniman (Little Richard).
But in an interview, Little Richard credited Perry Bradford as the author of the song:
“Everything happens for a reason. Who knew that the style Perry was developing in the twenties would lead to Rock and Roll?”
And indeed, Bradford did copyright the song in 1940. At least, he copyrighted his version of an existing song.1
There were several versions of Keep A-Knockin' prior to 1940 — in many genres, including Barrelhouse, Blues, Jazz, Hokum, Western Swing, and Jump Blues .
Several artists claimed authorship to this song (at least to the words) when new lyrics were added or modified. This practise was undoubtedly encouraged (if not instigated) by their publishers, who would share equally in the royalties.
The origin of the lyrics is possibly Bawdyhouse Blues, written in New Orleans about 1912.
I hear you knockin', but you can't come in
I got an all-night trick again
I'm busy grindin' so you can't come in
The original melody evolved from The Long Lost Blues published in 1914 by J. Paul Wyer and recorded by W.C. Handy's band in 1917. This melody was a variation of Bucket's Got a Hole in It, 3 a motif that appears in several versions of Keep A-Knockin'. 4
Some of the earliest recordings were entitled You Can't Come In.
In 1921, comic vaudevillians Miller and Lyles recorded You Can't Come In on the OKeh label (4428-B). Although a traditional song, composer credit was given to Miller-Lyles.
In 1924, guitarist Sylvester Weaver recorded an instumental solo, I'm Busy And You Can't Come In, on the OKeh label (8152-B). He was credited as the composer on this recording.
In 1927, Irene Gibbons had a recording of You Can't Come In.
There are several recordings from 1928, with versions by James "Boodle It" Wiggins (Keep a Knockin' an You Can't Get In), Bert Mays (You Can't Come In) and Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band (You Can't Come In). 5
In 1935, Kokomo Arnold recorded Busy Bootin', which was his version of Wiggin's Keep On Knockin' an You Can't Get In.
Also in 1935, Lil Johnson recorded Keep On Knocking.
In 1936, Milton Brown (co-founder of Western Swing) recorded, Keep a Knockin', and is credited as the composer of this version.
In 1938, Bob Wills recorded Keep A Knockin'.
In 1939, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded a Jump Blues version, Keep A-Knockin'. Composer credit was assigned Mays-Bradford.
In 1957, Little Richard recorded his R&B version, Keep A Knockin'. Composer credit was given as R. Penniman (Little Richard).
Keep A-Knockin' has been recorded by many Rock 'n' Roll artists, including Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Rivers, Suzi Quatro, Mott the Hoople, Alvin Lee, Alan Price and Fleetwood Mac, to name but a few.
Keep A-Knockin' prompted an answer song — I Hear You Knocking — recorded in many versions, including those of Smiley Lewis and Gale Storm, both in 1955.

Bradford, Perry. Born With The Blues (Oak Publications: 1965) p 87
Flexner, Stuart Berg. Listening To America (Simon and Schuster: 1982) p 454
Birnbaum, Larry. Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll (The Scarecrow Press: 2013) p ix
Bert Mays' 1928 You Can't Come In may be the first recording to marry the melody of Buckets Got a Hole in It to the lyrics of You Can't Come In. The melody of Bucket can also be hear in Tampa Red's 1928 You Can't Come In and Lil Johnson's 1935, Keep On Knocking In.
Also in 1928, Clarence Williams recorded two versions of I'm Busy and You Can't Come In; one with vocalist Eva Taylor and another as a Jazz instrumental. But both the melody and lyrics were significantly different to those that led to Little Richard's Keep A-Knockin'.