The History of Rock Mapped Out on the Circuit Board of a Guitar Amplifier: 1400 Musicians, Songwriters & Producers

There is no rock and roll with­out the blues, as we know, but the rela­tion­ship between the two is not so straight­for­ward as a one-to-one influ­ence. Blues forms, scales, and melodies are inter­wo­ven and inter­laced through­out rock in a com­plex way well rep­re­sent­ed by the com­plex­i­ty of a cir­cuit board, such as one pow­er­ing an ear­ly gui­tar ampli­fi­er that dou­bled as a blues harp amp. To under­stand the rela­tion­ship, we must under­stand the blues as a mul­ti­fac­eted phe­nom­e­non; at var­i­ous times in rock his­to­ry, artists have grav­i­tat­ed more toward acoustic Delta blues, or Mem­phis blues, or Chica­go elec­tric blues, or R&B, all of which them­selves have con­tin­ued to evolve and change.

The influ­ence is per­sis­tent and ongo­ing even in peri­ods after the 70s when radio became large­ly seg­re­gat­ed, and artists moved away from strict­ly blues forms and explored the seem­ing­ly non-blues tex­tures of soft rock, prog, and synth-pop—all gen­res that have still incor­po­rat­ed the blues in one way or anoth­er. As rock and roll expand­ed, spread out in new, non-blues direc­tions, rock con­ven­tions them­selves became a drag on the for­ward move­ment of the form. But the blues always returns.

Radio­head ditched rock alto­geth­er and sit com­fort­ably next to post-rock bands like Talk Talk, Bark Psy­chosis, and God­speed You! Black Emper­or. At the same time, the garage rock revival­ism of The Strokes and The White Stripes made sure gui­tars and 12 bars stayed rel­e­vant, as they have, decade after decade, in the raw forms of punk and hard­core or in spaced-out psy­che­delia. The nois­i­est noise rock or the harsh­est and most extreme met­al may nev­er be that far away from Bessie Smith, Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe, Robert John­son, or Lead Bel­ly.

You’ll find this rock and roll cir­cuit board in design house Dorothy’s Rock and Roll Love Blue­print, a his­to­ry of rock in gui­tar amp schemat­ic form (osten­si­bly), show­cas­ing “1400 musi­cians, artists, song­writ­ers and pro­duc­ers who have been piv­otal to the evo­lu­tion of the sprawl­ing genre that is rock music.”

Like Dorothy’s oth­er schemat­ic pop music his­to­ries—alter­na­tive music on a tran­sis­tor radio cir­cuit and hip hop mapped on a turntable dia­gram—this one orga­nizes its gen­res, artists, and peri­ods around a series of tran­sis­tors, capac­i­tors, and valves with big names inside them like Bob Dylan and The Bea­t­les, radi­at­ing influ­ence, like elec­tric­i­ty, out­ward.

In many cas­es, it’s hard to say why some bands and artists get more empha­sis than oth­ers. Are The Byrds real­ly more influ­en­tial than The Beach Boys or David Bowie? While it might be pos­si­ble to quan­ti­fy such things—and any good tech­ni­cian would insist on get­ting the val­ues right (or our amp might explode), the Rock and Roll Love Blue­print is a fun visu­al metaphor that should encour­age inter­est in cul­tur­al fig­ures old and new rather than scorch­ing debates about whose name should be a few mil­lime­ters larg­er and to the left.

We begin with W.H. Handy, the father of the blues, and end, on the right side, with the gui­tar rock of Wolf Alice and The 1975. In-between, the blue­print seems to hit on just about every major or minor-but-influ­en­tial fig­ure you might name. See the full blue­print, in zoomable high-res­o­lu­tion, and order prints for your­self at Dorothy.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

His­to­ry of Rock: New MOOC Presents the Music of Elvis, Dylan, Bea­t­les, Stones, Hen­drix & More

The Women of Rock: Dis­cov­er an Oral His­to­ry Project That Fea­tures Pio­neer­ing Women in Rock Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Benoit Aubry says:

    It’s dis­ap­point­ing when such a huge part of music is delib­er­ate­ly left out. Most in the music indus­try seem to frown upon Cana­di­an influ­ences on rock like Neil Young, Gor­don Light­foot. Not to men­tion RUSH. Seri­ous­ly?

    Even Metal­li­ca was influ­enced by RUSH and Neil Young. Who has ever real­ly heard of the Wipers and why should I have? I have a hard time believ­ing that they would be more impor­tant to rock music than RUSH or Neil Young.

    Such myopic and and navel-gaz­ing view of rock music.

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