“Sixty Minute Man” – He’ll Rock You and Roll You

billy ward dominoes

Gospel, blues, R&B, and a touch of naughty humor all comprise “Sixty Minute Man,” the Billy Ward and the Dominoes track that ranks as one of the earliest and most influential records in rock and roll.

Born Robert Williams, Ward was initially trained as a classical musician and graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. Frustrated at the lack of opportunities for black composers, he and friend Rose Marks formed their own group: the Dominoes. Ward did the arrangements and played piano and organ; Marks was the businesswoman. After signing with Federal Records (a subsidiary of King) in 1950, they recorded their first track “Do Something for Me.” In addition to this being their first recording session, the occasion contained another important element: their lead singer was Clyde McPhatter, a 17-year-old who had recently performed at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night (he would later form the Drifters and embark on a solo career). Yet it was their bass singer Bill Brown that held the spotlight in their major breakthrough record “Sixty Minute Man.”

Related: “10 More Reasons to Love the Turtles”

According to Charlie Gillett’s book The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, “Sixty Minute Man” marks one of the first times gospel-trained singers found success singing R&B. The double-entendre-filled lyrics, however, originated at least 20 years before “Sixty Minute Man.” In the track, Brown boasts of being called “Lovin’ Dan.” That phrase refers to a 1936 blues record called “Dan the Back Door Man,” sung by Georgia White and subsequently covered by a vocal harmony group entitled the Four Southerners. Another blues chanteuse, Ida Cox, recorded the raunchy “One Hour Mama” in 1939, complaining that “no one-minute papa / Ain’t the kind of man for me.” Even before then, the legendary Bessie Smith cut “Hustlin’ Dan” in 1930; all these prior records indicate the blues roots of the song and demonstrate that songs featuring controversial lyrics had been previously released, although not to massive success.

Written by Ward and Marks, this doo-wop track features McPhatter acting as chorus to Brown’s bravado-filled performance. Bragging of his sexual prowess, Brown lays out his technique: 15 minutes of kissing, then teasing, squeezing, and the finale: “15 minutes of blowing my top.” McPhatter can be heard squealing “don’t stop,” presumably mimicking the female response. Brown’s deep voice and sly humor perfectly accent the risqué words, lingering over “I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long.” If her man does not satisfy her, Brown sings, he invites her to “come up and take my hand,” and she’ll soon cry “oh yes!” With surprisingly blunt lyrics for 1951, “Sixty Minute Man” contains all the components of the then-emerging rock genre: rebelliousness, unsubtle sexuality, and a steady rhythm. It arguably coined the very name of this new type of music: rock and roll.

The raunchy 1951 track sat at the top of the R&B charts for an astonishing 14 weeks, and crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at number 17. In his book Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ’n’ Roll, Larry Bimbaum cites “Sixty Minute Man” as unleashing a wave of racy material, but also proving that R&B could cross over.

As a sidenote, McPhatter would depart Billy Ward and the Dominoes not long after “Sixty Minute Man,” to be replaced by yet another future star: Jackie Wilson.

Just four years after the hit’s release, Ward and the Dominoes recorded a hilarious sequel: “Can’t Do Sixty No More,” where Brown complains of feeling worn out after bragging about his skills in “Sixty Minute Man.”

Related: “Etta James and ‘Roll With Me Henry'”

Regardless of its effects on the narrator, “Sixty Minute Man” opened the door for other sexually forthright records, planting the seed for Etta James’ “Roll with Me Henry” and other future hits. in turn, the convention-shattering foundations of rock and roll were formed.

-Kit O’Toole

Image from sleeve of “60 Minute Man” by Billy Ward and the Dominoes


Other Posts You Might Like

5 comments on ““Sixty Minute Man” – He’ll Rock You and Roll You

  1. Gary Theroux

    Excellent article. While other rockin’ hits preceeded “Sixty Minute Man” (such as Wynonie Harris’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1948), the fact that “Sixty Minute Man” actually did cross over to the pop charts makes it a landmark recording if for that alone.

  2. Susan Ryan

    Great article! I still remember being really embarrassed when this song came over my iPod in the car one day when my son was still quite young…fortunately, he didn’t understand all the innuendo, but all I could think was that it was one hell of a dirty song!!! But it is absolutely a very important record in rock and roll history, and I appreciate the information in this article!

  3. Walter Perry Lee

    60 Minute Man was one of the early rock n roll songs ever made in the early 1950s topping the R&B charts number 1 in 1951 was the best song that Billy Ward & the Domines ever did breaking the color barriers in rock and R&B music close to Rocket 88, There Good Rocking Tonight and others before rock n roll ever made and started

  4. beginning of rock n roll in the R&B field in the early 50s, 60 Minute Man,There Good Rocking Tonight,Rockett 88 and more were the start

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)

Love the Beatles? Get this eBook FREE when you subscribe.

It turns out there's a lot to say. Just say "yes" to get yours.