Rockabilly Part 1

The Series (Part 1)
This will be a 5 part series.  
It will be a small attempt on my part (Gary) to look at the lost music form, we call Rockabilly!

Gary: “The term ‘Rockabilly’ is applied to a type of music.  It comes from the word ‘Rock’ as in ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘Billy’ from the word ‘Hillbilly’ (which is another word for ‘Country’). 

Use of this term is very controversial because no one seems to know when it was first used to describe this type of music.  Now, I am not an expert but if you are a person of my vintage, then maybe you and I could both be ‘experts’ and look at it logically; the reason this music is called Rockabilly today – it just identifies this genre of music we used to call ‘Rock and Roll’.

Historically, Rockabilly stars, like Johnny Cash claim that the Carter Family was a great influence (Country music), and that goes back to 1927.  Another name that keeps raising it’s head is Rose Maddox who started in 1937 with the Hillbilly Singers and a very colourful Hillbilly band, and accordingly a great show. 

Now to me anyway, they sounded like Country artists, but who am I to dispute the Rockabilly Stars who stated that they were their influence.

I found a piano player in Sweden, Micke Muster who put what I believe, into song.  

They Call it Rockabilly / Micke Muster /

Now, to me it’s sad to see the country of origin, abandon Rock and Roll and Rockabilly so early.  I estimate that Rock and Roll had a life of maybe 40 years, which is not bad for a music they called just a fad. 

Rock and Roll / Rockabilly is still alive and living in Europe, but sadly not so here.  I will look at the country of origin, The United States and it’s close neighbour Canada, because Canada also had some thriving Rockabilly Artist’s. 

I will look at Sun Records in Memphis and try not to dwell on the obvious, Elvis Presley / Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins because there where many more Artist’s that we either did not know or have forgotten. 

Here is a short list of singers who I considered Rock and Roll, but who are now considered ‘Rockabilly’: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, Dale Hawkins, Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Nelson, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and the list goes on. 

I do not agree, but I have this authoritative book that I purchased, so let’s just say that I will go with this book’s recommendations.

There were really only two guitars of influence originally, around 1955. There would be others but here are the two that made the greatest influence in the Rockabilly field.
The First (I (Gary) believe) Rockabilly or Rock and Roll Guitar:
The Gibson ES-295

Feb.1955: Scotty Moore (left) playing Gibson ES-295

The Gibson ES-295 was used by Scotty Moore and many others
My Second Choice:
Fender Telecaster

Luther Perkins (left) playing the Fender Telecaster

Luther Perkins, Johnny Cash & Marshall Grant

The Rock and Roll Trio:
This was Rockabilly at it’s earliest and best.  The Burnette Brothers, Johnny and Dorsey who was joined by one the era’s best guitar men, Paul Burlison.
The Rock and Roll Trio / Johnny Burnette / Dorsey Burnett and Paul Burlison in front
In 1956 they recorded this song, and I loved it.
Tear it Up / 1956 / The Rock and Roll Trio
Video / 1956 / Ted Mack Amateur Hour /

The Rock and Roll Trio had another great guitar player in the later fifties, Grady Martin

The first woman I remember in Rockabilly would be from Oklahoma, Wanda Jackson.

I remember buying this record in late 1959:
Let’s Have a Party / 59/60 / Wanda Jackson

Now the other female singer would have been Janis Martin, who had a couple of moderate hits in 1956.
Her own composition in 1956
/ Drug Store Rock and Roll /
My Boy Elvis / 1956 /
Ooby Dooby / 1956 /

Here is another “Rock and Roll” record I purchased in 1956 and I loved it.  It was years later that I was told it was Rockabilly?

Mac Curtis from Fort Worth Texas
1956/ If I had me a woman / Mac Curtis
1956/ Granddaddy’s Rockin / Mac Curtis
Keep on Rockin’ / Mac Curtis /

Obscure Artist

When I started this project, I mentioned that I would talk about people, that you may never have heard about.  Well here is a great example of early Rockabilly. 

This man recorded for Decca records in the mid-fifties, was never really successful in the United States or Canada, became an Icon in Europe, and is now considered the definitive Rock and Roll or Rockabilly performer. 

He was an amazing performer, definitely was a pioneer, but nobody in North American really knew who he was, sad because he is no longer with us.

Johnny Carroll & the Hot Rocks
(October 23, 1937 – February 18, 1995)
His birth name was John Lewis Carrell, but Decca misspelled it on the label and he never changed it. 
He was a Texan, who was eclipsed by the huge ground swell of Rock and Roll around 1956, but now he is critically acclaimed, too bad. 
Videos from Rock Baby Rock It  – a B movie of the time.
Crazy Crazy Lovin’ / Johnny Carroll & the Hot Rocks / 1957 Movie Rock, Baby, Rock It /
Wild, Wild Women / same movie and year /
Sugar Baby / same movie and year /
Rockin’ Maybelle / watch this one and you will see why he may have been eclipsed by a guy named Elvis / 1957 movie
1956 / Decca / Trying to get to you /
1956 / Decca / Wild, Wild, Women /
1956 / Decca / Crazy, Crazy Lovin’ /

Another Obscure Artist

I was doing my usual research on music and I ran across something, that “I” found interesting.  I ran across a really unknown and very early Rock and Roll group called the Strikes

Now they would have remained unknown except for an interesting fact, that will interest our Ricky Nelson expert, Marilyn, in Washington State.  The Strikes or “Willie Jacobs and the Strikes” (Willie was the lead vocalist) would write and record there first record in 1956.  

The first recording had two great sides and eventually in 1959 Ricky Nelson would put both songs on his first album. 

Now I guess in today’s world the music is called Rockabilly, but in 1956 when everything was exploding it was just called Rock and Roll and this Texas group was just trying to get a piece of it.  Ricky of course became a huge success and the Strikes did not, but Willie Jacobs still gets some royalty money now and then.

Music: One Record side A & B
This was Ricky’s first album and both songs were on it (I own it)

The Strikes were among the numerous white vocal groups that sprung up around the mid-’50s, trying to grab a piece of the rock & roll action that was starting to swirl around the charts.

They’d started out as a country vocal trio, consisting of Willie Jacobs on lead, Ken Scott singing tenor and playing rhythm guitar, and Paul Kunz on bass, at North Texas State College in the first half of the ’50s — their sound in those days was honky tonk, and their main influence was Hank Williams, but they also had an interest in and appreciation for rhythm & blues which, combined with their country roots, made them a natural fit for the burgeoning sounds of rock & roll.

By 1956, The Strikes — named, according to one interview, in response to a fellow student’s observation that they would “strike out” — were a sextet, rounded out by top-flight rockabilly guitarist A.B. Cornelius, bassist Don Alexander (who soon started singing as well), and drummer Walter Paschal Parsons.

They played around East Texas and cut records backing other artists, most notably Andy Starr at Lin Records in September of 1956, for which Jacobs and Alexander also wrote all four songs that Starr recorded — in the process, Lin founder Joe Leonard was impressed enough to sign the group up, despite the fact that none of the Starr sides hit.

Their first record, “Baby I’m Sorry” b/w “If You Can’t Rock Me,” cut in November of 1956, was as good a piece of rock & roll as the Lin/Kliff labels ever released, and that says something, as Leonard was mainlining some of the best musical talent in his corner of Texas.

Their music intersected Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent without ever sounding exactly like either, and they also called to mind Buddy Holly & the Crickets.

They were equally adept at slow R&B-style numbers, such as “I Do,” and the rhythm numbers that showed off their virtuosity — even better, AlexanderJacobs, and Scott wrote their own material, and that material worked in various settings, as the surviving alternate takes of the group’s sides confirm; Jacobs was a fine solo lead, on top of their usual shared vocals, and Don Alexander was also no slouch as a solo lead.

There seemed to be vast potential in the group, but it was never realized — their first single never charted and their work was later picked up by Imperial Records as part of a national distribution deal involving Lin’s one confirmed national star, Ken Copeland.

Their music at a second recording session in February of 1957 was as good as that from their first session, but they ran out of time — Willie Jacobs was drafted in September of 1957, and the members — except for Alexander and Scott — soon left music.

They continued writing songs, and Alexander (working as Don Terry) recorded a single for Lin Records late in the decade.

Ironically, Jacobs enjoyed some welcome and unexpected rewards for his work in music following his stint in the army, when “If You Can’t Rock Me,” which he’d written, was recorded by Ricky Nelson and included on the pop/rock superstar’s debut LP, which was one of the biggest-selling rock & roll LPs of 1957/58, and Nelson subsequently recorded Alexander‘s “Baby I’m Sorry” as well.

Rockabilly Part 2 to follow…

4 responses to “Rockabilly Part 1

  1. marilyn stuart

    You have listed a number of my favorite Rockabilly artists!
    Janis Martin was one of them, a female Rockabilly singer whose singing career ended before it barely began. Once she married for the first time, it was basically over, although in later years she did make appearances, some of which you can see on Youtube. Such a good style she had.
    Blanco Sessions by Cow Island Music is a recording session she did shortly before her untimely death from lung cancer in 2007. She recorded an amazing 11 songs in just two days.
    Although her voice has a more mature sound than it did in those teenage recordings, it will be a real treat to hear her sing again. I understand this is going to be released in the fall of 2012.

  2. Pingback: Rockabilly Part 1 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music" | Sad Country Music

  3. Well deserved recognition for all of the above, thanks guys !
    Let’s stay out there with our Pop Culture of which we are all a part.

  4. Ian MacDougall

    I first heard the term ‘rockabilly’ in the late 70s, and thought of it as sort of a development out of punk…people like Handsome Ned in Toronto, or the Stray Cats or Reverend Horton Heat (although he was called ‘psychobilly’) going back to the roots of rock’n’roll. I wouldn’t insist that the term hadn’t been used before, though.

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