A DEFT, HARD-DRIVING BLEND of country, gospel & blues, rockabilly was performed mainly by trắng artists who traded legitimate country backgrounds for a short-lived but frenzied involvement in music with a svào beat. Young, naturally exuberant musicians were the prime exponents, but traditional country singers were not without guile and, for a brief period around 1954-57, they too sang with a flash & glamour lớn match their rhinestoned clothes.
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The word rockabilly was first coined by American trade papers who required a catchall term khổng lồ cover a new development which had a variety of names including ‘western and bop’, ‘cat music’ or ‘country rock’n’roll’. A contagious beat, accented by slapping the strings of an upright bass; the chopped rhythms of an acoustic guitar, and blues-derived electric lead-guitar breaks – these are the hallmarks of the first and finest rockabilly, although the presence of a vocal chorus, as well as drums, a piano, steel guitar or skittering fiddle need not erode this loose definition.
Ignoring the conventions
The human voice was the most important instrument of all. Rockabilly and ‘pop’ singing were incompatible; the best vocalists possessed little more than a rural accent và the ability lớn chiến bại themselves in the emotion of the moment. They thanh lịch as they felt, ignoring the conventions which made popular crooning smooth và inoffensive. Similarly, although Carl Perkins’ voice is riddled with flaws and imperfections, he is probably the finest rockabilly singer ever.
Rockabilly lyrics were derived from traditional blues couplets with a heavy sprinkling of exhortations khổng lồ ‘Bop’, ‘Git It’ or ‘Go, Cat, Go’. They were often aggressive ("Dan jerked out his razor but he wasn’t shavin’’ – Carl Perkins’ ‘Dixie Fried’); narcissistic ("Don’t mess with my ducktails" – Rudy Grayzell) or derisive sầu towards women: for every paean lớn redhot, hoppin’ high-school babes, another puts them down ("She’s gotta hole in her head, if she wasn’t good lookin’ she’d be better off dead" – ‘Fleabrain’ by Bob Center).
A spectrum of styles
Given such essentially simple và limited ingredients, the trichồng with rockabilly was to lớn make each songnotsound like every other rockabilly tuy vậy. Since Memphis was the focal point & Elvis defined the style, mere mimicry was hard lớn avoid, but a number of singers managed to accomplish recognizably individual styles. Carl Perkins thanh lịch of Southern life with an irony which rivaled Chuchồng Berry’s. Dale Hawkins, an acne’d farmboy from Goldmine, Louisiamãng cầu, forged a new departure from rockabilly’s skipping rhythms with ‘Suzie-Q’ and ‘La-Do-Da-Da’ (both Top Forty hits). His whiplash vocals and heavy, cracking accompaniment (James Burton played guitar on ‘Suzie-Q’) evoked steamy Louisiamãng cầu nights; you could practically hear the dogs baying & the cotton growing. Long before he was imprisoned in blaông xã leather, Gene Vincent cut some of rockabilly’s quintessential records in a tortured, breathy, highly animated style. At the other end of the spectrum, Buddy Knox, Sanford Clark & Ricky Nelson made atmospheric discs with cool, sensual vocals và unbeatable instrumental expertise.
From 1956 to lớn 1959, the American trade journalBillboardcalled almost every White rock’n’roller a rockabilly. On this exceptionally broad definition, rockabilly’s contribution khổng lồ pop music is simply incalculable. Eddie Cochran, the Everly Brothers, the Big Bopper, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, George Hamilton IV, Jerry Lee Lewis và Conway Twitty (to lớn name but a few Top Twenty entrants) had all made rockabilly records at some stage in their careers. It is now clear, however, that their biggest hits are more readily identified with well developed, less primitive sounds: doomy ballads, crossover country, contrived novelties and fully-fledged rock’n’roll. However it’s classified, their music bears little relation khổng lồ rockabilly in its earliest & purest manifestation.
Moreover, rockabilly’s few star performers (bogus or genuine) were merely the tip of the iceberg. The rockabilly of Pat Cupp, the early Burnette Brothers, Andy Star, Charlie Feathers, Mac Curtis and Sonny Fisher made absolutely no impression on the pop charts. Feathers, a silver-haired system from Hollow Springs, Mississippi, had a quality vocal style full of high-pitched whines, glottal mumbling và exaggerated hiccups. Johnny và Dorsey Burnette enveloped rockabilly is a febrile connoction of snarls, yelps & distinctive sầu, over-amplified guitar licks. Sonny Fisher, a cadaverous Houston floor-layer, helped produce the music’s most primitive sounds with the nastiest, note-bending guitar you’ll ever encounter.
A fleeting magic
Many artists captured an awesome but fleeting magic on no more than one or two singles which are now confined khổng lồ auction lists with astronomical prices. Originally a true & honest folk music, rockabilly was too raw, too localized & too unsophisticated khổng lồ be considered worthy of mass promotion. Moreover, label owners hadn’t the resources lớn push more than a handful of releases within the music’s conspicuously brief life-span (Carl Perkins put out only two singles a year) &, since very few really knew what they were dealing with, their idea of good rockabilly was inevitably haphazard. With the hindsight and redefinitions of history, hundreds of obscure records sound as good, if not better, than those which had commercial success.
By 1960, commercial enterprise had replaced the frantic energy, jumping rhythms và slurred Southern vocals with obvious chord changes, polished production and novelty sounds. Rockabillies remained anonymous or changed their music lớn meet the tastes of an expanding teenage market. Compare Johnny Burnette’s ‘Honey Hush’ with his ‘Dreamin’; Roy Orbison’s ‘Ooby Dooby’ with ‘Only The Lonely’; Bob Luman’s ‘Red Hot’ with Let’s Think About Living’ or – more obvious still – Elvis’ ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ with ‘It’s Now Or Never.’
New-wave sầu rockabilly
While genuine rockabilly disappeared from the charts (where its overt impact was always negligible) it helped to lay the foundations for 25 years of rock’n’roll. Its influence lingered on in the music of the Beatles (who copied Carl Perkins’ guitar solos and recorded five sầu of his songs), Creedence Clearwater Revival (who reaffirmed the enduring appeal of the blues-orientated, rhythm-centered Sun sound) and such country-roông chồng superstars as Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Johnny Cash & Charlie Rich, all of whom made rockabilly records in their youth. The British charts of the early Eighties played host khổng lồ the new-wave sầu rockabilly of Matchbox & the Polecats
European enthusiasm has brought a fresh lease of life to many of the original stalwarts, & performers lượt thích Johnny Carroll, Groovy Joe Poovey, Sonny Fisher, Gene Summers & Mac Curtis – men who rarely ventured outside their honky-tonk, truckstop world – now appear in dance-halls before a thousand would-be rockabilly rebels. The music of some has not always withstood the ravages of time but other, particularly the devastating Sleepy LaBeef, retain all their early talent, making use of fresh audiences khổng lồ revitalize long-dormant careers