Rockabilly Gets Real Gone
There is an old expression used by many rockabilly musicians to describe a particular sense of outrageousness – “real gone”. Now, I’m not entirely sure when this quaint little phrase first came into use (some date it back to 1941), but I can tell you that throughout my reading about and study of the music and culture of rockabilly it is a term that I have come across numerous times, and have formed somewhat of an understanding of in this context.
Generally speaking ‘real gone’ is used to mean something cool or hip, but which does not conform to the mainstream modes of performance. So it fair to say that the musical excitement of an Elvis Presley record in the very early days of rockabilly could be described as real gone because it was so new and exciting, but that’s not what I’m really talking about here. What I am talking about are those forgotten freaks and weirdos of the rockabilly scene who just went wild. People like Hasil Adkins Groovey Joe Poovey who existed on the fringes of the music world and occasionally attacked it with some brilliant burst of madness. This article will be looking at a few of these notorious figures in a bit more detail, and hopefully bringing some new listeners along to the wacky and wonderful music that they made.
Unfortunately there are far too many to list all of them here, and my knowledge, while expansive, doesn’t quite extend to each and every one, but I have compiled a shortlist which I will talk about below.
Hasil Adkins (1937 – 2005)
To start off with I am going to talk a little bit about perhaps the most famous of these rockabilly freaks: Hasil Adkins.
Hasil ‘The Haze’ Adkins was born in Boone County, West Virginia some time during the nineteen-thirties (his website maintains that the exact year is unknown, however it is generally believed to be 1937) to a relatively poor family. He received little formal education, but devoted much of his time to music, writing, and recording. Here is a sample of the kind of music that Hasil was playing:
Truly Ruly – Hasil Adkins
We Got A Date – Hasil Adkins
His characteristic sound was derived from his being a one-man-band; singing, playing guitar, and playing drums all on his lonesome. The distinctiveness was added to further by the fact that he really couldn’t do any of these three things particularly well, especially not all together. But this malaise of missed chords and shrieked vocals heard above is not the only thing that earns Adkins his cult status as the godfather of psychobilly and his place in real gone history. No, it was his sheer freakiness as a human being and his oddness of lyrical content that cemented his fame.
What I’m talking about is stuff like this weird piece of freak-out rock and roll (which you may have heard covered by The Cramps):
She Said – Hasil Adkins
Not to mention the fact that the man listed Col. Sanders, the inventor of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as one of his biggest influences right next to Hank Williams and Little Richard and went on to record an entire album devoted to chicken called Poultry In Motion featuring such hits as Chicken Hop and Chicken Flop.
Chicken Hop – Hasil Adkins
Chicken Flop – Hasil Adkins
Yes, The Haze truly was one of the greatest weirdos of history, and I would thoroughly recommend checking out his music if you ever get the chance. I guarantee that you will be shocked and confused, but I hope there’ll also be a lot of fun had.
Link Wray (1929 – 2005)
Next up the list of wonderfully crazy, forgotten performers of the rockabilly art form is American guitar legend Link Wray. Now, Wray was by no means as mental as Hasil Adkins, but I feel he still makes the list just due to his refusal to take part in the big time record business by recording his albums on three tracks in a converted chicken shed. Not to mention that after losing a lung through illness and being told he would never sing again he never gave up and just became an instrumental guitar god. If that’s not real gone then I don’t know what is.
Here is a little example of one of Link’s most famous pieces Rumble.
Rumble – Link Wray
This major hit is by no means the only track that Wray produced. Oh no! He was making records right up until 2000’s Barbed Wire and performing right up until his death in 2005. Here are a couple more tracks from this master of the rockabilly guitar. Let’s have a little listen to some of the other wonderful tracks that Wray produced over the years.
Switchblade – Link Wray
Ace Of Spades – Link Wray
Batman Theme – Link Wray
Alright, well next up in my list of real gone rockabilly freaks and weirdos is the outrageously kitschy cult figure Tarantula Ghoul.
Now, Tarantula (known affectionately as ‘Taranch’ by her fans) is particularly interesting as a musician, because she only ever released two tracks with her backing band The Gravediggers, and these two tracks were actually novelty songs designed to promote the Portland based community horror-movie TV show she hosted. But, somehow or other she managed to garner herself a nice little cult following and get her two tracks repressed on numerous compilations throughout the years.
Here are those two tracks:
Graveyard Rock – Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers
King Kong – Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers
What’s even more interesting than her low productivity, however, is the fact that one day her show disappeared from the airwaves and likewise did Ms. Ghoul (or, if you prefer her birth name, Suzanne Waldron). No footage is known to exist from her show and only a handful of photographs are circulating, and for many, many years no one really knew what had happened to her. What is most likely, however, is that she fell pregnant and was forced to leave the television business.
Still, she has managed to maintain her place in the weird realms of real gone history and remain one of the most interesting and fun musicians of the genre and time period.
Ghoul A Go-Go
Now, technically speaking Ghoul A Go-Go is not a personality of the real gone rockabilly scene, rather it is a community television program which plays the strangest of musics while children dance along. Here’s a little clip of the type of thing I’m talking about:
Ghoul A Go-Go Promo
Even though it’s not band or personality I’ve decided to list here in this article just because it really embodies the real gone spirit of not giving any fucks and having a whole lot of nonsense fun with the kind of music that you play.
It’s also notable for having some of the great freaks of history perform on the show, for example here’s a little clip of Hasil Adkins doing She Said for the kids.
She Said – Hasil Adkins (on Ghoul A Go-Go)
And for further enjoyment have a listen to some of the other bands that have had the opportunity to perform on Ghoul A Go-Go.
The Neanderthals on Ghoul A Go-Go
Hey – Johnny Chan and The New Dynasty Six on Ghoul A Go-Go
Petty Booka on Ghoul A Go-Go
Well, that’s all there is from me on this stop of The Rockabilly Roadtrip, and I hope you enjoyed all the madness that was talked about above. Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list of real gone rockabilly artists, but it’s a good place to start if you want to let yourself get lost in the wild, wacky, and weird world of the more obscure side of rockabilly.
And make sure you join me next Friday as I continue along the road and bring you the next instalment in the series. Stop Six: The Day The Music Died.
- Fourth Stop On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Songs The Lord Taught Us – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Smell Of Female – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Stop Three On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- First Stop On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- The Rockabilly Roadtrip: Stop Two (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- The Suns – Surf nightmare (faroutmagazine.co.uk)
- Gonna Ball – Stray Cats (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)