Stop Seven On The Rockabilly Roadtrip

The Music Died, So What Now?


Last week I wrote about the tragic deaths of three great singers, and history has noted that this date was a turning point for rockabilly music and rock music in general. Of course, that plane crash was not the only thing that led to the downfall of rockabilly in the late fifties, but it is a useful marker for exactly when and where the tide turned.

Today’s article is not concerned with how, why, or when rockabilly became the relic of the fifties, but rather what other music came in to take its place during the sixties and how rockabilly survived through an era when it was no longer fashionable.

There are two ways to look at what the legacy of rockabilly was in the sixties. One is to look at the culture of rock and roll teen idols that grew up in the northern states with performers like Fabian and television programs like American Bandstand, the other is to look at the more real gone legacy of rockabilly with the wild surf scene that was starting to blossom all around the South. To begin with I think I will have a little look at the teen idols.

The ‘teen idol’ was an interesting marketing ploy devised by record executives to market a peculiar form of inoffensive rebellion to the generation who had just missed out on falling in love with Elvis Presley. Realizing the potential of the sex symbol shows like American Bandstand began to market young, attractive singers and easy to memorize dance tracks to the youth of America in order to garner record sales, and it worked.

I mean, have you ever heard of the twist? Well that was a dance move and a song that was promoted heavily on American Bandstand and managed to take the nation by storm and become the number one selling single of the year in which it was released. Here’s a little clip of Chubby Checker performing the song of American Bandstand.

The Twist – Chubby Checker

And just to prove the idea with more than one example here are a few more clips of American Bandstand and other shows similar to it and the dance crazes that they started.

The Stroll (Dance) on Seventeen

The Peppermint Twist – Joey Dee & The Starliters

At The Hop – Danny & The Juniors

Another aspect of this move towards family friendliness with rock and roll music was the rise of the teen idol phenomenon with acts like Fabian, Bobby Rydell, and Bobby Darren; acts which were specifically designed to be the kind of boy you’d bring home to parents. As an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about here’s the track Hound Dog Man by Fabian which was based on the Elvis Presley hit Hound Dog, but has had almost all of the elements of rockabilly dangerousness removed.

Hound Dog Man – Fabian

And just to drive the point home here some clips of other teen idols of the time. Not the innocuous good looks and inoffensiveness of style and content.

Wild One – Bobby Rydell

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes – Bobby Vee

Dream Lover – Bobby Darin


Why so many of these singers were all called Bobby is a question I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer, but that aside you can clearly see where the legacy of rockabilly landed. The industry took the love cults that surrounded the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly and reworked them into a steady, sustainable catalogue of bland pop hit makers.

On the flipside, however, rockabilly was busy leaving its mark on a completely different, much more wild style of music which soon came to be known as ‘The Surf Sound’. This style of music was based heavily around the kind of instrumental rockabilly that was being played by the likes of Link Wray, utilizing the prominent heavy bass notes being played on the six string guitar and the effective use of reverb, but the difference with surf music was that it was much faster, often more complex, and took inspiration from far reaching places such as the Arabic musical scales rather than the standard blues progressions.

One of the noted originators of this new and original sound was an instrumental guitarist who had closely modelled himself on the stylings of Link Wray who went by the name Dick Dale. Here is a little track performed by Dale and his backing band The Deltones which can be used as a prime example of what this new sound was all about:

Misirlou – Dick Dale & The Deltones

The surf sound, as original and exciting as it was, did not garner much more than regional success however, and it wasn’t until 1961 when a band you may have heard of called The Beach Boys finally broke the charts with a vocal surf number simply entitled Surfin’.


Surfin’ – The Beach Boys

Now, after listening to that track you may have noticed that there were very few musical similarities between it and the Dick Dale tune played before. In fact it’s much more similar to the teen idol/dance music that I played earlier in the article. But, the similarities that are there (such as the emphasis on the reverb laden tom drum and the chord drop-outs typical of surf music) were enough to pique the interest of the nation and get them into all sorts of other surf music.

For example, following the success of Surfin’ the instrumental surf hit Wipeout by The Surfaris managed to creep its way to number two and Pipeline by The Chantays even got a go in the top ten.

Wipeout – The Surfaris

Pipeline – The Chantays

It was hits like these that led to a nationwide craze of surf music that extended far away from anywhere near a beach. The Astronauts, for instance, were a band who played surf music from Boulder, Colorado, and The Trashmen were based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Surf Party – The Astronauts

Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen

Unfortunately, however, the surf craze was to be short lived and met its demise in 1964 with the British Invasion. But that is not to say that it died completely; no! Surf music, with its borrowings from rockabilly and its own unique energy, was to have a profound effect on what was to happen to rockabilly music in the years to come. It was a major influence of the growing garage rock scene, for example not to mention the impact that it had on rockabilly revival bands in the eighties.

Here are just a few clips that show the impact surf music has had on some more modern incarnations of the rockabilly phenomenon.

Zombie Beach – Zombie Ghost Train

Surfin’ Dead – The Cramps

Surf City – The Meteors


I hope from all this it is clear why I decided to talk about these two vastly different products of the demise of rockabilly in America. That’s right! Because next week I am going to be back with a whole new article on what happened to rockabilly music outside America, especially in the wake of the British Invasion, and where it all went from there!

So stay tuned next week as I bring you Stop Eight on The Rockabilly Roadtrip: Rock Across The Ocean – Britain Gets Rhythm!


5 thoughts on “Stop Seven On The Rockabilly Roadtrip

  1. Fascinating blog. Isn’t YouTube wonderful for bringing all these great tunes back to life. I was really too young to remember these so it was fun to listen now.

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