Rock Across The Ocean: Britain Gets Rhythm
Despite its origins as a distinctly American style of music, rockabilly was not confined to the United States, in fact after its meteoric rise to popularity in the United States rockabilly’s wild swinging sounds took hold all over the world. One of the places in which rockabilly really took a strong grip was Great Britain, and today’s article will talk about how rockabilly took over the world outside of the U.S.A with a particular focus on British rockers and Teddy Boys.
The Teddy Boy subculture is particularly interesting in terms of rockabilly music across the world due to the fact that they were not originally rockabilly fans. This is primarily due to the fact that when the Teds started to become a distinct subculture rockabilly music hadn’t even been invented yet. Instead they mainly listened to big band jazz and skiffle music, but as soon as rockabilly records started drifting across the ocean and towards the British Isles they jumped at the chance to dance to new and exciting music. But, just for history’s sake, here’s a little tune that became incredibly popular with the Teddy Boys from before they took up the rockabilly flame.
The Creep – Ken MacKintosh
It was with the arrival of the film Rock Around The Clock featuring the music of Bill Haley and His Comets in England that the Teddy Boys really started paying attention to American rockabilly music. This film had a major impact on the youths of the country, finally giving them something new and different, and it led, at times, to confrontations with the established order of how things were. Here’s a little newsreel footage taken from 1957 when Rock Around The Clock was first shown in Britain.
Rock Around The Clock Newsreel Footage (1957)
Of course the fabulous Teddy Boys were not the only ones to enjoy the music of Bill Haley in England, neither was violence the norm for every rockabilly occasion, but I do find it noteworthy enough to include.
In fact, after the furore over this burgeoning youth culture died down, Britain started to take rockabilly music and change it to suit the new climate. Cliff Richard and his backing band The Shadows, for example, became increasingly popular during the late fifties and early sixties with their rock and roll sound mixed in with a tinge of surf music. Here’s a little example of what kind of rock music the Brits were playing at that time after the introduction of rockabilly.
Move It – Cliff Richard and The Shadows
Perhaps more important than Britain’s reaction to rockabilly music and subsequent playing of it themselves, however, is the profound impact that rockabilly had on the new rhythm and blues scene that was beginning to form in Britain during the early sixties. Bands like The Beatles, for example, were influenced very heavily by earlier American rockabilly artists such Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. Here are a couple of covers of rockabilly tunes performed by The Beatles during the early days of their career.
Matchbox – The Beatles
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – The Beatles
Other bands of the new Rhythm and Blues scene were also largely influenced by their experience with rockabilly music. The Rolling Stones, for example, were a big fan of Buddy Holly and recorded a cover of one of his songs in 1964, and, even though they were favourites of the mod scene, The Who in their original incarnation as The High Numbers played a number of rockabilly inspired songs, and even ended up performing a cover of an Eddie Cochran number in their later career as The Who.
Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones
I’m The Face – The High Numbers
Summertime Blues – The Who
In other countries too rockabilly and the other genres associated with it were taking hold. In Australia, for instance, Johnny O’Keefe was taking up the rockabilly rebel mantle and bands like The Atlantics were jumping on the surf rock bandwagon.
Real Wild Child – Johnny O’Keefe
Bombora – The Atlantics
So from all this we can clearly see that rockabilly was not a phenomenon confined solely to the United States, and that the music was powerful enough to get a reaction all over the world. Unfortunately, not many of these bands who were so enthralled by the sounds of American rockabilly really went on to carve out their own unique sounds (excepting of course the British Invasion bands that moved away from pure rockabilly rather quickly), but it they did set the scene for the wonderful style of music we all know and love as rockabilly to stick around and make its mark.
This will all be looked at a bit further in next week’s article The Great Rock and Roll Revival, which will focus on the rebirth of rockabilly in the seventies and again in the eighties with bands like Stray Cats, Matchbox, Crazy Cavan and many, many others, so stay tuned!
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