The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival
Now, some people think of rockabilly as a purely retro style of music that had its day in the sun during the fifties and early sixties and then died out to make way for other styles of rock and roll, but I’m here today to tell you that the rockabilly scene certainly did not fall away completely. In fact, the rockabilly scene continued to run strong even if it was driven somewhat underground. This continuation of rockabilly music can be put down in no small part to the emergence of a rockabilly revival culture spurred on by young record collectors looking backwards to find the essence of rock and roll: bands like Stray Cats and Matchbox, among others, managed to bring this underground revival culture to the light, and in today’s instalment in the roadtrip we will be looking at this scene in depth and seeing how it ever managed to launch rockabilly back into the mainstream.
One of the earlier artists to look backwards towards rockabilly (but by no means the first) was an American man by the name of Dave Edmunds who began writing rockabilly style songs back in the seventies. Now, originally he was met with relatively minor success in his home country with tunes like I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll), but soon enough Britain got wind of what he was doing and record sales started to pick up. Here’s a little example of the kind of rockabilly that Mr. Edmunds was playing at the time:
I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll) – Dave Edmunds
Another American who was becoming interested in rockabilly music around the same time as Dave Edmunds was ex-punk rocker Robert Gordon who emerged from New York’s CBGBs scene after his band Tuff Darts split with a newfound love for the style. Unlike Edmunds who mainly stuck to the pop traditions of rockabilly, however, Gordon used his punk background to his advantage by taking on the more dangerous and violent elements of rockabilly. Here we can see that rockabilly’s revival was happening simultaneously in two different areas; the pop scene and the punk, one bringing back the catchy twelve bar melodies and the other bringing back real gone.
The Way I Walk – Robert Gordon
This split in what direction the new sound of rockabilly was taking is also shown in a number of other bands from that time period. Groups like The Cramps and Meatloaf were also getting very interested in the sounds of the fifties, but, just like Gordon and Edmunds, they were going in completely different ways. The Cramps, also a New York band, were much more focused on the real gone aspects of the music and subsequently they tinged their raw rockabilly sounds with a punk aesthetic, whereas Meatloaf was primarily a pop rock and roll artist using the catchier elements of the style (it is interesting to note that the real gone revival artists tended to focus more on the older southern rockabilly artists, whereas the pop singers focused more on the north).
The Way I Walk – The Cramps
Dead Ringer For Love – Meatloaf
This newfound love of rockabilly was not confined to the Americas, however, and the legacy of Dave Edmunds’ and Robert Gordon’s rockabilly throwbacks quickly became evident across Britain where bands like Crazy Cavan (who in turn had a large impact on the later psychobilly scene) who started to play real gone rockabilly once again in Britain and garner some extra interest in the faded Teddy Boy scene, and bands like The Flying Saucers took up a more traditional pop mantle.
Teddy Boy Boogie – Crazy Cavan
Keep On Comin’ – The Flying Saucers
It is interesting to note, however, that, even though rockabilly seemed to be more commercially successful in Britain than it was in the United States, these bands didn’t seem to make it out of the fringes of the music scene. In fact, many of these British rockabilly revival bands (and many of the American ones too for that matter) were considered little more than a novelty, and subsequently much of their music was quickly lost to the realms of kitsch. Commercial success did eventually come for the revivalists after some time though, with the breakthrough of a small handful of bands into the mainstream pop big-time.
One of the most commercially successful bands of this period was a little American trio who had moved to London to ply their own particular style of rockabilly music. This band was known as Stray Cats and was formed from Brian Setzer on guitar and vocals, Slim Jim Phantom on drums, and Lee Rocker slapping on the double bass.
It is arguable that Stray Cats’ breakthrough is due in no small part to the fact that they were musically somewhat different from their rockabilly counterparts at the time. They were not simply rehashing the pop melodies of the fifties in the way that Meatloaf and Edmunds were doing, nor were they bringing rockabilly into a punk base. What they were doing was melding these two disparate rockabilly paths into one unified style that, from that point, became the defining sound of the rockabilly revival movement.
Stray Cat Strut – Stray Cats
Other bands soon followed suit with Stray Cats and started playing a distinctly modern brand of rockabilly while maintaining the stylistic roots. Bands like The Polecats and Los Lobos combined the raw elements of rockabilly with a very eighties sense of modernity, pop melody, and new-wave/punk brashness which proved to be very popular in the early eighties and drew rockabilly revival well into the public consciousness.
Rockabilly Guy – The Polecats
Don’t Worry Baby – Los Lobos
Unfortunately, like many good things, this popular interest in rockabilly was rather short lived, as the market became quickly awash with many mediocre songs and record sales dropped away. Here is one of the tragic examples of what the rockabilly revival scene turned into once its popularity got too much for it:
Rockabilly Rebel – Matchbox
But, just because the popularity of this new rockabilly died away doesn’t mean that the music died too. No! In fact, a strong underground scene was emerging around the same time as Stray Cats in Britain formed of bands who were determined to push the boundaries of rockabilly even further. Bands like King Kurt, The Meteors, and Demented Are Go were all hanging around the infamous Klub Foot plying their brutally wild style of music known as ‘psychobilly’.
So, join me next week as we take a much closer look at this incredibly interesting subculture of rockabilly with Stop Ten On The Rockabilly Roadtrip: Rock ‘n’ Roll Meteors – The Psychobilly Revolution. And just to pique your interest I will leave you all with a little tune by the devilish Meteors which pretty much sums up what the early psychobilly scene was all about.
Rockabilly Psychosis – The Meteors
- Stop Eight On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Gonna Ball – Stray Cats (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Songs The Lord Taught Us – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Stop Three On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Stop Seven On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Johnny Cash on Grooveshark (grooveshark.com)
- Fourth Stop On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Stay Sick! – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Lee Rocker; A Stray Cat Through and Through … (keenemusic.wordpress.com)