Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Arkansas Rockabilly: Twelve Classics from the 1950s

I stated some time ago that I have been researching Arkansas rockabilly musicians with the intention of posting. As I got deeper into researching this, I soon realized the sheer breadth of the project would require far more space than a normal post would. For that reason, instead of posting about the origins and historical evolution of the more than forty rockabilly musicians from the state, I offer 12 classic recordings from the 1950's by some musicians well known and others more obscure. Their numerical ranking is in no way a reflection of my favorites. Andy Starr was not included here due to his appearance in a recent post. Enjoy these classic gems, and many thanks to those collectors on youtube who help make this possible.

1) Larry Donn from Bono. Larry's classic 1959 Vaden recording "Honeybun" is the real thing, and the original 45 is a collectors item among European rockabilly fanatics. Larry is still active today and has recently cut a new album.

2) Billy Lee Riley from Pocahontus. Billy's 1957 Sun recording "Searchin" is my favorite by him, the vocals are outstanding. Riley is still active today.

3) Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland but raised in the small Delta town of Dyess. Johnny's early Sun recording of Big River helped launch the career of a legend.

4) Sleepy LaBeef from Smackover. Sleepy has become a veritable legend in his own time. "Little Bit More" from from 1958 is an absolute gem, never get tired of Sleepy's guitar work. He is still active today. He just released a new album appropriately named "Roots."

5) Ronnie Hawkins from Huntsville. Ronnie's 1959 cover of the Billy the Kid Emerson classic "Red Hot" is a bit different than the Billy Lee Riley cover. I like this one a lot. Hawkins is still active.

6) I realize Dale Hawkins was born in Louisiana, but he spent much of his life in Arkansas, and on this cover of the classic Little Walter tune "My Babe," he is backed by Arkansas born guitar legend Roy Buchanon, who was born in Ozark, Arkansas. A true gem from 1957. Dale is still kicking.

7) Pat Cupp from Nashville, Arkansas, but grew up in Texarkana. Pat's "Do Me No Wrong" is classic rockabilly from 1957 with great vocals and guitar work. Pat still lives in Arkansas.

8) Bobby Lee Trammell from Jonesboro. Controversial, wild and into politics in later life, Trammell's "Hi Yo Silver" is pure 1957. Great opening and full band accompaniment with great sax work.

9) Sonny Burgess from Newport. Sonny's "Red Headed Mama" with his group The Pacers for Sun is one of the finest rockabilly cuts from the period. Great piano and trumpet work. Sonny tours Europe frequently.

10) Edwin Bruce from Keiser. Although Bruce has since moved to pure country music, "Doll Baby" recorded for Sun in 1958 is pure, authentic 50's rockabilly.

11) Tillman Franks from Stamps. Due to association with country music, almost forgotten is the fact Franks teamed up with Johnny Horton to write and record the classic "Honky Tonk Man" from 1956. Later covered and popularized by Dwight Yoakam in 1987.

12) Narvel Felts from Keiser. Narvel's early career in the 1950's was pure rockabilly. Check out "Foolish Thoughts of You," from 1957. Great guitar and overall sound.

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