Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rockabilly Queens: My Top Ten

While the vast majority of rockabilly recordings reflected a music industry still overwhelmingly dominated by men, there were some very exceptional exceptions, to be sure. Since rockabilly itself was widely perceived to be immoral in the conservative fifties, women singing it added another layer of transgression. Most of the female rockabilly artists that achieved national recognition - Wanda Jackson, Barbara Pittman and Rose Maddox- seemed to be more closely aligned to the country and western traditions that seamlessly reabsorbed them once the rockabilly craze ended. Most followed the lead of Patsy Cline and toned their acts down, as in the case of Brenda Lee and her more syrupy 1960 smash hit "I'm Sorry," which effectively pointed all in a different direction. Nevertheless, recordings from the 1950's reveal that these queen-rockers could deal with the best of them, often equaling there male counterparts in energy and intensity. Here is my personal top ten song list from the fifties, and here the number one song is my favorite.

1) Janis Martin: "Let's Elope Baby" from 1956. Wonderful vocals and very tight arrangement. Guitar and piano are sweet.

2) Jean Chapel "Don't Let Go" from 1959 or 1960. This is Jean really tearing loose with an excellent backup band.

3) Joyce Green "Black Cadillac" from 1959 on the small Vaden label from her home state Arkansas. This was Joyce's big hit and it's a classic.

4) Sparkle Moore "Rock a Bop" great vocals by Sparkle on this authentic rockabilly number.

5) Brenda Lee - Not sure of the name of this one but it is pure, raw rockabilly with an edge and exceptional solos. She must have been fourteen or so when this was recorded. My how Brenda changed with time.

6) Barbara Pittman "Sentimental Fool" from 1956 on Sun. Very nice arrangement with a tight ensemble. Great sax solo.

7) Wanda Jackson's "Tongue Tied" is a classic from the "Rockabilly Queen" probably from 1957. Wonderful guitar work.

8) Rose Maddox: "My Little Baby" from the mid fifties. Rose didn't cut too many rockabilly records. This one has a country western feel with a pure rockabilly guitar solo.

9) Elaine Gay's "Rock Love" is simply a classic with sweet vocal arrangement and Texas swing guitar by this totally obscure rocker. Mid fifties.

10) Barbara Tennant's "Rock Baby" is forgotten rockabilly from around 1960. Barbara offers her critique on the stars of the 1950's. Nice sax solo.

Today some very talented artists are carrying on this tradition in a huge way. My favorites are Kim Lenz, Marti Brom, Ruby Ann, Nicotyna from Mexico City and and the eclectic Sue Moreno, who does everything from rockabilly to Les Paul/Mary Ford covers. All are exceptional talents.


  1. Brenda Lee - Bigelow 6-200, flip of her first recording (Jambalaya), 1956 at 11 years old.

  2. Many thanks for that. 11 years old, incredible.

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