Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Black Rockabilly?





In several previous post last spring considerable attention was given to the forays rockabilly musicians made into the the world of black R&B musicians, borrowing both musical techniques and extensively covering R&B material as they went about forging the rockabilly sound. One outgrowth of the surge in popularity of rockabilly recordings after 1955 that has not been received attention is how black R&B musicians responded to the ascendant popularity of rockabilly. With the exception of the Chuck Berry, whose material draws from country and R&B traditions and exemplifies the hybridness that was to become "rock 'n roll, not much at all has been written about black musicians in the 1950's who dabbled in rockabillysque recordings. Perhaps the best example of this is Berry's iconic 1955 hot rod hit Maybelline , which seems to be derivative of the of fiddler Russ Fratto's "Ida Red," popularized by Bob Wills in 1938. While not exactly rockabilly in a pure sense, Chuck seems to be nodding to that dimension of American Roots music in this classic hit.


While the term "black rockabilly" may seem oxymoronic on the surface, there are some great examples of 1950's recordings that demonstrate a conscious attempt to at least incorporate certain elements of the essence of the rockabilly style. And although it might be said that these recordings are not typical nor pure rockabilly, and that they are really more akin to R&B material, a close listening will reveal that they do possess some fascinating features, some of which are very close to rockabilly. Whether these musicians were motivated by the potential for success in the style or by the style itself remains unknown. Some of the recordings, like Roy Brown's "Hip Shakin Baby" have become collectors items owing to their uniqueness, and the sheer scarcity of black musicians who recorded in the rockabilly style. This list is probably not complete, and the unavailability of G. L. Crockett's "Look Out Mabel" and Roscoe Gordon's "Sally Jo" on youtube leaves a somewhat incomplete picture. That said, enjoy these unique recordings I have been to locate and comment on.

Roy Brown: Brown is best known for his R&B and Jump Blues recordings but his Imperial recording of "Hip Shakin Baby" from 1956 is included in rockabilly anthologies and really does exude the style in the echo vocals and piercing guitar. Excellent.

Ray Sharpe: Roy's incredible recordings from the late 1950's are influenced by country music and have the feel of rockabilly and are brilliantly conceived. Check out his incredible "Linda Lu" from 1959. Very nice guitar work. Also check out his "Monkey's Uncle." Superb.

The Cues: Generally classified as a pure R&B group,this forgotten group from the 1950's recorded some great R&B, some of which has the feel of rockabilly. The echo like sound and twangy guitar lend to this feel on "Killer Diller" and "Cracker Jack." Very nice sound.

Young Jessie: Generally classified as rock n' roll, Jessie recorded some Doo Wop material as well as a few songs that have the feel of rockabilly. Check out "Hit Git n Split" from 1956 and the incredible "I Smell a Rat." Guitar has a distinctly rockabilly feel.

Mickey and Sylvia: This fascinating R&B duo is generally not associated with anything close to rockabilly. That said, their recording "No Good Lover" has the energy and style of many of the rockabilly recordings from the same period. Great guitar solo.

Junior Parker: Love My Baby is a R&B Sun recording from 1953 that I had to include because it was so influential on subsequent rockabilly recordings. Also, the guitar, in sound and style, sets up the rockabilly style to follow.

Big Al Downing: Big Al is typically known as a black musicians who was successful in the country idiom during the 1960s. Al's 1958 recording "Down on the Farm" combines the raucous style of rock n' roll in a rockabilly format. Excellent recording. Some of Al's later recordings are pure rockabilly.

11 comments:

  1. Great Blog! Congratulations. Thanks for such good work.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Rockabilly as one of the predecessors of the most popular genre in the world, Rock and Roll, has being ignored for current generations. For this reason I thank you very much your contributions that allow us to know better this kind of music because it is funnier for me to Buy Viagra that listening to the new musical trends.

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  5. Re. Justin: one wonders how "rockabilly" can be called a "predecessor" to "rock & roll" when the term is a mix of rock & roll and hillbilly, as was the music itself. The term "rock & roll" was in use before any of the above recordings were made, including 1953's "Love My Baby."

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  6. Please provide your source for identifying Russ Fratto as a "fiddler" and song writer of "Ida Red". According to Chuck Berry and historians on the topic of the compromised credits on "Maybelline" Russ Fratto was a business associate of the Chess brothers and his name on the credits was for the sole purpose of royalty kickbacks to the record company.

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  8. Interesting to note that one MICKEY BAKER played on a whopping FIVE of the above mentioned examples of "black rockabilly" -- Mickey was the go-to guy when producers sought to update Joe Turner and Louis Jordan's music for the teenage market.

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  10. Thanks for mentioning "Love My Baby." Similarly, Arthur Crudup's "Where Did You Stay Last Night" from 1951 (among other Crudup recordings) sounds like what we think of as rockabilly. Elvis, Scotty, and Bill were influenced by Crudup and his band, and the typical rockabilly musician emulated Elvis. Some of Junior Parker's other recordings from around that same time have a similar sound. Buddy Lucas was black and used a steel guitar on the rocker "Undecided" in about 1952. (The first recording by anybody I'd call rockabilly is "Birmingham Bounce" by Hardrock Gunter in 1950 on Bama -- which of course was after pre-1950 non-"billy" rockers such as "Rock The Joint" by Chris Powell, "Rock That Boogie" by Jimmy Smith, "Rock And Roll" by Wild Bill Moore, and "Rockin' All Day" by Jimmy McCracklin.)

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  11. I am consistently impressed that there are still tracks out there from the genre that I have never heard and this one is a perfect example. Grand Pianos from Gospel Pianos

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