Friday, October 30, 2009

Forgotten Classics of Arkansas Rockabilly

As a result of some research on Arkansas rockabilly, a few months back I posted on some of the better known Arkansas rockabilly recording artists, a few of whom are have become veritable legends. Arkansas rockers Sleepy La Beef, Sonny Burgess, Ronnie Hawkins, Larry Donn and Pat Cupp are still with us and active and recently we lost the legendary Billy Lee Reilly. Yet some of the lesser known rockers from Arkansas who also made significant contributions to rockabilly have seen their work has fall into relative obscurity for any number of reasons.

What I have come to discover in my research on Arkansas rockabilly is that the state produced more than its share of of recording artists, well over fifty according to my research. Due to its geographical location and demographics, Arkansas was perfectly situated to produce to hybrid fusion of black rhythm and blues and country "honky tonk" sounds. Most of the musicians listed here are from the eastern, Delta region of the state, where the proximity to Memphis and the exposure to African American music, either through radio or direct contact would have been highest. Many would also have been influenced by Joe Manuel's Saturday Night Jamboree in Memphis, The Louisiana Hayride and Porter Wagner's Ozarks Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. One interesting feature of Arkansas rockabilly seems to be the use of the piano, which is featured on the majority of the selections offered here. While many of these tracks have appeared in reissued rockabilly anthologies, no attempt to recognize their cohesion from a regional perspective has been offered.

1) Skeets McDonald was born in Greenway, Arkansas and was a prototypical rockabilly figure. Most of his work is rooted in "honky tonk," yet his sound anticipates the Bakersfield sound and has a distinct rockabilly feel. Check out "Fort Worth Jail" from 1958. Outstanding cut with fantastic piano solo.

2) Doug Poindexter: From Vandale, Arkansas is an important precursor to rockabilly and one of the earliest white Sun recording artists whose association with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and the Starlight Wranglers and Elvis has been documented. "My Kind of Carrying On," a historical Sun recording from from 1954, predates the rockabilly wave and shows Hank Williams influence.

3) Mack Self from West Helena is now a living rockabilly legend. Mack also recorded for Sun, his "Easy to Love" and Vibrate have become classics in the genre. Self still lives in West Helena.

4) Jimmy Lee Fautheree, from Smackover, Arkansas, home of Sleepy Labeef. Jimmy is best known for his work with Johnny Mathis, with whom he performed on the Louisiana Hayride and made several early recordings that were to foreshadow the rockabilly sound. Here he teams up with Mathis to perform the classic "Sweet Love on my Mind" later recorded by Johnny Burnette. Nice guitar work here by Jimmy.

5) Jimmy Evans from Mariana in eastern Arkansas is known for his association with Conway Twitty, Billy Lee Reilly and Mack Self during their Sun years. Jimmy's classic, "The Joints Really Jumpin" is a great example of late rockabilly from 1962. Jerry Lee Lewis influence is obvious. Also check out "What am I Gonna Do?" from the same period. Very nice cut.

6) Glen Garrison from Searcy, Arkansas recorded "Lovin Lorene" in 1958 and, according to Rockabillyville, a very reliable source, is now considered a rockabilly classic. Not much is known about Glen, who died at age thirty.

7) Bill Carter from Eagleton, Arkansas. Not much known about Carter but he did move in and out of country and rockabilly throughout the late 1950's. What we do have is outstanding. Carters remarkable "Cool Tom Cat" from 1960 on the small Ozark label must be hard to come by these days. Nice guitar solo and vocals. Also check out his wonderfully conceived "I Wanna Feel Good" from 1957, great guitar.

8) Al Coker from Conway is a unique figure; he is the father of recording female recording artist Alvadean Coker . Al recorded a few classic rockabilly numbers for Decca in the late 1950's. "Don't Go Baby" is his best known recording. Very nice electric guitar lead.

9) Roy Moss, from Plainview, Arkansas, got a spot on the Louisiana Hayride with help from Elvis. He then joined the rockabilly rave, making several recordings in the late 1950's, beginning with "You Don't Know My Mind" and "Your My Big Baby" from 1956 and then the well produced "Wiggle Walkin Baby" from 1958. Great cut.

10) Sonny Deckelman, from Harrisburg, Arkansas made several rockabilly recordings during the the late 50's and early 1960's. Sonny's "I've Got Love" is from 1959 and contains a classic rockabilly guitar solo.


  1. Always interesting to read! I'd say that not only the influences on the artists in their childhood days made them what they were in the 1950s, but also the musical environment they were in druing the 50s. Jimmy Lee (who didn't team up with Mathis on "Sweet Love on my Mind", but with his brother Lynn) was heavily influenced by Merle Travis. Would also like to read something about Arkansas' music scene during these days (local musicians, clubs, labels etc?)


  2. Thanks for the comments. You are absolutely right about environment, and in Arkansas radio stations were very influential on rockabilly artists. KFFA in West Helena and KWEM in West Memphis with blues formats certainly had their impact throughout the 1950's.
    Thanks for the correction on Mathis.
    Clubs and labels will take more work, part of a larger project. Vaden has been researched a bit, Ozark looks interesting.

  3. Great Post on Arkansas folks from the Rockabilly days! Accurate and informative!!


  4. Thanks Red for the applause, and for stopping by.

  5. Yes, Vaden is the mosf famous Arkansas rockabilly label I think. Razorback had also some good releases, mostly by Sonny Burgess & the Pacers. Although there were many rockabilly artist that came from Arkansas, the state never had such a lively rockabilly scene such as Texas or Tennessee (with various radio live programs, important recording studios and so on). However, you do a great job, keep up the good work!

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