Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Rockabilly Classics: 1955-1959

One could spend literally countless hours pouring over the spate of obscure rockabilly recordings that were recorded from 1954 (after the initial Elvis Sun recordings) up through the early 1960's. The sheer number of recordings on youtube is simply overwhelming, and speaks to the viability of the small, regional record labels like Vaden, Master, Hollie, Ekko, Sims and Ozark that seemed to spring up all throughout the south and mid-west during the mid 1950's. What I find to be compelling about the recordings on this list is their originality within the genre and their independence, i.e., the way each artist has developed a voice and style independent of the Elvis like imitations heard on so many recordings from the same period. Rather than a list of favorites, this selection of recordings portrays the great diversity of arrangements that were being recorded by some of the better known musicians working in the genre. With the exception of Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, significant commercial success did not come to most of these players until they were"rediscovered" and appreciated anew ( Joe Clay, Ray Smith, Sleepy La Beef and Jackie Lee Cochran) some twenty five years later by European rockabilly fans. Unfortunately, several passed away long before they could fully realize the significance of their contributions to contemporary music.

1) Carl's pioneering 1955 Sun recording Gone Gone Gone embodies all the attributes of authentic rockabilly. Great vocals and guitar work with a little of that classic Sun echo effect. A close second would be Carl's incredible 1959 recording "Put Your Cat Clothes On."

2) Ronnie Self: Ronnie's 1959 recording "Big Town" may be a reference to Springfield, Missouri or even Nashville, where his classic Decca and Columbia recordings were cut. At any rate, it's a long way from his native Tin Town.

3) Sid King's "When My Baby Left Me" features Sid's unique vocal inflection in consonance with a languid, somewhat peculiar tempo. Definite gospel music influence here. For a taste of all the recordings Sid King and the Five Strings cut in the 1950's, go here.

4) Link Davis: "Don't Bigshot Me." Sax ace Davis played virtually every style of music related to rockabilly. His recording "Grasshopper" recorded the same year is another example of his high energy style that blends early rock n' roll features with rockabilly.

5) Joe Clay really lays it down on "Don't Mess with My Ducktail" from 1956. Joe's cover of this Rudy Grayzell classic is one of his finest rockabilly recordings, great guitar work by Hal Harris. Interestingly, Grayzell cut this album with our friends The Skeletons back in 1998.

6) Eddie Bond: "Talkin Off the Wall" from 1955 is a classic example of early rockabilly with a very unique guitar solo by Hank Garland. Superb.

7) Gene Vincent: "Cruisin" from 1956. Guitar legend Cliff Gallup has three blistering solos on this cut which Robert Gordon covers some twenty five years later here, with Danny Gatton providing incredible guitar work in homage to Cliff.

8) Ray Smith Although Ray's 1958 rocker, "Right Behind You Baby never achieved the commercial success of the far tamer "Rockin Little Angel," (1960) it is an absolute classic of mid fifties rockabilly.

9) Jackie Lee Cochran "Mama Don't You Think I Know" Jack the Cat's 1957 recording is one of his finest.

10) Sleepy La Beef: "Little Bit More," which was recorded in 1956, is a perfect example of a great song that achieved little more than limited success even on a regional level. Sleepy continues to be the legend of Smackover, Arkansas and has recorded this roots album a couple of years back.


  1. LaBeef's "Little Bit More" was recorded in 1957 but not issued at the time. It remained in the Starday vaults for some decades.