In the foreword to his book “The Rockabilly Legends,” Jerry Naylor tells us he was 15 when “an untamed force unlike anything I had ever experienced” changed him forever. “It was 1954,” he said, “a year destined to go down in music history as magic.” The Lake View High School student had already started his musical career, performing as a singer “wherever someone would have me.”
Those places included San Angelo bars he was too young to legally enter, “dank, smoky honky-tonks where we played — often while dodging flying beer bottles,” he wrote. During those teen years, he also began singing gospel tunes in Carlsbad’s Southern Baptist Church. In 1954 he began singing in African-American clubs around San Angelo with the black trio Robert T. Smith and His Men of Blues. “Those places knew no racial divide, no hint of segregation,” he wrote. “This was the Mississippi Delta blues, meant for all people — even us young white boys from West Texas.”
Who better to tell the story of rockabilly music than Jerry? What’s rockabilly? Jerry quotes music man Tillman Franks: “Rockabilly is taken from some of those old gospel songs, black spirituals, the delta blues, bluegrass, country and hillbilly. You know, it’s the whole thing. Rockabilly covers it all.” Rockabilly was the grandfather of rock ‘n’ roll, the starting point for some of the most famous stars of a generation. Jerry’s book is beautifully designed and full of fascinating pictures and stories of rockabilly pioneers like Elvis and Buddy Holly.
Because he crossed paths with so many up-and-coming musicians during the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, Jerry’s book has an intimate, personal feel. Jerry, who lives in Oregon now, tells some great stories. He was there when Elvis played San Angelo in 1955, but he had to work for it. He put up posters advertising the show “throughout Tom Green County,” promoted the show on his KPEP radio show, and collected tickets as people entered the San Angelo Auditorium for the show.
Then his band opened for the King-to-be. “As the final ticket holders filed into their seats, I ran back to the stage door, changed my shirt, and our band — Toby Yeager, Bobby Young, Ray Deans and I — rushed on center stage,” he wrote. “Our 15 minutes went by fast.” Afterward, Jerry went backstage to watch Elvis, and got “as close to the action as I possibly could be while still remaining out of sight.” “Over the next 15 minutes I experienced a sight and sound that will stay with me forever,” he wrote. “Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black worked their enticing magic in an amazing six-song performance. This was the most incredible music I’d ever heard — and here they were performing just a few feet away from me! I stood there, spellbound. I had never known such an electrifying moment.”
Same for the San Angelo crowd, he said. The audience, which started out not quite knowing what to expect, “began yelling, clapping and screaming. They kept it up throughout the performance.” In 1959, when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash at 22, Jerry was working as a disc jockey at an El Paso station. He broke down as he announced the deaths of Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” on the air. “I switched open the mic,” he wrote. “Just as I did, however, I began to cry. With my voice trembling, I read aloud the headline of the UPI news article and continued to read, robotically, the entire story. I had no idea what I was saying.”
Later, he was picked to be lead singer of Holly’s group, The Crickets. Though Jerry tells us how rockabilly stores affected him, the book isn’t about him. It’s about the music and the musicians who made the music. It’s fun reading his stories about stars like Elvis, Holly, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. And it was interesting discovering some of the lesser-known stars like Gene Vincent, Buddy Knox, Bob Luman, Charlie Rich and others. But it’s Jerry’s personal experiences with the musicians that bring the “Rockabilly Legends” to life.
Source: Go San Angelo