Rockabilly music maintains a level of obscurity as a genre. To those of us who love rockabilly and listen to lots of rockabilly songs, it’s easy to forget that many people don’t even know what rockabilly is. So, while one could legitimately argue that rockabilly itself is obscure, there’s another level of obscurity that goes even deeper yet. That obscurity–those obscure artists and their recordings–holds immense treasure for the rockabilly music lover.
As with any musical genre, rockabilly has its royalty. Of course, there’s the King, Elvis, along with Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others who’ve found varying degrees of fame and fortune. The music that these cats made defines rockabilly history and for anyone new to the genre, well, you can’t go wrong with these names. Listening to their music will give you a great education in rockabilly lore.
But once you’ve become familiar with these guys and start scratching past the surface, that’s when you really start to uncover the untold riches that lie beneath the surface. First you run into names like Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly and some of her fantastic early rockabilly recordings. That whets your appetite for more female rockabilly and you soon discover Janis Martin, the Collins Kids (with Larry and Lorrie Collins), Rose Maddox, and Sparkle Moore.
Then, as it dawns on you that there was much more to the rockabilly genre than you thought, you dig even deeper. There you find names like Jack Scott, Glen Glenn, Sleepy LaBeef, and Billy Lee Riley. You learn about Sun Records and find out with no little bit of surprise that Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, and Charlie Rich all started out at the same place that Elvis did and begin to realize the influence that this tiny Memphis record label had not only on the world of rock and roll, but also on modern country music.
Now you’re really getting interested. Further research uncovers names like Earsel Hickey, Groovy Joe Poovey, Charlie Feathers, Warren Smith, Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones, and so many, many more. It doesn’t take long before you begin to realize that what you first knew about rockabilly was not even close to the entire puzzle. Maybe those more famous names make up the big pieces of that puzzle. But you realize that with just those big names and their more famous recordings, you have hundreds of tiny holes in the picture.
It’s those names and the recordings that begin to appear out of the mist of obscurity that really start to make the picture whole. There’s no doubt to anyone who loves the rockabilly genre that this music is fun. But like any good puzzle, the real fun comes with discovery. Each new piece you uncover, each one that you snap into its proper place, gives you a more vivid understanding of the entire story. And what a rich, rich story this tale of rockabilly is!
So, what new pieces of the puzzle have you discovered lately? If you’ve already discovered all of the names that I’ve dropped here, then try Paul Louise, Mr. Mack, Sonny Sheater, Coye Wilcox, Norm Sharkey, Hugh Lewis, Bill Thomas, Ebe Sneezer And His Epidemics…
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.
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