By Buster Fayte , Featured Writer, Sad Man’s Tongue
What makes a good rockabilly song? I guess you could come up with a million answers to that question, but to me one answer kind of sums it all up: A good rockabilly tune delivers a punch. The interesting thing though, is that different songs deliver different types of punch. It’s not completely predictable. While the rockabilly label conjures up distinct images, when you look more closely, you see that there are really many facets to the rockabilly diamond. So, what is this “punch” that rockabilly delivers? Let’s take a look at a few possible answers.
First and maybe most recognizable punch the music delivers is the beat. Typically rockabilly tunes have a strong, steady backbeat provided by the drummer. Normally it’s the single snare shot on the twos and fours that drive the tune. Many times the snare hits resemble pistol shots that ring out and leave no doubt as to the beat of the song. But if you dig a little deeper into the genre, some interesting things begin to develop.
Some rockabilly tunes don’t follow the powerful backbeat rule. Some have more of a shuffle feel to them that makes these songs a little more easy flowing and laid back. And yet, this rhythm makes these songs no less rockabilly than songs in the first category.
If you’re really paying attention, you realize that the snare drum is actually not absolutely essential to rockabilly at all. In fact, much of the first rockabilly didn’t even feature drums on the recordings! Elvis’ very early Sun Records recordings are the perfect example. Johnny Cash’s early Sun recordings and songs by other artists were also drumless. So, it can’t be just backbeat provided by the drums that delivers the punch.
OK then, it must be the guitar work and distinctive guitar sounds that provide the punch. Heavily county-influenced guitar riffs and solos are really a hallmark of rockabilly. Lead guitar work is usually based around chords with lots of single-note licks thrown in for seasoning. The hollow-body electric guitar sound is a dead giveaway, although lots of classic recordings feature solid-body electric guitar work too. And, not to be left out, many songs were based around an acoustic guitar not just for rhythm, but also for leads. So that’s it; rockabilly relies on the lead guitar for the punch.
Hold on though…What about Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, and other rockabilly greats whose songs were built more around the piano than the guitar? Right; that proves you can make a great rockabilly song without the guitar taking front and center.
The Slap Bass
Well, it’s got to be the bass then. A big stand-up bass fiddle played with a slapping, snapping style to create lots of string noise and thus a rhythm. Indeed, it was this slap-bass style that enabled those early Elvis and Johnny Cash recordings to rock out completely even without drums. Yep; it’s got to be the slap bass that gives the music the punch.
But wait; what about the vocals? Usually the vocals are sparse with just a lead singer wailing away. The trademark hiccup style that so many rockabilly singers perfected is just the start. Total vocal abandon is really what rockabilly’s all about. A guy didn’t have to have the greatest voice in the world, he just had to have good command of it and then let loose with no reservation and an overabundance of energy. A few well-placed screams, growls, moans, and other assorted vocal noises could really ratchet a song up a notch or two. Yes, it must be the vocals that provide the punch.
All of the Above!
So, what is it? From where does rockabilly music get its punch? Naturally, the answer is “all of the above” and more. Honestly, I think it’s really just the attitude, the energy, and the sincerity of the music that gives it such a punch. Rockabilly music is just good, pure fun. If you let yourself go with it and let rockabilly take you where it will, then whether you can define the punch or not, you’ll feel it! That’s the beauty of rockabilly music.
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.
Article Source: Ezine Articles