This week we have a stellar array of tip-top rockabilly. There really are some fascinating stories out there about local music scenes. Places where studio owners, singers, instrumentalists, writers and others crossed paths. They exchanged ideas and influences creating music that years later could be recognised as a distinct style. On these six EPS, El Toro and Dave Penny bring together the seemingly disparate sounds that emerged around Texas in the mid 50s to form one such distinct style.
Side 1: All Night Long – Carnival Rock / Red Cadillac and Black Moustache
Side 2: Wild-Eyed Woman / Blue Days, Black Nights
This series kicks off with the two sides of Texan Bob Luman’s first 45 issued in 1957 on the Californian label Imperial. Red Cadillac is a classic cover of the original by Warren Smith on Sun records, the next track is a great similarly paced rockabilly rocker. The two tracks on the other side were recorded for Imperial but not released until decades later. Blue Days Black Nights is closer to the version released by the song’s writer in 1960 than the best-known version by Buddy Holly from 1956. Wild Eyed Woman is another mid-paced workout that really rocks along. A final note for guitar god worshippers – all these tracks feature James Burton at the age of 16 or 18 depending on which interview you believe.
Side 1: Grandaddy’s Rockin’ / Just So You Call Me
Side 2: Half Hearted Love / If I Had Me a Woman
So as the 1974 album rightly said, a Rockabilly King, with four bona fide classics here. These were recorded in Texas but issued by King of Cincinnati in 1956 as Mac’s first two 45s. I really cannot say much about these that is not redundant (but that has never stopped me from going on and on). Three of these are up tempo numbers with urgent vocals, thumping bass, and ringing guitar. The last is taken at a brooding pace but retains everything else and all are among the tracks that define the Rockabilly genre.
Side 1: Sally Let Your Bangs Hang / Candy Kisses
Side 2: I Ain’t Gonna Cry No More / Blues Stay Away From Me
Johnny is known to just about every Rock n Roller as the guy in the red suit in the best rock n roll film made, The Girl Can’t Help It. Johnny was a veteran of western swing and country music performing by the time he left school and formed his own band. He retained some of the swing from the Western Swing style when he started recording for the famed TnT label of San Antonio. This EP brings us the four sides issued two 45s. Sally Let Your Bangs Hang and Candy Kisses are fairly well known from reissues on various albums and as mentioned above, we know a version of I Ain’t Gonna Cry from the Girl Can’t Help It. However, this EP allows us to hear the recorded version of I Ain’t Gonna Cry and Johnny’s version of the Delmore brothers’ landmark recording Blues Stay Away From Me for the first time unless you have access to an original 45 as neither one has been previously reissued.
Side 1: Duck Tail / You’re Gone
Side 2: Let’s Get Wild / Jig-A-Lee-Ga
Rudy had his first record issued in 1953, the up-tempo Hillbilly Looking at the Moon and Wishing on a Star. The next year he crossed paths with Elvis and like so many others he changed his style and started rockin’. He was signed to Capitol Records and they issued Heart Like A Rock which he co-wrote. Yes, the Otis Williams and the Charms smash was a cover of a Rockabilly number. He did not rack up a hit for Capitol and was dropped, which was a mistake in my opinion. He signed with Starday, THE Texas label, and after a hillbilly, release unleashed the four stone killers which are on this EP. Imagine these numbers on a nationally distributed label. Rudy then jumped ship for Sun records, but after just one release he was off again pretty much into obscurity. We really can’t help but wonder what if Ducktail and You’re Gone had had national distribution? His trajectory could have been so different.
Side 1: Gone Ape Man / Don’t Mention My Name
Side 2: Cat Talk / I’ll Play Your Game
Another son of Texas who recorded for the Californian Imperial label just like Bob Luman. Lew had four 45s issued and on this EP you have the second and third issues. He wrote his own material and every number has a wonderfully relaxed swing to it. His is a playful sound, the sound of a good time. He really did create his own sound but his numbers are all different from each other, which is great trick to pull off. Lew was dropped by Imperial and threw himself into other non-music projects although he continued writing songs for other people. Cat Talk is Lew’s best-known number and an absolute Rockabilly anthem, encapsulating every image that a young cat wants to project but there is more to him than the one track and here you get half of his 50s issued Rockabilly output in one fell swoop.
Side 1: Kitty Kat / Fat Woman
Side 2: Cat Just Got In Town / It’s Saturday Night
Hmm, so when we started this bit about Texas Rockabilly we did not think Imperial in California would pop up so much but here we have another Texan with first releases on the label. Bill had seven releases on the label between 1952 and 1955 whilst he presented various popular Country music shows on the radio. A few releases come very close but his 1953 Play My Boogie is a country boogie number that fall into our regular ‘rock n roll before they called it rock n roll’ category as it is practically Rockabilly. In 1956, Bill had the first of his seven releases on Starday. This EP collects the two sides of his first Starday 45 and the topsides of this the next two.
We’re assuming most people reading this know all about how important Starday is in Rockabilly history so we’ll forgo saying anything about it but it is tracks like these that define the Rockabilly style and cement the status of Starday as a pivotal Rockabilly label. These really are an example of how country boogie was hot-wired into something else that really is a section of Rock n Roll. Bill’s delivery does not change a lot from his earlier style but the tough bass and guitar on these tracks makes all the difference. Just brilliant.
Ah well, this was supposed to be short but we just can’t help it. These EPs really do capture some of the best of the best. There is also a whole overarching story about a local tiny studio run by Jim Beck in the Texas vastness to be told but another time… For now in honour of Bill Mack just make like it’s Saturday Night.
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