Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rockabilly: Rock and Roll's Primitive Form

It's been almost 60 years since music that could be called rock and roll first started hitting the radio airwaves. Rock music has taken an amazing number of twists, turns, and alternate paths over all those years. But if you follow all of those paths back to their origins, you'll eventually come to the source of all rock and roll: The original primitive rock and roll called "rockabilly."
Of course, rockabilly itself is nowhere near the primitive form of music, but rockabilly is really the first form of music that you could give the rock and roll label to. Rockabilly's roots stretch far back from the 1950s to the earliest country music, blues music, and rhythm and blues music. And naturally each of those American music forms could be traced back to songs from the "old countries" which immigrants brought with them when they came in search of new life and greater fortune in the new world and that African slaves brought with them when they were ripped from their homes and brought to America. Gospel music too had a profound impact on rockabilly.
All of these influences came together in an amazing explosion of raw energy and power in the early 1950s. When Elvis broke out of his attempt to record country ballads for Memphis' Sun Records one day in 1954, he started a revolution. No one had seen or heard anything quite like this new music that they soon started to call rockabilly. And plenty of people thought that there was no real future in this "devil's music." But the were wrong. Oh, they were so wrong!
Elvis' success inspired scores of other musicians to pick up the rockabilly style and the music spread even faster. Rock and roll was born and once it started growing, there was absolutely no way to stop it. The simple, straight-ahead, three-chord songs crashed upon the pop music scene like a '54 Cadillac smashing through the fence at a sleepy afternoon barbeque. Before anyone knew what had hit them, rockabilly cats were making hit after hit.
Those early songs and the artists who sang them had a tremendous influence on the young kids of that era. And thousands of those young kids decided they were going to pick up guitars too and make music of their own. Although rockabilly had a very short ride at the top of the charts (just five or six years), the bands that started scoring big hits in the early 60s were quick to point to rockabilly as the basis for their musical coming of age and rockabilly artists as their idols.
The Beatles, of course, took rock and roll into amazing new directions. The Rolling Stones and other British invasion bands also changed the face and sound of rock and roll. But most of this new pack of musicians was very quick to point out and talk about their rockabilly influences. Performers like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins, along with others were revered by the new crop of 60s musicians--especially the European artists.
Given that most bands during and since the 60s can point back to the Beatles as a major influence, you can really point right on back to rockabilly since without the influence of rockabilly, there likely would have been no Beatles. And when you look at it that way, it's amazing what an influence a bunch of brash young American kids have had on all of rock and roll. Rockabilly's standing as the most primitive form of rock and roll give it an honored place in music history!
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. Visit his Rockabilly Romp blog at, download free rockabilly computer background artwork as Buster's way of welcoming you to the blog, and join the rockabilly discussion.
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