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Oldies Music Encyclopedia: "Rockabilly"


Oldies Music Encyclopedia:

The original 45 of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes"

Definition: One of the major forces behind the creation of rock and roll -- along with urban R&B, jump blues, and the vocal group phenomenon -- Rockabilly was the rural white artist's response to blues music, a style which developed naturally as "race," or blues records, began to sell across the South. An even bigger factor in the development of the style was the modern radio station, which had begun to switch to more music in order to keep pace with television: as a result, blues, R&B and gospel began to be heard often in rural white (i.e., "hillbilly") areas it seldom reached. The result was a mixture of postwar "rural" styles, namely Western Swing and Country Boogie, with recent developments in black music. It remains the most primitive white rock and roll of its time.

Elvis Presley brought fame to the style (although he had, from the beginning, worked in a number of genres), but Sun Records in Memphis had already been recording rockabilly records by the time he showed up to perfect the fusion in 1954. The typical rockabilly song featured a swinging beat heavily influenced by African-American postwar styles, but with country instrumentation, a simpler, cheaper, pared-down version of Western Swing's big-band orchestration featuring a slap bass, electric guitars, acoustic rhythm, and only occasionally drums or piano. The vocals, typically, split the difference between the two.

Although the style fell off the national charts as rock became more mainstream, it never really died, morphing itself into any number of self-explanatory genres each bearing the surname "-billy" ("punkabilly," "gothabilly," and the more alternative-leaning "psychobilly"). As a clothing style and a look, however, rockabilly has also survived, serving much the same function to America that the "teddy boy" movement has for the UK.

  1. Carl Perkins, "Blue Suede Shoes" (purchase/download)
  2. Elvis Presley, "Baby, Let's Play House" (purchase/download)
  3. Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'N' Roll Trio, "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" (purchase/download)
  4. Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, "Race With The Devil" (purchase/download)
  5. Eddie Cochran, "Twenty Flight Rock" (purchase/download)
  6. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Breathless" (purchase/download)
  7. Billy Riley, "Red Hot" (purchase/download)
  8. Sonny Burgess, "Red Headed Woman" (purchase/download)
  9. Charlie Feathers, "One Hand Loose" (compare prices)
  10. Warren Smith, "Ubangi Stomp" (purchase/download)

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