“When I hear a rock riff, I hear something that’s very tied to the drums. There’s a funky aspect to the way it works. But a great rockabilly riff operates on so many levels. I hear blues, country, and jazz. I hear big bands and horn melodies. There’s a lot of colors going on. I guess that’s why I’ve found rockabilly so appealing. It’s a limitless art form.” – Brian Setzer.
During the 3 1/2 or so years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve had several occasions to refer to rockabilly. Wikipedia: “Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre, it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues,
Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.” There are a lot of fathers (not to mention mothers) of rockabilly not the least of whom were Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Rockabilly evolved into the somewhat harder, edgier (and less country-oriented) rock and roll, especially with the advent of Chuck Berry. (Whose first hit was actually the country-sounding “Maybellene.”)
Rockabilly never went away but as rock evolved with the British Invasion – George Harrison loved Carl Perkins – it showed up more and more in the rear-view mirror. But artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sha Na Na, Queen, The Blasters, and Robert Gordon kept the flame burning.
But I think it’s a safe argument that no band was more successful at reviving rockabilly than the Stray Cats who came outta nowhere in 1981 with their eponymous debut album. I’m not sure how that album managed to break out of the punk/New Wave/MTV gravity but it did. Maybe because people still love rock and roll and this was good rock and roll.
This album came out exactly during the time when I was in a band with my friend Bill who was (and is) a big rockabilly fan, a great fan of Elvis in particular and a fine singer. So we used to do “Rock This Town,” and the sublime “Stray Cat Strut” all the time.
The Cats did a few albums, went their separate ways and guitarist Brian Setzer – for my money the best rockabilly guitarist ever – changed course and started playing big band swing. But he always kept his hand in on rockabilly.
And when he started writing some new songs, he called up his old drummer Slim Jim Phantom who reminded him that it was their 40th anniversary. Hence, 40.
I’ve been giving this album a few spins over the past couple of days. While I don’t hear anything as memorable as “Town” or “Stray Cat,” there’s some pretty good tunes on it. (I’ve gotten somewhat used to the idea that there are few great albums these days, just albums that have a handful of good songs. Doesn’t matter to me as I’m just as happy to add them to a playlist. I don’t know about you but I”m not sitting around waiting for the next Tommy, Aja or Dark Side.)
Now kids, get in the Chevy, grease up your hair, roll a pack of cigarettes in your t-shirt and let’s go back to 1958 to listen to “Three Time’s a Charm:”
When I first heard “Desperado,” I thought, well, if old Sergio Leone was still with us this one could grace his next spaghetti Western. And damned if I didn’t find this quote from Setzer in Guitar Player magazine:
“I was just messing around with an old Fender Reverb Unit, and I just loved the twangy sound of it. I began writing these songs that were like spaghetti westerns — which is really surf-guitar music when you get down to it.”
If this tune doesn’t wind up getting used in a Tarantino movie I’ll eat my hat:
In this tune, “When Nothing’s Going Right,” the boys advise that
“When nothing’s going right, go left:”
You get the idea. Have you heard the news? There’s good rockin’ tonight with other songs like “Devil Train,” and the theme song of fellow blogger CB, “I Attract Trouble.”
If you feel like going out with your best gal Peggy Sue, grab your dancing shoes. The Stray Cats are touring behind this album. Yowsah!