I guess you could say that I've been listening to Rockabilly for over 42 years now. It was the music that seems to keep creeping up in my life some how. It could be that in a way punk was a throw back to that ordinal Rock and Roll Rebellion of the late 1950s. Also coming of age in the 1980s didn't help. It was a period in time that America seemed to long for an imagined returned to the 1950s. It seemed that from the release of American Graffiti in 1973 on everyone suddenly had a much different belief of what life was really like in the 50s and Happy Days didn't help.
The thing that seems to have been lost to time is just how radical this music was and how it represented a change in American culture. Now I could go on and on about where it came from but that isn't the point, It was the music of the poor, It was R&B, Blues, Hillbilly, Folk and Country. Simple pure with rhythms that got your soul jumping and a smile to spread across your face regardless what trouble may have found you. Funny how major music movements always come from the low class and the oppressed isn't it. The subject matter ran the gauntlet from down right sexual references to loosely and veiled comments on the lives of the forgotten people of the United States. Oh and the unbridled passion of youth.
At the time when most of this music came out it was called, "Black Music". When Jimmy Rodger, who is considered by many as the father of modern country, often surprised promoters and fans when he showed up and they discovered that he was white. In fact country didn't receive wide acceptance until it was re-labeled Country or Hillbilly music, This was in the 1920s and though Jazz is considered the great American art form now, in the mainstream it was still considered to be music that called out to only the most base desires and wouldn't really be accepted into the mainstream until the late 1930s. Even then it was then only those with pale completion seemed to gain success often with a watered down version of Jazz. Which raises the question what frightened mainstream music more, the influence and acceptance of African Americans or the music itself.
As far back as 1910s and ragtime was influencing mainstream music, often more as a word than a sound. Blues along with Ragtime and then Jazz came out from the most out of sight, out of mind section of American society, the whore house. It like most dark places the musicians were allowed a place where to evolve and develop without the pressures of success. It's voice was the voice of the outcasts of society and the subject matter expressed that. It seems like no matter how much R&B was oppressed it seemed to leek in to mainstream America and influence all music forms of the future from Jazz to Country.
I always found it interesting that when Chuck Berry was asked how and where he developed his style, he said he learned to play guitar trying to copy country western players and his gigs with St John's Trio at the Cosmopolitan Club in St Louis. In the time of segregation he would play 2 to 3 sets a night, the first would be to an all white audience, then all black and then maybe later a mixed crowd. So he would play country standards to the white crowd, rhythm and blues to the black crowd and then a mixture of the two to the mixed crowd. Over time he began to blend rhythm and blues into some country standards and country into his R&B sets. Over time the mixture was completed and bought him his first billboard hit with Ida Red.
Berry wasn't alone in the blending of styles, like Country Swing bands had been blending Country into Swing, Jump bands like Big Joe Turner had been mixing R&B and Big Band Swing. The result began a slow progression into a style that blended Blues, Country, Swing, and jazz into a clearly new style. This mixture had been a subgenera of R&B, Jazz and Country had been active for as far back as 20s but never seemed to find itself in the mainstream until the 1950s with a number of watered down releases by white pop artist.
This was dangerous music when it was released for a lot of reasons and it is thread deep into the American fabric. The biggest fear then and now is the idea of those ethnic groups that build the majority in the good old U.S. of A would begin to start to unite. See all the racism and the real motivation behind segregation has always been about enforcing the power of the establishment. Cause if this silent Majority ever united their power base would crumble. So it wasn't really the moral question but the idea of kids of all colors getting together. The fact that a majority of the artist that would bring this music to the mainstream were from the South only added fuel to the fire. It was like an overture to the years of unrest to come and the massive changes in American culture that would come.
60 years later the music still have that effect of pulling you in and bringing a smile to your face. This is good time music, sexual music that tickles something in your soul. My son once, when we were listening to the Blasters said, "Da , this is that smiling music." I've never heard a better description of Rockabilly, it's Smiling Music.
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