101 Reasons to Fall in Love With Rockabilly's Roots

By Buzz McClain
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 2, 2006

If all you know about rockabilly is the Stray Cats, fire up Track 16 of Disc 4 of Rhino's four-CD "Rockin' Bones: 1950s Punk & Rockabilly" and get caught up in the treacherous undertow of Billy Lee Riley and His Little Green Men's "Flying Saucer Rock-and-Roll."

It's funny and fast, punctuated with frantic screeches and tremolo-laden twang from a smartly plucked electric guitar, a 2-minute-2-second shot of melody and attitude that was the exact opposite of what was on radio and television in 1957.

Damn kids. Ruined everything for Tab Hunter, Guy Mitchell and Perry Como, who were at the top of the charts. But in 1957 Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" confirmed the youth movement was a success, and jukeboxes, hairstyles and parent-teen relationships were never the same.

The Rhino collection -- 101 guitar-driven songs recorded from 1954 to 1969 -- brings together incendiary, sex-obsessed numbers that, much to the chagrin of "Why, I never!" parents, documented with unbridled urgency the lifestyles of the first generation of teen rebels. The fogies called them "punks." The collection's producers, James Austin and Cheryl Pawelski, have made sure no one would mistake this box for another set of "Golden Oldies."

Elvis is here, of course, represented by "Baby, Let's Play House" and "One Night of Sin." Jerry Lee Lewis ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On"), Carl Perkins ("Put Your Cat Clothes On" and the inevitable "Blue Suede Shoes") and Johnny Cash ("Get Rhythm") are others you might also already have in a box in the basement, but the joy of the Rhino discs are the obscurities.

The Benny Cliff Trio's "Shake Um Up Rock" has a lyric that bounces on the beat; Bobby Lee Trammell's "Shirley Lee" features the great James Burton on guitar; and Lorrie and Larry Collins's blistering "Mercy" is country punk's precursor.

More obscure but no less rousing are selections from Jimmy Wages ("Miss Pearl"), Ric Cartey ("Oooh-Eeee"), Edwin Bruce ("Rock Boppin' Baby"), Maylon Humphries, Ray Harris, Eddie Bond, Don Willis -- the sheer number of frantic artists and playing is daunting.

Men dominate, but women punks aren't forgotten, with cuts by Bob and Lucille ("Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Moe"), Wanda Jackson ("Fujiyama Mama") and John & Jackie's "Little Girl," complete with what may be the first orgasm-imitating vocal.

The only African American represented is Big Al Dowling and the Poe Cats ripping through the Fats Domino-ish "Down on the Farm."

The titular tune that kicks off the set, Ronnie Dawson's "Rockin' Bones" (1959), is a tantalizing early-career taste of an artist whose body of work deserves resurrecting, and it's nice to see him get the first at-bat.

Besides "Rock It" by Thumper Jones (aka George Jones), one of the coolest finds is "Rhythm and Booze," a yearning, backbeat-driven tale of romantic woe sung by Corky Jones, who even promises he'll give up his blue suede shoes if the girl will just come back. It's a theme he would revisit in other, far better known songs, performed under his real name: Buck Owens.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Lou Lou" by Darrell Rhodes, "Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Moe" by Bob and Lucille, "Shirley Lee" by Bobby Lee Trammell.

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