BOOK: A Rocket in My Pocket: The Hipster's Guide to Rockabilly Music

Excerpted from the introduction from Rocket in My Pocket: The Hipster’s Guide to Rockabilly by Max Décharne. Published October 2011. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of Serpent’s Tail Publishing. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Hold It, Fellas, That Don’t Move Me, Let’s Get Real, RealGone for a Change…

Rockabilly came from the Southern states of America. I’m from England, but it always struck a chord with me. In the early seventies I was still at school, growing up near Portsmouth, the dockyard city on the south coast. The place always had a strong Teddy Boy contingent, who could still be seen in those days running the dodgem cars at the funfair down on the seafront – the same one that featured in 1973’s fifties-era film That’ll Be the Day, which, like the same year’s American Graffiti, came with its own very useful double soundtrack LP of 1950s material. Fifties nostalgia was in fashion, usually in a family-friendly, watered-down version such as that being peddled on the TV sitcom Happy Days, which was itself inspired by American Graffiti. Books about James Dean seemed to be appearing at a rate of almost one a month, and many of the glam rock bands on British radio had hijacked a sizeable portion of their acts from the original fifties rockers. The word ‘rockabilly’ was hardly ever mentioned, but if you turned to the back pages of the NME, down among the small ads for hippy clothing, there was always one from a company called Orpheus, based in a concrete brutalist car-park-cum-shopping arcade called the Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth. Orpheus would sell you Teddy Boy drapes, bootlace ties, drainpipe jeans and brothel creepers – all of which, in a time of split-knee loons, 30-inch flares and five-inch stack-heel boots, was something of a revelation.

I knew I liked rock’n’roll, but it wasn’t always that easy finding the original recordings when your main record outlet was the local branch of WH Smith. I’d been a piano player since the age of four, and a drummer since 1972, when I was twelve. A few months after getting my second-hand drumkit, I bought my first LP, a TV-advertised K-Tel compilation called25 Rockin’ & Rollin’ Greats. Sure, they crammed on far too many tracks a side, but it had Wanda Jackson doing ‘Let’s Have A Party’, Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps with ‘Be Bop A Lula’, Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh! Pretty Woman’ and even Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ majestic ‘Shakin’ All Over’. These were all the original cuts, but what I didn’t know at the time was that the versions of Carl Perkins’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ or Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’ were later re-recordings. Still, it had a fair amount of roots rock’n’roll and even some rockabilly on it, and I would practise my drumming by playing along with both sides of the album.

I probably first heard the word ‘rockabilly’ on Mott The Hoople’s single ‘Roll Away the Stone’ in November 1973, when Ian Hunter sang ‘There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night’ during the middle eight, but mostly the phrase rock’n’roll seemed to cover everything. Hunter was clearly a fan, as was Roy Wood, whose new band Wizzard could be seen regularly on Top of the Pops larking about in a selection of drape jackets, performing fifties-influenced songs like ‘See My Baby Jive’ (1973) and name-dropping the likes of Dion in their lyrics. In 1974 they went even farther with an album called Introducing Eddy & the Falcons, on which Wood wrote a selection of new songs, each in the style of a different fifties rocker. One of these (‘I Dun Lotsa Cryin’ Over You’) was a remarkably close facsimile of the Elvis, Scotty & Bill Sun rockabilly sound, although at that stage all the Elvis songs I knew were those on his 40 Greatest double LP which had come out the same year.

An occasional series in the NME at that time, called Junkyard Angels, attempted to hip the readers to rockers from the past, and in June 1974 Roy Carr used the slot to talk at length about Elvis’s Sun sessions under the headline ‘The Original Greasy Trucker’, concluding with a couple of sentences that got right to the point: ‘What I still can’t comprehend is why, after all these years, RCA haven’t collated all the “official” released Sun tracks onto one volume and released it with all relevant details as a collector’s edition. After all, these are perhaps the most important rock records ever made.’

Someone out there seems to have been listening, because the following year, the first official LP collection of Elvis’s Sun material appeared on RCA, with excellent sleeve notes by none other than Roy Carr. There may not yet have been much of a xafs for such a thing back in the US, but over in Britain it was much appreciated and long overdue. The rockin’ scene had grown to such an extent in the UK that on 10 April 1976, the NME put Teddy Boys on the cover of the paper, accompanying a lengthy article inside by Tony Stewart profiling the rise of British bands like Crazy Cavan & the Rhythm Rockers, or the Flying Saucers, together with details of prime rock’n’roll pubs such as the Adam & Eve in Hackney, the Castle in the Old Kent Road and the rock’n’roll nights at the Lyceum Ballroom. The word ‘rockabilly’ was also bandied about, and there was a classic description of legendary ‘King of the Teds’ Sunglasses Ron Staples:

“Sunglasses Ron is one of the movement’s characters, almost a legend in his own time. Ron’s a menacing beery-faced 32-year-old who always wears shades, a shabby brown drape and white crepes. His bootlace tie is looped through a swastika, and thick brass rings adorn all his fingers, which are usually firmly clutched round a pint of light’n’bitter. Originally from Newport, he’s had his photo in the papers almost as many times as Eddie Cochrane [sic], his Main Man. Living only for authentic rock’n’roll, he’s not particularly impressed with reworkings of his hero’s music. Not even The Who’s version of ‘Summertime Blues’. ‘Well,’ he says. ‘I’ve just had a piss and that went down better.’”




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