Rockabilly is a stiff cocktail of blues, honky tonk, country, r&b, swing, and boogie woogie mixed together with a healthy helping of bad attitude and car grease. Post WWII America gave birth to the music and culture of rockabilly which was quickly embraced by rebellious youths and demonized by pastors and parents for the genre’s inherent sexuality and perceived social deviance. The culture may have been born in the 50’s but has maintained lasting longevity and you can still find it’s adherents fixing up ancient hotrods, smoking in bathrooms, sporting tattoos of flaming poker cards, drinking in dive bars, gambling in party casinos, and applying buckets of hair gel to gravity-defying pompadours.
The infusion of blues and country music can be traced to the early 1920’s to the recordings of artists like Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Willis. The close relationship between these two styles makes sense, both deal with issues like alcoholism, depression, poverty, and abusive relationships and are primarily rural centric.
Rockabilly, as we know it, rose out of Tennessee’s highly competitive music scene in the 1950’s. During these shows bands played a mix of covers of blues and country standards as well as original songs all of which were frequently sang with a hillbilly swag. The audience’s of these shows didn’t care what style of music was playing as long as it was something they could dance to. Artists like Johnny Cash, Charlie Perkins, and Elvis Presley thrived in this environment and brought this style of music to the mainstream. By 1956 songs like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Rock Around The Clock” were getting radio play all over the nation.
Rockabilly’s popularity has risen and waned over the decades, most notably experiencing a revival in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s by bands like The Stray Cats, but it has always had arm hold over the American imagination.
Maybe it’s longevity is due to it’s iconic fashion, featuring cuffed blue jeans, work books, a plain white T-shirt or western pear button shirt paired up with a biker jacket for the guys and polka dot dress or capri’s and tank top paired up with a betty paige hair style for the ladies. Rockabilly enthusiasts of both sexes are often adorned with tattoos of skulls, flaming dice, poker cards and pin-up models. Their modes of transportation, souped-up hot rods and Harley Davidson motorcycles, are equally iconic.