Dating back to the 1950s, rockabilly is a combination of classic rock and roll, country, and rhythm and blues. The music boasts strong vocals, fast tempos, a certain amount of twang, and the band is usually comprised of a vocalist, someone on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and an upright bass. A tape echo was also often used to create an echo affect.
Originating from the southern region of the United States, rockabilly was named for its association with hillbillies playing rock and roll. Key players in the music trend include Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Recent releases from the likes of Reverend Horton Heat, Los Straitjackets, and the Hillbilly Moon Explosion still carry on the tradition of rockabilly today.
While rockabilly came to life through the blending of various music genres, its popularity began to rise with Elvis Presley’s release of “That’s All Right.” According to guitarist Scotty Moore, Elvis, Bill Black, Sam Phillips and himself were recording at the legendary Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The group was taking a break when Elvis began to play “That’s All Right, Mama,” originally released by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946. The group excitedly worked together adding their own twists to the music. The song was later released with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” setting the standard for the rockabilly genre.
While rockabilly is generally associated with the south, some northern artists did join the party. Bill Haley and the Comets released “Rock Around the Clock” with Decca Records in NYC, selling 75,000 copies and later featured on Blackboard Jungle. By 1956 the genre was a national affair with an explosion of music from the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins. Cash released “Folsom Prison Blues” and Perkins released “Blue Suede Shows” through Sun Records, and Presley released “Heartbreak Hotel” through RCA.
Rockabilly died down for a little while, but experienced a revival in the 1970s with the introduction of the film American Graffiti and the popular TV show Happy Days. The revival took a particularly strong hold in the UK where it influenced the likes of the Beatles and Dave Edmunds of the Rockpiles. Today rockabilly elements can be heard in indie, pop. Blues rock, and country music. The White Stripes were heavily influenced by the 1950s style sound.
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