A Brief Introduction to Rockabilly Music
Rockabilly is all about the music and it has its own unique culture. This article will explore Rockabilly music, from its beginnings at Sun Records to today. Subsequent articles will explore other aspects of the Rockabilly culture including pinups, burlesque, vintage clothing, and classic cars.
I first learned about Rockabilly when I started looking for swing dance opportunities. At Viva las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender, I discovered 1950s pinup Bettie Page. I fell in love with her and her sexy spirit and wrote my novel Bettie Page: Aphrodite Rising.
Origin of Rockabilly Music
Sun Records is considered the birthplace of the Rockabilly sound. It was founded in 1952, in Memphis, Tennessee, by Sam Phillips. He picked the name Sun Records, for its optimism: a new day and a new beginning.
Sun Records was known for respecting artists and encouraging creativity and vision. It recorded a variety of local artists including gospel, blues, hillbilly, country, boogie and western swing. Sun Records recorded many African American artists because Phillips loved Rhythm and Blues and wanted to bring the sound to a white audience. One of his first artists was African American Blues artist Howlin’ Wolf, who later went on to fame with Chess Records.
Elvis attracted more talent to Sun Records such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. These four artists became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Additional artists joined the label including Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, Harold Jenkins (a.k.a. Conway Twitty) and others. This is how Sun Records describes Rockabilly sound:
Other bands considered to be Rockabilly classics include Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Johnny Burnette, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard.
I interviewed Sandra Melles, from the Rockabilly band Sandy and the Wild Wombats for this article. The featured image is of that band. Sandy and the Wild Wombats, pre-COVID, toured throughout Europe, primarily in Scandinavia. The band performed at Viva la Vegas 2017, and also played at Ronnie Weiser’s last pre-party. The band was founded in 2015. Their first video, “Wild One,” went viral with 6 million views on Facebook.
After the 1950s, the Teddy Boy movement in the U.K. kept Rockabilly alive in Europe. This was a subculture of British youth that listened to rock and roll music, as well as jump blues, R&B, jazz and skiffle.
Rockabilly became popular all over Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1980s, Rockabilly became big in the U.S. Neo rockabilly and Psychobilly became popular, with bands like Dave Phillips and the Hot Rod Gang, Blue Cats, and Restless.
The Stray Cats with Brian Setzer had huge success and brought Rockabilly to the masses in the U.S. Here are two great interviews about the beginning of the Stray Cats.
Modern Rockabilly bands that are popular in the U.S. include Brian Setzer, The Delta Bombers and Reverend Horton Heat. In Sweden, John Lindberg is popular.
Weekenders, like Viva la Vegas, are a fun way to experience Rockabilly culture. RockbillyRules.com has a list of events. In Europe, Sandy recommends Rockin’ Race Jamboree in Torremolinos, Spain; Rockabilly Rave, United Kingdom, and High Rockabilly, Spain.
Through my research, I’ve met some wonderful pinups, burlesque dancers and Rockabilly aficionados. Tom Ingram, organizer of Viva las Vegas, even reviewed my book. This inclusive, friendly Rockabilly culture is worth exploring.
Please reach out to me on the contact page of my website KimberlyUs.com if you are willing to be interviewed for upcoming articles about pinups, burlesque, vintage clothing, and classic cars.
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