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The roots of rockabilly - up-tempo fifties country music,
This review is from: From Boppin Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly (Audio CD)
Covering the period from 1950 to 1955 (though the tracks are not in chronological order), this boxed set captures the period when some country singers experimented by adding a strong rhythmic beat to their music, perhaps with a view to attracting a wider public. The end result was a form of music that evolved into rockabilly. As other reviewers point out, there isn't much actual rockabilly music here, though the same label later released another box titled Classic rockabilly. I haven't heard the contents of that box, but the track listing suggests that if you're looking for actual rockabilly music, that's the one to go for. So this particular box focuses on boppin' hillbilly music, much of which has long since faded into obscurity. I wasn't familiar with this music prior to acquiring this box, but I'm very pleased with it.
The writer of the extensive liner notes is in no doubt that the first rockabilly single ever recorded was Elvis Presley's 1954 single that featured Mystery train on one side, with Blue moon of Kentucky on the other side. Despite the significance he attributes to that single, both sides are omitted from this compilation, although Elvis re-recorded Mystery train in 1955 and that version is included here.
At the time, country singers tended to call this music by another name - cat music. This may explain the sprinkling of cat-related song titles here, including Wild cat boogie (Forest Rye), Cat music (Tommy Scott), Hepcat baby (Eddy Arnold, showing a different side to his music from the country ballads he is famous for), Here kitty kitty (Jimmy Murphy), Cattin' around (Charlie Adams) and Purr kitty purr, which we`ll come back to later. However, dog lovers aren't ignored because you'll also find Hound dog (Billy Starr) and Don't fix up the doghouse (George McCormick).
Many of the artists featured here have long since faded into obscurity, but there are several who achieved lasting fame to varying degrees. Elvis Presley is represented by a total of seven tracks including the aforementioned 1955 version of Mystery train. Also here are Marty Robbins (4 tracks), Carl Perkins (3 tracks), Little Jimmy Dickens (2 tracks), Carl Smith (2 tracks) and one track each by Johnny Cash and Faron Young. However, they aren't always represented by their most obvious tracks from the period covered. In any case, the real interest in this collection is in all the tracks by obscure artists that you might not hear anywhere else.
Of the artists not already mentioned, Rudy Grayzell is represented by four tracks. Two of them (It ain't my baby and I ain't gonna rock it, Ocean paradise) were released as two sides of a single. Both sides featured Jim Reeves (guitar) and Floyd Cramer (piano) among the musicians. Rudy then switched labels and recorded as Rudy Gray. Two of those tracks (Hearts made of stone, Please big Mama) are included here. Sonny Fisher is also represented by four tracks (Rocking Daddy, Hold me baby, Hey Mama, Rockin'n'rollin') Though not obvious from the credits, Sid and Billy Erwin are represented by five tracks, the first (Who put the turtle in Myrtle's girdle) billed as the Western Melody Makers, the next three (Drink' wine spoli oli, I like it, Put something in the pot baby) as members of the Five Strings and the last of their tracks here (Purr kitty purr) as Sid King and the Five Strings. All these artists were hugely talented, but I'd not come across any of them prior to buying this box.
Although this collection is male-dominated as you'd expect, a few female singers are featured. The most famous among them is Rose Maddox, who opens the collection with a solo recording (Kiss me like crazy) and is later featured with her brothers (I gotta go get my baby). Charlene Arthur also features on two tracks (Looking at the moon wishing on a star, I heard about you), the first-mentioned being a cover of a Rudy Grayzell song. With the right management and material, she might have become a big star but she didn't get to record in the style that she wanted and faded into obscurity. There is one track each featuring the Miller sisters (There`s no right way to do me wrong) and Alvadean Coker (We`re gonna bop), who closes the collection. Goldie Hill duets with Justin Tubb on one track (Sure fire kisses). The Burleson sisters provided clearly-heard backing vocals for Reece Shipley and his rainbow valley boys (Hillbilly jive with a boogie beat).
Picking out highlights from a collection such as this is never easy. Despite the obscurity of most of the material, it has clearly been carefully selected and it's all worth hearing. Although it is relentlessly up-tempo by definition, there is enough variety within the basic sound to keep it interesting. And, of course, you can always choose to break it up by playing other music in between playing the various CD's within the box, if you wish. This is a great compilation that provides a permanent reminder of a particular period in musical history that is often ignored. Actual rockabilly music is far easier to find, but if you're interested in the roots of rockabilly, this is just what you're looking for.