The REAL Birth of RockABilly, 1950

by Ed Rollman - - Posted January 8, 2003
           Winter, 1950. Bremerton, Wa. a naval shipyard town of 50,000 on America's west coast near Seattle. It's about 9 o'clock p.m. and RockABilly is about to be born.
           This is the real story you've never heard before but its all true, all verifiable and surprisingly good. On the far outskirts of town at the exterme west end of Bremerton surrounded by prisitine forest and gently rolling green hills sits a concete block tavern then called the "Peedle Wheezer" Tavern.
           It's a busy friday night and the smoke filled joint with the hard concrete floors is jam-packed with over 300 sailors, shipyard workers,loggers, city folks and just plain ole country folks too-all hungry for entertainment in a nation and a region that has known all too much grief and suffering from having fought in the Second World War and now the Korean War. They want good music (read that COUNTRY music) and they want to let their hair down. On tonight's bill is "Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys" (Leon Kelly on lead guitar, Phil Fregon on fiddle,and Jack Hayes on stand-up bass). The band has been together for almost 4 years and has been experimenting with a new swing-country/rolling boogie woogie sound which Kitsap County residents have responded to entusiastically. The bands been doing their thing for an hour and its been a good night for all. Time to take a break and maybe grab a quick beer. Arkie Shibley, a gregarious Oklahoma transplant with a car bearing his bands name-and a trunk full of moonshine-takes a barstool nearest the bartender and surveys the scene. He's approached by an older man whos been watching him all night. Been watching him just to see if he can trust him. He's decided he can and he approaches Arkie and tells him, "My sons written a song that I was hoping you could sing tonight". Well Arkies always looking for good material and he asks to see the song. Written by 17 year-old Ronald Wilson its a song about a car race and hot rod cars called,"Hot Rod Race". The words aren't totally perfect so Arkie works up some new words and in a few minutes he's over with his band and, after a bit of going over the lyrics and practicing their version they announce to the crowd they're going to play a new song that night. And as soon as they lit into the "Hot Rod Race" song Leon Kelly starts incorporating his rolling boogie woogie guitar riffs into the rhythm. The crowd started clapping and cheering wildly then broke into dancing to the new sound.
           They wouldn't let the band stop and they had to play the song over and over again.' On the spot the taverns owner bought the song rights for $50 (bad mistake on everyone's part there) but offered to pay the bands expenses to Calif. to record the song. They did (at 4 Star Records) and the rest became history - a top ten country hit for Arkie and his band, immortality for the shy and reserved Leon Kelly - AND a song that got credited to the songwriters father, George Wilson, rather than the 17 yr.-old boy who wrote the song:Ronald Wilson.
           Today the Peedle Wheezer Tavern which was the first juke joint to usher in RockABilly still stands, long neglected and forgotten, a giant of a landmark that should be revered today by us all but has been forgotten by history. Until now. "RockABilly ON" Founding Fathers Arkie Shibley and Leon Kelly!
Ed Rollman, a fan. Bremerton, Wa.

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