Canada's Rockabilly King: Jack Scott

April 23, 2006, courtesy Jim Slotek, Sun Media, Calgary

           They had friends in common -- Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell to name three. But Windsor-born Jack Scott and his idol Elvis Presley were fated never to meet.
           Still, Scott got word that Elvis was a fan.
           "The closest we got, I was on tour with Glen Campbell, back in his days with The Champs (1959)," says Scott, the 70-year-old rockabilly great who lives these days in Sterling Heights, Mich. "We were hanging out in California in his house, playing 45s. And Glen said, 'You want to go to a party?' And he picked up the phone and called Elvis, who had a house in L.A."
           Off they went, "and Glen said, 'Let's make a stop at this place called The Palomino.' "
           Campbell and Scott got caught up at the famed L.A. honkytonk (featured in the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose), took the stage and "we got playing set after set of country music and never did make Elvis' party."
           Scott's one consolation came in a show in 1960 with ex-Elvis bassist Bill Black. "I said, 'Tell me about Elvis.' And he said, 'Well, Jack, Elvis knows about you!' "
           Black proceeded to tell Scott about stopping with Elvis at a roadhouse in Coney Island while on tour. "And he told me," Scott recalled, "that Elvis went up to the jukebox and played my song Goodbye Baby. He said he loved that song.
           "I couldn't wait to get home and call my mother and tell her Elvis played my song on the jukebox."
           In fact, in one feverish period in the late '50s, Jack Scott was actually more prolific than Elvis, releasing 19 singles with four top-10s -- more chart hits than two of his contemporaries, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, combined.
           To those of my generation, who came of age in the '70s, Jack Scott was a punk touchstone, the guy whose cool, strutting tune The Way I Walk was covered by Robert Gordon and by The Cramps, and was included (Gordon's version) on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers in the '90s.
           Scott also gave the world one giant country hit (What In The World's Come Over You).
           "I was just going at it like crazy because I wanted to fill an album. I didn't realize at the time that any of it was unique," he says of his output. "I'd get inspired by certain things and just get writing."
           His debut single in 1958 was the million-selling My True Love/Leroy -- one of the first 45s to squeeze a chart hit out of both A-side and B-side. (Leroy, he says, was inspired by one of his brother's "greaser" friends who spent time in juvenile detention after starting a street brawl in Guelph).
           Scott spent his early years in Windsor before the family moved across the river to the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park.
           "My father got an old, used guitar for me, and I was very fond of Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, Hank Williams. But when Elvis came on the scene, he changed the world. And I loved that rock 'n' roll. That's what it was to me. I never heard the word rockabilly until I did a tour in England. But I didn't care what they called me ... as long as they called me," he says with a laugh.
           He was still a native son on the other side of the Detroit River, however. "There was this TV show Dance Party, an American Bandstand kind of thing on CKLW Windsor. And I was on it every six weeks or so, doing My True Love and The Way I Walk and Goodbye Baby. I was the hometown boy."
           His time in the spotlight was not so much a career as a front-row seat for rock history.
           When the scandal peaked over Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra, Jerry Lee and Scott were rooming together on tour in Australia. "He got a lot of bad publicity when he married that young girl. He'd say, 'Jack, these people are on me about something that's my business.' And I said, 'You're right, Jerry,' but he was really devastated about that whole thing."
           Like Elvis, Jack Scott was drafted in the U.S. armed forces, spending a peacetime stint stationed at Fort Knox, Ken. (Also stationed there: Fellow rockabilly star Buddy Knox.) Scott came back to record What In The World and another chart hit, Burning Bridges. But rockabilly was out of style, and he never had another hit after 1960.
           These days, he tours when he feels the urge. A few years back, Scott showed up in Toronto on stage at Healey's, with Jeff Healey backing him up on The Way I Walk.
           "My wife and a friend and I were at the bar, and Jeff came over and said, 'Jack, would you do me the honour?' And I said, 'I'd be honoured if you played guitar for me.' He did a real nice job, I was so impressed.

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