Rockabilly: The Word


Howdy Country Cats,

On that Johnny Burnette's anniversary date I want to tell you about his early work with Dorsey and how they changed my world. Those wilds Memphis guys bring to my ears Rockabilly and deseve better credit than they ever got for them "Coral" work. The story goes like that:

It seems than one of the earliest use of the word "Rock Billy" in song was in a Johnny and Dorsey Burnette recording from July 4, 1956. Those wild cats from Memphis cut that song in Nashville for "Coral", a New-York label, with the support of Grady Martin on guitar. However that song was issued on Coral LP 57080 "Johnny Burnette and the Rock'n'Roll Trio" only on December 1956. On the back cover is a mention about Carl Perkins and the following words: "The Tennessee Boys sing a unique brand of R'n'R, a style dubbed by some disc jockey as "Rock-a-Billy". That great wild boppin' song was issued on single (Coral 9-61918) in December 1957. In October 1956, them great cover of Joe Turner's "Honey Hush" (Coral 61749) will be reviewed as "exuberant rhythm-blues revival in the rockabilly grove". In January 57, them fabulous "Lonesome Train" is still classified as "Rockabilly style blues". In late 57/early 58, a rare French EP by the band issued on Coral ECV 18.078 will carry on the front cover the mention "Rock a Billy To Night". At the same time a single was also issued in France offering "Lonesome Train" with the mention "rock-a-billy" printed on the label. That song was issued in England in February 1957 on "Vogue-Coral". It was not them first single issued in England 'cause "Tear It Up"/"You're Undecided" was issued in the summer 1956.

I don't know if those Burnette' wild guys gave birth to that word or if they bring back it from way up North when they played the Ted Mack's TV talent show in April and May 56 in NYC. They got them record deal there and may have heard some up nosed Northern folk said them Rock'n'Roll was blended with some Hillbilly music. And, for those sophisticated northern business men that what they were Тал "Hillbillies" doin' some wild rock. They worked for Alan Freed some and that guy, or themselves, should have used that term referring them rural style. That what remembered Paul Burlison, guitarist with Johnny Burnette's Rock'n'Roll Trio, saying the first time he heard anybody using the word Rockabilly was when Alan Freed kept saying "all you rockabilly guys". Late 56, Alan Freed used that term referring Bill Flagg musical work for on Tetra records (A New-York label). Bill Flagg first record on that label, issued in Sept 56, offer a very good Rockabilly song titled "Go Cat Go" and carries the Rockbilly mention on the label. The record was reviewed in Billboard in October 56, as by Bill Flagg and his Rockabillies, and is classified like "a Rhythm Ditty'. We had to wait his next release on the label (Tetra 4448), early 57, to see in print on the label "Bill Flagg and his Rockabillies". That second record offer a great Rockabilly recording titled "Guitar Rock". For Alan Freed, who was connected with Monte Bruce who owned "Tetra" records, the words Rock and Roll meant mostly for R'n'B and colored performer in his early days. Of course, he spined and welcomed performers like Bill Haley, Gene Vincent or The Burnette but he may have been in search of another word for those Hillbilly Cats who put just a drop of R'n'B in them rock and delivered it straight without horns or, even sometime, drums.

In July 1956, living in Nashville, Jimmy Lee Fautheree and Wayne Walker came in Jimmy's kitchen with another song titled "Sweet Love on My Mind". That song finds his way on Webb Pierce's hands via Cedarwood music and was recorded first by Johnny and Dorsey Burnette on them July 5, 1956 session in Nashville. Classic Rockabilly song recorded just one day after the milestone "Rock Billy Boogie". Jimmy and Lynn Fautheree (as Johnny) will have them own version recorded July 25, 1956 at the same place, Bradley's Barn, at the end of a Webb Pierce session. Them record will be issued on Decca 30061 ... and is also a Rockabilly classic recording reviewed then in Billboard (October 56) as "a classy backwood job in the blues groove". In December 1956, Country and Western Jamboree magazine will review "Sweet Love on My Mind" as "Rockabilly Ditty". The Rock'n'Roll Trio own recording was never issued on single and only find his way on them "Coral" LP, late1956. Both recordings are great and show the slight difference you could have between hot Hillbilly Bop and wild Rockabilly. If we don't have any video of the Burnette's doin' that song, you can see Jimmy and Johnny (in fact Lynn, his brother) live performance in a 1956 Opry's footage. Here the two brothers made a fabulous job and you can enjoy Lynn's moves borrowed to Elvis and Jimmy Lee's picking. Both wore cool white suits with red ties and bring in that country show the wildness of youth. But they still carries some Hillbilly shades!

The Burnette Brother were pure and wild... ROCKABILLY! Real pionners of that great sound who changed my life.

Camille Daddy.


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