To sweepingly refer to all of Rock ‘n’ Roll as Rockabilly is not only lazy but also incorrect, although Rockabilly is a part of the music known as Rock ‘n’ Roll. Writer Paul Culshaw explains.

Rockabilly was almost always performed by white folks, it was the white country music side to Rock ‘n’ Roll, there was black Rockabilly – such as some recordings by Big Al Downing – but it’s rare, the black side of Rock ‘n’ Roll was called Race Music or Rhythm ‘n’ Blues or R&B.

Rockabilly was a mid-Fifties term, it was and is straight Country music given a shot of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, to quote Rockabilly star Carl Perkins. Rockabilly music wasn’t developed by one particualr artist, it was part of a progression from the Western Swing of the Forties onto Country Boogie which began just after the Second World War and into the mid-Fifties with Rockabilly. Country Boogie, which is also known as Hillbilly Boogie was nothing but an earlier form of Rockabilly.

A Rockabilly combo normally consisted of just three musicians, a stand up bass, a lead guitarist and the singer who would strum rhythm on his guitar. There was no drummer in a three piece Rockabilly band but the rhythm-bound sound made by only three musicians was loud as hell!

The dawg house bass player slapped madly along with the singer on rhythm guitar, forming a crazy rhythm. The electric guitar could play in a country music picking way or a loud and  distorted way and the singer had no rules at all: the vocal style of Rockabilly was slurred and mumbled and a hiccupping style of singing was evident in this vital and alive sound.

The hiccupping singing style was used to perfection by Charlie Feathers (pictured above) and can be heard so clearly in the recordings he left behind such as  Bottle To The Baby and One Hand Loose. Charlie Feathers is highly respected on the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene, and he performed in Britain a few times after the Fifties ended.

There were exceptions to a three piece combo, one of which was Sonny Burgess (pictured above). Sonny included a piano and a trumpet in his band called the Pacers. Sonny Burgess and the Pacers also show the wildness of Rockabilly with recordings that include Red Headed Woman and We Wanna Boogie! Sonny Burgess has been over to Britain many times since the Fifties and is still performing the Rockabilly Bop today.

The first Rockabilly I ever heard was the wildest and sweatiest Rockabilly of all, The Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio! The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio (pictured above) were only together a short time, in the mid-Fifties, but their recordings contain natural screams, hollers and yells that totally add life to spectacular recordings such as Rockabilly Boogie, Lonesome Train and Honey Hush.

Today the word Rockabilly is often misunderstood, it appears to refer to a style of clothes, or in fact any Fifties clothes, but Rockabilly has always been and will always be a brilliant and vital style of music, which shaped the history of  Rock ’n’ Roll and future music for years to come!