A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On:
A Guide to Rockabilly; Past and Present

For the uninitiated, the idea of discussing Rockabilly as an independent genre might seem unnecessary. Isn’t the word just a descriptor for early rock and roll, the remarkable if somewhat overplayed work of Rock’s founding fathers, the stuff that gave birth to all that came after? Isn’t it just “oldies”? In one sense, yes, those classic songs we all know, put out by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, are indeed Rockabilly, and formed the trunk of the rock and roll tree. But oldies? Ah, think again, Grasshopper. Though the sound that was early Rockabilly certainly did morph into all we’ve come to know as Rock, the core sound has remained alive and vital since its inception. Dare I say it? When it comes to Rockabilly, there remains a whole lotta shakin’ going on.

But what is it? What makes something a Rockabilly song? While there is no single definition that is likely to please all, Rockabilly at its essence is a blend of Country and Blues. If Rockabilly is the trunk of the rock and roll tree, it owes its growth to the healthy roots of the earliest American sounds, which until the 1950s could arguably be broken into two categories: white music (incorporating the varied elements of County), and black music (including all aspects of Rhythm and Blues). During the era of segregation, access to music was segregated as well, and the lines between Country and Blues were more distinct. As the U.S. moved into the World War II and post World War II era, several factors combined that came to influence the development of rock and roll: rationing and war recruitment made it difficult to maintain the large touring bands of the Swing era, massive population shifts meant more interaction between different racial groups, post-war affluence and stabilized family structure allowed American teen culture to develop, and the invention of FM radio meant teenagers had access to music they had never heard before. The resulting blend of white and black sounds and culture are responsible for what we know now as the Rockabilly sound.

The first wave of music resulting from those historical forces is what most people know as Rockabilly, and one cannot seriously examine that generation without discussing Sun Records. Sun, the brainchild of Sam Phillips, was a Memphis recording studio founded in the early 1950s. Phillips is famous … Read more›