DEFINITION OF ROCKABILLY


The word "rockabilly", which first appeared in a Billboard review for Ruckus Tyler's "Rock Town Rock" in the summer of 1956, derives from the combination of "rock & roll" and "hillbilly". Before 1956 it was referred to as a variation on either "country/hillbilly" or "blues", for example "hillbilly bop", "country rhythm & blues" and so on. Charlie Feathers described "rockabilly" as "blues with a bluegrass beat". Carl Perkins defined it as a hopped-up version of blues. It is interesting, however, that the term "rockabilly" was rarely used back in the 1950s. Sam Phillips, the man behind the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, and performers like Johnny Carroll and Malcolm Yelvington, by far preferred the word "rock & roll", popularized by deejay-promoter Alan Freed.

Rockabilly is basically a particular category of rock & roll with both country & western and rhythm & blues influences. The song structure generally features a standard 12-bar blues progression, supported by a strong and steady switchblade beat. A lot of rockabilly songs include stop-time rhythm patterns, for example in "Blue Suede Shoes" ("Well it's one for the money-STOP-two for the show-STOP").

As many rockabilly bands consist only of guitar, bass and drums, they often have the overall sound enhanced by using echo on the guitar and the vocals. The electric guitar solos are either vibrant, frantic and seemingly spontaneous or rather subdued and laidback, especially when played in fingerpicking style.

The double bass, also known as bull fiddle, stand-up bass or doghouse bass, is often played in "slapping" style. This percussive right-hand technique, which also occurs in bluegrass and western swing, is obtained by letting the strings rattle against the instrument's fingerboard.

Numerous rockabilly singers, like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, learned to sing in church, where the preachers' uncommonly expressive and dramatic vocal acrobatics made a deep impression. The obviously emotional singing style, including hiccups, cries, howls, moans and exhilarating interjections ("let's go cats!", "let's rock!" …), adds an extra exciting flavor to the rockabilly idiom.

Rockabilly is mainly, but not exclusively, a white style. The best-known examples of rockabilly songs performed by black artists are "Down On The Farm" by Big Al Downing and "Hip Shakin' Baby" by Roy Brown.

The generally simplistic lyrics deal with freedom and fun (especially pretty girls, sharp clothes, razzles & rumbles and fast cars), which clearly reflects a passionate interest and involvement in the rebellious youth culture of the 1950s.

 

 


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