Backbeats and Elvis Presley
I initially got into rockabilly when I heard Elvis Presley for the first time. I was about 5 or 6 years old and immediately loved the rawness and passion in it. I also thought it had great rhythm, in what musicians generally term the “backbeat” (For all of the non-musicians reading this, the backbeat is an emphasis on beats 2 and 4, and is the aspect of rockabilly that gives it a unique sound. Click on the link for a demonstration). The genre’s name of “rock and roll” comes from artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard who took this backbeat and combined it with a swing-roll style in the drums. One of my favorite aspects of the rockabilly style happens when you put the beat together and get both the coolness of the rhythm and the passion behind the music.
Telling a story
I also really love the story that rockabilly songs tell. Every artist has a story, from the way they were brought up, to the time period they lived in. Their experiences and stories make the style what it is. I love the authenticity and the real passion that’s in it, along with how cool, straight, and simple it is. Rockabilly isn’t necessarily hard to play or write since it comes straight from personal experience; the hardest part is getting the right passion into it. It has to give off a feeling that makes you want to move to make it true rockabilly.
Rockabilly then and now
When rockabilly first came out they named it for the primarily white, country hillbillies who got ahold of what was referred to, back in the day, as “colored” music. This “colored” music was the blues. When artists like Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly started playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard’s style of music, they called it rockabilly because it was a new movement of rock and roll. Nowadays, the genre has shifted its focus from the stylistic difference between races to an interest in the rhythm of the rockabilly sound.
"Blue Suede Shoes" simplicity
Since the invention of rockabilly, the artists chose very topical themes to write about in their songs, providing a possible reason for the way this style has faded out of popularity. These older artists wrote songs about “blue suede shoes” and “fishnet stockings”-simple songs that proved appropriate for the time period in which they were played. I’ve found that a lot of current rockabilly artists try to write with that same mindset, by picking a retro object to focus on in their lyrical material. This songwriting process creates very authentic rockabilly, but lacks relevance.
Rockabilly in the modern era
With my music I try to reach people my age, particularly millennials, by writing about topics they can relate to, rather than keeping with the retro topics used by artists in early days of rockabilly. So while I write songs with the same boogie-woogie piano beat that Jerry Lee and Little Richard made famous, I write about more modern ideas and objects. For example, there’s a song on my new EP called “Text Message.” Obviously they didn’t text back in the 50s, but nowadays texting is common. So essentially, I’m writing rockabilly songs with the same style, but with more applicability to modern times, making it hip and relatable again. I’m bringing rockabilly into the modern era.