RECIPE FOR ROCKABILLY
Written by Brenda Rees. Photographed by Margaret Malandruccolo
The upright bass-slapping, foot-stomping, chopped rhythms dance party that became known as rockabilly has been luring generations onto the dance floor since the 1950s – and that bash is still rocking in the 21st century.
An amalgamation of sounds drawn from American music, rockabilly combines seemingly divergent musical styles into one rambunctious, infectious, finger-snapping sound that today continues its sassy and cool stroll in clubs, festivals and backyard get-togethers.
When musicians – mainly in the southeastern United States – began mashing rock n roll with country music (hillbilly as it was called back then), trade paper writers struggled to define this new style. “Western and bop,” “cat music” and “country rock and roll” were some early references to the music that also was inspired by blues, gospel, boogie woogie, Western swing and bluegrass. Talk about a melting pot.
Finally, the descriptive “rockabilly” captured the soul of this new authentic musical voice that ignored traditional conventions, pushed social norms and gave audiences a new crop of singers and musicians to idolize and imitate their fashion sense. Recording artists from Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis were some of the original trailblazers – Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and even Wanda Jackson showed how women stepped up to the mike. Austin’s Continental Club was a mecca for rockabilly in 1955 where under the bright neon lights, vintage cars and hot rods would line the streets. Today, it’s still a rockabilly scene.
Unlike the cool sophistication of popular crooners, rockabilly vocals were originally raw and untamed, often peppered with yelps, gulps, hiccups, stutters as well as exclamations to ‘Bop,” “Git it” or “Go, Cat, Go!”
Rockabilly hit its crescendo in the late 1950s and then started to fade in popularity; but musicians – including the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, George Jones and more – kept experimenting with the sound, incorporating rockabilly licks and rhythms into newer forms of rock and roll and country music.
In the 1980s, new wave rockabilly – with America’s Stray Cats and England’s Matchbox and the Polecats leading the way – revitalized the genre adding a punk rock-style attitude. From then until today, a subculture of fans across the world continues to embrace this quintessential American sound and look, bopping to the music in clubs and festivals in London, Tokyo, Melbourne and anywhere the colored lights reflect off the chrome of a vintage car and it’s always Saturday night.
Rockabilly: Easily Imitable, Always Original
No matter the size, shape or age, all women can strut their stuff when it comes to rockabilly fashion. Maybe that universalism is why this figure-flattering, form-fitting, colorful design continues to find followers on and off the dance floor. The style looks good on all body types, it’s fun to wear and it appeals to both ultra-feminine and punkish hard-core.
The essence of rockabilly style evokes history, youthful optimism and the lure of the Saturday night jukebox. The design doesn’t condescend or oversell – and there’s always a wink and smile (and maybe a tattoo or two) lurking underneath the sweetheart necklines, halter tops and crinoline swing skirts.
Likewise, men can find authenticity and audacity with rockabilly fashion. They can opt for the casual: jeans with rolled cuffs, a striped shirt, black boots and a chain wallet; or the stylish: a drippy pompadour, blue suede shoes and a spangled tailored suit ala Jerry Lee Lewis. The many moods of rockabilly style reflect the music itself: unpretentious, uplifting and classically American.
Fashion Styling: Katie Clifford www.katiecliffordstylist.com
Hair and Make-Up: Bethany Colson using MAC Cosmetics www.bethanycolson.com
Models: Coco, Hollywood Model Management and Weston Boucher, Brand Model & Talent
Guitars: Gretsch White Falcon / Black Falcon www.gretschguitars.com