As someone who was a teenager during the years that rockabilly was rising in popularity, it’s kind of funny that I don’t remember hearing the term at that time. I recall that we often called country music ‘hillbilly’, and I certainly remember everyone talking about rock and roll, but to actually give the name ‘rockabilly’ to a combination of the two (with a few other things mixed in) was something that probably came later.
But even if I don’t remember the term being used at that time, I definitely remember a lot of the performers who would now be classified as rockabilly stars, and I have even written about a few. Some of them, like Eddie Cochran and Johnny Burnette, began in rockabilly but moved on to other things, while others would remain with the music a bit longer. Included among the latter was a Texan named Sid Erwin, who changed his name to Sid King — because it rhymed with the name of the group he led, the Five Strings.
Sid King and the Five Strings began in the early 1950s as a country music band called the Western Melody Makers. In addition to Sid and his brother Billy Joe, other original band members included Melvin Robinson, Ken Massey, and David White. The group initially found a measure of success in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area by playing a mix of honky-tonk and Western swing on regional radio, and even making a few records.
The band’s name change coincided with its move to the big time — signaled by a recording contract with Columbia Records — as did the music, which morphed into what would eventually be known as rockabilly. The fast-paced, pulse-pounding sound proved very popular with fans, and the group was one of the hottest around for several years, selling a ton of records. They also successfully toured nationally, and even appeared on stage alongside guys like Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton.
Even after the inevitable end to the booming early days, Sid and Billy would reappear from time to time in the decades after, playing their favorite music — often in Europe, where rockabilly stayed popular much longer. Eventually they returned to Texas, where you just might see them still performing once in a while.
(See video below.) Sid King and the Five Strings – “Good Rockin’ Baby”
4 thoughts on “Fuzzy Memories Of Rockabilly”
I have absolutely no memories, fuzzy or otherwise of the term “rockabilly” myself. I also have often wondered who it was that has ordained a certain type of early “rock and roll” as “rockabilly”. Being a Southerner and hearing that the term originated from the music coming out of the South in the fifties is the figment of someone’s imagination. My best friend at the time became a DJ at one of the local rock and roll stations during the late fifties, early sixties and never once did we ever hear that term.
Since Southerners were often referred to as hillbillies, especially in those days, I can only assume that any rock and roll released to the public by a Southerner (hillbilly) could only be called rockabilly under the “rockabilly guidelines”. I’m certainly not a prude when it comes to political correctness but I find the term, to a small degree, offensive. It’s almost like stereotyping the music originating from a particular area of the country.
In those days there was a huge chasm between rock music and hillbilly or country western and to somehow musically link the two is totally above, or below, my understanding. Well….there’s my two-cents worth on the subject. 😕
Great comments, Alan. And I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks the term rockabilly came along a lot later. I never considered it offensive though, and my family originally came from the Kentucky hills — and definitely considered themselves hillbillies. 🙂
The first time I heard the word rockabilly was in 1957 when Guy Mitchell came out with a song of that name (which really had nothing to do with rockabilly). It seems that the music was named retrospectively as far as I can tell.
You’re right, Peter. Although wikipedia spells it differently: “Rock-a-Billy” is a popular song by Woody Harris and Eddie V. Deane, published in 1957. The song was popularized by Guy Mitchell in 1957.