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.)