New Music for Old People: My Key '50s Rock/Rockabilly Stepping Stones

Perhaps you haven't heard all of these before...

By , Columnist

Buddy Holly

This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.

I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!

Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.

We apologize to our readers/listeners who are trying to enjoy the playlists via mobile devices like iPhones/iPads and are finding that they can't; these are, unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control. At present, Grooveshark is not compatible with those operating systems, and in order to stream the playlist, you will need to use a PC or Mac.

Mar282014 by Willow on Grooveshark

1. "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" — Hank Williams (2:37)

Man, did I go berserk when I first discovered yodeling on record. I actually collected yodelers for awhile — but Hank was the first to cross my eardrums. Now, while the Grand Ole Opry did not allow drums (keeping Elvis outta there), Hank’s acoustic playing covered that hole magnificently as one can hear here. What a great band he had.

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2. "The Fool" — Sanford Clark (2:36)

This was a unique record. I never really heard anything like it before. With a guitar figure that is the white equivalent of the lick on Willy Dixon’s composition “Spoonful,” and nary a drum kit (albeit a sidestick snare, all with the Sam Phillips-invented slapback echo treatment), this strange-sounding little ditty made top ten in its time. Alas, Sanford reached no higher heights.

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3. "Singin' the Blues" — Guy Mitchell (1:45)

This was an American #1 single that reached a few other shores as well. Written by Melvin Endsley, this was a top forty “clean” attempt to jump on the Elvis bandwagon. It worked. It was just so damned commercial from the first to the last groove. I believe it was calculatedly cut in New York as opposed to Gnashville or Memphis at the time (1956). Guy had one or two more singles and then ended up in supper club hell around the USA with bigger shows overseas. He was, however, a clean-cut kid.

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"I think we got the shot — now could someone PLEASE help me out of this giant picnic basket?"

4. "Midnight Special" — Paul Evans (2:02)

Most famous for his teeny-bop single “Seven Little Girls (Sittin’ In the Backseat)” from 1959, this is a REALLY strange follow-up from January of 1960. Strange because it was an attempt to emulate true blues singing and guitar playing. (And how could it miss? It was on a label called Guaranteed out of New York.) I once had an email chat with Paul as I always wanted to know who played the great guitar intro. I was really surprised to find out that it was Everett Barksdale, one of the top NYC session men at the time. I had never heard Everett play the way he plays in this intro. It still sounds like perfect guitar playing to me in 2014, over 50 years later — not flashy playing, but pretty tasteful, appropriate licks.

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5. "You Ain't Treatin' Me Right" — Mac Curtis (2:13)

Wesley Erwin Curtis, Jr. was born in 1939 in Fort Worth, Texas. He began playing guitar at the age of 12 (like the guy who’s writing THIS) and in 1955 he and his combo got signed to King Records based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Damned if he didn’t have a couple of hits in 1956, this one and a great follow-up called “Don’t You Love Me.” I heard it on the Alan Freed radio show back then and went right out and bought those two singles in a row. But that was pretty much it for Mac and King Records. Later on in life he had a second career out of LA, by fans that started a rockabilly record company and he started playing out again. He died last year from complications from a car crash. Prior to his death he was voted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. I love the A and B sides of those two singles I still have. I believe this was his most famous track, however. I recorded a version of it in the ‘80s with both Richard Thompson AND James Burton on guitars. It will surely be on a box set I am working on of all unreleased tracks from my whole career. It’ll be out when it gets done.

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This is a perfect shot of Mac's textbook flat-top haircut... but with the head of a small black crow trying to crawl out of Mac's forehead…

6. "La-Do-Dada" — Dale Hawkins (2:19)

This track begins the Hawkins Trilogy — by artists of that name from this time period. The first is Dale Hawkins, born in Gold Mine (!), Louisiana in 1936. By the time he was 20, he had a record deal with famed Chess Records in Chicago and his first album contains lead guitar by either James Burton or Roy Buchanan, both rockabilly guitar royalty. He is best known for recording and composing "Susie Q," later made world famous by Creedence Clearwater. This track is from Dale’s only album on Chess which featured "Susie Q." This is a well-recorded gem of a bounce tune with great playing by the back-up band. I’m guessing it’s James Burton, albeit early James Burton as he was approximately 16 years old when "Susie Q" was recorded. I have always loved this as much as that big hit single and I have the original Chess album from 1958, worth now approximately $2K. Dale died of cancer in 2010.

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7. "Forty Days" — Ronnie Hawkins (2:16)

The second Hawkins is Ronnie, who became most famous for having put together his backup band, The Hawks, one edition of which contained most of the members of the later-to-be-famous Band. Ronnie was a rare rockabilly great as he built his fame in Canada despite being born in Arkansas. It is alleged that Ronnie and the above-mentioned Dale were cousins. That makes quite a rockabilly family! This is a cover of Chuck Berry’s early hit “Thirty Days.” I think he changed it because in the lyric it says “I’m gonna give you thirty days to get back home” and Ronnie probably thought she’d need ten more days to make it through the expansive Canadian northwest. This was the original quartet called The Hawks and the only Band member was Levon Helm at this time. I remember seeing them live on the local Alan Freed TV show on Channel 5 in New York and recording it on my Webcor tape recorder as they were actually playing live and quite well. It’s always been a favorite, and in the '90s Ronnie and I got to share a bill together at The Bottom Line club in NYC. I was thrilled!

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A very early Levon Helm to the left of a very early Ronnie Hawkins

8. "I Put a Spell On You" — Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (2:26)

What can you say about our final Hawkins, who played no rockabilly and was most assuredly not a white man? One of the most incredible singers in R&B history, his love of opera music pops out every now and then, in the strangest contexts. Born Jalacy Hawkins on July 18, 1929 in Cleveland, Ohio, his instinctive youthful piano-playing got him work in jazz bands at an early age. He played with Tiny Grimes for quite a few years. This track, which he composed as well, was his most famous and has been covered by dozens of artists, including Nina Simone. His stage act included wearing really bizarre outfits and being wheeled onstage in a coffin. He was permanently wheeled away in a coffin on February 12, 2000 in Neuilly-sur-Sein, France at the age of 79. Hawkins had been married six times and allegedly fathered 57 children. He was assuredly one of a kind and will always be remembered for his unique singing and songwriting, and world-class fertility.

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9. "Sittin' In the Balcony" — Johnny Dee (1:57)

This is actually the song’s author, John D Loudermilk, performing under a minimized name. The big hit was by Eddie Cochran but this version was first and I grabbed it off the rack in 1957 on the not-well-known Colonial label. John D Loudermilk wrote an amazing number of hits. I’ll just list a bunch of them: "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," "Abilene," "Indian Reservation," "Break My Mind," "Tobacco Road," "Ebony Eyes," "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," "Norman," "Paper Tiger," "Talk Back Tremblin’ Lips," "This Little Bird." Okay, that’s enough of that. Perfect guitar solo on this track by still-unknown Joe Tanner, always a big favorite of mine for its sound and tasty notes. With all due respect, it’s the highlight of the track.

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"A publicity photo? You're CRAZY! It'll look like I have one arm plus there's a hornet on my shirt! The Buick looks good, though…"

10. "True Love Ways" — Buddy Holly (3:01)

This was recorded on October 20, 1958, just a few months before the tragic plane crash of February 3, 1959. It was one of his last recording sessions and showed the start of his future and how fast he was advancing as a writer and singer. Produced and arranged by Coral A&R man Dick Jacobs and featuring NYC star saxist Sam "The Man" Taylor, it is the most adult track he recorded in his short lifetime. It also was recorded multi-track which was pretty far ahead for 1958 and therefore remixed comparatively recently in stereo. It's still kinda sad because we’ll never know just how really deep he would’ve gone (jazz, classical) had he lived. This is an exquisite track, perfectly recorded, and a wonderful way to close this wacky column.

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