By Barry M. Klein
Copyright 2000 Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Four days of great pool weather; four nights with sixteen musical acts; daytime diversions ranging from swimming and jamming at the pool, bopping from the pool into the vendor area and buying vintage clothing, collectables, CD's, videos, or getting your hair cut by Clint the Barber; watching great movies and videos containing classic rockabilly and western music, and listening to music played by DJs in the vending area or "bringing your own" to the boom box at the pool provided by yours truly; the first Annual Road Rocket Rumble Hot Rod and Custom Car Show; and a friendly, very hospitable staff at the somewhat vintage Ramada Inn South. If you didn't have the time of your life, it's your own dang fault!!
I arrived at the Ramada early Wednesday afternoon, and immediately ran into a few other rockabilly people who had arrived early. By late afternoon, many were already relaxing at poolside, chatting, swimming and playing music, awaiting the first night's show at the Copa Lounge in the Ramada Inn.
Being the 8th Annual Rockabilly Rebel Weekend hosted by David Loehr of the James Dean Gallery in Fairmont, Indiana, it was the first to take place at the Ramada Inn, and despite a couple of problems, which I am sure will be corrected next year, there were many advantages of having everything take place at the Ramada. It was a little bit "Club Med of Rockabilly", for there seemed to be something going on almost 24-hours a day, and yet no one needed to leave the hotel area. Unlike Viva Las Vegas, the largest attended rockabilly festival in the U.S., the hep cats at Rockabilly Rebel Weekend did not complain about not being able to see all the acts or participate in all of the scheduled activities.
David Loehr did his usual excellent job of lining up musical acts that represented different geographies, musical styles, sexes and sounds. The Casey Sisters and Li'l Mo and The Monicats represented the female performers. Johnny Dilks and BR5-49 represented the country sounds. Vernon Taylor and Jack Earls were Sun Studio alumni representing the early day veterans of rockabilly. The Big Barn Combo, King Kerosene, Dragstrip 77, and The Rustbelt Boys are some of the now-established, younger straight-up rockabilly groups on the scene today, and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys and The Starlight Drifters laid down some great rockabilly sounds with twinges of swing and country. For the young folks, 7 Shot Screamers and Cave Catt Sammy were two groups whose members could not legally drink, and they each made an impression with their contrasting performances. Detroit's Twistin' Tarantulas, who closed Wednesday's show, play everything from straight-up classic rockabilly to very hard-edged rock and roll such as the self-titled song from their second CD titled "Welcome to Our Underworld". More about the music in a little bit.
David Loehr, Lenny, and the staff of the James Dean Gallery were assisted by emcee Kim Mottet from Chicago, and my buddy, internationally known and Michigan based DJ Del Villarreal, who not only did the DJ'ing every night, but also put together the excellent band notes in the souvenir program. Del also, despite an eye injury on Saturday necessitating an eye patch, did a wonderful job spinning the tunes so the show could close successfully. The quite often-thankless job of handling the sound system for all 16 musical acts was handled by Stuart Sanders, more famous as the bass player for Atlanta's Blacktop Rockets. I'm in the commercial real estate business, and if I sell a location to Kmart and they don't do well, they blame it on bad real estate. If Kmart does well, it's attributable to great merchandising. I sort of felt the same way about Stu Sanders' job: if people like the band it was because they were a great band, but if people didn't like the band, they could always blame the sound man. I thought Stuart Sanders worked very hard and did quite well in a challenging new environment.
A local Indianapolis entertainment magazine called "NUVO" did a full-page article on the Rockabilly Weekend. It was a good, comprehensive article and they described the Copa Lounge as being "located at the slightly shabby Ramada Inn South". Although it may have been somewhat weathered, as a guy who has slept at more inns than George Washington, I can say how wonderful, friendly and helpful every employee of the Ramada Inn was! The front desk, the housekeepers, the waitresses and the bartenders at The Copa Lounge and the pool, were all simply terrific! When I called the front desk to find out where I could get some shaving cream, which was the only thing I forgot to pack, they brought me up a complimentary small can to last me for the weekend. Some people had their own beer in a cooler at the pool (and even I brought a bottle of wine for a barbecue on Saturday night), and if anyone needed a plastic glass or a corkscrew, the employees cheerfully provided it, even though the hotel hosted their own bar.
Speaking of great people, one of the best things about the weekend was meeting all the nice people from all over the U.S. including Detroit, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Pennsylvania; Maryland; Lexington, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee and, of course, Indiana.
Okay, I know you want to hear about the most important thing, the music. But I do think I should say something about the venue. All and all, I like the idea of having the music right in the hotel, and The Copa Lounge is a good venue for rockabilly shows. The only negative feedback I heard from attendees, and I am sure it will be addressed next year, was the lack of adequate dance floor room and an air-conditioning system that simply could not keep the place cool enough for the amount of people in the room. Also, it was somewhat challenging to view the bands performing. If those three issues can be addressed next year, I'm sure all of us will forget that there ever was a Fountain Square Theater.
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC
<1i>On Wednesday night, the Rockabilly Rebel Weekend jumped off to a boppin' start with three strong sets from The Rustbelt Boys, The Starlight Drifters, and The Twistin' Tarantulas.
I had never seen or heard the music of The Rustbelt Boys, but they sure made a strong first impression. Hailing from the beer capitol of the world, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Rustbelt Boys are a trio consisting of Todd Kempowski on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Brian Kirchner on "take off" guitar and occasional snare drum, and J. P. Cyr on upright bass. Even though they often played without drums, they had the rockabilly cats and kittens jumping on the dance floor for every song. I even moseyed on up to the merchandise table near the bar and purchased their CD, "Rockin' and a Boppin". All fifteen songs on the CD contain the band's own music, with all lyrics by lead singer, Todd. The rockabilly music on the CD has an enjoyable, authentic sound. Not only did The Rustbelt Boys provide a strong spark to jump-start the weekend, but on Thursday afternoon at the pool, they initiated a wonderful, "unplugged" jam session which included some rockabilly classics. As time went on, this jam session was joined by Chicago's Carl Schreiber of the DuValls and Kalamazoo, Michigan's Scott Spears, leader of the The Wild Woodys, and later on Chris Casello, the lead guitarist and steel guitar player from The Starlight Drifters, also joined in on the fun. Even Bill Alton, lead singer of The Starlight Drifters, pulled himself out of the pool in time to join the party for a few songs. I look forward hearing more from The Rustbelt Boys. To order their CD, you can contact The Rustbelt Boys via E-mail: Rustbelt@execpc.com or mail them at The Rustbelt Boys, P.O. Box 070117, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53207. Sorry girls, The Rustbelt Boys' lead singer, blond-haired Todd Kempowski, already has a girlfriend, Maria. Better luck next time!
Incidentally, I met a couple from Milwaukee with whom I lounged around at the pool for four days, Jim and Lisa Dutcher. When Jim puts on his hat, he looks a little bit like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers days. I understand that Jim and Lisa sell vintage items and have their own web site: www.tip-top-atomic.com.
After the pleasant surprise of seeing The Rustbelt Boys for the first time, I already knew what to expect from The Starlight Drifters, having seen The Starlight Drifters perform a few times and having listened to both of their CD releases, including the most recent, "Every Note a Pearl". Hailing from the Ann Arbor, Michigan area (the same town that produced Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Bob Seger and Ted Nugent), the Starlight Drifters are very unique in that they are equally proficient at producing great music with straight-up rockabilly, as well as western swing and classic country. Led by their charismatic singer, Bill Alton, and virtuoso lead guitarist, Chris Casello (who is equally proficient on the steel guitar), The Starlight Drifters recently overhauled their rhythm section, which is now comprised of Billy Mack on drums and Dave Roof on bass. They sound better than ever, and I heard nothing but enthusiastic comments from the few folks who had never heard them before. The Starlight Drifters have done some great covers, songs by Jerry Irby, Hank Thompson and Wayne Walker, but they have also written some great original material including "She Just Misses Elvis (Sometimes)", and "Spoiled Rotten Baby". One of the songs they did Wednesday night, "The End of the Road", starts as a ballad and goes into a very upbeat gospel song a la Jack Scott's "Save My Soul". Coincidentally, The Starlight Drifters have also gained much notoriety as being the legendary Jack Scott's favorite back-up group when he performs, and Jack Scott personally wrote the liner notes on The Starlight Drifters' second CD, "Every Note a Pearl".
One bit of news I got in May when I returned to Las Vegas one month after Viva Las Vegas and visited Rockin' Ronny Weiser, is that The Starlight Drifters will record their next CD this year with Rockin' Ronny at his Rollin' Rock Studio. After Ronny's recent releases of such artists as Narvel Felts, Mack Stevens, Dragstrip 77, Rip Carson and The Twilight Trio, and Johnny and the Blades, I am very anxious to see the results of the forthcoming union of Rockin' Ronny Weiser and The Starlight Drifters.
Closing out the show on Wednesday night was Detroit's own Twistin' Tarantulas. The Twistin' Tarantulas are fronted by "Pistol" Pete Midtgard, who in a previous life was the leader of the Frantic Flattops in upstate New York. This very active band, which has had two CD releases, "The Attack of the Twistin' Tarantulas" and "Welcome to Our Underworld", regularly gigs in the Detroit area, in addition to a heavy national touring schedule. I have seen The Twistin' Tarantulas in person several times, including their headlining a 3-act show in Ferndale, Michigan's Magic Bag Theatre on June 4 celebrating "Pistol" Pete's 40th birthday. Although "Pistol" Pete writes most of the songs that appear on their CD's, their live act in Indy included rockabilly classics from Charlie Rich and Eddie Cochran, plus Tex Rubinowitz's "Hot Rod Man". To further round out the variety in their live show, they played a slow blues number called "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues".
All three bands Wednesday night sure got the dancers going. I wound up sitting with two great dancers from Chicago, Harry and Marsha, and these folks were jumpin' and jivin' all the time! Harry and Marsha's animated jiving jitterbug dancing throughout the evening was an inspiration to me, for I feel that we were all refugees from the same era of real rock and roll. Marsha even dragged me out on the dance floor a few times!
ROCKABILLY WEDDINGS at weekenders are starting to be a "thing". We at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame "sponsored" the wedding of Patrick and Monica Cullen on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame stage in Viva Las Vegas. On June 29 at the Indy Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, Dave and Shaelyn Walter (from Hummelstown, PA) were married near the pool, and you can see some of the pictures here. Incidentally, Patrick and Monica drove up from Orlando, Florida to attend this weekender also. Patrick is a DJ in Orlando and works on a portable stage comprising of a 1929 Ford Roadster. Anyone looking for a rockabilly DJ in the Orlando area can call Patrick at (407) 339-1955.
On Thursday, more people started to arrive at the hotel, including rockabilly legends Billy Poore (author of "Rockabilly: A Forty Year Journey") and Bob Timmers (Curator of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame). The film festival started at noon in The Copa Room, the pool started to get quite a crowd, and the vendor area was conveniently located between the pool and the hotel lobby, so there was a lot of foot traffic with people wearing anything from bathing suits to cowboy boots. While people at the pool took turns playing in jams, putting their CD's into my boom box, or just chatting or swimming, the vendor area had Jody Gee and Eric Kinsey DJ'ing, vendors selling their merchandise and Clint the barber cutting greasers hair for $5.00. Also, the parking lot area devoted to the Hot Rod and Custom Car Show was filling up, and folks meandered through the lobby to look at some cool wheels.
Thursday night's music attractions were The Tip Top Daddies from Indianapolis, The Casey Sisters from Austin by way of Kansas City, Dragstrip 77 from New Jersey, and the final act, Johnny Dilks and His Visitacion Valley Boys.
The Casey Sisters, fresh from two appearances at Viva Las Vegas, were backed by Cave Catt Sammy, who had a great breakthrough performance on Saturday night (more about them shortly). I had thought that Rachel and Caroline would cause a big crowd to gather around the stage to dig their memorable harmonies, but the dancers got the best of the floor area and kept the action rocking throughout their set. For Casey Sisters' fans, the ladies are said to be releasing a record or CD on Sweden's Tail Records soon. Speaking of Tail Records, or any other label that releases rockabilly and other types of roots/Americana music, the vendor area was graced by Mr. Hepcat himself, Gabby Castellana, the owner of Hepcat records. Just my personal frustration, but Gabby keeps coming to rockabilly shows and all they let him sell is T-shirts- I wish somebody would make Gabby bring a trunk full of the CD's he sells in the Hepcat catalog to some of the shows!
About two weeks before the Indy Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, I was the first lucky person to be sent a copy of Dragstrip 77's latest release, "Rockabilly Daze" on Rollin' Rock Records (at least that's what Rockin' Ronny told me). A follow up to their debut release "Sin City Hot Rods", Dragstrip 77 is a tight rockabilly trio from Las Vegas, Nevada. You just had to figure that a Las Vegas based rockabilly group could not record for anyone other than Rockin' Ronny Weiser's Rollin' Rock Studio in the wild, wild west town of Las Vegas. Featuring Andy Lopez on vocal and bass, David Van Antwerp on drums and Jorge Harada playing a searing, scintillating guitar, they are a great act to catch in person. Although they do some rockabilly covers, most of Dragstrip 77's material is of their own composition. All in all, Dragstrip 77 gave us a hard working, animated performance with great rockabilly music. If you can't find "Rockabilly Daze" from your favorite record store, you can send $13.98 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling to: Rollin' Rock Records, Attention: Ronny Weiser, 2460 Casey Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89120 or E-mail Ronny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The headlining closing act for Thursday night was Johnny Dilks and His Visitacion Valley Boys. I have been playing Johnny Dilks CD, "Acres of Heartache", for some months now, and when I heard he was performing at Indy, I was very excited. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Johnny Dilks is a country/hillbilly singer who sounds a little bit like Wayne Hancock, although Johnny definitely gets the nod in the yodeling department. Most of his material is self-penned, and the Indy crowd was very appreciative of his talent.
Incidentally, I did observe that the Indianapolis rockabilly audience, similar to the attendees at Viva Las Vegas, seemed to be appreciative of all forms of "roots" type music whether it is rockabilly, hillbilly bop, country, swing, or blues. That being said, Johnny Dilks got them up on the dance floor and the folks kept boppin' ėtil Johnny finished his set. If Johnny Dilks had played at The Broken Spoke in Austin Texas, the hat-wearing two-step crowd would have been up there dancing too! Johnny Dilks is just plain good!
The musicians backing Johnny Dilks on Thursday night included Chance Roulette on guitar, and Loney Charles of The Big Barn Combo on drums. Loney set the record for number of performances at the Indy weekend with four (I hope you got paid on all of them, Loney!). Loney played drums for Johnny Dilks, his own band The Big Barn Combo, the Jack Earls show on Friday night, and he also played for Vernon Taylor on Saturday night. Hats off to Loney!
I have always enjoyed good yodelers, and even though Johnny Dilks said he was having throat problems, he "let it all hang out" and yodeled on the first few songs and sounded great! I have heard stories that Johnny Dilks knows how to "party" in the best tradition of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and others, but he let us do the partying this time by putting on one heck of a show on Thursday night!
Friday night. Well, Wednesday and Thursday nights were loaded with fun, including good shows, great dancin', drinkin', and just a grand ol' time, but on Friday there were five good acts, and the sets started to get even longer and wilder! Starting off on Friday night was a group that I had not heard, 7 Shot Screamers. Literally teenagers from St. Louis, Missouri, 7 Shot Screamers is a quartet that puts on a wild floorshow, and they're not above pushing the limits on what we would call "rockabilly" material. The vocalist, Mike Leahy, sort of reminded me of Nick Roulette of The Blue Moon Boys, prancin', dancin', jumpin', and rollin' on the floor. Resplendent in his black greasy hair with a silver streak, a jacket and skin-tight pants with more chains than a Paul Newman prison flick, and red shoes with 3" soles, it was quite an audio-visual show to start off the night. Included in their song list for their set was Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" (Billy Poore and I both agree that Chuck Berry should be embraced more by rockabilly fans), and unique arrangements of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz". 7 Shot Screamers have released a 7" 45 single with three songs and a new full-length CD, "I Was a Teenage 7 Shot Screamer" should be hitting the stores at any time. The instrumental line up of 7 Shot Screamers includes Chris Powers, Jr. on bass, Kevin O'Connor on drums, and Sarkes Roubainian on guitar. Very unique!
King Kerosene was the next band on Friday night. I had already heard two of King Kerosene's songs on two separate Rockabilly Hall of Fame CD's, "Stay With Me" on Volume 1, and "Find The Words" on Volume 4. Hailing from New Jersey, this trio consists of southpaw Scott Murphy on lead guitar and vocals, and brothers Anthony Saporito on bass and Mike Saporito on drums. The dancers were diggin' King Kerosene's music, and guest vocalist Rocko Ruffin was called on stage to help out with the vocals on Jimmy (Lloyd) Logsdon's "Rocket In My Pocket". King Kerosene's CD, "Just Warmin' Up", is available on their own label, and if you can't find it in your favorite catalog or record stores, feel free to E-mail the group at email@example.com.
For those of you who have read my other articles, and better yet, for those who have heard or seen The Big Barn Combo, you know that Detroit's Big Barn Combo is constantly improving and getting better all the time. Fresh from their 3-performance success at Viva Las Vegas, which coincided to the release of their first full-length CD, "Comin' All The Way From Detroit City", Craig "Bones" Maki and his group are writing new songs, and putting more classic rockabilly covers into their act all the time. Their set at Indy contained great original material including "Red-Eyed Handsome Man", "There's a Lot More Ö" and "Big Barn Boogie", as well as some great covers including Nat Couty and The Braves' "Woodpecker Rock", Sonny Fisher's classic "Sneaky Pete", and "Keep What You Got". Just another fantastic show for Big Barn Combo!!
Original Big Barn Combo members Craig "Bones" Maki on vocals and rhythm guitar and Paul "Smokey Links" Cook on lead guitar share much of the songwriting chores, and about a year and a half ago a new rhythm section was added to the group including Kenny Bruce on bass and Loney Charles on drums. The chemistry and synergy of the current members has resulted in The Big Barn Combo being one of the top bands on the scene today. It is no wonder that David Loehr brought back The Big Barn Combo to Indianapolis for a second year in a row! Even though the Friday night schedule was getting backed up, the crowd just wouldn't let Big Barn Combo off the stage, and by popular demand, they returned for an encore. At the conclusion of their great set, The Big Barn Combo didn't have too much time to rest, for they were backing their friend, idol and Detroit neighbor, Jack Earls, on the next set.
Last October I had an opportunity to see Jack Earls do a mini-set with The Big Barn Combo in Detroit (there is a story about this performance in my article "Hep Cat Happenings") and I already knew that the legendary Sun Record Company recording icon still possessed that BIG BOOMIN' BARITONE that we heard in his classic '50's recordings. One of Jack Earls' most famous recordings "Sign On The Dotted Line", was reverently covered by Big Barn Combo on their CD. Some of Jack's other recordings for Sun Records included "Hey Jim", "Crawdad Hole", "Slow Down", and "Let's Bop". There is one thing I like about today's rockabilly fans: they never miss a chance to appreciate a performer from the 1950's who still takes the stage, and in Jack's case, they were not disappointed (look at the sad state of affairs in today's country music, where people like Merle Haggard and George Jones can't get air play). There was probably more picture taking, and later, autograph seeking, of Jack Earls than any other performer appearing before him. And believe it or not, the crowd wouldn't let Jack, who is about 70 years old, off the stage! Yep, even after about an hour on stage, the crowd insisted on an encore, and Jack got right back up there and did some material by his old Sun stable mates, including Carl Perkins, whom Jack called the "Real King of Rockabilly". (Earlier that day, I was telling someone at the pool that I felt that Carl Perkins, more than Elvis Presley, deserved the title "King of Rockabilly" because although Elvis brought the attention of rockabilly music to the greater public, Bill Haley and others were performing rockabilly before Elvis, and Carl Perkins wrote his own songs and never really left his rockabilly roots, as Elvis did by 1958.) Anyway, Jack did a great Carl Perkins medley during his encore.
After Jack Earls' show, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys were scheduled to come on at 1:00 a.m. Because of the length of the previous sets and unscheduled encores, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys didn't take the stage until just after 2:00 a.m. (Big Sandy had to leave early Saturday morning to do an afternoon show in Chicago, but more about that later). Taking it all in stride, just like another day at the office, Big Sandy took the stage, invited the audience to join him in applauding the previous acts, and proceeded to put on a bang-up show, incorporating a thorough selection of Big Sandy material from previous CD's, as well as some cuts from the new CD, "Night Tide", on the Hightone label. Now for a confession: Despite my interest in seeing a complete set by Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, I had to leave before his set was over and I think it was sometime after 2:30 a.m. Hey, David Loehr, how about bringing Big Sandy back next year and putting him on earlier - I don't think I was the only one who regretted having to crash during his set! (Just to satiate my thirst for a live Big Sandy show, I caught his Ann Arbor show at the Ark on July 13.)
Saturday was a fun day: Another warm, sunny day at the pool, more people than ever in the vendor area, a rockabilly e-mail group from several states walking across the street for lunch at the Steak & Shake, and a late afternoon barbecue at the pool hosted by Del Villarreal and his wife, Shannon. While Del was resting his injured eye, his buddy J ackson did a great job cooking the burgers and hot dogs, while yours truly brought one of his favorite red wines. During the day, I got up from my pool lounge a couple of times, once to visit Bob Timmers and Billy Poore at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table and another time to catch a movie at The Copa Lounge.
Speaking of Billy Poore, it was nice to see Billy back in action after the terrible, tragic fire that destroyed his home in early April. Not only was the entire home destroyed, and several pets that had been rescued and kept by the Poore family probably perished, but priceless rockabilly music artifacts, photos and archives were forever lost, including never released recordings. As difficult and depressing as this tragedy has been for Billy, he wanted me to convey to his friends and fans that, despite this fiasco, the fact that he and Pepper's lives were spared gave Billy a new outlook on life and made him appreciate the fact that he is still alive despite his losing every material possession.
While I was in the vendor area Bob Timmers took me over to Texas Reds Vintage Threads where he introduced me to Amy-O, the owner. Amy is an attractive redheaded lady who lives in Kansas City, but is from Austin, Texas (where my youngest son lives). Just about this time another redheaded lady, my friend Rachel from Detroit, stopped in and Bob Timmers thought that this was a perfect "photo opportunity". Just then, my cell phone in my carrying case rang, and when I answered it, it was my wife, Shirley. I told her, "I have to call you back honey, Bob Timmers and I are with two redheads right now". My wife said, "Okay honey, you call be back whenever you are through with whatever you and Bob are doing". When Shirley saw the developed pictures she said, "I should have known, you are always brutally blunt!"
Late Saturday afternoon before the pool barbecue, I went down to The Copa Lounge to see what was playing, and it was the movie "Go Johnny Go" that featured Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Richie Valens. I have this movie on videotape at home, but I stayed for a few minutes and chatted with Rachel. While wandering through the vendor area, Bob Timmers introduced me to Monica Passin of Li'l Mo & The Monicats. Bob told Mo that she looked just like Gene Vincent's youngest sister (Piper), and when Bob asked Li'l Mo how tall she was, she replied "four foot fourteen". This New York City gal who has just released her second CD was the opening act on Saturday night. After just a few songs into her set, Bob Timmers told me, "This group is really starting to grow on me!" and he proceeded to walk over to the record table and purchase both of Li'l Mo's CD's! Li'l Mo's band consists of Anne Benkovitz on bass, Skip Krevens on guitar and Jeff Somerstein on drums. After her set, I also went over to the table and purchased her new CD. They do have a unique sound, and they play original material in both the country and rockabilly motifs. Monica is an excellent vocalist and on the new CD, I liked her voice better than any female country singer I have heard on the radio lately! Anne Benkovitz, like Mickey Rae of the Cadillac Angels (who performed in Indy last year), is a growing group of female bass players, although Anne played the electric bass with Li'l Mo & The Monicats. I believe we'll hear plenty more from Li'l Mo in the future!
The next act was Cave Catt Sammy, which turned out to be the "breakthrough" group of the entire weekend. DJ Del Villarreal was the first person to hep me on to Cave Catt Sammy and their "Fast Cars and Smokey Bars" CD contains original material with all songs being written by Beau "Sammy" Sample, leader, lead singer and bass player for Cave Catt Sammy. Other members of the band include Dustin "Ol Smokey" Hutchison on acoustic guitar and vocals, Steve Scott on lead guitar and vocals, and Paul Ward on drums and vocals. These San Antonio, Texas based lads, like 7 Shot Screamers, are still below most states' minimum drinking age, so their great songs and excellent musicianship was even more surprising for those of us who were listening to them in person for the first time. Although they did several of the songs from their CD, they also did some great covers including Hank Williams' "Mind Your Own Business", and Rudy Grayzell's "Let's Get Wild".
From the first song of their set, a crowd gathered at the front of the stage to get a better look while the dancers still danced behind the "front row" on the dance floor. Many of the people occupying tables nearby also stood up and came to the edge of the dance floor for a better view. Although many people cited Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys and BR5-49 as their favorite acts of the weekend, many others mentioned Cave Catt Sammy as one of their favorites, and for such a young and relatively new group on the scene, Cave Catt Sammy had to get the "Breakthrough Award" for the weekend. I presume I don't have to mention that they were called back for an encore! Although Vernon Taylor is a name from the 50's who recorded on both the Dot and Sun labels, recent national attention came to him in last year's release of his new CD, "Daddy's Rockin'". That CD, which included a new version of his 1958 Sun Recording of "Your Lovin' Man", includes Vernon's covers of other songs including Sanford Clark's "Lonesome For A Letter", Bobby Darin's "Early In The Morning" (Darin's recording is actually credited to "The Rinky Dinks" - I have the original Atco 45), Johnny Cash's "Big River", Marty Robbins' "Sugaree", and Tompall Glaser's "You're Making a Fool Out of Me".
At the Indy Weekend I was able to purchase Vernon's CD, "There's Only One." which includes his original Sun and Dot recordings, as well as some alternate takes, false starts, etc. Vernon was accompanied by his regular guitarist, Dave Moore, who I am told is a nephew of Scotty Moore. Also playing with Vernon was The Atomics' Thommy Burns playing bass, and Loney Charles from Detroit's Big Barn Combo on drums. A set that included both rockers and ballads was well received by the crowd, still showing their reverence for some of the classic cats from the ė50's era. Vernon's live version of "Sugaree" sounded even better than the one he recorded last year!
THE SAGA OF BIG SANDY, PART I: I saw Big Sandy leaving in his bus about 7:30 Saturday morning for a 4:00 p.m. gig in Chicago. (This is after playing until about 4:00 a.m. in The Copa Lounge.) After the show in Chicago, the long drive there and back, and the holiday weekend traffic, Robert Williams (Big Sandy) returned late Saturday to spend the evening at the Ramada before moving on to his next gig on Sunday, I believe in Columbus.
Well, Vernon Taylor brought Big Sandy back on stage late Saturday night and joined him in a spirited version of "Mean Woman Blues", a classic song performed by everyone from Elvis Presley (in the movie "Loving You" in 1957), to Roy Orbison several years later.
Another little footnote: Vernon Taylor arrived late Saturday afternoon at about the same time another rockabilly legend was "passing through" on his way to a show near Lansing, Michigan, Narvel Felts. Vernon Taylor and his wife, Narvel Felts, Bob Timmers, Billy Poore, Dave Moore and I all grabbed a quick dinner at about 6:00 p.m. before Narvel had to move on. Being able to sit in on that dinner conversation was practically worth the price of admission for the whole weekend! See the picture in this article.
Rodney Pyke, U.K. and European correspondent for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, had always told me that there was not a nicer person in the history of rockabilly than Narvel Felts. After meeting Narvel, I know Rod spoke the truth! When I introduced my friend Rachel from Detroit to Narvel, Rachel wanted to run to her room and get a leather jacket for Narvel to autograph. Several times during dinner, Narvel asked me, "Where's Rachel? I'm supposed to sign that jacket for her." I kept going into the lobby and the vendor area looking for Rachel, but couldn't find her. Just as we were saying goodbye and Narvel was about to leave, he told me "You tell Rachel that she broke my heart!" This story has a happy ending as they did catch up with each other before Narvel had to move on. Just one heckuva man, and a tremendous talent. Getting back to Vernon Taylor, he was "the real thing", and the crowd genuinely enjoyed his set.
The closing musical act for the weekend was BR5-49. Claiming that this was the first rockabilly weekender at which they had ever performed, this boppin' hillbilly/country music band pure and simply knocked the crowd dead! Many of the band's songs are written by its to principal singers, Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett. Songs that they cover include a cornucopia of classic country, including songs by the recently deceased Tommy Collins, Don Gibson, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, Tommy Duncan and Bob Wills, and Charley Daniels. Chuck Mead sings Charley Daniels' (Ballad of the) "Uneasy Rider" even faster than Daniels' original version, and he spews out the words so fast it reminds me of Hank Snow singing "I've Been Everywhere". As Bob Timmers said, "One little mistake and it would ruin the whole song", but Chuck didn't slip once! For the rockabilly crowd, BR5-49 performed my favorite rockabilly ballad, Carl Perkins' "Sure To Fall", which was a fantastic harmonizing duet with Carl and his brother Jay. Chuck and Gary's version was so true to the original recording it brought a tear to my eye. These guys went on for about two hours, way past my bedtime, and on my informal poll of who was everyone's favorite, BR5-49 and Big Sandy and The Fly-Rite Boys were in a virtual tie for first place. A footnote to this performance: Five days after their Indy performance, I was lucky enough to get four front-row seats at Michigan's Pine Knob outdoor amphitheater for BR5-49 opening for Dwight Yoakum. Some Michigan rockabilly friends, Marcel and Sylvie, and their friend Robin also attended, and BR5-49 gave a 15-song, 45-minute set that was spectacular. Even the fans that might have come primarily for Dwight Yoakum got excited about BR5-49.
Earlier in the week before the Indy appearance, BR5-49's five year recording contract with Arista expired, and the boys are now free to pursue another label. I am sure I speak on behalf of everyone at the Indy Rockabilly Rebel Weekend and numerous fans all over the world when I say that no matter where they go to record, this group should surely stay together!
We at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame are currently attempting to arrange an interview with BR5-49 - Stay Tuned!
THE SAGA OF BIG SANDY, PART II: After joining Vernon Taylor on stage late Saturday night/Sunday morning, Big Sandy had to get up early and get on his bus for his next gig. Well, on early Sunday morning (unfortunately, I'm an early riser no matter what), I was crawling down the hall after breakfast when I ran into DJ Del and Kirk. As we all walked towards the lobby, who stumbles out of his room saying, "I was supposed to get up before this"? Yep, Big Sandy had to jump on his bus immediately and head for his next show in Columbus the same day! And you thought being a celebrated musician was all fun and games!! There were so many other nice people I met for the first time at Indy, including Susan, an art teacher from Minneapolis, Ellen from Chicago, who works for the professional soccer team, Wes and Kat from Ann Arbor, and probably scores more I forgot to mention - remind me next year!
Again, I must congratulate David Loehr for the bold, innovative step of having the Weekender at the Ramada, and his professionalism dealing with the inevitable "surprises" of a first-time venue. The depth and variety of talent was outstanding, and where else can you see and hear so many good bands up-close and have fun all day and night for 4 days! And I might even have pulled ahead of George Hamilton in the tanning contest!
See y'all soon!!
These 2 pages have lots of Great photos, mostly of The Road Rockets Rumble car show: Click here and here.
Diane and Dan have lots of photos at their site.
Jim & Lisa's great site has 9 pages of RRW#8 photos.
Mark your calendars for Rockabilly Rebel Weekend #9 June 27-30, 2001
Editor's Note: Barry Klein writes for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and his book, "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll", was published in 1997. To contact Barry, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org