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Born in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1946, Billy Hancock was a fan of rhythm and blues and hillbilly
music by age five. At thirteen, when his professional career began, he breathed rockabilly's roots
through all pores, but the music had already been shuffled out the pop industry's back door. The 60s
and 70s would find Hancock working an endless stream of bar bands. Along the way, he backed the
likes of Gene Vincent, The Clovers, Amos Milburn, Dale Hawkins, Charlie Feathers and Big Joe Turner.
The October 1975 release of the album "American Music" on Aladdin label by Danny & The Fat Boys was
an important milestone in Danny Gatton's career, but also in Billy's career. Most people know that
it was Danny Gatton's band but have no idea that Billy Hancock was the singer and bass player, he
also wrote the song "American Music". Billy and his brother Dale had bought the legendary Aladdin
record label from Leon Mesner in 1974. This short lived label had three LP releases and a handful of
great sought after 45s. The Fat Boys trio made a television appearance on channel 20's "Barry
Richard's Rock and Soul Show" and shared the bill with The Clovers. Danny & The Fat Boys officially
disbanded in 1977.
In 1978, Hancock got a letter from Ripsaw Records asking if he wanted to make a rockabilly record.
As Billy puts it, "Everybody had called me a rockabilly for years, so I thought, hell, I'll make a
rockabilly record. I had heard some of that new rockabilly and knew I could make it realer". When
they began, it was reasonable to expect little from this southern rocker. But true to his boast,
Billy Hancock & The Tennessee Rockets have produced the most real and classic rockabilly of the late
seventies. Just as the wayward hillbillies who wandered through Sun Studios in the 1950s caught a
spark, Hancock stripped away a career of twenty-dollar nights to find a fire down below. The
sessions were loose and hot, guided by Billy's sure feel for rockabilly's nervous and excitable
grammar. He effortlessly transformed blues and country tunes to hillbilly rockers, thus turning
rockabilly's primordial trick one more time. He caught the rockabilly fever and there's still no
The Tennessee Rockets nailed some of the best examples of pure authentic rockabilly music to be
recorded in the USA at that time. D.C. had a real rockabilly scene in the late 70s; Tex Rubinowitz,
Billy Hancock, Danny Gatton, Robert Gordon, Bobby Newscaster, Eddie Angel, Ratso Silman, Johnny
Castle, Evan Johns, etc. This, you must remember, was at the time of prog rock and disco. The
Tennessee Rockets built up a loyal following and made four solid rockabilly singles for Ripsaw, all
of which were included on the "Shakin' That Rockabilly Fever" album on the Solid Smoke label relaesed
in September 1981.
And now we're writing 20 years later. Ripsaw leased the original Billy Hancock recordings to the
Finnish Bluelight Records label and they released a brand new CD with the same title and front cover
as the original Solid Smoke LP. All 14 rare and hot rockin' tracks are now available to a new
public, and to the old greasers of course. This Cd contains three additonal tracks, "You Pass Me
By", originally released , but it appeared on the 1995 Run Wild RW-005 CD "It's A Rockin'
Christmas". There is also an alternate take of "I'm Satisfied". As you might know, Billy's "I'm
Satisfied" and "Knock-Kneed Nellie" were also covered by rockabilly legend Eddie Bond on his LP
"Rocking Daddy From Memphis Tennessee" (Rockhouse LP8206,1982).
From the Rockville International website:
New BILLY HANCOCK CD "PASSIONS"
is RED HOT and Deserves a
Ever since this CD dropped in my mailbox I have been unable to keep it out of my CD player for more
than a day. Playing it the first time I quickly picked out a couple of favorites like "My Baby
Walked Off", originally recorded by Howlin' Wolf in 1952 at Sun in Memphis, TN, and "Making Plans",
originally recorded by The Wilburn Brothers. Both songs are tranformed into raucuous rockabilly
sides turning the original rockabilly trick, a major force Billy Hancock's original 1981 LP
"Shakin' That Rockabilly Fever", one more time.
During a second and third listening other songs began to grow on me and after listening a couple of
more times "Passions" found an almost permanent place in my CD player. The passions referred to in
the CD's title have to be the wide variety of musical styles included on this CD. Besides the
excellent rockabilly tracks already mentioned Billy turns to soul, an anti war song and some of
excellent ballads in both fifties and modern Springsteen style.
The self-written "Chattanooga Tennessee" and "King of Fools" borrow from the fifties rockabilly style
but have a stronger Rock & Roll feel. "No One Knows", a hit for Dion & The Belmonts in 1958, finds
Billy in a great voice against a very simple backing featuring some beautiful slide guitar by Dave
Chappell. From that same era comes "Cryin', Waitin', Hopin'", originally the B-side of Buddy
Holly's "Peggy Sue Got Married". Further exploring his vocal abilities Billy, with the help of
Maryland blues diva Mary Shaver, turns the 1967 soul classic "Storybook Children" into an emotional
piece of music. Then he goes back even further with a haunting version of "The Coast of Malabar", a
traditional love ballad, set several hundred years ago during the Irish wool/Indian tea trade.
Even more daring is his approach to "Universal Soldier" the anti war anthem written by Buffy Ste.
Marie and turned into a sizeable European hit by Donovan in 1965. The folksiness of the original is
replaced with a modern, more John Mellencamp, type of Rock & Roll interpreting the message clearly
for 2005 listeners.
The instrumental "Crab Cakes" written by guitarist Dave Chappell and featuring Billy on electric 5
string bass is a tribute to the legendary guitarist Danny Gatton , who in the mid-seventies had a
band called Danny & The Fat Boys, in which Billy Hancock was the singer and the bass player.
And then there is "Frankie", a modern tearjerker, written by Billy and based on an actual 1980's
incident in New York City. This is one of those ballads that grow on you the more you play them.
The backing is simple and beautiful with piano, accordion and a heartfelt guitar break but the hook
to the song is the chorus that keeps the listener, you guessed it, hooked. The end comes with a long
smooth sax solo over the piano, accordion backing.
Billy Hancock, the musicians, engineers and producer who created this piece of American Roots Rock
can be proud. One has to have the right "Passions" for music to pull a CD with this wide a variety
of musical styles together and make it work. It is by far the best American Roots CD I have heard
this year and deserves at least a Grammy Nomination.
Webmaster: Adriaan Sturm Zeeuw@aol.com
Contact for information: www.billyhancock.com
Posted November, 2005
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