I thought I’d delve back to Sun Records in the 1950s and get an infectious dose of Rockabilly to liven up my spirits.
This is where Elvis started and this is who he was sharing the studio with – Billy Lee Riley!
Take it away Billy!! You hep-cat you! Let’s Rock!!
My Elvis is the real version – the Hillbilly Cat of 1956-58, before he became a parody of himself and then got sucked into the vortex of mediocre Pop and pseudo-Rock created by the Film and Music Business.
The real Elvis didn’t wear silly rhinestone encrusted jumpsuits and capes more suited to carnival. He didn’t do his moves in predictable over-exaggeration to deliberately elicit screams from the girls. The real Elvis was as natural on the balls of his feet as a mountain lion. He instinctively knew what to wear, how to move to the beat, emphasise the rhythm and what sounded cool.
The fake plastic Elvis was deferential, self-conscious, overly polite and dictated to by management so that he became trapped in a cage of their making. I liked my Elvis aggressive, rebellious and assertive.
When he exploded on the scene with the force of the Big Bang a new universe was conceived. He was natural, unschooled and as unrestrained as a tsunami. There was nothing contrived about him.
Elvis wore his hair long, greased back into a big quiff and duck’s tale. It stood out amidst the prevailing crew-cuts of his days so that he was ridiculed at school. But Elvis had style and charisma to go with his natural good looks. He grew sideburns long enough to tie under his chin and wore contrasting colours – pink jackets, black shirt, white tie, baggy slacks, thick crepe shoes. He had a lip that curled into a snarl and a lopsided smile.
He was brought up in the poor part of Tupelo and mixed with the poor whites and blacks in that rural setting. It was here that he was exposed to the primitive Hillbilly and Blues that was going to form the backbone of his sound. He made little distinction between white and black despite the prevailing segregation in the South. He listened and watched the Black artists perform as much as the Whites. Good music was good music. Elvis went for the stuff that jumped both from the Honky Tonks and Blues Joints.
When he started performing he allowed his body to interpret the beat and act out the rhythm. He’d gyrate, shake, pivot and pounce as the mood took him. It was all primitive and natural.
That Hillbilly Cat rocked.
Those Sun recordings of 1956-7 displayed a whole new dynamic force at work. Rockabilly was born and was life transforming. Elvis took the Black and White music and gave it a beat of his own that brought it to life.
Sam Philips said he was looking for a Whiteman who could sing like a Blackman. He got something even more that that. Elvis was a phenomenon.
The establishment thought it was a novelty that would prove a passing phase. As far as Rockabilly went it was but what it spawned grew into a monster that threatened to swallow the whole industry and change the world.
Elvis had it all. He was an exceptionally attractive, sexy White guy who stole music off Black guys as well as White guys and gave it a bit of magic dust that snazzled it up into something else. He had the looks, style, moves and an original style that shook up all the kids. It couldn’t last.
Well for Elvis it didn’t. He was tempted out of the Cat clothes into fairground razzamatazz by the greedy colonel with no faith in the music. He was bedazzled by the film industry and dreams of being the new James Dean and then snaffled into tedious Teen rubbish with terrible soundtracks that sucked his energy, enthusiasm and talent like a vampire sucks blood. He became a parody of himself playing up to the screaming girls. When he began imitating himself he lost the groove and never got it back. It all fell apart. Even the songs dried up and he was replaced with a highly successful plastic imitation.
The Hillbilly Cat lasted a scant couple of years, had his head shorn in the Army, his soul extracted on the silver screen and his balls chopped off by poor management.
But what a legacy those few years left the world. It has never recovered. All the Youth Culture that followed has a big debt to Elvis.