When the Beatles arrived in the U.S. in early 1964, it took a while for Americans to realize that those British boys were excellent performers who were basically re-introducing North America to the backbeat it essentially abdicated since February 3, 1959, the "Day The Music Died".
The Beatles' heroes were Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent, along with many U.S. R & B and Soul artists.
Ricky Lee Brawn, The Big Six's founder and co-leader unabashedly points to Bill Haley and His Comets, and the former Comets group called the Jodimars, as the main inspiration of The Big Six.
"We're a rock & roll dance band in its true sense", says Ricky Lee, who started The Big Six in 1994. "We [utilize] all of our influences, but it's basically rock & roll."
Ricky Lee's early passion for rock & roll came from listening to his father's Bill Haley records. Ricky Lee later discovered The Jodimars, named after former Comets members Marshall Lytle, Joey d'Ambrosio, and Dick Richards, (JOey, DIck, MARShall).
A stigma common to both Bill Haley and The Big Six is that many fans don't perceive either as rockabilly. "We're both rock & roll, and a lot of rockabilly", points out Ricky Lee Brawn. The pre-Comets Haley had a western swing and cowboy yodeling group called The Saddlemen. Long before Elvis ever heard of Memphis Recording Studio (Sam Phillips), Haley and his Comets were turning out early rock & roll and rockabilly on the Essex label from 1951 - 1954.
Ricky Lee's career began in 1980 with a group called the Stargazers. In 1989, he realized a dream that was then the "highlight of my musical career": backing the Jodimars. He then became part of Marshall Lytle's western swing band in 1991, Marshall and the Shooting Stars.
Ricky Lee Brawn has actually had six bands simultaneously, most of which recorded CD's! Some of those groups, whose CD's I have seen, are Killer Brew, The Space Cadets, and Johnny Bach and the Moonshine Boys.
Okay, let's get to the important thing: The Big Six is just what Ricky Lee Brawn claims! The are a great rock & roll dance band and you've just got to see them in person no matter how much you like their CD's! Ricky Lee plays drums, and co-leader and guitarist Pat Reyford does most of the lead vocals. Reyford's voice is terrific ń you can call him a real crooner. Add tenor and alto saxophones, piano and bass, and you've got the big sound of The Big Six!
I caught The Big Six's November 17th date in Ann Arbor, Michigan at The Michigan League, which is part of the University of Michigan campus. Probably 80% of the audience was University of Michigan students, and the rest a rockabilly and swing dance crowd. I'm guessing about 200 or more were in attendance, pretty good for a date that had just been squeezed into their U.S. tour without much notice.
Practically everybody got on the dance floor, and the crowd was really into it big time! Just before the first set ended (one hour), the bass player and the two sax blowers left the stage and got on the dance floor, performing in the middle of the dancers!
For those who may not be familiar with the M.O. of The Big Six, they are known for their wild, scintillating performances, as well as their loud, matching big plaid suits.
During the break between sets, the band was signing copies of their brand new CD (their 3rd), entitled "Get Off It and Rock It!" It contains eleven songs, most of which are up-tempo rock & roll suitable for swing dancing. If you don't believe they are a rockabilly band, listen to Ricky Lee sing the last cut, "Hop On Baby", which sounds like something Marvin Rainwater would have dreamt up in the ė50's. Pat Reyford sings the other 10 songs on the CD, while Ricky Lee takes writing credit for six. I give the CD 4 out of 5 stars and the show 5 out of 5 -- the greatest producer cannot duplicate what the live audience is lucky enough to see!
Speaking of producers, Ricky Lee Brawn also produced and engineered the 1997 CD by the Original Comets, "The House is Rockin", recorded live in Essex, England. It is on the Rockstar record label in England, and is available from Hep Cat Records.
The Ann Arbor audience was fortunate two times over: nationally renowned rockabilly and swing disc jockey and MC, Del Villarreal, was MC and played great rockabilly songs on his sound system. Del appears throughout the country at such venues as Viva Las Vegas and the Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend. In Ann Arbor he has a regular gig every Sunday night at the Blind Pig. To round things out, Del's a history teacher by day!
Ricky Lee Brawn and The Big Six are on a brutally busy two month U.S. tour that began October 20th and runs through mid-December. They travel in a van that will log 17,000 miles in two months! Gaby Castellana, owner of Hep Cat Records, organized the tour, usually booking The Big Six in "roots rock" venues. All three Big Six CD's can be ordered from Hep Cat (1-800-404-4117), including their new one "Get Off It and Rock It!"
If you have the opportunity, don't miss The Big Six in person.
The Big Six website is http://www.big.six.org/
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