Well, I thought it couldn't get much better than Viva Las Vegas III and Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend Number 8 in the middle of the millennium year. But we rockabilly fans in the Detroit region have been so blessed by an avalanche of appearances by prominent rockabilly groups in the last few months, I would have to say that the momentum is still building.
D.J. Del Villarreal has coined the word "Motorbilly", which encompasses rockabilly happenings in the southeast Michigan region including Detroit, Ann Arbor, and other areas of southeastern Michigan.
Within a five-month period, over 30 rockabilly or related musical acts have appeared in southeastern Michigan, many of which were part of national tours, and I was fortunate enough to attend most of them!
On June 4, 2000, just a few weeks before the Indianapolis Rebel Weekend Number 8, there was quite a party at Ferndale's Magic Bag Theatre. To celebrate the 40th birthday of Pistol Pete Mitgard of the Twistin' Tarantulas, there was a super three-act show. Starting off the show was a very promising, up-and-coming rockabilly group from the Motor City called the Lazy Crazies.
Featuring Brian Holly on drums and lead vocals, this trio did a spirited set including many straight up rockabilly classics, and some of their own compositions. One of the unusual features of the Lazy Crazies is that the lead guitarist is Dennis "Daddy-O" Rocker, who just happens to be Brian Holly's father, and I want to tell you folks, this dude can really rock on the lead guitar! It's people like Daddy-O and Ray Condo who make me feel proud to be a member of the "seasoned citizens set" of rockabilly cats. Rounding out The Lazy Crazies' rhythm section is Elvis Slapping Ash on bass. If there's anybody in rockabilly who truly looks like he jumped out of the '50s, it's Elvis.
Brian Holly is one of the most animated, enthusiastic performers, "right up there" with Rip Carson, Mack Stevens, and the singer mentioned in the next sentence.
Coming in for the second set was one of my favorite bands to watch in person, the Blue Moon Boys, featuring Nick Roulette on lead vocals. Nick, who was an accomplished ballet dancer, is like a cross between Mick Jagger and Jim Carey, and I do mean this as a compliment. Between his prancing, dancing, kicking and facial expressions, you can't help but admire the energy and entertainment this man packs into his performances.
Rounding out the evening was the Twistin' Tarantulas, featuring birthday boy Pistol Pete, whose wide-ranging repertoire never ceases to amaze me. Incidentally, in addition to touring nationally this summer, the Twistin' Tarantulas made frequent appearances at many venues in the Detroit area including several performances at an upscale bar in Birmingham, Michigan called Edison's. The night I caught them at Edison's, there was nary a tattoo in the packed house, but the Twistin' Tarantulas were very warmly received, and management rebooked them several times. I think it's cool that rockabilly acts can be booked into "mainstream" venues successfully - we're "spreading the gospel"!
The Big Barn Combo had a packed house at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor on June 17 for their CD release party. Since BBC's breakthrough performances at Viva Las Vegas III and an encore appearance at this year's Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, they've really hit the big time. Their CD "Coming All the Way from Detroit City" has received rave reviews across the world, and as I write this article, they are on a three-week tour of Germany, Sweden and Finland with only a couple of days off!
July 6 was both a great but challenging day for rockabilly fans in the Detroit area. At the famous Pine Knob outdoor music festival north of Detroit, BR-549 gave a wonderful 15-song performance opening for Dwight Yoakum. I was lucky enough to get four front row-center seats, and I was joined by my friend Marcel Nister, his girlfriend Sylvi, and their friend Robin, who we should thank for the picture. After enjoying this great double feature, we headed south to Ferndale, MI to the New Way Bar and arrived just in time to see Ray Condo and the Ricochets perform. This appearance was catalyzed through the good graces of Del Villarreal, who knew that Ray had an open date and would be passing through our area. The New Way Bar provides an intimate, informal setting and Ray and his group just tore the place up! Good sound, and a spirited performance!
Speaking of the New Way Bar, during the recent months almost every Thursday night is a "Rockabilly Jam Session", and the host group is Detroit's own rockabilly band, Nobody's Business. Led by lead guitarist and lead singer Bill Giorgio, Nobody's Business already has two CD's released, "Waycool Rock and Roll" and "Good to Go". "Waycool Rock and Roll" was produced by Lee Rocker, former bass man for the Stray Cats, and most of the songs on both of these CD's were written by the very talented Bill Giorgio.
Speaking of Lee Rocker, he was appearing in Detroit at the Magic Stick Theatre on the same date as BR-549, Dwight Yoakum and Ray Condo. Our correspondent, Rachel Malinowski, was able to attend the Lee Rocker concert, and the pictures in this article were provided courtesy of Rachel. Unfortunately, it was impossible for one human being to attend all three venues, so I still have not been able to see Lee Rocker in person yet, but Rachel tells me he and his group were simply fantastic. And, those jumpin' jivin' Lazy Crazies opened for Lee's show! How about all them hep cat happenings for just one night in Michigan?
Exactly one week after the above-mentioned triple-header, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys put on a show at the Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was the first time I had been to the Ark since it moved north from its old location. Acoustically and visually, the new Ark is a terrific venue for hearing live music, especially Big Sandy. Big Sandy (Robert Williams) is a major talent as a singer, songwriter and performer. Thank God the dance floor was open, because people just could not seem to stay in their seats as the evening progressed. There was a large contingent of young Americans over the age of 21 who, wanting to make sure that Big Sandy was having as good a time as they were, kept sending trays of Tequila shooters to the stage for Big Sandy and his band to consume. Being a social guy, Big Sandy joined them several times during the evening, and this did not seem to diminish his skills as a performer.
Although Big Sandy was using this tour to promote his newest CD, the moody "Night Tide", he generously drew from his other albums and CD's, and made it a memorable evening. Three weeks earlier, I just had to crash before Big Sandy finished his very late set at Indy, so it was wonderful to be fresh and alive and catch his entire show at the Ark. Incidentally, about three weeks later, Del Villarreal, my friend Tammi and I caught Jerry Jeff Walker and The Gonzo Compadres at another spirited show at the Ark, except this time the Ark was so packed, that there was additional seating set up on the dance floor. A little trivia: the management at the Ark told me that no crowd builds up as big a bar bill as Jerry Jeff Walker fans. Unbelievable as it might sound, it looks like the rockin' rednecks can outdrink the rockabillies!!! Anyone living in or visiting southeastern Michigan should take advantage of the many fine acts that are booked into the Ark, which has a web site containing schedules and performances.
The last weekend in July turned out to be an active one in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor areas. On Saturday, July 29, the Classic Country Radio Show, WSDS in Ypsilanti, held a live, all day radio broadcast from the Ypsilanti Moose Lodge. One of the featured acts was guitar legend Marv Weyer who was joined by Craig "Bones" Maki and Kenny Bruce of the Big Barn Combo for a great set. You might have read about Marv Weyer in the article I wrote for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame about a year ago entitled "Hep Cat Happenings in 'Hotober'". Marv is a legendary guitarist who has picked with the best of Žem, and with Craig Maki's smooth voice and rhythm guitar along with Kenny Bruce's bass carrying the rhythm, those in attendance were truly blessed with a terrific performance. WSDS deejay Keith Kady, who used to pinch-hit for Craig "Bones" Maki occasionally on his Rockabilly Roll Call radio show, was the emcee for this event.
On the next night, just about ten miles or so west of the Ypsilanti Moose Lodge, The Chop Tops made their Michigan debut at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. In my review of the Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, I singled out Cave Cat Sammy as the "breakthrough group" of that weekend. Well, after seeing the Chop Tops perform live at the Blind Pig on July 30, I would have to call them the top "breakthrough" group of the second half of the year. The Chop Tops are a "super group" from Santa Cruz, California whose members evolved from other groups (Rockin' Lloyd Tripp and the Zipguns, Sinner & the V-8's, and The Standards), and they are absolutely nonpareil as a live band. I cannot rave enough about how great this group sounded in person, and the audience and dancers were really jumping, jiving, and appreciating the great sound of the Chop Tops. Unfortunately, I have heard that Dylan, the group's bass player, recently left, but I sure hope the band can survive and keep playing the great music I heard on that night. Brian Berman, Gary Marsh and former Lloyd Tripp guitarist Shelby Legnon, round out the impressive lineup of the Chop Tops. The Chop Tops recently released a CD, "Always Wild", produced by Ronny Weiser of Rollin' Rock Records in Las Vegas, and as good as they sound on the CD, their live show just shouldn't be missed! Boy, I sure do wish this group stays together! I also had the pleasure that same night of meeting Anthony Solano from Purist Records, who was promoting "Good Rockin' Tonight!", a two-CD tribute to Sun Records that includes great covers by the Chop Tops, Josie Kreuzer , The Haywoods, Smith's Branch Boys, The High-Fives, and others. Of course, do I even need to mention that for all shows at the Blind Pig, local hero, M.C., D.J. and radio personality Del Villarreal, provides the discs for dancing when the bands are not performing.
Obviously, the best thing about rockabilly is its music, from the original 1950's synthesis of hillbilly and rhythm & blues to the worldwide evolution and following that has characterized it in recent years. But the next best thing about rockabilly is the friendships and relationships that can be shared amongst its loyal fans. A perfect example of this was when I went to see Josie Kreuzer at the Shelter in Detroit, Michigan on August 12. Wow! Talking to Brenda and other rockabilly friends from Detroit, a young man ran up to me and said, "Hey, it's me, Gator!". Well, darned if it wasn't the same great slappin' bass player Gator, about whom I wrote in my Viva Las Vegas 2000 article. Gator's resume' includes playing on the road with Sleepy LaBeef and impressing everyone who stopped in during any evening performance at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame stage shows in the West Lounge at Viva Las Vegas III. By coincidence, Gator was now touring with Josie Kreuzer, and along with an excellent lead guitarist, Josie and her trio put on a great show, featuring sides from both of her CD's, "Hot Rod Girl", and "As Is", as well as some new material. Unfortunately, there was mix up about where Josie was performing that night, as one of the newspapers had previously announced it would be at the Magic Stick, but luckily, most of her fans must have showed up at The Shelter, because there was a good crowd gathered to enjoy her performance.
Speaking of making friends with rockabilly people, one of my favorite rockabilly people is Del Villarreal, the pride of Ann Arbor as well as D.J./M.C. for such events as Viva Las Vegas and Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend. Some time in July, Del contacted me and told me that Boston's Raging Teens were looking for a venue to play in in the Detroit area on August 19, just before the end of their summer tour. About a month earlier, I ran into an old friend and business acquaintance at a Twistin' Tarantulas show in Birmingham, MI, and my friend, an attorney, told me that he was part of a partnership that purchased what was the former Velvet Lounge in Pontiac, which had hosted some rockabilly acts including Big Barn Combo. Well, even though the Velvet Lounge is now known as "Tonic", and features three different levels of deejays playing more of "today's music", my friend was intrigued enough to consider booking the Raging Teens on his main floor where the swing and rockabilly acts were booked when the place was called the Velvet Lounge.
Even though I have no desire to be a rockabilly promoter, I was very pleased to see that everyone was happy with the show that the Raging Teens put on. Front man Kevin Patey gave his usual "over the top" performance, and Amy Griffin's guitar even got the non-rockabilly onlookers shouting for more, while Matt Murphy on bass and Keith Schubert on the skins showed why the Raging Teens earned their reputation as one of today's hottest rockabilly acts. Ignoring equipment problems including a blown amp and broken guitar, the Raging Teens played two wonderful sets, and no one got to bed too early that night! Once again, hats off to Del Villarreal for setting this gig up and "heads-upping" all the southeastern Michigan rockabilly fans so that we had a good turnout. A little post-script to the Raging Teens performance in Pontiac, MI: A few days after the performance, I received a call from my friend, the co-owner of Tonic, and he told me that he found out that at the end of their performance, the Raging Teens gave a very healthy tip to the bartenders and wait-people at Tonic, and my friend told me that in every way, shape and form, the Raging Teens are truly a "class act". I am eagerly awaiting the new CD release from the Raging Teens!
For the past few years in the Metropolitan Detroit area, the approaching Labor Day weekend means something to rockabilly fans: at Pontiac, Michigan's all-weekend "Arts, Beats and Eats" festival, there are usually several rockabilly groups that appear and Labor Day weekend 2000 was no exception. The Twistin' Tarantulas, who seem to be booked about every night, played on Friday night, although this time I had a conflict in my schedule and couldn't attend. But on Saturday, September 2, at 3:00 p.m., a number of greasers and rockabilly fans, including me, showed up for the Big Barn Combo's set at 3:00 p.m. on the Dodge stage. On this very hot and sunny day, both the band and the audience could have easily wilted away, but the Big Barn Combo, as I am accustomed to seeing them do, put on another virtuoso, animated performance. Since the release of their great debut CD, "Coming All the Way from Detroit City", I have noticed that Craig Maki and his group are infusing much new material and obscure old rockabilly tunes into their act. Always fresh and exciting, Big Barn Combo kept wiping away the sweat and the audience was keeping right up with them! Although my schedule did not permit me from staying a few more hours to see the Blue Moon Boys, I remember that it was at the same time a year ago that I first saw Nick Roulette and his group in person, and I sure don't like to miss seeing these guys!
On the last day of the festival, Detroit's own Johnny Powers performed, as he did the year before. It was a real pleasure to be able to meet Johnny backstage before his performance and get to know him a little bit. I know that Johnny was hospitalized about a year ago with some serious health problems, and thank God this former Sun Records legend has recovered so he can show new fans why rockabilly purists never miss mentioning Johnny Powers when they talk about the all-time greats of rockabilly. And let's face it, how many rockabilly legends recorded for both Sun Records and Motown?! Much of Johnny Powers' early Sun material can be found on a CD called "Long Blond Hair" which came out several years ago on the Norton label. For more recent Johnny Powers material, there is a 73-minute CD recorded in southeastern Michigan called "New Spark (for an Old Flame)" on the School Kids record label in Ann Arbor, and features some bonus tracks with guest stars George Clinton and Ann Arbor, Michigan's own George Bedard. You're never too old to rock - it keeps you young!
When I first saw Jason D. Williams perform in mid-1999, the announcer/publicity man for the Magic Bag Theatre introduced him as "The Greatest Show on Earth", and by the time he concluded his performance, my friends and I all agreed that this characterization was not hyperbolic. So when I read that Jason D. Williams was returning to the Magic Bag Theatre in Ferndale on September 16, I immediately called for tickets. As it happened, I attended this concert with about eight people, but only two of us had seen Jason D. Williams perform.
His show on September 16 was even better than the one I had seen a year and a half before. The pictures in this article, many taken from my seats in the front row, can only give you a mild hint of what type of performer Jason D. Williams is in person. He does it all Ů rockabilly, country, blues, and defying the usual comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis, Jason D. Williams wasn't timid about doing a whole lot of Jerry Lee Lewis material. What I cannot understand is how a man with this much talent and energy can't seem to find the "Whole Lot of Shakin'" type of breakthrough song that will catapult him from the underbelly of pure rock and roll to the recognition he deserves. In the meantime, we "real" rock-n-roll fans can continue to appreciate Jason D. Williams as he still tours constantly. For those looking to find about upcoming concert dates, I recommend you look for Jason D. Williams web site www.rockinjasond.com. It was frustrating to me at first that every time I searched for "Jason D. Williams", all I got was the Seattle Supersonics basketball star. Special note: Both times I saw Jason D. Williams at the Magic Bag, one of my all-time favorites was in the audience, the legendary hit-maker, Jack Scott!!
Once again, D.J. Del Villarreal was largely responsible for bringing the very talented Deke Dickerson into the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor on Sunday, October 1. Billing the entire weekend as "Chicken Fest 2000", the first event was held Saturday, September 30, at one of the few still-open drive-in restaurants, the Chick-Inn Drive-In, which has been in existence since the early 1950's, and is one of the few remaining drive-ins featuring car hops serving you in your car. This particular evening Del was set up in the parking lot and several swing dancers and Lindy Hoppers were boppin' to the sounds of real rock & roll and swing dance music. Since my pal Harve and I are both new Prowler owners, we cruised with our "chicks" over to the Chick-Inn to join Del and the party.
Well Saturday night was no "clucker", but the real party was on Sunday night at the Blind Pig. Opening for Deke was my friend from Kansas City, Lynne Greenamyre, who hosts a rockabilly show in KC, and also takes on the persona of Lurlene the Trailer Court Queen. As Lurlene, Lynne took the stage at Viva Las Vegas (she also performed at Ronny Weiser's party there) and did some songs from her CD release "Trashy Women", which essentially is Lurlene's take on classic rock-n-roll melodies with the Trailer Court Queen's old unique lyrics. Lurlene was a big hit with the audience, and had them laughing, dancing and asking for more. After her 45-minute set, interspersed with frequent applause and guffaws, Lurlene did some encore numbers and then mingled with the audience, selling her merchandise, posing for pics, and signing her CD's.
I really don't know if I can come up with any better things to say about Deke Dickerson than I already have in my articles on Viva Las Vegas 2000 and Indy 1999, but he is certainly one of the most talented human beings in rockabilly music today. Besides being a record producer, Deke is extraordinarily talented as a musician, singer and songwriter. Always adding comedy to his recording and live performances, Deke is an act you just don't want to miss no matter how often you get to see him. Arriving in his new tour van, Deke also showed off a new member of the band who plays both saxophone and guitar, which broadens the sound of his material. Just another major league gig by Deke Dickerson! Similar to when other recording artists came to see Paul Burlison and the Rock and Roll Trio at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame stage at Viva Las Vegas 2000, several local recording artists came to see Deke including Bill Giorgio of Nobody's Business, and even the Big Barn Combo blew in late, just arriving from a weekend festival they had played in Illinois. Although not a musician, rockabilly greaser, dancer, and "Hog" rider, Marcel Nister, came to Ann Arbor to Detroit in his beautiful 1966 Harley-Davidson. Take a look at the picture here - "nuff said"?!
One of the few shows I missed this season was on October 7 at the Gold Dollar Saloon in Detroit. The Tip Top Daddies from Indianapolis opened for the Stillmen, who were making their first Detroit area appearance. I heard I missed a good show, but I had made a previous social commitment to a friend, and commitments to friends are important too!
Well, I think I might have saved the best for last in this article. For many years I was concerned that I would never get to see the legendary guitarist Link Wray in person. It's all been said before: "Inventor of the Power Chord"; "the Godfather of Heavy Metal"; "co-leader (with Robert Gordon) of the Rockabilly Revival Movement in the late 70's". Cub Coda quotes Pete Townsend as saying about Link Wray: "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and ŽRumble', I would have never picked up a guitar". With releases such as "Rumble" that was banned on New York radio, Link Wray personified the searing sound of rock and roll guitar.
Born on May 2, 1929, Link Wray's history and legend is well known to true connoisseurs of rock and roll music. When Link was stationed as an army medic in Germany during the Korean War, he contracted tuberculosis and lost a lung. This unfortunate blip in Link's life caused him to stop singing and spend more time developing longer riffs on guitar when he played in a band with his brothers. The end result is a long list of classic numbers including "Rumble", "Raw-Hide", "Jack the Ripper", "Ace of Spades", "Run Chicken Run", "The Swag (the flip side of "Rumble")", "The Black Widow", and "Deuces Wild".
Well, when I read that Link Wray was going to appear at the Magic Stick in Detroit on October 13, I was euphoric.
Before joining the other reverent fans starting to crowd the stage in anticipation of his set, I chatted for several minutes backstage with Link and his wife, Olive Paulsen. They have lived together in Denmark for over 20 years when they are not performing. Because Link constantly tours, and Olive is in the band, their 21-year-old son boards at his school in Denmark. Backstage, Link and his wife were the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. Link is a very "up" person and he was eager to introduce me to the members of his band, and insisted that they be included in the series of pictures we were taking. Similar to the pictures I see of Link in the ten CD's I own, Link was wearing a black motorcycle jacket, black shades, a t-shirt with a picture of Elvis underneath the motorcycle jacket, black jeans, and black cross-trainers. I also noticed that Link wore his still mostly black hair in a ponytail, and the tail part was as about as long as any pony I had ever seen! I told Link that besides the obvious "Rumble", my favorite guitar instrumental of all time was "Raw-Hide". Link then told me that "Rumble" would be his first number, and "Raw-Hide" would be the third. I told Link that his version of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man", which appeared on the "Apache" l.p., was one of my favorite songs. Link told me that Ace Records of London released "Apache" and "The Wild Side of City Lights" as a single CD (an excellent one to have featuring many vocals and more than one cover of Link's favorite, Elvis Presley). Link also mentioned that Norton Records had released several CD's, including the double CD "Mr. Guitar" which contains his original Swan recordings and the "Missing Links" series Volumes 1 to 4. I guess my favorite one of those is Volume 1, "Hillbilly Wolf", which has a lot of rockabilly-type numbers and also features a song with Marvin Rainwater on vocals.
Anyway, let's talk about the performance: As soon as Link was introduced and appeared on the stage, most of the audience, many of whom had been sitting at tables in back of the dance floor, all crowded onto the dance floor directly in front of the stage. Throughout his set, Link kept moving around and walking all over the stage while playing, and for the first couple of minutes before he started "Rumble", he paraded his guitar in front of the stage and let anyone who wanted to strum it! It was very impressive to see so many younger fans standing in awe in appreciation of this true rock and roll legend.
Well, rockabilly fans, I guess the "Motorbilly Hep Cat Happenings" in the last half of the year 2000 are probably indicative of all the great opportunities existing throughout North America to see rockabilly and real rock and roll artists perform in person. The Rockabilly Hall of Fame aspires to keep its readers abreast of road shows and tours coming to your area. We are currently recruiting volunteers in as many areas in North America and Europe as we can to post local venues and shows with artists and bands coming to your areas.
It is in this vein that Del Villarreal and I are creating a "Motorbilly" web site, with a link to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, to enlighten the rockabilly fans and friends in our area of upcoming shows.
As I aviate to southwest Florida for most of the 2000-2001-winter season, I hope I can find just a modicum of some of the kinds of shows I had the pleasure of experiencing for the last few months in "Motorbilly".
Editors'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
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