By Barry M. Klein - posted May 4, 2000
Whew!! Great music! Great people! Great moments of rockabilly history!
Including Rockin' Ronny Weiser's INTERNATIONAL ROCKABILLY REBELS MEET & GREET party on Wednesday, and a Rockabilly show at Legends Wednesday night, there were actually five days and nights (and early mornings) of music, friends and partying.
What better way to kick off Viva Las Vegas 2000 than Rockin' Ronny Weiser's INTERNATIONAL ROCKABILLY REBELS MEET & GREET. The party was announced as being from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and when I arrived at Rancho Ronny, it was only a little after 2:30, but there must have already been over 100 people there, and hot rods with greasers from all over the world kept pulling up.
I was not in town last year in time to attend the party, but I understand that the weather was just as cold as it was the entire weekend and everyone had to stay inside. This time, the weather was fantastic and almost everyone was congregating outside as Rockin' Ronny set up the drums, bass, mikes and amplifiers in the back yard.
One of the first people I met when I arrived was Joey D'Ambrosio, the sax player for Bill Haley's Comets for most of the 50's and early 60's. Joe is a resident of Las Vegas, and he was one of the old Comets group called "The Original Band" that recently released a new CD entitled "Still Rockin' Around The Clock", produced, of course, by Rockin' Ronny Weiser at the Rollin' Rock Studio. When I told Joe that I had just interviewed Jim Meyers (co-author of "Rock Around the Clock") at his new home in Bonita Springs, Florida for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Joe told me he hadn't seen Jimmie in over 20 years and was happy to hear that he was doing well.
The musical jam session was started off by a group that included a rhythm guitarist and vocalist from California named Serge (in a Twistin' Tarantulas t-shirt - I'm from Detroit so that made a good impression), and I believe at least a couple of fellows from the Wild Wax Combo from Denmark. The appreciative gathering also got to see San Francisco's Dave Crimmen, Rip Carson & The Twilight Trio, The Casey Sisters, Lurlene The Trailer Court Queen, and Detroit's own Big Barn Combo. More about these performers later, but I will mention now that when I saw Rip Carson perform in his animated, acrobatic, wild boppin' style, I immediately realized something. In my article about last year's Viva Las Vegas, I wrote about several groups and individuals who performed the last two evenings at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame's impromptu jam sessions in the Dance Hall, some of whom I could identify and others I couldn't.
On Sunday night last year, I wrote about an acrobatic singer who somersaulted forward off the stage onto the dance floor, put on some unbelievable moves, and then did a backward somersault catapulting himself back on the stage. Last year I was unable to identify that person, but this time it was unmistakable, it was Rip Carson! On Thursday, I happened to run into Rip outside the Gold Coast and I related the story about recognizing him at Ronny's the day before. Rip looked at me and said, "I read your article last year and as I was finishing it, I saw where you describing this wild man and all of a sudden I realized, 'Hey, he's writing about me!!' " I told Rip that now that I know who he is, I can set the record straight about last year.
Rip Carson & The Twilight Trio did a fantastic set on Saturday night, following The Barnshakers, and I can only say that there are probably two rockabilly performers who particularly stand out in my mind as the "wildest": Mack Stevens and Rip Carson. Since they both have released multiple CDs for Rockin' Ronny Weiser, I wondered what kind of earthquake would result if those two cats were ever thrown into the same closet together - I found out on Sunday night in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame's West Lounge, but more about that episode later.
On Thursday afternoon my youngest son, Jeff, a lighting technician from Austin, Texas, flew in to join the Detroit-based family that had arrived Wednesday: my wife, Shirley, our son Scott and daughter-in-law Polly, and me. After a nice family dinner at the Las Vegas Hilton, Jeff and I returned to the Gold Coast and stopped in the West Lounge, where the Rockabilly Hall of Fame was set up. One of the smartest things that Tom Ingram did, following the successful jam sessions at the 1999 Viva Las Vegas which was organized by Bob Timmers of The Rockabilly Hall of Fame, was give the Rockabilly Hall of Fame the bigger venue in the West Lounge, and the ability to bring in good equipment, and more planned shows. Thursday's musical sets were solid indications that things were going to be spectacular on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and indeed they were!
On Thursday evening, I was able to get upstairs to the Ballroom to see Ray Condo, whose rockabilly material I have always enjoyed immensely. Unfortunately, I did not catch Eddie & The Flatheads later, and when I went back Friday night to purchase at least one of their CDs, I was told that they were all sold out!
On Thursday night in the West Lounge, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame had some great music being played by members of Bobby Lowell's band, including Dan Robel and Sean Benjamin.
Bobby Lowell, unfortunately, was back home in Nebraska fighting cancer, and a donation box was placed on the stage for all four nights to help with Bobby's medical expenses.
Other performers on Thursday included San Francisco's Dave Crimmen, a very talented singer, guitarist and performer who already has released two CDs - "The Son of Sun" and "Where He Left Off" (both available from Hep Cat Records). Dave, a tireless artist who played every night at the West Lounge, tells me his new CD may be released later this summer.
Another workhorse who was one of the best guitarists I saw all weekend (and there were "muchos hombres y mujeres" who gave great performances) was Italy's Marco DiMaggio. Marco has recorded with the DiMaggio Brothers (released by and available at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame) and as a solo act ("Thank You Eddie" - a tribute to Eddie Cochran, available at Hep Cat Records). Marco's singing and guitar playing were just great, and later Sunday night, he just sat on a stool alone on the stage and mesmerized an appreciative crowd with, as he referred to it, "Spaghetti Rockabilly".
On Friday, things started to get really hot!! The first musical venue I observed was at 2:00 p.m. in the East Lounge, where the Wild Wax Combo from Denmark performed a very lively set. I recognized these fellows from Ronny Weiser's party, especially the drummer, Mikael Findanis, who played quite a bit at Ronny's. The other members of the band are Rene` Karlsson on bass and Paolo Molinari on guitar. I understand that Wild Wax Combo has a new CD available from Hep Cat Records that takes flip sides of 50's records and has Wild Wax Combo imprinting their own rockabilly take on all 17 songs. Sounds pretty interesting!
I also found out that the Casey Sisters, who sounded so great at Rockin' Ronny's party, were going to be moved upstairs on Friday night to replace a cancelled act. I am sure we will continue to hear good things about the Casey Sisters, who sing together with such pretty harmonies.
On Friday night, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame had about eight acts, and they included Hack & The 57's, Mack Self, Eddie Bond, Burl Boykin, Johnny Vallis & Marco DeMaggio, Dave Crimmen, Red Hot, and Dave & The Bad Cats. We started packing in quite a crowd!
Garlin Hackney fronts the band called Hack & The 57's - and Hack is a good ole boy from eastern Kentucky who knows how to play and perform (and thanks are also due for all the equipment he brought to Vegas!). Hack & The 57's have a CD, "Everything's Cool", on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame label, so you can order it while you're online! Hep Cat Records has this one too.
Mack Self is an Arkansas rockabilly original who recorded for Sun Records in the mid-50's. Some of the Sam Philips-era songs include "Easy to Love", "Vibrate", and "Mad At You". His biggest selling record was recorded in the early 60's called "Four Walls of Memories". At about this time, Mack was married and starting to raise a family, so he retired from music and went into the sheet metal business. When he became an "empty nester" almost 30 years later, he went back into the music biz and now tours.
Burl Boykin, who besides managing Eddie Bond, is a musician in his own right, played and set the stage for Eddie Bond, who made his appearance onstage Friday at 9:00 p.m. sharp!
Eddie is still going strong, and I urge you to read his Rockabilly Hall of Fame Interview http://www.rockabillyhall.com/BarryKEddieBond.html Everyone knows his great version of Sonny Fisher's "Rockin' Daddy" and I feel that "Slip Slip Slippin In" is one of the all-time best songs of rockabilly. If you don't believe it, listen (and look at how the Paladins covered it on their new CD - and that's the title to it!).
Johnny Vallis, of Victoria, Canada, a rock & roll and rockabilly singer, did a terrific set with Marco DiMaggio. Starting off as a Buddy Holly Tribute (with Johnny looking exactly like Buddy, resplendent in dark-rimmed glasses, white jacket and bow tie), he evolved the set into other rockabilly and rock & roll. Johnny Vallis has his own web page, and is known for his impersonations of rockabilly and rock & roll legends. He sure was good on Friday night, and he and Marco DiMaggio sounded great together!
Although I wanted to stay at the West Lounge late Friday night to hear Red Hot from Finland (I hear they're good), Dave Crimmen (who I did see a total of four times) and Dave and The Bad Cats (I caught them too), I just had to go upstairs and catch Ronnie Dawson's act at 11:30 p.m. I have several Ronnie Dawson CDs, from "Rockin' Bones - The Legendary Masters" to the new one, "More Bad Habits", but I had never seen Ronnie perform in person before. I had taped his performance on Conan O'Brien last year when he sang "Good At Being Bad (But Bad At Being Good)", and I had played it back enough times to know that he was wearing the same shirt for his performance at Viva Las Vegas! Ronnie certainly hasn't lost any of his charisma over the years, and I was certainly happy I saw him. Unfortunately, I missed both High Noon and Number Nine late Friday (early Saturday actually), but I did see Sean Mencher play guitar at Ronny Weiser's party (which only made me more disappointed that I didn't see the High Noon reunion!)
On Saturday night, the West Lounge Rockabilly Hall of Fame show started at 6:00 p.m. with C.W. Gatlin & The Rockabilly Cats. There was already a pretty good crowd at 6:00 p.m., but I noticed more and more people coming in during C.W.'s set for what was probably the biggest attraction of the night: at 7:00 p.m., as previously announced, Paul Burlison & The Rock & Roll Trio, featuring Rocky Burnette (Johnny Burnette's son), took the stage. By the time 7:00 p.m. arrived, we had one heck of a crowded West Lounge! I asked some of my associates at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table how many they estimated were packed into the West Lounge, and the consensus was probably over 350 people.
You know something important is going on when so many of the acts appearing upstairs at the Ballroom for the Viva Las Vegas weekend were in our audience for the Rock & Roll Trio show. When anyone first gets into rockabilly, one of the pioneers you discover is the Rock & Roll Trio, with Johnny Burnette, Paul Burlison, and Dorsey Burnette. Although Johnny & Dorsey Burnette both died at an early age, Paul Burlison, born in 1929, is still going strong. Almost every rockabilly fan has the Bear Family compilation, "Johnny Burnette Trio - Rockabilly Boogie". Already by Saturday night, almost every act in the Ballroom, Dance Hall, East and West Lounges had performed at least one Rock & Roll Trio number during their set! In fact, the alternate take of "Please Don't Leave Me" with the groaning "ugh ugh ugh - ugh ugh ugh ugh!" was specifically performed by at least four bands that I saw before 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. Few people ever even heard this alternate take until Bear Family released it in 1989!! At any rate, if I could single out a magical moment, it was the nearly one hour of bliss when Paul Burlison, Rocky Burnette and the current "Rock & Roll Trio" performed. Every time Paul Burlison did a guitar solo, the crowd just went bananas! Paul, who must be one of the most easy going, humble and nicest human beings in rockabilly (and there are so many that fit that description), would smile at the audience's displays of enthusiasm and you could tell from his smile that he was happy that he was making the audience so very happy! Such a magic, poignant hour it was that more than a few tears were being wiped from many people's eyes. Several times during the Rock & Roll Trio's set, Rocky or Paul would single out celebrities in the audience and call them up on stage to join them. How about adding Marco DiMaggio, Ronnie Dawson, Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell of the Blue Caps and Gator on bass - all playing a "mini-set". I just hope somebody videotaped it and will send me a copy! I did not see every show, and I sure regret not attending the ones I missed, but I truly believe that if I had been able to attend every single event of Viva Las Vegas, I still do not think that any other "religious moments" could touch this most awesome moment in rockabilly history!
How do you follow an act like that? It's pretty damn tough! However, Rocky, Paul, and the band hung around to sign autographs and pose for pictures, and they even stuck around to watch the subsequent acts, so we really didn't lose too much of the crowd after their performance.
The person shouldered with the unenviable fate of following Paul Burlison & the Rock & Roll Trio was Jody Reynolds. Jody Reynolds' first hit single, "Endless Sleep", sold over a million copies in the 50's and he has been touring to promote his new double CD career retrospective entitled "EndlessÖ". Jody acquitted himself very well, and I thought he had a lot of poise on stage - many people would have literally folded if they had to go onstage after the set that preceded Jody.
A very interesting footnote to Jody Reynolds' performance: my wife and I stay at the Las Vegas Hilton, and I am so used to getting up early in the morning that even when I want to, I just can't seem to sleep in. Sunday morning was no exception, and I opened my eyes for good at about 6:30 a.m. Since Shirley was also up, we decided to forgo the usual room service breakfast and jump into some jeans and run downstairs to the coffee shop counter. When we got there just before 7:00, guess who was sitting at the counter with us? Right on! It was Jody Reynolds. What ensued was one of the most pleasant breakfast conversations I have ever had. Jody was born in Denver, and lived on a Seminole Indian reservation from the age of one until he turned nine. His family moved to California, and Jody has spent most of his adult life living in Palm Springs. For ten years Jody's "day job" was owning a restaurant, and for 20 years, he owned a custom guitar shop. Between recording, performing and owning the guitar shop in Palm Springs, Jody had exposure to many celebrities and performers, including Elvis Presley (who owned a home in Palm Springs), and Bob Hope, who lived there. Jody even told me about a famous movie actor who purchased a guitar from him, but Jody had to repossess the guitar from this famous male actor who at the time did not have a lot of money and couldn't keep up with the payments. I won't mention the actor's name, but he did portray a country music legend (not Jimmie Rodgers) in a 1963 movie with Susan Oliver and Red Buttons. Jody sounded so good on stage that I was shocked when he told me he had suffered a stroke last August. The only lingering damage seems to be with his ability to use his right hand to play guitar, but we took a long walk after breakfast to pick up the Sunday newspaper, and he looked in pretty good shape to me!
Jody and I found out we had something in common: We are both Merle Haggard fanatics. When I told Jody that Shirley & I had gone to the Las Vegas Hilton last October just to see the Merle Haggard pay-per-view live, and that I had written an article about it for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website, Jody lamented that there was a favorite Merle Haggard song of his, "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again", and he did not have a copy. I promised to make a copy and send it to him, and I kept that promise. When the waitress and busboy at the coffee shop saw that Jody was obviously a musician with an impressive resume, they started talking to him and asking questions. My wife later remarked how nice and polite he was to the waitress and bus boy who were talking to him - with very few exceptions, I think rockabilly performers are the nicest people in the world! Jody Reynolds' one regret about his Saturday night in the West Lounge? Nope, not that he had to follow Paul Burlison and Rocky Burnette - he purchased a Rockabilly Hall of Fame t-shirt, and he was so honored by his induction last year, he was disappointed to find that he had left it in the West Lounge. The story has a happy ending: Bob Timmers is sending him another one.
If anyone wants to order Jody Reynolds' double CD, I had obtained it from the Collectors Choice catalog, but I also believe it is available on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website.
To tell you what happened on Saturday night at 8:45, I have to go back to Friday at about 9:00 p.m. With Eddie Bond scheduled to appear at 9:00 p.m. and the stomachs of Jeff Klein and his father rumbling at 8:45 p.m., I took my son over to Terrible Mike's to get a quick hamburger. By the time we stood in line, got the food, and started eating, it was about 9:00 p.m., so we took our burgers and walked back toward the West Lounge.
As we got closer to the West Lounge, I thought I heard a female voice call out my name, and sure enough, a young lady from Florida named Monica introduced herself as a friend of my buddy, "T", the leader of the southwest Florida rockabilly group, The Crestliners (see my article "Barry Klein's Shortest Article: Guide to Rockabilly in Southwest Florida"). Monica told me that she and her fiance', Patrick, wanted a rockabilly wedding at Viva Las Vegas, and asked if they could marry on the stage in the West Lounge in the CHURCH OF THE ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAME on Saturday night.
When I brought up the subject to Bob Timmers he kind of tilted his head and looked at me as if to say "You want to do what on our stage?" I told him that although we had eight acts booked between 6:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, I thought we could do it after Jody Reynolds' set at 8:00 p.m., about fifteen minutes before Josie Kreuzer's show at 9:00 p.m. Bob said, "OK, Barry, you're the MC, you just go ahead and do it!"
Well, I am pleased to report that the first ever Rockabilly Wedding at Viva Las Vegas came across beautifully. Not only did we have a large crowd on Saturday night, but the crowd actually got larger for the wedding. First the wedding party, including the groom, Patrick Cullen, his best man, and Elder Donald Mason, took the stage. Bob Timmers & Kim Lenz then escorted the bride to the stage, where the ceremony went off without a hitch. The couple even stayed to have their wedding dance during Josie Kreuzer's set.
After the Rockabilly Hall of Fame Wedding starring Patrick Cullen and Monica Rosen, there was still a lot more excitement remaining in the West Lounge. One thing I have observed about rockabilly music is that today there seems to be an abundance of very talented women rockabilly singers. Attending Viva Las Vegas were Marti Brom, Kim Lenz, and the Casey Sisters and in the West Lounge on Friday night, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame was fortunate to have consecutive shows by Josie Kreuzer and new Australian rockabilly star, Brigitte Handley. Josie had a wonderful set, and even called Brigitte up on stage to do a song with her. Josie Kreuzer has a new CD out on She Devil Records called "As Is" and the good news is that I was able to purchase it (the bad news is I have not been able to play it since I brought home 26 CDs and have to get this darned article into Bob Timmers right away). If you can't find a copy of "As Is", by Josie Kreuzer, you can probably find out how to get one from her web page at HYPERLINK "http://www.JosieKreuzer.com" "http://www.JosieKreuzer.com" I have also noticed that Hep Cat Records sells "As Is" and Josie's first CD, "Hot Rod Girl".
For two days prior to her performance at the 10:00 p.m. slot on Friday night in the West Lounge, I had an opportunity to meet and talk to Brigitte Handley. Tall and statuesque with a long mane of blond hair, Brigitte certainly has no trouble getting noticed before she even opens her mouth! When I got up to introduce her, I happened to peek at the song list for her set, which was just outstanding material, and as soon as the music started and Brigitte started to sing, eyebrows raised, people looked at each other and nodded, and more and more people came closer to the stage for a better look. Brigitte has tremendous poise, a good stage presence, and an excellent voice, and although she has been performing for seven years, she is only 22 years old!! If she has already progressed this well at the age of 22, her opportunities and future as a rockabilly performer seem endless. I don't think there is a soul who saw her performance who will forget the name Brigitte Handley - if you see her, you won't either. Brigitte's song "Rockin' Lady" appears on the compilation "Rockabilly Hall of Fame - Volume Four" - and you should have all four of these great CDs!
Well, as the clock ticked closer and closer to 11:00, the West Lounge started to get almost as crowded as it was for the 7:00 p.m. show of Paul Burlison and the Rock & Roll Trio. Besides the great entertainers who performed from 8:00 - 11:00 p.m., there were people making a special point to be there at 11:00 p.m. for a performance by classic California rockabilly cat, Glen Glenn. Although Glen spent his early childhood in Joplin, Missouri, his family moved to California and shortly after taking up guitar, Glen met Gary Lambert, an excellent double-neck guitar player who has now played with Glen Glenn for 45 years! Someone once told me that Glen Glenn is never late for a performance, but usually comes right at show time. On Saturday night, however, I saw him come into the West Lounge about two hours before his performance, and he stuck around to see Paul Burlison, Jody Reynolds, Josie Kreuzer and Brigitte Handley. The amazing thing is that I instantly recognized Glen - considering that most of the pictures I have on Glen Glenn's albums are about 40 years old - it's good news that he can walk into a room and be instantly recognized! Two of Glen Glenn's songs, "One Cup Of Coffee & A Cigarette" and "Everybody's Movin'" are rockabilly classics today, on every playlist of every rockabilly DJ. Actually, when it was released, "Laurie Ann" was plugged as the A side, B/W "One Cup Of Coffee" and "Laurie Ann" was once the pick hit of the week on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
Well, let's talk about the performance: As you can see from the picture accompanying this article, Glen was thrilling the packed audience (do you see Kim Lenz right in front enjoying the show?). OK, how about some Glen Glenn trivia: when you buy Glen Glenn's records or CDs you see a lot of his songs are written by G. Troutman. Troutman is actually Glen Glenn's real last name. Did you know that when Glen and Gary first started touring, they joined Glen's cousin, Porter Wagoner, in late 1956. Glen also joined the Maddox Brothers and Rose and toured with them. The early rockabilly style of the Maddox Brothers and Rose influenced Glen Glenn's later rockabilly work. What's really amazing to me is the extent to which people like Paul Burlison and Glen Glenn are revered by their fans, and these guys are the most humble, sincere and friendly people you will ever meet!
Glen and Paul stuck around until every hand was shaken, every picture was taken, and every autograph was signed. What was also heartwarming was to hear them say that the reason they came to perform at Viva Las Vegas was in appreciation of how great a job Bob Timmers has done for the fans and artists with his Rockabilly Hall of Fame!
Speaking of nice guys with talent, I would like to call special attention to the performers who gave performances every night in the West Lounge: San Francisco rockabilly/roots rock entertainer, songwriter, singer and guitarist, Dave Crimmen, and the immensely talented Marco DiMaggio. Also, Dave and the Bad Cats, Garlin Hackney of Hack & The 57's, and other rockabilly musicians who gave of themselves. I should also particularly single out the famous slap bass man, Gator, who has recently toured with Sleepy LaBeef, and now has slapped that bass with practically everyone in rockabilly! Gator is simply one of the best - both in talent and durability. I'm willing to bet that from Wednesday to Sunday, he probably played bass for 55 hours. Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell, drummer extraordinaire for Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps (it's his screams on the original "Be Bop a Lula"), is one of the nicest people in rockabilly. Dickie spent many hours every day signing his pictures and selling merchandise at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table. It was announced several times during the four days of Viva Las Vegas that a collection box for classic rockabilly star Bobby Lowell was there because Bobby has been suffering from cancer and had enormous medical expenses. Someone observed that Dickie Harrell had a bag into which he put money he received the goods he sold, and on Sunday he night walked up and deposited a good chunk of the contents into the Bobby Lowell fund box! Dickie even autographed merchandise for auction with proceeds going into the collection box. I guess you can say that the Rockabilly Hall of Fame stands for "taking care of our own"!
A musician playing guitar onstage Saturday night was Allan Clark, who was formerly in the Eddie Cochran Band. I believe Allan has played with both Glen Glenn and Jody Reynolds, and it was a pleasure to see him perform.
Thanks again to Johnny Vallis, Dave Robel and Sean Benjamin, Dave Hermsen, Gator, Billy Bob Barker, Faye Huffman, Alice and Jerry Wiegand, Kay Wheeler, Donna Harrell - I know I'm missing others!
Don't know how I pulled it off, but I was able to see part of two great shows in the Ballroom upstairs early Saturday evening - Finland's Barnshakers, and wild man Rip Carson & the Twilight Trio. The Barnshakers pure and simply are one of the most talented rockabilly bands in the world (they, The Go-Getters, and Wildfire Willie & The Ramblers are my favorite European bands).
An additional surprise was the introduction of Marti Brom for a song with The Barnshakers - you would have thought they were giving away gold (voice-wise they were!) the way the people rushed to the stage. Marti is currently touring with The Barnshakers, and The Barnshakers back up Marti on her current CD, "Snake Ranch" - it's a combination with obvious results!
Also, Rip Carson is just an amazing talent, and they guy still can't buy a drink legally!! Almost all of his songs on both Rollin' Rock CDs were written by Rip and his guitarist, Danny Angulo.
On Sunday, The Barnshakers backed Mack Stevens in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame West Lounge show, and Rip did his best to, uh, "make his mark" on the stage, but I'm still saving the "best for last"!
Although I did spend most of the Viva Las Vegas weekend in the West Lounge with the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, I did make it a point to be at the East Lounge on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. when Detroit's own Big Barn Combo was performing. I have known Craig "Bones" Maki for about 2 years, and have followed the career of Big Barn Combo, including the new rhythm section with Loney Charles on drums and Kenny Bruce on bass, who joined the band a little over a year ago. Paul "Smokey Links" Cook is their awesome guitarist. I have enjoyed seeing them perform on several occasions at many venues over the past year. I want to preface what I am about to say that I am indeed prejudiced, partial and maybe a little downright paternal about Big Barn Combo: They are a bunch of very talented musicians and nice guys. I can objectively say that in the past year they have constantly evolved and improved. Their performance Saturday afternoon at the East Lounge coincided with the release of their first CD, "The Big Barn ComboÖComin' All The Way From Detroit City". Well, they just absolutely blew me away! They looked loose, played tight and sounded fantastic! When I saw Tom Ingram on Saturday night, I asked him if he heard the set, and he indeed was there and confided to me that Big Barn Combo was probably at least a semi finalist to be the band chosen to perform on Sunday night/Monday morning at 2:00 a.m. in the Ballroom upstairs. I later found out that it was a "dead heat" and even though I did not see all of the acts performing in the East Lounge, I could tell by Big Barn Combo's performance and the several standing ovations and encore they received, that they belonged upstairs in the Ballroom as much as anyone! I likened this experience to my dream of going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on the day they finally admit they have been making a mistake and induct another Detroiter, Jack Scott, into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I just don't see how Big Barn Combo can miss. Craig "Bones" Maki knows more about rockabilly than people 35 years older than he, he has a good singing voice and he is an excellent songwriter. Smokey Links is pure and simply a great rockabilly guitarist. Kenny Bruce and Loney Charles make up a superlative rhythm section, and what is most important, they blend their talent and chemistry. When I told them how well- rehearsed they sounded, they replied that now that they are on the road touring more than ever, they have more time to devote to rehearsing together, and this work ethic has obviously paid off! I can't wait to see Big Barn Combo play their return engagement in Indianapolis, where they will also be playing with former Sun Records legend Jack Earls, whose "Sign On The Dotted Line" is reverently covered on the new CD.
Speaking of Big Barn Combo's CD, it was produced and recorded in Chicago by none other than Jimmy Sutton, who as an artist was a headliner upstairs on Saturday night. I played the CD the day after I returned home, and it is fantastic! There are more than a handful of the 12 songs that would be excellent singles. Every cut a winner!
Because it was our busiest night at the West Lounge, I couldn't see any other acts upstairs Saturday night, but I was lucky enough to see Jimmy Sutton late last year at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig.
Another set I regret missing Saturday night at the Ballroom was Deke Dickerson, although I did catch his great show at the Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend last year. Deke has a new CD, "More Million Sellers" by Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics.
I frankly mused about whether Deke could equal his first "solo" effort, "Number One Hit Record", but to my amazement, I think this one's even better!! Great sound and engineering without sounding over-produced, "More Million Sellers" again features Carl Sonny Leyland, Joey D'Ambrosio, and Jeremy Wakefield, and the material is excellent. I can see why Deke raves so much about Carl Sonny Leyland - his piano playing is indeed awesome. Deke again writes many of the songs, but one about himself, "My Name is Deke", is re-worked from a rare Nervous Norvus ("Transfusion", "Ape Call") ditty. Way to go, Deke!
Before we leave Saturday, another of the many features of Viva Las Vegas is the car show. This year's was held from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. on the top level of the parking garage at the Gold Coast. There were scores of classics, hot rods, and what I call "California Specials" on display. When I looked around in the early afternoon, there was a pretty decent rockabilly band playing there, and actor Paul LaMat, who portrayed John Milner in the 1973 classic film, "American Graffiti", was signing autographs and appeared with his yellow deuce coupe from the movie. You sure can't complain about not enough going on at
Boy, after the first few days, you'd think there might be a letdown on Sunday? Not on your life!
Before covering the 6:00 show in the West Lounge with Mack Stevens backed by The Barnshakers, I went upstairs at 4:00 p.m. to see M.C. Del Villarreal introduce the acts in the Talent Show. One of the acts, Lurlene the Trailer Court Queen, had performed Wednesday at Rockin' Ronny's party. Lurlene is a comedy act (she is really Lynne Greenamyre, who has a radio show in Kansas City), and her CD has 13 song parodies featuring her "white trash" persona. She got great audience response onstage Sunday, as well as at Ronny's on Wednesday (bass player Kenny Bruce, who accompanied her on "Trashy Women", sung to the tune of "Pretty Woman", said he could hardly play while holding back the laughter). To find the CD, go to Lurlene's website at http://lurlene.com
I was pleased to see that the Horton Brothers from Austin, Texas were part of the Talent Show. I enjoy their "boppin' hillbilly" sound, some of which sounds like 50's rockabilly, and I have "Roll Back the Rug, it's the Ö" by the Horton Brothers, plus the "Bobby Horton vs. Derek Peterson: 14 Jaw Breaking Hits" discs at home.
One thing about the Ballroom at Viva Las Vegas: Just because a band is on first or last, it doesn't mean a thing in the "pecking order". Perfect examples are The Barnshakers, who opened at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday night, and Boston's Raging Teens opening at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Both of these acts are first-rate, and both were superior shows. I actually used my press credentials to get backstage and meet the Raging Teen's great guitar player (and s ongwriter), Amy Griffin. I don't know what kind of scrod or beans they're feeding the kids in Boston today, but the Racketeers and the Raging Teens are two of the best new bands in the business today! The Raging Teens put on an explosive show, with Kevin Patey's animated vocals, Amy's searing guitar, and the rhythm section with Matt Murphy on the slappin' bass and Keith Schubert beatin' those drums. Their ode to rockabilly legend Joe Clay "C J Boogie" is on their self-titled first CD, and Amy tells me the new CD will be out in a few months. If you missed the Raging Teens, don't let it happen again!
Well, as 6:00 p.m. approached, I went to the West Lounge to see the wildest onstage act in the business (well, Rip Carson's not exactly Perry Como), Mack Stevens.
Mack wowed 'em in the Ballroom last year, and he always has some surprise antics lined up for his stage shows (last year it was holding two live snakes while singing, and setting his drummer's kit on fire!)
This year, while I was introducing Mack and warning the people sitting down near the stage to watch out for his dirty tricks, Mack squirted lighter fluid on my butt, then lit me up! I didn't even know he did it until someone said, "You're on fire" and I felt a warmth on my behind hotter than three hours after eating Mexican food! Well, after dancing around and patting my rear, I realized I was the "butt-end" of one of Mack Stevens' special effects.
I should have known what was in store since his new CD on Rollin' Rock Records is called "Texas Heat".
If you think I was on fire, what do you get when you put the Barnshakers on stage with Mack Stevens? A bigger aftershock than the underground Nevada nuclear tests in the early 70's when Howard Hughes got so pissed off he called President Nixon to stop them! (Hughes had 6 hotels in Vegas then, and I was there for one of the blasts.)
Mack and the Barnshakers took us on a wild ride of rockabilly that included classics like "Woodpecker Rock" and a sampling of Mack's own stuff.
Mack got volunteers like Bob Timmers to get their pants lit on fire (at least they knew what was happening to them), and Mack lit a fire on Rip Carson's pants in the, er, opposite area of where he lit mine. Rip, not one to be totally one-upped by his fellow Rollin' Rock stablemate, managed to extinguish his fire by, uh, wellÖ., by using the "hose" inside his pants, thus creating his "mark" for the surprised but laughing audience to see!
When Mack paused between numbers to ask me how I was doing, I replied, "I didn't know I'd be a 'warm-up' act for Mack Stevens!"
Anyway, the show was a wild one from the first to last song! After rousing applause, Mack asked the audience if they loved rockabilly. Everyone yelled so loud the meters peaked. He then asked, "Is there anyone here who would die for rockabilly?" Astonishingly, about 3 or 4 raised their hands. Mack asked a real big fellow if he was ready to die for rockabilly, so the man come up to the stage, and Mack took out a big knife and appeared to slice the guy's gut. It was so real looking, it seemed all the man's intestines came out, and he fell backward on the stage. Of course, the man was a "plant" and had the "guts" taped to his stomach, but it was a pretty surreal experience. The man stayed on his back feigning death until the act was over. I wonder how the other people who had raised their hands as volunteers felt, hoping that Mack didn't pick the wrong "plant"!
Was Mack Stevens done yet with the special effects? Nope! After a rousing, fervent rendition of Jack Scott's "Save My Soul", Mack had Karina whip him, leaving him crawling off the stage on his hands and knees, whereupon he disappeared in the SRO crowd. I think it was close to 5 minutes later before he crawled back for an encore! By this time everyone was standing and cheering, and Mack Stevens had again put on a show no one wanted to follow!
Well, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame found a way to put on a show capable of keeping the energized fans around: A Gene Vincent Tribute, which included many guests, including Blue Caps drummer Dickie Harrell and Blue Caps bass man Bill Mack , Bob Timmers, Bob Kelly (who wrote Gene Vincent's hit "Git It"), Brigitte Handley, Dave Hermsen, and Marco DiMaggio. I had a holiday dinner scheduled with my family, but the part I caught was terrific. Marco DiMaggio may have a CD with an Eddie Cochran tribute, but he sure gave any of the Blue Caps guitarists a run for their money!
Craig Michael, Dave Crimmen, and Marco DiMaggio played well into the night. Fond memories include Dave Crimmen carrying on all over the place - including out into the casino - thanks to his wireless guitar, and Marco DiMaggio sitting on a stool, singing and playing his guitar solo to an appreciative audience.
Did I miss a lot in this report? Absolutely, and I'm sorry I couldn't see or even remember every event and every person.
Performances and shows were not all there was at Viva Las Vegas. Meeting people and seeing old friends is a great part of it. Some of this included:
Del Villarreal. Thank God for friends like Del, Michigan's internationally famous DJ, MC and radio personality. Because I missed so many acts upstairs, I asked Del who he thought was the most memorable act upstairs in the Ballroom, so here goes (in no particular order):
Lew Williams. It is very rare to find a 50's vintage rockabilly singer with a legacy of recordings who is in good health and has not performed in public for over 40 years! Based on this, Del was quite impressed with Lew's show on Saturday.
High Noon. Sean Mencher usually just lets his guitar "do the talking", but on Friday he was very animated, and there were a lot of reciprocal "vibes" going on between the audience and Sean. Del says the entire High Noon reunion was a great moment, and a tribute to Tom Ingram for putting it together!
Jimmy Sutton's Four Charms. Del likes Chicago's Jimmy Sutton so much it makes Del proud to call himself a Midwesterner. Jimmy not only put on a great show, but another highlight was calling Claude Trenier on stage to join him. 4 Stars for the Four Charms!
Eddie and the Flatheads. Del has their recordings, and he really enjoyed their live performance.
I wish someone would release a commercial video "Best of VLV", so I could see at least some of what I missed!
The Starliners. An authentic sounding "hillbilly bop" group from Australia, Del has been a fan of their music, and he thought their performance was great. If Del says so, you know it must be true!
I was happy to hear that three other acts Del put on his list of favorites were Big Barn Combo, the Barnshakers and the Raging Teens, all of whom I got to see, and they were on top of my list too!
Hangin' around with writer Dennis DeWitt and his lovely bride of almost three decades, Janet. Dennis has so many stories about the music business, he could write an encyclopedia, and I hope he does someday. Dennis and his brother Howard just wrote a neat article on Del Shannon in Rock & Blues News, and they might have a book on Del Shannon coming out soon. I'm a pretty good Del Shannon fanatic myself - I have both double CDs, the Charly "Definitive Collection" and Raven "Complete Career Anthology", plus the "Hank Williams/1661 Seconds 2-in-1 CD.
Running into people I've met before like Carl Schreiber and Larry & Sue Grobe from Chicago.
Shopping for CDs upstairs in the Ballroom. Great selections and not bad prices (no shipping or tax added to the price).
Talking to great people like Ray Campi. I got Ray's latest CD on Dionysius, "Rockabilly Ladies", a sort of "Ray Campi Unplugged" type of acoustic set that can still rock, but also showcasing his excellent voice. The last track, "the Tattooed Lady", is a "must-hear"! Rockabilly, country, humor, it's all there! Another Ray Campi CD on Dionysius, "Perpetual Stomp - 1951-1996", is a potpourri of rockabilly and country, has Rosie Flores singing on some tracks, and includes an interesting arrangement of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" and a different take on a Ray Campi classic, Hank Ballard's "Tore Up". Some good country classics on this CD too!
Sonja Timmers, First Lady of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, certainly acted the part, helping Bob and his friends, and seeing to it that all of Bob's friends' wives were happy. Sonja has been very supportive of Bob, and is taking care of things in Wisconsin while Bob moves the Rockabilly Hall of Fame office to Burns, Tennessee.
Rod Pyke, Rockabilly Hall of Fame Agent for UK & Europe. A great person, providing a strong right hand for Bob Timmers. Is a move to the U.S. in store for Rod? I certainly would like to see more of this man. Stay tuned.
Bob Timmers, the Amazon.com of rockabilly. No kidding! There's a real comparison. Bob has developed his website and is the main resource for everything rockabilly. Unfortunately, his earnings at this business have also closely paralleled Amazon.com. Seriously, we all owe Bob for what he has done, and it's up to all of us to support Bob Timmers in any way we can. Buy the merchandise! Buy the CDs! Record your next CD at the new analog studio in Burns, Tennessee! Bob has really given us a lot through his Rockabilly Hall of Fame - let's make sure he makes it in this business too!
So long for now! See ya next year - or how about Indianapolis Rockabilly Rebel Weekend June 28 - July 1?!!
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
For a list of Barry's other articles and interviews for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, go to http://www.rockabillyhall.com/BarryKlein.html
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