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copyright 1999, Ken Burke and Original Cool Magazine - Posted Dec. 23, 1999

Ron Weiser's Rockabilly Rebellion
By Ken Burke
Reprinted from Original Cool magazine #38, Dec. '99 / Jan, '00
It's hard to even speculate how far an American rockabilly revival would've gone without the efforts of Ron Weiser. An Italian enchanted by the sounds of early rock'n'roll and Dixieland jazz, Weiser immigrated to the U.S. in 1965, fully expecting to hear an abundance of this music in its homeland.

Unfortunately, by the time Weiser became a U.S. citizen, the true rockers of the '50s had been relegated to the "oldies" stations by two separate volleys of British Invasion acts, the onset of psychedelia, acid rock, and manufactured radio-ready bubblegum singers.

Weiser refused to despair. He formed the Hollywood Rock'n'Roll Fan Club, a devout aggregation of diehards who cherished the original Big Beat artists. He befriended Gene Vincent shortly before the rocker's early death, and even got the legend to record four songs in his bedroom.

During the early '70s, Weiser began twitting the preconceptions of Rolling Stone magazine and its readers with his own thought-provoking newsletter, Rollin' Rock. Handmade, often poorly typed, and published on an erratic schedule, Rollin' Rock became a thrilling reading experience for devotees of early rock'n'roll music and its artists. Each issue was a potent collage of show reviews, interviews with forgotten rockers, chart listings for both "All-Time Greats" and the "Great Unknowns." At the heart of every issue were Weiser's own passionate incendiary rants. Phrases such as "beatless beat-off Beatles," "Crosby, Shit, and Trash," and "Kock Kwitics" delighted readers frustrated with the growing pomposity of 60s and 70s rock culture. Adorning his covers with illios of American flags and the Star of David, Weiser also aggressively vented opinions concerning communism, racism, corruption, and the plight of Israel in his trademark pedantic style.

Weiser's greatest claim to fame came with the establishment of the Rollin' Rock record label. Aided in no small part by Ray Campi, Weiser's label extensively produced 100% genuine American rockabilly and rock'n'roll. In addition to cutting fresh sides on genre legends Ray Campi, Mac Curtis, Jackie Lee Cochran, Groovy Joe Poovey, and Johnny Carroll, Rollin' Rock also introduced such sock new acts as Jimmie Lee Maslon, Colin Winski, Ravenna & the Magnetics, Johnny Legend, and of course, the Blasters.

Though a small label, hamstrung by distribution and promotional problems, Rollin' Rock's influence was felt worldwide. As a result, when Elvis Presley died in 1977 and the music industry became rockabilly-conscious for a few short years, Weiser's label was the only one boasting any credibility or track record.

Yet, during the early '80s, when his "Rockabilly Uprising" should've have really taken hold, Weiser slowly phased himself out of the business. He married, supported a family, became a successful commodities broker, and left California for the wide open spaces of Las Vegas, Nevada. Though he would lease Rollin' Rock titles overseas and sporadically record acts old and new, his momentum seemed to be played out and his label fell dormant.

Weiser didn't really resurface until the late '90s, when Hightone began leasing classic Rollin' Rock sides for American audiences, and the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame began running his freshly penned opinion columns.

Spurred on by both the current rockabilly revival and tremendous internet-generated fan interest, Weiser reactivated the Rollin' Rock label in 1999 with surprisingly strong results. In addition to producing Dragstrip 77's debut for Dionysus, Weiser has recorded two hot new acts - Mack Stevens and Rip Carson & the Twilight Trio - and brought members of Bill Haley's original Comets back into the studio for a much anticipated new CD.

The 53 year old Weiser has lost none of his youthful snap or toned down any of his political convictions. During the course of our conversation Weiser candidly spoke of his label's early days, his stance on the hippie culture, the late Gene Vincent, Rollin' Rock's fade from the music scene, its eventual resurrection, new artists, and production philosophy.



OC: Do you still keep in touch with all the surviving original Rollin' Rock artists?
RW:
Yeah, all the time. I talk to Mac Curtis mostly through e-mail, once every two months. I talk to Ray Campi maybe once every ten days. Johnny Legend once every two or three weeks. I speak to Jimmie Lee Maslon, whenever, about ten days ago was the last time. Tony Conn every two months or so. Jack Cochran is gone now. I just talked to Alvis Wayne three days ago. I talk to all of them actually.

OC: Which one of those guys are you closest to? Ray Campi?
RW:
Yeah sure. Y'know, Ray Campi used to live with me also, rented a room, and Johnny Legend was there too for a while. Ray, of course was the mainstay of Rollin' Rock Records for many many years.

OC: When you guys first started messing around with the music, was it your intention to create a viable label?
RW:
Yeah, Sure. When I first recorded Ray Campi, I asked him, "Is there a way we can record real rock'n'roll the way it should be recorded, the way it was in the '50s?" That was the only time I mentioned recreating the sound from the '50s. I just wanted to record real rock'n'roll. So Ray said, "Sure, why not?" We didn't even have a standup bass or drum on those early records. Ray slapped the guitar for the drum beat. Of course Ray didn't actually play the stand-up bass in the '50s, so we used an electric bass, and Ray sang the slapping part (Weiser clucks his tongue rhythmically) however he does it, and that was on "Eager Boy" and "Tore Up." After we recorded those two songs what would happen is Ray or I would want to record an album or a third single and we'd just try and find some material that we like. I never went in there with the idea of recreating the '50s. To me, there was no break. It could've been '68 or '74, but all I liked was rock'n'roll, hillbilly, rhythm & blues, and Dixieland jazz music. I knew that whole '60s scene happened, but it didn't mean anything to me as far as music is concerned. I mean, there were some decent records in the '60s compared to crap nowadays, but when you hear Herman's Hermits or Gary Lewis & the Playboys, no matter how decent the record might be, it isn't like listening to Jerry Lee Lewis or Fats Domino. Then country music started getting real monotonous in the late '60s and early '70s, although there still were some good artists back then. Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, and Creedence Clearwater - but those were the few and rare exceptions. Rhythm 'n' blues was not completely dead, but things kept on getting worse and worser. Then rock'n'roll was killed again when Sgt. Pepper and all that crap came out. You know the "Magical Mystery Tour" and all this Indian stuff where you squat on the floor. What is so appealing about a civilization that burns women on the stake, that kills little babies if they are born the wrong gender? What is so appealing about that culture that George Harrison wants us to follow? It's outrageous! That's not my thing. I didn't come to America to emulate a culture which is basically barbaric and genocidal. Which is what George Harrison was admiring and that's when rock'n'roll was killed. The same way they killed jazz - all these fancy-wansy musicians tried to outplay each other and all the feeling, the guts, the soul, and the sex was taken away from rock'n'roll. They still called it rock'n'roll, but it had nothing to do with rock'n'roll. Then finally, about six years ago, I could turn on Country Music Television and watch these videos which were rocking pretty good and had a good solid beat. It was some good, almost rockabilly stuff. Now I turn it on and it's all gone it's all a bunch of crap! So now, they've killed country music the same way they had killed jazz, the same way they had killed rock'n'roll music. And rhythm 'n' blues music is gone too. God knows where it ended up.

OC: Do you think the problem with today's music is that people with a corporate mentality are in positions that music men used to occupy?
RW:
That's a rough one. I think more than a corporate thing, it's a cultural thing. Basically what's happening is the '60s culture dominates the music business to this day, down to the last inch. That culture - although it pretends to like rock'n'roll, and it's fashionable to say "Oh yeah, Jerry Lee's cool and Chuck Berry blah blah blah..." - in reality, a large part of that culture is not into it. These people don't come from the same regions as the rock'n'roll people. They came from Hollywood, Berkeley, and New York whatever - not Brooklyn - but they're upper middle class kids with money. They're not hillbillies or sharecroppers, black rhythm 'n' blues type guys. They come from England or Germany, and they're a different class of people, they have no connection to the Southland, no connection to the West, these are people who already have cars and fancy homes. So they put down material things. They're hypocritical, because they already have these things. But they put them down and act like they're working class heroes, and they play up that whole Marxist class warfare crap! Whereas, the real working class in America, the black rhythm 'n' blues singers, the hillbillies, they want to make money! They want to buy Cadillacs, they want to have lots of chicks. They're not afraid of money, they want to succeed. They want to live the American dream. They're not hypocritical. They like to drink and smoke and have sex and make a lot of money and drive incredibly huge cars. These other types who control the record business, they put down large cars, (sarcastically) because they're evil you know, and smoking is evil. They are at the same time very puritanical and very self-indulgent (tobacco bad, cocaine good). They claim to be tolerant, but they're really fascists. I saw that in during the '60s when I was in Hollywood. These people would say, "Do your own thing!" and then carry banners of Ho Chi Min and Mao Tse Tung or Ghadaffi. You tell me? Who does his own thing under Mao Tse Tung? Nobody. So I knew this whole thing was a scam. It was a cultural war against the soul of America and everything that it represents. I think it's basically political and philosophical thing.

OC: So, you're saying that you saw all that coming and your way to fight it was ...
RW:
To start Rollin' Rock magazine. - Herre's an example of the whole hypocrisy of the '60s. John Lennon sang, "Imagine a world without material possessions." Here's a guy who had hundreds of millions of dollars, the richest people in the world - they own palaces and castles. And they're telling me, who was making about nine thousand dollars a year with Rollin' Rock Records, to imagine a world without material possessions? I want material possessions! I want a hundred Cadillac cars! I want the biggest house in the whole world. I want material possessions. Don't tell me to imagine a world without them! This is absurd. Why is it evil to like material things? Just because you like to drive a big car, does that make you a bad person? Does that make you non-humanitarian? It's ridiculous. This Marxist class war crap is really antithetical to everything that everything America stands for.

OC: When you were putting together your own personal rebellion by formin' the Rollin' Rock label, were you attempting to recreate the Sun Records sound?
RW:
No, Sun didn't mark me as much as it marked a lot of other people. Basically, my thing when I was growing up was Elvis, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard - I didn't even know about Carl Perkins until the late '60s. I didn't have Chuck Berry records in Italy but I did have Ronnie Self, Johnny Burnette Trio and "The House of Blue Lights" by Chuck Miller. So Sun didn't mean that much at that point. As the '60s grew on I started getting Sun records, finding and collecting them in thrift shops, and I became more and more into them. But no, I don't think we ever mentioned the word Sun when we started recording. We were just doing rock'n'roll music in one of the many categories or variations that it existed.

OC: For a small label that started with just you and Ray, Rollin' Rock's roster of artists grew rather quickly, didn't it?
RW:
Well yeah. Even before Rollin' Rock had started, I had recorded Gene Vincent in an apartment bedroom with a small home tape recorder and a ten dollar microphone. I recorded Ray Campi, Mac Curtis, Jackie Lee Cochran, Johnny Carroll, Alvis Wayne, Sid King, all kinds of people. Billy Zoom, the Blasters, and, of course, we go to this day with Bill Haley's original Comets.

OC: Tell us one good story about hanging out with Gene Vincent.
RW:
Well, Gene was a real gentleman, a very nice guy, very friendly. He would ask you how you were feeling, what you were doing, and so forth. He had an incredible voice, and after Elvis Presley, Gene is right there. There are two good stories about Gene Vincent, but I have never mentioned them publicly because both people who were in the place with Gene are dead. I get afraid that if I mention it, people will think I'm trying to exploit their names. It's not two people that I like that much. I guess it's not too big of a deal now. We were at the Carolina Pines, having lunch with Gene Vincent, Jim Morrison. We were looking at the menu and Morrison keeps saying, "Oh man Gene, I wish I could be like you." And, "Gene, you're the greatest. Gene I wish I could be like you." So here we are reading the menu and this guy keeps ranting on. Finally (laughs), I got a little ticked and said, "Jim, why don't you shutup and choose something on the menu so we can order." (Weiser speaks of meeting another Vincent admirer at a different time.) The other guy at the Carolina Pines was John Lennon. So what was happening there was basically again we were looking at the menus and stuff. I wasn't quite as diplomatic as I am today, so I said, "John, why did you record this crap like 'Strawberry Fields' and 'Magical Mystery Tour'? This is crap! This is not rock'n'roll." Then Lennon got all red-faced and said, "Well, it's not my fault, it's Paul McCartney, he likes that crap! He wants to do all that." Gene was embarrassed because I was being profane, so he said, "Um. Yeah. Why don't we all just order first?" Lennon was a nice friendly guy and everything. Again, he pissed me off with those songs like "Imagine," all that hippie hypocritical crap, but just being there at the table, he was a very friendly guy and I don't think he believed any of that crap. I think that song must have come out after that dinner, otherwise I would have thrown it in his face.

OC: Johnny Legend told me the reason you guys tried to put together a band in the first place, was to back Gene Vincent up during his live shows. Is that how you remember it?
RW:
That's right. It was at his brother's house with Johnny Legend, that's before Rollin' Rock. His brother was there, this guy Jay, and we were trying to put a band together to back Gene Vincent. I had forgotten about that. However, it must have been a year or two later that the Rollin' Rock Rebels was actually formed and Gene was already gone by that time.

OC: What the strangest thing you guy dud over there in North Hollywood?
RW:
Well, it wasn't so much what we did in North Hollywood, but when they did the show out there at Chino, the prison. Oh man! I didn't know anything about prisons and stuff. All I remember is that I walked in and started sitting on the first row, right? Next thing you know this big guy with long blonde hair and a Swastika tattooed on his arms sits next to me. On the other side is this huge black guy with a Muslim deal on the head. I'm sitting there between these two ugly cats and starting to wonder, "What in the hell am I doing here?" (laughs) Then Johnny Legend comes out and he goes into all this crap and starts taunting these guys. Talking about white and black and this and that, y'know making fun of all these guys, taunting them, giving them the finger and everything. I'm thinking, "Oh man, I've got to get the hell out of here." So I just get up and hide behind the stage. Jeez! What a deal!

OC: When Rollin' Rock was going hot and heavy the first time around, was it your plan to expand into other areas of show-business?
RW:
Financially, I don't think I was ever that high. I did produce a rockabilly aerobics video called Rockabilly Glamorcize.

OC: Whatever happened with that?
RW:
I guess it's in my closet here. (laughs) It made money. It made 100% of what it cost back. It still looks pretty good. They people who manufactured it made some nice posters, they had pink and black scarves, which I have one or two left. It was quite an experience.

OC: At Rollin' Rock's early peak, was it pretty satisfying to know you could put that all in motion?
RW:
Yeah, it was great. But obviously, there was always this knowledge in the back of my mind of who was on the charts, even at #99. It wasn't Rollin' Rock. So it was great, but at the same time, there was always that bad feeling that maybe, "Hey, even if you're not #1 on the charts, you could be #67 or 77, or maybe you could be in the Top 20 in England." The same way I was in the Top Five in Finland, which was really phenomenal. That was the Ray Campi Rockabilly Music LP and I think the single was in the Top Five also. We were outselling Donna Summer in Finland and John Travolta and David Bowie. We were competing with those guys. I would've liked to see some of that in my own country.

OC: A lot of us are under the impression that you came out of nowhere, helped us rediscover our music, then by the early ' 80s, you kind of disappeared. Is that pretty close to the truth?
RW:
Well, there wwas no recordings done for a long time, at least ten years. Although records were licensed to Europe, which came out on Rollin' Rock Switzerland.

OC: So you were working off your catalog at that time?
RW:
Yeah. There was a lull; there's no doubt about that. There was a lull for very simple reasons. Supporting a family of five was very difficult on the Rollin' Rock Records budget. Actually it was impossible. Braces alone cost thousands of dollars. So I had to find a way to make more money. So I didn't disappear, it's just that I was low-key. In the middle of the lull period I had 14 Japanese kids come over and visit. Turned out they were a band called the Rollin' Rocks traveling with their girlfriends and friends. Each one of them paused in front of the Rollin' Rock sign in the studio and took a picture. They all had Rollin' Rock tattoos on their arms and after I signed my name under those tattoos they went and had that tattooed in. Things like that would be happening. So there was always something going on somewhere. During that same period, I had been pressing thousands of Rollin' Rock records to be shipped over to Japan. So there was actually money there, right in the middle of the dead period. Not a lot, but I think it came to more than 20, 25 thousand dollars of LPs sold to Japan. That's more than we sold in the States. That was a noticeable surprise.

OC: When did you start getting back into music again?
RW:
Well, it's thanks to Jorge Harada of Dragstrip 77 that I started recording again. He kept on bugging me. So we started recording and I found out that, "Hey, it's still working." (laughs) Well, Jorge Harada of Dragstrip, he was on the rockabilly (e-mail) mailing list. So when all the Vegas cats got together, that's how I met him.

OC: After you placed Mack Stevens' first album with Hightone, why did you decide to put his second disc out on your own label?
RW:
I guess that it was time to find out if Rollin' Rock could actually sell a few CDs. After all the hype I've been hearing about Rollin' Rock from all over the world, people writing books in France and England, Internet this and Internet that, Rollin' Rock Night at Viva Las Vegas, with all these different things going on, and everybody putting out CDs left and right, why shouldn't I try to put out a record of something?

OC: Tell us about your role as a producer. Do you pick songs, engineer?
RW:
The role is quite varied and it goes all the way from doing nothing, which is something I like because it saves me work, to actually doing a lot depending on the case. Typically where I get involved more is during the song selection. I try not to have all songs that sound like "Matchbox" or "Boppin' The Blues." I try to have a variety of songs, because that's what I grew up with - Elvis Presley doing "Dixieland Rock" one second and then doing "Crawfish," then "Paralyzed," then "Rip It Up." So I had a great variety of styles that I grew up with in rock'n'roll music, and that's what I expect to hear today. So I get to be fairly hard-headed as far as having a great variety of material goes.

OC: Are your artists working live in the studio or are they overdubbing?
RW:
In the past it has been everything from 100% overdubbing to 100% live. The way it works now, for example, with Rip Carson it was 99% live. There was an overdub of a guiro on one song. With Mack Stevens it's close to that. On this third CD that's finished now, there was a piano added, and there might have been a second guitar added on some songs. It's pretty much live right now, you know why? It saves time. Who wants to be stuck in the studio for weeks?

OC: Has the Internet been an effective tool for expanding knowledge about rockabilly?
RW:
I think so. I think a third of the bands out today wouldn't be half of what they are, if it wasn't for the Internet. You know we're in immediate contact with everybody. The International Rockabilly Rebel's Meet & Greet wouldn't exist without the Internet. Maybe even Rollin' Rock wouldn't. You know I met Mack Stevens on the Internet, The Internet put me in touch with Rip Carson, Mack Stevens, and Dragstrip 77. I believe the Internet is the greatest thing to happen to rockabilly music in the last 10, 20 years.

OC: Tell us a little something about the Comets controversy.
RW:
What is there to tell? It's absurd! These are the people who recorded on Bill Haley's hits starting in 1952 and two of them stayed with him until 1962. So they were on the later hits also.

OC: So this is the original band and all the want to call themselves is...
RW:
...the Original Comets. But somebody else owns the name Bill Haley and His Comets, and he's giving us trouble.

OC: How have you changed this name in response to this problem?
RW:
It's going to be "the Original Band." I mean, it's a joke! What can I do? I'm really pissed off about this. It's thrown off the whole release schedule by at least a month.

OC: As far as you know, is there another touring version of the Comets?
RW:
Who knows? Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. The fact is that we were NOT calling this Bill Haley's Comets. We were calling this the Original Comets. It's like, "We're not calling it the Stray Cats, but we're calling it the Cool Cats, the 13 Cats, the Black Cats, or the Blue Cats." So, why can you have 20 different "Cats," and yet cannot have two "Comets?"

OC: How do these guys sound in the studio after all this time?
RW:
Sounds phenomenal to me. I tell you what on "Rock Around The Clock," I like the original better, but on "See You Later Alligator," I like the Rollin' Rock version better.

OC: Are they doing original material or covering classic hits?
RW:
There is a bunch of Bill Haley songs and there is some other stuff. There will be more new material in the second CD, which is half recorded already. They recorded 28 songs.

OC: Are they playing out right now?
RW:
I think they've been touring a lot lately. They just came back from Europe and they played back East. They've drawn big crowds and standing ovations. They played at the Mirage here in Vegas a few months ago and got three or four encores. They are the best rock'n'roll band I have ever seen.

OC: As you see it, what are the big problems facing independent labels these days?
RW:
I don't know about independent labels, but I know that selling rockabilly CDs is still a chore. Very difficult. Whether it's going to change, who knows? I have more questions than you do as far as that is concerned. You would think that with all the attention on the Internet and hundred and hundreds of rockabilly bands that are springing up all over the world, we would be able to get to the point where some of these punk rock bands are nowadays. Which is to sell tens of thousands of CDs. You would think that, but whether that's going to happen, who knows?

OC: Compared to the old Rollin' Rock days, what's better? The recording facilities, the equipment?
RW:
One thing that's better is that this machine here, an A-DAT machine, it's very easy to handle. Very trouble-free, so it's very relaxed. As opposed to the big Teac/Tascam 8-track with the tape that was wiggling and woggling, it was not as easy to handle as this machine. The board is very versatile, so recordings are very trouble-free and pleasant these days. In the past, some recordings were easier than others were, on other recordings the equipment was a little tricky, and it took more attention away from the production. In the old days, recording guys like Ray Campi or the Blasters was very easy even back then. I think the only difference is this modern equipment is easier to handle.

OC: So people still record at your house?
RW:
Yes, right here in this room.

OC: Oh, I thought you were renting studio time.
RW:
Oh no, that would be a sacrilege for Rollin' Rock to do that. That would be a shocking thing to do. That would be like an orthodox Jew eating sausage. Even the thought of that is... (laughs) To be honest, if it's the same people, myself, Rip Carson, Dragstrip 77, or whomever, if we went into a 64-track or 128-track studio, I think we would come out with the same sound as we get in this room. The issue is who's in front of the equipment and who's in back of the equipment.

OC: What are Rollin' Rock's future plans? Are any of the original Rollin' Rock gang coming back to record there?
RW:
I'd like to record again with all my Rollin' Rock people, Ray Campi, Tony Conn, Johnny Legend, Mac Curtis, and, of course, we're already talking about that with Alvis Wayne. Alvis Wayne has only had two or three recordings on Rollin' Rock, so he should be first. After Alvis has recorded next year, maybe sometime in the fall we can get some of the original Rollin' Rock legends to come back.

OC: Rollin' Rock's slogan is "Voice Of American Youth." Does that still apply now that most of the music's original artists and audience members are in their 50s and 60s?
RW:
Oh sure, because it's a matter of the sound, it's not a matter of the age. Look, even in the '50s you had Big Joe Turner, you had rhythm ' n' blues artists who were in their 60s and 70s, guys who might've recorded some boogie-woogie before the war, and now they were doing rock'n'roll music - basically a teenage type music. The Comets, the oldest one is 78, and I cannot think of a more teenaged music than "Rock Around The Clock," and it was even in Happy Days. So that holds. Well look, Rip Carson is 19 years old, for Christ's sakes, so it's still the sound of America's youth, America's music. Frannie Beecher of the Comets is 78 and Rip Carson is 19. And the music is still basically rock'n'roll.


Many thanks to Ron Weiser for his time and editorial input. Want to e-mail Ron Weiser? Do so at RockRonny@aol.com or rockabillyron@yahoo.com. Check out a complete Rollin' Rock discography at www.rockabillymusic.com and Weiser's column at www.rockabillyhall.com/colrockron.html. Snail mail requests for catalogs, CDs and other information to Ron Weiser at 2460 Casey Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89120. Tell him Original Cool sent you!

  • Original Cool is a bimonthly fanzine featuring rockabilly, swing and rock ' n' roll - vintage to cutting edge - from around the world. Check out the Original Cool website at http://members.aol.com/OrigCool/ochome.html.

    Ken Burke Reviews Rollin' Rock's Discography




  • Ken Burke can be reached at: DrIguana1@aol.com