Rockabilly Hall of FameŽ Archives
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AUGUST 28-31, 1997 - by Marc Coulavin
This festival is attached to a huge vintage and custom car show known as Lead East. The focus is on mainly on rockabilly, but it also encompasses related styles. A pre-festival bash took place in the ballroom at the Lead East hotel on the Thursday before WWB officially started, with New Jersey's Crescent City Maulers. This fine jump blues/swing act kept folks dancing with a selection of originals, Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan covers, even Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." The saxophonist/vocalist and the guitarist work well together, even if the latter sometimes plays a few too many notes (it's obvious that he comes from a rock background). The aluminium bass is a sight to see and so is "Crusher," the man who plays it. All were sweating buckets and it wasn't just because the ballroom was hot and muggy!

Friday night was probably the most consistently solid stretch of the whole event: three great groups followed by a top act. New York City's Blues Jumpers mined much the same vein as the Crescent City Maulers, but with an expanded lineup: additional trumpet, sax and a non-instrumentalist vocalist. They also leant more on their own originals and Louis Jordan for their repertoire. During their encore, singer Eldridge Taylor held the longest single note I think I've ever heard. The man must have ten-gallon lungs. Quite a showpiece! Maryland quartet The Flea Bops presented some excellent sparse rockabilly drawing heavily on the Rock 'n' Roll Trio repertoire and other classic stuff such as Carl Perkins' version of "Wrong Yo-Yo." They seemed unassuming, but have plenty of talent. Chicago's DuValls were a touch heavier in their sound, even though they're only a trio. Their guitarist, Carl Schreiber had the tallest pompadour seen all weekend. Bassist Rod Glaze sang and hit all the right notes while performing all kinds of antics with his instrument. Their set included most of the songs from their CD Introducing, as well as a few well-chosen covers.

Gene Summers made his first single in 1958 and has been performing, off and on, ever since. Crystal Clear has recently compiled his vintage singles and some unreleased material on CD. For this show he was backed by Boston group The Racketeers, who were outstanding in their role. As expected, Gene did all the songs he is known for: "Twixteen," "Straight Skirts," "Alabama Shake," and, of course, "School of Rock'n' Roll." Summers put on a thoroughly exciting performance that belied the fact that he must be getting on in years.

Saturday afternoon's pool party took place at the Lead East hotel with Montreal's Howlin' Hound Dogs doing a set of lesser-known rockabilly covers, including "All I Can Do Is Cry" and "Boppin' Wig Wam Willy" and a few classics. These guys get better and tighter every time I see them and put on a great performance under the blistering sun. Another New Jersey act, King Kerosene, followed with some straight up rock'n' roll, a little at odds with the bass player's psychobilly style hairdo (imagine a cross between Johnny Rotten and Elvis!). They probably need to play in public a bit more to gel completely. Next was Highway 13, from Pittsburgh, who deal in rock'n' roll and rockin' blues. Although they are competent musicians, I didn't find them too exciting.

Indiana's Blue Moon Boys jump-started the evening's merriment. Vocalist Nic Presley is completely possessed by the demon of rock'n' roll. He never stood still for a second and strummed his poor broken down acoustic guitar into toothpicks. Lead guitarist Kenny Taylor provided some stinging picking, and the rhythm section seemed a little bewildered by what was going on, but kept up their end. They careened through a set of originals and interestingly rockabillified songs (Nat King Cole??) at breakneck speed. New York City's Rhythm Bound! presented a wonderful set of straight rockabilly originals and covers, including Carl Perkins' "You Can Do No Wrong." For all their humble demeanor on stage, they have an excellent grasp of dynamics and pacing, as well as being fine instrumentalists. Definitely worth checking out.

Many people had come to see neo-rockabilly veterans The Rockats. I find their songs and stylings rather bland and unoriginal and their covers a bit too obvious. But they played a fine set and the crowd evidently loved them. I must say that they sounded better than their records of the late seventies and early eighties had led me to believe. Many more were expectantly awaiting the arrival of Wales' Rimshots for one of their first performances on this continent. Watching singer/acoustic guitarist John Lewis, I realized how much influence Canadians Ray Condo & His Hardrock Goners have had in Europe. It can be felt in much of Lewis' stage persona and some of their repertoire. The Rimshots' skiffle bits strike me as slightly hokey, but everyone else ate it up. It's also hard to figure out how Lewis can yodel beautifully on "Cattle Call" and sometimes not quite hit the notes on songs one would think easier. Nonetheless, their two sets of hillbilly and rockabilly were certainly way above average. Montreal's Crazy Rhythm Daddies, who were supposed to be the other co-headliners that night, were unable to attend due to the diligence of U.S. Customs. All the more reason to see them at the Montreal Rockabilly Jam, Saturday, September 27th. By Sunday night, I was feeling as if it was already Tuesday, but made it to the ballroom anyway. It would seem that Buck & The Blackcats are more accustomed to playing the roadhouses and bars of their home state of Vermont than festivals, and they seemed a little uncomfortable with the empty dance floor. In spite of this, they gave it everything they had. Their set included many originals from their CD Tip Up, and a wide range of songs from country like Jerry Irby's "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin" to Link Wray's "Run Chicken Run."

The Racketeers were more of a straight up rockabilly/rock'n' roll group, with vintage traps, blue caps, clapper boys on some songs, etc. Obviously, Gene Vincent is a big inspiration. They performed a good mixture of originals, like "Easy On Slacks," and Rock'n' Roll Trio and Vincent covers. Organizer Joanne Van Vranken guested as vocalist on a couple of numbers, and bassman-for-hire Torontonian Spike Katz sang Roy Orbison's "Rockhouse," with some wild triple slaps, as he used to do with The Royal Crowns. In spite of their relative newness, they seemed very at ease.

The hall emptied before the last group of the weekend hit the stage. Those who weren't there missed out big time: Atlanta's Blacktop Rockets are killers! Just like on their recent CD Make Mine A Double, they played a mixture of everything from country to blues. They could have skipped the Stevie Ray Vaughn-style stuff where I'm concerned, but they put on a fantastic show. Dave Weil has personality for two and guitarist Johnny Knox is simply stunning. He picks out astounding riffs and lines as if they were second nature, clowning all the while. Their finale with Weil, Knox doing the splits and the bassist Eric Miller all on the dance floor was wild! By then it had filled right up again.