I remember the first time I heard Rockabilly and Rock ‘N’ Roll, it was in 1956. We had just moved down from the little town of Standish, CA to the much larger town of Los Gatos, CA. I have always liked music, and most of all the upbeat sounds of country music and its many derivatives.
When I was very young, my mother played white gospel tunes on her mandolin. When I was older I had a radio and listened to the music of Hanks (Williams, Thompson, Snow) and Roy Acuff and the Carter Family. In Standish, the only access I had to music was on the radio of our 1947 Oldsmobile. I had a little, old, radio that had levers I could set for my favorite stations. It was one of my grandma’s castoffs and I took it gladly. The one drawback it had was that its antenna was not up to the distances of that Lassen County, high desert country that Standish is located in.
When we moved to Los Gatos, I had no idea music had taken the turn that it had. The only music I knew was what I was able to get off the Oldsmobile’s radio in the dead of night. I need to explain a little here. My father did not like any music other than his personal canon of hymns, about 6-10 of them, and he only liked them when they were played in church, and that was that. He was an old-time fundamentalist preacher who believed in the devil, sin, and Jesus, in that order. He mostly believed in what he deemed “doctrinally sound” Christianity (his term). My mother had the RCA Red Dot series of classical music, but had to only play it when he was not in the house. You can see how it would be with country music, then. So I snuck out of my window after everyone was in bed and listened to music. Often my father expressed wonder at how his car battery went dead so often.
Anyway, in 1956 I was surfing (not a work we used then) radio stations on my inherited radio and heard Rockabilly/Rock ‘N’ Roll for the first time. I felt a feeling like I was told I was supposed to feel at the revivals I was made to go to. A true religious experience. I knew at that moment that this was my music. I didn’t know what it was, but it was mine.
Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Cocrine, Johnny Burnett: MAN ALIVE, and I was rockin’! 54 years later it is, by my lights, the most exciting music out there. I don’t have my Grandma’s radio anymore, but I still have my music.
Now, in 2010, my songwriting is still affected and challenged. for it is memories of that early experience of music that goads me as I write my own songs. Sure there are other influences, but the beat that makes my heart-rate increase is still there.