Monday, July 15, 2013

Preserving the historical legacy of Route 66: Rockabilly on the Route weekender

Ever heard of Tucumcari? Yeah, I hadn’t either. But if you’re a rockabilly fan, you will start hearing about this little stop on Route 66 in New Mexico. The first annual Rockabilly on the Route Festival was held June 7-9, 2013 and featured live music, a car show, a cruise and burn-out, a pin-up contest, a burlesque variety show, and a gospel brunch. All events were located along 6.66 miles of Route 66. The Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, was the headliner this year, along with The Chop Tops (CA), Danger Cakes (TX), and various other bands from the Southwest.

Rockabilly on the Route is the brainchild of Simon Cantlon of Vive Le Rock Productions and Ungelbah Davila of La Loca Magazine. Cantlon has been involved in the production of The Motels of Route 66, a documentary film exploring the stories behind the owners and travelers of those iconic motels. Davila’s La Loca Magazine, based in Albuquerque, is New Mexico’s first vintage lifestyle magazine. What better people, then, to organize a rockabilly weekender that pays tribute to the legendary culture, music, and history of Route 66’s heyday? Tucumcari was chosen for the festival in part because The Blue Swallow Inn and Motel Safari were featured in the documentary. Moreover, the festival’s proceeds benefited the development of theNew Mexico Route 66 Museum which will commemorate the state’s 604 miles of the celebrated highway.

Tucumcari, then, is clearly an appropriate setting for a rockabilly event which honors the legacy of that bygone Golden Era. The Main Street still offers a window into the past with the vintage neon signs that adorn the hotels and remains of classic cars that rest (and rust) in people’s yards. The city of Tucumcari whole-heartedly embraced the event by closing down a stretch of Route 66, known affectionately as the Mother Road, for a classic burn-out and cruise that seemed straight out of a hot rod movie from the ‘50s.

I got a chance to chat with Miss Davila about Rockabilly on the Route, La Loca Magazine, how she got interested in rockabilly, and what the Albuquerque rockabilly scene is like. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTERVIEW.

Bringing retro spirit back to Disneyland: Rock Around the Park with rockabillies

The thought of going to Disneyland and standing in 2 hour lines behind grouchy children right now, in the dead heat of summer, might not sound like your cup of tea (hopefully it’s ice-cold tea). But I have been daydreaming about a trip to Disneyland a little later in the year, when it’s cooler, not so crowded, and the Nightmare Before Christmas theme has taken effect at the Haunted Mansion. So I’ve been looking forward to the annual Rock Around the Park event, when hundreds of rockabillies and psychobillies liven up the landscape with their retro style and flair. Book your calendars now for Sunday, November 3rd, to join in the fun.

One might not automatically associate rockabillies and psychobillies with Mickey Mouse’s Kingdom, but it actually makes quite a lot of sense. As the organizer of the event pointed out to me, Disneyland opened in 1955 and therefore represents a time that rockabillies and psychobillies are invested and interested in. The mid-century vibe that the park still exudes appeals to the members of the scene today. But I can’t help but think that when Disneyland opened its doors, it stood for just about the exact opposite of everything that the budding rockabilly scene embodied. In 1955, a twenty-year-old Elvis Presley was popularizing his fusion of R&B and hillbilly while shocking conservative audiences with his gyrating pelvis and his wet-your-underpants voice and lyrics. Teens were boppin’ to Bill Haley’s jump blues-based rock’n’roll hits like “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” and “Rock Around the Clock,” and they were causing riots at movies like Blackboard Jungle. And – horror of horrors – black and white teenagers were breaking down the ropes that separated them to dance with each other as they rocked and rolled to the thrilling new music. In the midst of this cultural revolution, Disneyland opened its idyllic grounds, an oasis for family values and wholesome entertainment. And so I love the idea of Disneyland being taken over by the people who carry on the legacy of that rebellious spirit of the mid-1950s rock’n’roll revolution.

Regardless of this little bit of irony, I am, like most rockabilly and psychobilly fans, a sucker for the mid-century history and atmosphere of Disneyland. Plus, there’s hardly a psychobilly I know who doesn’t loveNightmare Before Christmas, the most alternative of all the Disney movies and the only one that I think we identify with as society’s misfits. And there’s even a little bit of musical entertainment that rockabillies enjoy, as Billy Hill and the Hillbillies entertain with their boot-stompin' country-and-bluegrass show. One final random connection between rockabilly and Disneyland: the official theme song of Disney’s animated TV show House of Mouse was composed and performed by neo-rockabilly hero Brian Setzer.

I got a chance to talk to the organizer to see what’s in store for this year’s event, which will be the sixth annual Rock Around the Park.... READ THE INTERVIEW BY CLICKING HERE.

Keeping rock'n'roll WILD: Wild Records and the upcoming Wild Records Weekender

An Irishman walks into a bar and ... saw some "Mexican rock'n'roll" that changed the landscape of L.A.'s music scene. Oh, not the punchline you expected, huh? Well, this is the story of what happened when Reb Kennedy caught a show by 'Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens. He was impressed with the energy they had on stage: "Their attitude just blew me away. They're weren't particularly skilled at their craft at that time, but it didn't matter. Their energy was fantastic!" He realized that they were a band he wanted to promote and record, and so began the story of Wild Records.

Kennedy had spent years honing his ear for new talent. He had always been interested in rock'n'roll - he remembers his family listening to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. He started searching the back catalogues of Elvis and began collecting records at the age of 12 (he estimates that his collection is about 50,000 strong at this point, and is stored in at least three different countries). He eventually moved from Dublin to London and worked at Rough Trade Records; he was there when The Smiths were signed to the indie label. He witnessed the highs and lows of the rock'n'roll scene there, and when he felt like it had started to die out he made his way to the U.S. He ran Demarco's 23 Club in San Francisco for a few years, a club legendary for showcasing acts like Patsy Cline and Jerry Lee Lewis. He focused on booking original rockabilly acts - like Hayden Thompson (after whom Kennedy named his son), Johnny Powers, and Eddie Bond - to round out the Western Swing and Honky-Tonk vibe of the club. But he was also keeping an eye out for young rockabilly bands: "But that was very difficult there because there weren't any artists that really fit what I wanted."

Luckily, 'Lil Luis Y Los Wild Teens did have that special sound he was looking for....