So I’m doing my evening blog reading last night, and I look up one of those music-sharing blogs, a rockabilly music one. There’s nothing so depressing as a rockabilly music-sharing blog; they come in many flavors. Many of them just post volume after volume of box-set obscurities, entire LABELS worth of output, and it can take a bit of searching to find something you may have heard, by someone you may have heard of. I know, it’s free, ‘take a risk once in a while,’ but some of these things don’t open, and it makes me worry. There’s also m-s-b’s for the 90’s rockabilly revival, full of the shit that clogged up the review pages of the Grindstone and Lo-Fi Living magazines — the cd artwork all seems to have ‘retro’ fonts all designed by the same guy*, the photography turns the clothes and instruments into fetish objects, as if to say, “LET IT BE KNOWN, a friend of the band went through fire and pain to find the flea market where he had to haggle and hondel ‘some old dude’ into parting with a car trunk full of old ‘Fifties-looking’ crap, and IT’S ALL GOING ON THE COVER OF THIS FUCKING ALBUM.”
BUT ANYWAY, I download a middle volume of a massive Carl Perkins box set. One that’s got ‘Matchbox,’ ‘Put Your Cat Clothes On,’ ‘Dixie Fried,’ and ‘Her Love Rubbed Off On Me.’ To the iPod with it; I put it on while working with the Golden Boy on his Pinewood Derby race car. A song I’d never heard before, ‘Sweethearts or Strangers,’ comes up, and I enjoy it so much I’m reminded that not only did I used to ‘like’ Carl Perkins, I LOVED what little Carl Perkins I had back in the day. It’s the version posted here, an obviously loaded alternate take. As I said, I’d never heard or heard of the song before, but it’s got what I loved about CP: Perkins always wanted so bad to be a pop songwriter, but he’s got a honky-tonk song with a fancy bridge. It’s like all the ‘party anthem’ stuff you hear on Soccer Mom Country Radio — songs that present bars and the booze lifestyle as a GOOD TIME and a REAL RIOT, full of WACKY CONSEQUENCES of INDISTINCT AND UNTOLD GRAVITY — it’s Poison 30 years ahead of time. The band (which, I guess, is Carl Perkins’ brothers Jay and Clay, W.S. Holland, and Jerry Lee Lewis!) pounds hard, Carl’s first solo is white hot (like I say, I never had much more than 15 Carl Perkins songs to listen to back when I was a Young Guy who Cared About Making Music for Barroom Assholes, and outside of a Seventies-era gas-station rack live CD with ‘Dixie Fried,’ I never heard ol’ Carl do anything that made me go “ODIN’S GREAT RAVEN!”**), flawlessly eases out of the solo to the refrain, then it’s time for the second solo, the band’s rock solid, Jerry Lee wants to steal the show, and Carl is OUT OF IDEAS. For about 4 bars, and then he’s slashing wildly away, and back on top of things. It’s sick! It’s Swope-a-delic!
It’s a wilder Carl Perkins than I’d ever heard; it’s the Carl Perkins as self-described in a biography released in 1997 or so.*** That bio had Carl relating an anecdote of a highly competitive session for ‘Matchbox’ with Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, wherein JLL wants to outplay everyone and CP has to respond with even more bombast to put the Killer in his place as a session man. I wound up with that track yesterday, too. It’s pretty funny — if you’ve heard any of CP’s ‘normal’ versions of ‘Matchbox,’ you can tell where he’s kind of rattled by the Killer’s unexpected hamminess.
The music of Carl Perkins doesn’t get much love from people these days; it’s probably because he had shitty hair. If you look at your modern-day Harvey and the Hubcaps ‘rootsy’ bands full of guys in taco-shaped cowboy hats and black, paunch-reducing Western shirts with pearlite snaps, they go for ‘young Elvis,’ Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran and Jerry Lee — all dudes who, to say the least, photographed well. Sadly, the bands that like Carl are the ones that are real museum pieces, where everybody’s got to have sock garters, period shirts and jackets and pants with the ‘Hollywood waist,’ ones that play shows where all the women put their hair in snoods**** and wear dresses that smell like mothballs. It’s like Carl Perkins is in the ‘Sun Obscurities’ bin, now, with Warren Smith, Malcom Yelvington, and anything with Roland Janes on it. His late-life album of duets, featuring classic rock stalwarts such as George Harrison, John Fogerty, and Tom Petty probably pushed him out of ‘young rockabilly’ favor, as much as anything.*****
I look over the Facebook, and see the friends of friends who are rockabilly people, and they are, to say the least, ‘of a type.’****** And I remember the time I spent, back in the day,******** vainly pursuing music alone, unable to convince anyone to follow my nutty ideas,^ and not even meeting other rockabilly people, save for a (of course) road trip to Dallas.^^ It didn’t help that I followed a vision of musical freedom I heard in Carl Perkins’ music; it’s sort of like being Jim Bridger or Kit Carson, if those guys had hung around small towns trying to convince people to spend time listening to music they couldn’t give a shit about, rather than hanging out in the wilderness wrestling bears and trading furs and beads with Native Americans. There are no snapshots out there of me with five guys dressed like me, hanging out while waiting for a show played by three guys who groom themselves just as I do.
In Tuscaloosa, there was only one other guy who’d play Carl Perkins, and that was a local guitar teacher who’d been in a zillion bands over the years, playing every style under the sun,and the band that played Carl Perkins was HIS BABY, and he wasn’t sharing it.^^^ So I actually wanted to join something, was well-versed in it, and still wasn’t wanted…ahhh, piss on joiners! How I ever got the Little Dan gig, and therefore, enough surreal experience to become haughty, is beyond me.
Up until I sobered up, and EVERY gig became a trying experience, wherein I watch, senses un-stupefied by spirits, barroom assholes ignore me and my mind, rather than remember lyrics or summon up gags of showmanship, can’t stop asking dumb questions like “What do I really want from this?”, “What did I think was going to happen on a Thursday?” and “Why didn’t I just stay home, if this is how my ‘friends’ act toward me?”, my most humiliating moment was playing the bar on the Tuscaloosa strip for the post-college losers who couldn’t get out of town for anyplace ‘real’ but ‘too cool’ for the frat stuff down the street, and getting the plug pulled on me my third song in. That song? “Dixie Fried.” The lesson? Never try, kids, never try, and never do anything unless ten of your friends are doing it as well. That’s smart marketing, good government, and sound business.
*Fontaine ‘Rockin’ Fonts’ Fonzarello, of Fond Forks, five fathoms further afield from Flagstaff.
**I’m not counting ‘Her Love Rubbed Off On Me’ — which is truly stunning — ’cause I didn’t hear that until the File Sharing Era, and by then I was a Thirtyish Guy who was Fucking Sick of trying to make music for Barroom Assholes.
***That bio was poorly written, but large chunks of it were just transcriptions of Carl Perkins talking with the author, and that was fascinating.
****Are any of you guys into chicks with snoods? ‘Cos I don’t know any guys who are into snoods. I guess it gives ‘rockabilly chicks’ a topic of conversation besides ‘short bangs’ and ‘bastard children.’
*****Hey, people got into rockabilly ‘cos they were fed to the teeth with Baby Boomer classic rock. At least, back in 95-98.
******Generally, fat fucks with porkchop sideburns with hundreds of dollars of ink on their arms, photographed on road trips while following some shitty band. If you give these coonts ten minutes, they will ironically defame Deadheads for being ‘followers’ and ‘inauthentic,’ not to mention ‘dirty.’ You tell me how denim, pomade and PBR conspire toward travel cleanliness.
*******’Back in the day,’ for me, generally means ‘between 1996-1999.’
^Some things never change. Which is why I record at home and make videos with action figures.
^^Dallas’ Deep Ellum, to be exact. A playground, like a giant, more moneyed, more live-music loving Fell’s Point, full of twentysomethings who (I did not know at the time) were covering up the fact they were living with their parents. ‘Quadrophenia,’ man….
^^^It was just a trio, and he was lucky to have THAT.