At thirty-two volumes in twenty-eight years, one might wonder if Bear Familyâ€™s signature rockabilly anthology has run out of gas. But even on a fourth excursion into the vaults of Decca, Brunswick and Coral, Bear Family has unearthed many fine rock â€˜nâ€™ roll platters, and maintained their traditional attention to detail and presentation. The thirty-nine page booklet includes period photos, label reproductions, and knowledgeable liner notes by Bill Dahl. The thirty-three tracks clock in at over seventy-five minutes, and play like the collectorâ€™s jukebox Bear Family envisioned when they programmed 1992â€™s Volume 1. Best of all, the well of good material is still gushing with legends Johnny Burnette, Ronny Self, Brenda Lee, Bill Haley & His Comets, and Buddy Holly sharing the stage with superb acts known primarily to rockabilly aficionados.
Buddy Hollyâ€™s sides include a cover of the Cloversâ€™ â€œTing-a-Ling,â€ cut in Nashville in 1956, and the original â€œIâ€™m Lookinâ€™ For Someone to Love,â€ cut with Norman Petty in Clovis, NM. The formerâ€™s rockabilly treatment was resurrected by the Kingbees in 1980, while the latterâ€™s terrific vocal and guitar solo was overshadowed in rock â€˜nâ€™ roll history by its A-side, â€œThatâ€™ll Be the Day.â€ Hollyâ€™s music has been so deeply canonized at this point, that hearing his records mixed into a rockabilly collection is a good opportunity to reset their connection to the musical times in which they developed. Johnny Burnetteâ€™s cover of â€œDrinkinâ€™ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Deeâ€ features Burnetteâ€™s unabashed vocal and Paul Burlisonâ€™s hard-twanging guitar, and Brenda Leeâ€™s B-side â€œLittle Jonah (Rock on Your Steel Guitar)â€ features the swinging steel of Buddy Emmons.
Ronnie Self found his greatest commercial success as a songwriter (penning â€œIâ€™m Sorryâ€ and â€œSweet Nothinsâ€ for Brenda Lee), while his recording career turned out classic rave-ups such as â€œBop-A-Lena,â€ but no big hits. His self-penned debut on Decca included the twangy mid-tempo â€œBig Townâ€ backed with the wilder flipside â€œThis Must Be the Place.â€ Cut in Nashville, both sides feature A-listers Buddy Harman, Floyd Cramer and Hank Garland. Bill Haley and His Cometsâ€™ 1958 single â€œLean Jeanâ€ was cut in the same New York City studio in which theyâ€™d arguably birthed rock â€˜nâ€™ roll four years earlier with â€œRock Around the Clock.â€ At 33, and with rock â€˜nâ€™ roll having exploded in his wake, Haley seemed to be a step behind the times as this mid-tempo number doesnâ€™t generate the unbridled excitement of the groupâ€™s earlier recordings, and limped on to the charts at #67.
That said, Haleyâ€™s co-written â€œBroke Down Babyâ€ provided the Philadelphia-based Tyrones an opportunity to rock in show band style, suggesting that the early roots of rock â€˜nâ€™ roll werenâ€™t entirely dead; but it does beg the question of how one even defines â€œrockabilly.â€ Hank Penny, a western swing star in the â€˜30s and â€˜40s, echoes Haleyâ€™s fading glory as â€œRock of Gibraltarâ€ sounds like something that would have been more at home in an early rocksploitation movie than a rockabilly hop. Joe Hudgins was a country artist and protege of Marty Robbins, and his original â€œWhereâ€™d You Stay Last Nightâ€ is as much R&B as it is rockabilly. Jimmy Duncanâ€™s â€œRun Little Joeyâ€ includes a Latin rhythm and doo wop-styled bass vocal alongside a rock â€˜nâ€™ roll sax and guitar solo. Jack & Jimâ€™s novelty â€œTarzan and Janeâ€ sounds like folk music with a primal beat (though Glenn Reevesâ€™ â€œTarzan,â€ also included on this set, manages to swing more freely), while the flip â€œMidnight Monster Hopâ€ has more rock â€˜nâ€™ roll in its guitar and drums. The Brooklyn-based doo-wopping Bay Bops manage to stir up some real excitement with the jivey â€œFollow the Rock,â€ while Sandy Cokerâ€™s â€œHonky Tonk Freezeâ€ sounds more like a cross between Chet Atkins and the tamer instrumentals that Larry Collins cut with Joe Maphis; itâ€™s a tasty instrumental, but rockabilly?
The set opens with the Elvis-like strains of Lance Roberts, a singer who cut two singles for Decca before moving on to Sun. Robertsâ€™ freewheeling â€œGonna Have Myself a Ballâ€ was written by the legendary Boudleaux Bryant and features a driving beat and plenty of twangy guitar. Elvis also cast his spell over Johnny Duffetâ€™s dizzying minor key original â€œJust Give Me Your Heart,â€ Buddy Hollyâ€™s hiccups informed Arthur Osborneâ€™s loose-stringed, â€œDonâ€™t Give Me Heartaches,â€ and the Everly Brothers seem to have opened the door for the Los Angeles-based Barker Brothersâ€™ â€œWell All Rightâ€¦ Friday Night.â€
Among the setâ€™s biggest surprises is Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, backed by bassist Joe Mauldin and the unmistakable guitar of Buddy Holly, covering Johnny Oâ€™Keefeâ€™s â€œWild One,â€ under the title â€œReal Wild Childâ€ and the nom-de-disque â€œIvan.â€ The Maine-bred Dodie Randall is wound up on â€œMan Huntâ€ and its flip â€œI Fell in Love Again,â€ both cut in Los Angeles with guitarist Barney Kessell and a talented, but unnamed pianist, and Johnny Bellâ€™s â€œThe Third Degreeâ€ hits the rockabilly trifecta of angst-filled lyrics, a hopped-up vocal and wild guitar playing. The 33 tracks fill the disc with over seventy-five minutes of original rock â€˜nâ€™ roll, documented in a 40-page booklet filled with photos, label reproductions and Bill Dahlâ€™s informative liner notes. At 32 volumes, this series is still rocking like a teenager! [Â©2019 Hyperbolium]