Various: That’ll Flat Git It! Vol. 32

Bear Family’s signature rockabilly anthology still rockin’ at 32!

At thirty-two volumes in twenty-eight years, one might wonder if Bear Family’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 ‘n’ 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 collector’s jukebox Bear Family envisioned when they programmed 1992’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 Holly’s sides include a cover of the Clovers’ “Ting-a-Ling,” cut in Nashville in 1956, and the original “I’m Lookin’ For Someone to Love,” cut with Norman Petty in Clovis, NM. The former’s rockabilly treatment was resurrected by the Kingbees in 1980, while the latter’s terrific vocal and guitar solo was overshadowed in rock ‘n’ roll history by its A-side, “That’ll Be the Day.” Holly’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 Burnette’s cover of “Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee” features Burnette’s unabashed vocal and Paul Burlison’s hard-twanging guitar, and Brenda Lee’s B-side “Little Jonah (Rock on Your Steel Guitar)” features the swinging steel of Buddy Emmons.

Ronnie Self found his greatest commercial success as a songwriter (penning “I’m Sorry” and “Sweet Nothins” for Brenda Lee), while his recording career turned out classic rave-ups such as “Bop-A-Lena,” but no big hits. His self-penned debut on Decca included the twangy mid-tempo “Big Town” backed with the wilder flipside “This Must Be the Place.” Cut in Nashville, both sides feature A-listers Buddy Harman, Floyd Cramer and Hank Garland. Bill Haley and His Comets’ 1958 single “Lean Jean” was cut in the same New York City studio in which they’d arguably birthed rock ‘n’ roll four years earlier with “Rock Around the Clock.” At 33, and with rock ‘n’ roll having exploded in his wake, Haley seemed to be a step behind the times as this mid-tempo number doesn’t generate the unbridled excitement of the group’s earlier recordings, and limped on to the charts at #67.

That said, Haley’s co-written “Broke Down Baby” provided the Philadelphia-based Tyrones an opportunity to rock in show band style, suggesting that the early roots of rock ‘n’ roll weren’t entirely dead; but it does beg the question of how one even defines “rockabilly.” Hank Penny, a western swing star in the ‘30s and ‘40s, echoes Haley’s fading glory as “Rock of Gibraltar” 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 “Where’d You Stay Last Night” is as much R&B as it is rockabilly. Jimmy Duncan’s “Run Little Joey” includes a Latin rhythm and doo wop-styled bass vocal alongside a rock ‘n’ roll sax and guitar solo. Jack & Jim’s novelty “Tarzan and Jane” sounds like folk music with a primal beat (though Glenn Reeves’ “Tarzan,” also included on this set, manages to swing more freely), while the flip “Midnight Monster Hop” has more rock ‘n’ roll in its guitar and drums. The Brooklyn-based doo-wopping Bay Bops manage to stir up some real excitement with the jivey “Follow the Rock,” while Sandy Coker’s “Honky Tonk Freeze” sounds more like a cross between Chet Atkins and the tamer instrumentals that Larry Collins cut with Joe Maphis; it’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. Roberts’ freewheeling “Gonna Have Myself a Ball” was written by the legendary Boudleaux Bryant and features a driving beat and plenty of twangy guitar. Elvis also cast his spell over Johnny Duffet’s dizzying minor key original “Just Give Me Your Heart,” Buddy Holly’s hiccups informed Arthur Osborne’s loose-stringed, “Don’t Give Me Heartaches,” and the Everly Brothers seem to have opened the door for the Los Angeles-based Barker Brothers’ “Well All Right… Friday Night.”

Among the set’s biggest surprises is Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, backed by bassist Joe Mauldin and the unmistakable guitar of Buddy Holly, covering Johnny O’Keefe’s “Wild One,” under the title “Real Wild Child” and the nom-de-disque “Ivan.” The Maine-bred Dodie Randall is wound up on “Man Hunt” and its flip “I Fell in Love Again,” both cut in Los Angeles with guitarist Barney Kessell and a talented, but unnamed pianist, and Johnny Bell’s “The Third Degree” 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 ‘n’ roll, documented in a 40-page booklet filled with photos, label reproductions and Bill Dahl’s informative liner notes. At 32 volumes, this series is still rocking like a teenager! [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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