On Saturday February 27th, WMNF 88.5 Community Radio held the 11th annual Rockabilly Ruckus – a tribute to Sun Records at Skippers Smokehouse in Tampa, FL. The show featured Alex & Bella, Hairdresser On Fire, Reverend Billy C. Wirtz and Ronny Elliot, Ted Stevens and the Doo-Shots, Sara Rose Band, Rocket 88, and the Nighthawks.
In 1950, Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. What Sam and this small rented space provided, turned out to be a breeding ground for some of the most famous artists in rock ‘n’ roll history. It was here in 1951 where “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats was recorded and what is considered by many to be the first rock ‘n’ roll song. This led Sam to start his very own record label, Sun Records, where anyone with a guitar and a dream could try and become a star as big as the sun. On a winter day in 1953, a teenage Elvis Presley strolls in to Sun Records and records two songs, “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. Little did Sam and Elvis know, what had transpired in that little studio would change music forever. Elvis wasn’t the only famous artist to record at Sun Studio. You may have heard of musicians such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, and the father of rockabilly himself, Carl Perkins. However, all good things must come to an end. After moving to bigger studios and ventures into radio, Sam had lost his passion for recording music. 1968 marked the last release by Sun Records. But fear not, the original Sun Studio was restored and re-opened in 1987 to try and capture the artists of a new generation. While it is a working studio, it is now a National Historic Landmark and you yourself can take a tour and learn all about the history of this storied American treasure.
Opening for this Sun Studio tribute show was Alex & Bella, aka AB+. This teenage folksy duo followed the keep it simple method. On acoustic guitar, Alex Bonyata sounds like a veteran player who’s grown up on the mean streets of soul. On vocals was Bella Beyer, with a stage presence and a voice well beyond her years. Her voice – tender, breathy and a tad sultry, reminded me of a young combination of Jewel and Sarah McLachlan. My favorite moment of their set was their rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”. Normally a fast tempo and upbeat song, they gave it their own spin turning it into a sweet melody that left me impressed.
Alex & Bella
After AB+, came the more traditional rockabilly band, Hairdresser on Fire. If the name sounds familiar, to you it is because they adopted it from a 1988 Morrisey B-side title track. They belted out classic rockabilly songs, like “Red Hot” and “Lonesome Tears in My Eyes”. In a previous article I wrote, Rumble in the South with Skinny D and the Hot Rod Truckers, I mentioned guitarist Damian Bacci, who was leading the charge on this night. He did not fail to live up to his incredible guitar playing. I have seen him a few times now and every time the man pours his heart out on that stage through his fingers. Alongside Damian was bassist Richy Scally who’s energy on stage was fantastic. I loved watching him lay down those classic grooves, and the man’s got some chops too. Drummer Paul Mallet, looked like your quintessential classic hipster arriving in a leather clad jacket and rocking a cool fedora hat. His drumming didn’t miss a beat, pun so intended, as he helped rock the house into the evening.
Hairdresser on Fire
More Rockabilly Ruckus – a tribute to Sun Records
Other acts that were part of the Rockabilly Ruckus – a tribute to Sun Records show were:
- Reverend Billy C. Wirtz
- Ronny Elliot
- Ted Stevens and the Doo-Shots
- Sara Rose Band
- Rocket 88
- The Nighthawks
More Tampa Rockabilly
- View more pics from Rockabilly Ruckus – a tribute to Sun Records and hear about the bands The Sara Rose Band and Reverend Billy C. Wirtz in Part II of this series.
- Rumble in the South with Skinny D & the Hot Rod Truckers and Jeff Vitolo & the Quarter Mile Rebels.