Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday | The Rockabilly Legends

book_rockabillyOut of the American South in the early 1950s came a synergy that would shape the culture of music forever. The Rockabilly Legends is a firsthand account of its formation and some of the celebrated names that provided the catalyst of its growth.

 

 

 

Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday | The Rockabilly Legends: They Called it Rockabilly Long Before They Called it Rock 'n' Roll (Hal Leonard; 285 pages; $35)

Bodies of work that undertake the ambitious goal of encompassing an entire genre tend to fall short. The adjective "definitive" is a tall order for any documentarian, and especially one tackling the history of a major social movement in pop culture. If anyone comes close, though, it's the authors of this well executed and boldly illustrated coffee table volume.

The collaborative efforts of Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday serve a dual role for readers. Not only do they provide a porthole over a half century back into the history of popular music, they also give us a rare intimacy with the individuals who dwell in that history and, as the title suggests, have reached the status of legends.

The beginning of the work introduces readers briefly to the climate of the 1950s as a decade of post-war youth who were ripe for the explosion of vitality that gave birth to the music of their generation. Due respect and credit is paid from the very start to the black musicians and workers who provided the inspiration and framework of a new style of music that took the world by surprise. An exploration into Elvis Presley's epochal "accidental big bang" of 1954 then introduces us to Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who plays a central role throughout the rest of the work as a key figure in the development and marketing of the rockabilly phenomenon.

An incendiary tour featuring Presley followed in January of 1955 under the name of "The Louisiana Hayride" that planted seeds in the minds of two young musicians on two different days in west Texas. The rise of both of these icons, Buddy Holly of Lubbock and Roy Orbison of Midland, figure prominently in the pages that follow as well as on the airwaves of early rock 'n' roll music, and the roots of both of them in rockabilly is traced back to their experiences of that fateful tour.

The work continues as a litany of short biographies detailing the rise to stardom, and in some cases the fall to tragedy, of a handful of monumental names in the business, most of which Naylor has shared a personal history at some point or another. These names—Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and an impressive list of others—are presented as a collection of stories that reads like fiction yet retains the strangeness and intrigue of truth.

The accompanying hour-length DVD includes footage of early performances and later interviews with some of the well known artists in the book as well as personal testaments from Naylor, and largely the first two-thirds of the book itself serves as a fairly close transcript of the DVD.

The unabashed name-dropping by Naylor is excusable due to his own illustrious career in early rock 'n' roll and his inclusion of inside facts about rockabilly, such as how it came to called by that name (it isn't a combination of "rock" and "hillbilly," as most believe). The book and DVD combine as an overall contribution to the preservation of rock history that will be appreciated by those with casual interest as well as outright fanatics. | Jason Neubauer

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