Rockabilly is a musical style, an early form of rock ‘n’ roll, which is a synthesis of rock ‘n’ roll and country music (especially its southern sub-style, hillbilly and possibly bluegrass). Rockabilly was also heavily influenced by swing and boogie-woogie. The term “rockabilly” comes from the words “rock” and the hillbilly style. Rockabilly appeared in the southern states of the United States in the early to mid 1950s and immediately gained great popularity. In fact, it was from rockabilly that classic rock ‘n’ roll and later modern rock grew. Rockabilly was originally aimed at white audiences. The centre of rockabilly’s development was the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
Rockabilly is also a cultural trend and a “rebellious” lifestyle in relation to Puritan values, setting fashion in clothing and hairstyles, jive dancing, motorbike and car enthusiasts.
Memphis experimented with combinations of country and rhythm and blues. The young Elvis Presley then with one record “That’s All Right” unleashed a real war in the radio airwaves on the division of music into “black” and “white”, then Johnny Cash became popular with his composition “Cry! Cry! Cry!”.
In the early 1950s rockabilly was also developing in New York: Bill Haley and his band recorded several hits, including the famous song “Rock Around the Clock”, which entered the Guinness Book of World Records as “the best-selling pop record”.
Rockabilly gradually spread throughout the United States. The greatest contribution to this was made by radio and television. Carl Perkins with “Blue Suede Shoes” and Elvis Presley with “Heartbreak Hotel” were particularly prominent on the airwaves. In April 1956, new names appeared on the rockabilly scene – Johnny Horton, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Wanda Jackson.
By the early 1960s, the rockabilly boom was on the wane. This was fuelled by a change in musical generations, as well as Buddy Holly’s death in a plane crash and Elvis Presley’s defection to the army. By the middle of the decade, the rockabilly style remained popular only in Britain
Neo-rockabilly refers to a revival or modern reinterpretation of the original rockabilly music style that emerged in the 1950s.
Neo-rockabilly emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s as a revivalist movement, with contemporary musicians drawing inspiration from the classic rockabilly sound while infusing it with their own modern influences. These influences may include punk rock, new wave, and other elements of the evolving music scene during that time.
Neo-rockabilly bands often maintain the essential characteristics of rockabilly, such as the use of upright bass, twangy guitars, and a driving rhythm. However, they may incorporate a more polished production style or blend in elements from other genres, giving the music a fresh and updated sound.
This revivalist movement helped bring attention to the roots of rock and roll and introduced the genre to a new generation of listeners while adding a contemporary twist to the classic sound. Notable neo-rockabilly bands include The Stray Cats, The Polecats, and The Rockats, among others.