Given the meteoric rise and short original lifespan of Rockabilly, one might be tempted to consider it a passing fancy. But given the deep roots it shared in both hillbilly and rhythm 'n' blues, and the lasting impact it would have on rock 'n' roll, the explosion of sound in the mid-to-late-50s is seen to be a whole more than an industry-fueled fad. Bear Family's seemingly endless "That's Flat... Git It" series chronicles the scads of lesser known artists and rare sides that were the ice berg of music holding up the tip that appeared on the charts via Elvis, Carl Perkins and others.
Volume 2 focuses on sides waxed for Decca in the U.S. The label's country A&R chief, Paul Cohen, ran both country roster artists and new finds through a single or two, cutting them loose if they didn't hit (and losing Buddy Holly in the process!). Most of the sessions were arranged and produced by legendary studio guitarist Grady Martin (whose acoustic lead was famously featured on Marty Robbins' "El Paso"), and recorded in Owen Bradley's studio, with Bradley often playing piano.
Bear Family selected thirty tracks (all in glorious mono) previously anthologized on a four-volume UK anthology, and added Bill Millar's exquisitely detailed notes and discographical information. The highlights are numerous, including Don Woody's hiccuping (and barking) "You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree" (how could the Cramps not have covered this?!), and Autry Inman's jivey "Be Bop Baby" (not to be confused with Ricky Nelson's like-named song). Jimmy & Johnny's "Sweet Love On My Mind" paved the way for latter-day revivalists like Dave & Deke, and The Five Chavis Brothers "Baby, Don't Leave Me" seem to presage the Kingsmen and other 1960s Northwest powerhouses.
Throughout, the guitars ring with the authority and bravado that moved Rockabilly past its roots. The comfort with which both fingerpicking and electric flatpicking fit the genre is an indication of its two musical roots. Though not the wildest side on this set, country legend Webb Pierce's "Teenage Boogie" shows how short a leap it was from hard-driving country-boogie to rockabilly. Roy Hall's tracks are reminiscent of Bill Haley & The Comets, including a looser R&B-influenced cover of "See You Later Alligator," and an early version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" that takes it down-low, rather than barn-burning.
Child prodigy guitarist Jerry Kennedy, who'd go on to a successful career as a record industry executive, shows himself to be a fine rockabilly vocalist on "Teenage Love is Misery," and Roy Orbison's original rhythm guitarist, Peanuts Wilson, cut the truly peculiar "Cast Iron Arm," penned by Orbison and producer Norman Petty.
Those looking for an introduction to rockabilly might want to start with the hits (that is, not this series of compilations), but anyone looking to explore the breadth and depth of the sound will find this a terrific anthology.