© Christopher Gooding photo
Every musician’s career is unique and yet there are always parallels. (From left) Music legend Rayburn Anthony compared notes with Shakedown Combo’s vocalist Gill Goode, London-star and chart-maker Tim “Polecat” Worman and Spain’s Charlie Hightone on Thursday as the kickoff for the Maritime Rock A Billy Shakedown in Amherst approaches.
AMHERST – Atlantic Canada’s biggest rockabilly festival begins today, Friday, and already the stars are starting to appear.
Running Sept. 6-8, the Maritime Rock A Billy Shakedown will features international stars and those close to home and amongst them are a few legends to the music world, too.
Rayburn Anthony had his hand in creating what we call today rock n’ roll. Signed to Sun Records, the same label the was home to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, Anthony and his label-mates were on the brink of something big: a sound that would change the world.
“They thought it was the devil’s music,” Anthony said.
Rockabilly, the precursor to rock n’ roll, blended country and western music with rhythm and blues. To some audiences, it was a delight but to others it was noise with an identity crisis, making the early days of the music anything but mainstream.
To survive in the music industry, Anthony’s early career would be a give-and-take relationship where Anthony would change up some of what he was doing to please labels, while still trying to achieve his musical dream.
“I went to Sun and I had three singles with them that I cut… but when Sun shut down I went to Nashville and started writing and recording for music organizations,” Anthony said. “When I started in the industry my goal was to have myself on the radio.”
It was a goal he would achieve over and over again, but he still remembers that first time he heard himself play on the radio.
“In 1960 was when the record came out and I was driving out of Memphis and they played a copy of it. Somebody from the studio had taken a copy to the radio station and they played it. Saint Louis Blues.”
Anthony and his cohorts set the stage for a new kind of rebel that would emerge in the 1970s. Punk rock was taking over the underground scene but the undeniable structure of rockabilly was too alluring for some young punks to ignore, like Tim “Polecat” Worman.
“When we were out doing gigs it was the height of the punk rock revolution so getting some of that in there as well as the wilder revolution of the fifties [was happening],” Worman said.
Getting heard on the radio was in Worman’s stars. With his band, The Polecats, Worman’s had four albums make the charts and hits singles internationally – but unlike Anthony who discovered his airplay by chance, Worman was given a heads up.
“It was 1979 on the BBC. I was sitting with my mom, saying ‘It’s coming on any minute.’ And she was saying ‘I don’t think they’re going to play it, I don’t think they’re going to play your record,’ and then it came on.”
At the age of 15, Worman was a star and his music would go on to be featured through airplay, television and movies, like the Pixar film Wall-E.
Rockabilly newcomer Charlie Hightone carries on the tradition of being a musician on the fringe searching for a larger audience. Hailing from a small town in Spain, it was clear Hightone and his rockabilly fever would have to hit the road if he was going to find his niche.
“I’m from a small town so nobody wanted to hear rock n’ roll,” Hightone said. “That’s why I moved to Madrid.”
It was a move that’s paid off. Today, Hightone his heralded as one of the most popular artists on the European scene.
Amidst all of this radio and rockabilly rebellion, however, there’s a unique phenomenon taking place. Amherst has become a home to these rockers, thanks to the passion of the Goode family, who set up their guitar parts store, Greasy Grooves, in the community and organized the first Maritime Rockabilly Shakedown Festival here last year. The three day festival not only became a destination for music lovers, it was embraced by the community at large, with many donning the fashion, shining up their cars and getting in on the action.
“It’s been wonderful for us,” said Gill Goode, vocalist for The Shakedown Combo, which features the core of Greasy Grooves – Goode’s husband David Lee and Daughter Kim. “We moved our business here four years ago and we love the town. We played a few times around the town and people looked like they liked rockabilly. We were looking to put on a festival, which we did last year. It was so successful and it’s wonderful.”
For more on the festival visit www.rockabillyshakedown.com.