Rockabilly for Beginners

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Heather Spellacy models how to wear your finest rockabilly fashions here on campus. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

No matter the time or place, if I leave the house in a 50s vintage dress wearing my favorite shade of red lipstick, someone will ask me if I’m a “rockabilly girl.” I usually appease them and simply concur. While I’m definitely not a slave to the single genre, it is true that I love both the music and fashion associated with rockabilly culture. It’s rare to find other students around USF who share my passion. In order to broaden your horizons, I have put together a simple guide to give you a jumpstart into the world that is rockabilly.

It’s important to first understand what exactly rockabilly music is. One of the earliest forms of rock’n’roll, rockabilly is a cross between rock and country. Almost every band of the genre uses an upright bass to get that distinct rockabilly sound. To get a better idea of the music let’s start with a few of my quintessential rockabilly bands:

Elvis
Most probably don’t think rockabilly when Elvis’ name is mentioned, but he is one of the most prevalent and popular artists of the genre. He’s got the classic sound, the classic voice and the classic hair. Check out “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” if you’re looking to sway, “Don’t be Cruel” for some finger snapping and head-bopping, or “Jailhouse Rock” if you’re ready to dance.

Stray Cats
Stray Cats emerged in 1979, making it big in the early 80s. The band started in New York but didn’t have a major following. Seeing there was a rockabilly revival across the pond in England, the band relocated and started releasing hit after hit. Their music is very upbeat and danceable. Check out “Look at that Cadillac” for cruising around the city on those rare sunny days, “Stray Cat Strut” if you’re having a bad boy (or girl) moment, or “(She’s) Sexy & 17” if you’re feeling those pangs of high-school nostalgia.

The Reverend Horton Heat
One of my personal favorites, The Rev (as some call him) and his band mix classic rockabilly styles with innovative, sometimes bordering on crude lyrics. The band took off in the early 90s, releasing album after album. Jim Heath, the band’s front man and guitarist, has incredible skill on the guitar and an equally amazing voice. Their sound ranges anywhere from classic rockabilly to songs with a much harsher rock sound. Check out “Eat Steak” for all those redneck BBQs I know you love to host, “Wiggle Stick” if you’re feeling a little naughty, or “It’s Martini Time” for those classy nights.

The Chop Tops
Hailing from Santa Cruz, The Chop Tops are a West Coast staple among the current rockabilly subculture. Their sound tends to be relatively classic, but they switch it up a bit by incorporating punk and surf tunes into their music as well. The band gained popularity in the early 2000s and continue to tour up and down the west coast and more recently across the U.S. Check out “My Curse” to get a good idea of the band’s sound, “B—-” to pep yourself up after a bad night, or “El Diablo” if you’re in the mood to hear some amazing guitar.

Once you have the proper tunes, it’s still imperative to look the part. The rockabilly subculture lends itself completely to the looks of the 50s. Ladies, think classic vintage dresses that nip in at the waist (or a pencil skirt), red lipstick, stockings and vintage pumps. Men, think cuffed blue jeans, motorcycle boots (or Converse), a white tee and a perfectly slicked back pompadour.

If you’ve made it through the music and the fashion and still are interested in the rockabilly culture, throw on your vintage duds and put on your dancing shoes… here’s a few acts that are soon making their way through San Francisco (and there are always more shows in the greater Bay Area):

4/26 – Cash’d Out (Johnny Cash tribute band) @ Thee Parkside
5/24 – Mad Sin and Rezurex (a more punky version of rockabilly) @ Slim’s
6/5 – ¼ Mile Combo @ Thee Parkside
7/6&7 – Reverend Horton Heat @ The Great American Music Hall

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