Having sprung from very familiar and comfortable roots, rockabilly music took off in a completely new and unexpected direction. The musicians of rockabilly were making things up as they went along. There was no plan for how the music would develop. It just did. Several pioneers of the genre took control of the ship’s rudder and steered a course for uncharted waters. And the splash they made was heard around the world.
Country music, the blues, gospel music, and rhythm and blues were the main influences behind early rockabilly. Other forms of music like jazz, big-band swing music, and others also spiced up the rockabilly world. Rockabilly musicians were eager and enthusiastic youngsters who came from all different corners of the United States. Along with them, they brought all of the musical influences they’d grown up with and infused it into their style.
It’s fun to listen to rockabilly music and various artists and analyze their sound in an attempt to dissect it and figure out where it came from. With Elvis, you can easily see the rhythm and blues influence in the way he moved and the way he presented himself and his music. When you listen to his voice, you can readily hear the gospel choirs and the singing congregations that he’d spent so much time hearing and participating in as a youngster.
Carl Perkins was a bit more countrified than Elvis in my opinion. Yet there’s no denying the blues and rhythm and blues influences that also shaped his delivery and playing.
Eddie Cochran also brought a good dose of country into his musical style, but it was a more refined, elegant country than that which inspired Perkins. Jerry Lee Lewis clearly hear plenty of honky-tonk and rhythm and blues piano players in his time and he melded the two styles together in a particularly wild way that put him on the outrageous edge of rock and roll performances early on.
I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. What these guys were doing was taking the raw materials of the music they loved, blending it all together, and shaping it into something completely new. No one could have predicted whether it would be successful or not, although Sun Records’ Sam Phillips might have a legitimate claim to an argument against that statement!
But even the musicians themselves couldn’t have known what they were unleashing. They were just doing what creative musicians do: they were trying to come up with something fresh and new. And they certainly did! Once they began to recognize how thirsty the fans were for what they were creating, the energy fed upon itself and rockabilly music took off like a rocket. And the splash that those early pioneers made with this new, crazy form of music is still making waves today. Wonderful, rich, glorious rockabilly waves!