Introduction | Rockabilly | Country
The 1950s was a period of enormous upheaval and social change, as the world slowly recovered from the deprivations of the Second World War. Changes were apparent in every aspect of life, but perhaps the greatest was the rise of the ‘teenager’ as a distinct socio-economic class.
For the first time, young people had money in their pockets and a desire to express themselves through their own music and fashion. They were no longer prepared to be merely younger versions of their parents.
Rock’n’roll became the symbol of youth. The war had brought the black and white populations of America closer together and now the strict segregation of different musical styles would disappear forever. Blues, jazz, big bands, hillbilly, western swing and indeed every strand of popular music became interwoven as rock’n’roll provided teenagers with an exciting alternative to the music of the Establishment. Rock’n’roll, with its repetitive beat, honking saxes, crashing drums and screeching guitars, caught the imagination of practically every young person. Their parents hated it.
The word ‘rockabilly’ has always lacked a clear and concise definition. Strictly speaking it is a hybrid form of country music, combining hillbilly with the blues, and it was this apparently simple formula that gave rock’n’roll its greatest star, Elvis Presley. For a short period in the mid-1950s, rockabilly became commercially successful and so dominant that it ended the careers of many established country singers and briefly threatened the entire fabric of country music.
The success of Elvis Presley opened the door for others to follow. Young rebels like Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis were country boys brought up on the music of Hank Williams. They added a rock’n’roll tempo, cranked up the volume – and for a while the whole world danced to that rockabilly beat.
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