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The Sparkletones Is The Second Greatest Rockabilly Band Name Ever

I was in the Superfonics. That’s the greatest Rockabilly band name ever. We stunk, but man, could we name things.

The drummer was an ancient old dude, probably ten years younger than I am now, and he didn’t have a car or front teeth. I’m not sure if those two details are related. He got rid of most of his toms and cymbals, welded the remaining drums together, and bolted a big handle to the resultant apparatus. He’d ride the subway with it. He’d come in, plop the thing down, sit on a milk crate, and start playing. He was either a genius or a dullard.  The two guitar players were roommates, attending MIT. They were either geniuses, or very smart, I can’t remember which. They played everything  exactly like the records we copied. The singer — couldn’t.

[Oh, dear; look what I found in my junk drawer:]

I remember Chet’s. If I owned Hell and Chet’s Last Call, I’d live in Hell and rent out Chet’s.

Still Dead Not Fat Elvis

[Editor’s Note: From 2007. My friend Gerard is currently maundering on about the wonder of Fat Elvis. I wonder about the wonder]

You see them at every Tennessee Titans game. Every Vegas shindig. Every Halloween and costume Karaoke. Fat Elvis.

He’s iconic in that iteration. You could draw it from memory unless you’ve been under a rock for thirty years — the white spangled jumpsuit, the prop guitar, the greasy piled-up pompadour and the sideburns. Glasses that could stop gamma rays with frames that could stop a sequin bullet–and have. It’s been odd to see that version of Elvis become the default, because I was alive back then, a little kid watching him on TV in the late sixties and early seventies, sweating gravy and mumbling a handful of lounge numbers while doughy matrons with bad teeth and beehive hairdos in some Vegas audience threw their granny panties at him. He was a joke. A bad joke. And when he finally died, his heart hopping out of his chest after only forty-two years, bloated and drugged in his bathroom, I figured he’d go away and stay there. Wrong.

The Fat Elvis costume has become as recognizable as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Hell, Uncle Sam. It screams: AMERICA. And not fussy America, or political America, or The New York Times Book Review America, either. He’s strip mall/chrome fin/corn dog/hayseed/ghetto blaster/swimming hole/fried chicken/AM radio/concrete block church/Vegas whore America. He’s the whole ball of earwax in Jesusland.

But I knew Elvis because I knew rockabilly. Elvis Presley arguably invented it; at the very least he personified it before he went Hollywood. He was the sun around which Sun records revolved in the fifties. Long before Elvis become the guy that showed up in adjustable waistbands and spangles, and was Elvis, he was great. Not just great. Important.

I knew those records, right from That’s All Right. Scotty Moore’s clean and nimble guitar, Bill Black’s percussive upright bass — it was the most maddening and infectious beat I ever heard. Real rockabilly beats send everyone to the dance floor, where they look at each other and wonder what the hell happens now. Country bumpkins knew because it was cooked up in the hidden still of their culture. Elvis was great, and a good singer, and an important synthesizer of a new style. But he was much more than that, long before he became a caricature of himself. He didn’t start out a caricature, but a comic book super hero, simultaneously absurd and wonderful. He was vital then.

I got Image/SOFA Entertainment’s 3 DVD set of Elvis’ appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it’s wonderful. I began watching it thinking it would be a kind of dumb fun — the best kind– but I realized I was watching something else too; something that I never would have seen because I wasn’t alive yet. I saw America’s, and the world’s odometer turn over.

The DVDs are the whole shows. Three of them, from late 1956 into 1957. It’s fascinating stuff, even the dreck, because it’s the context. It’s the whole America-centered world as it sat– confident, salubrious, muscular, on the go, the engine of the world with the Marshall Plan and Soviet containment carried lightly on its back. At first Ed Sullivan assembles it willy-nilly and points a camera at it. Then Ed rolls an Elvis grenade into the middle of it.

There’s a long succession of artists and performers you can point to that encapsulate the zeitgeist of their times. Their replacements show up long before they’re ready to leave the spotlight, generally, and they hang around long after they’re hip. They become… well, Fat Elvis. I remember distinctly watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was a child, and I imagine Elvis knew that he was good for broads and booze and pills and Vegas shows and B movies until the day he died, but he wasn’t the lead dog anymore. He knew it because he had done it to others himself.

You watch the luminous black and white TV dubs of the shows, and you’re struck by the encyclopedic nature of the proffered fare. Ed is a newspaperman still, jarring in itself — TV is second fiddle! — and like some bizarre librarian in the school of uncool. He’s the Noah of TV, rounding up a couple of everything, and floating it on the public.

It’s all there, all the things that faced Elvis like a wall to get over: vaudeville acts; European music hall ginks; Broadway singers and ballet dancers; dogs and ponies, lounge singers and clowns; eccentric actors; semi-exotic performers from anyplace that didn’t have the big red boot on their face. If it wasn’t hackneyed enough, there was half a dozen assorted acts straight from the circus, and the circus is entertainment straight from the middle ages.

The artist of the age that superseded the middle ages carved his David, to tell the Doges the world belonged to man. In 1956, our own hillbilly David climbed down off the pedestal and sent his ration of squares to oblivion. You’ve heard so much about Elvis and the frenzy he engendered, but when you see him there, in front of a phalanx of Jordanaires in checked coats, Elvis seems like everything and nothing. You can’t tell if he’s so self assured he’s bulletproof, or so self-conscious he can’t get through the song without laughing at himself. He tosses that impossible shock of a shock of hair, the girls scream, and he laughs — at himself, at them, at the whole damn thing — but he’s as serious as a heart attack about the thing too. He seems to be all glass, like a windowpane, but he’s a deep pool somehow, instead. You don’t know why he’s all that. You wonder if he does.

I pictured the Conn and Mack tap-dancing duo watching Elvis from the wings for a while, and then going out in the alley to find a pay phone and see if their brother-in-law still had a job opening or two at his dry cleaning store.

Get Elvis – The Ed Sullivan Shows, and watch empires crumble into the sea when Elvis twitches.

I’ve Got A Hankerin’ For Some Hungarian Rockabilly

Spot-on stuff. Simple. Direct. Charming. Peppy. I wonder; would it be easier to find such a thing in the United States, or elsewhere? These people are from Hungary. Budapest is certainly “elsewhere.” The US has an enormous appetite for nostalgia, of course, but it’s usually heavily ladled with hipster sauce — a desire to resurrect it because it’s dreadful. I don’t see that here. They love it, so they copy it as best they can.

The Tom Stormy Trio is the band. Rhythm Sophie is the singer. The translation on her webpage is too charmingly off-kilter not to offer here:

Miss Rhythm Sophie, red hot rhythm and blues chirp of Budapest, Hungary, the most exciting young singer on the scene, singin’ the original 40’s – 50’s style rhythm and blues and rock and roll.
It didn’t take a long time for her to became well-known of her fantastic voice and style, now she’s touring in the country all the time, as well as all over Europe sometimes (she toured Croatia, Romania, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands successfully), making radio and TV appearences regularly, and recording excellent stuff from time to time.
She’s a very versatile person, she can get you in the mood of the smoky bars of the 1920’s when she sings the blues only with a guitarist or a piano player; or she can make you scream and shout and have a ball when she sings them jumpin’ rhythm and blues things with her combo. She even sings gospel, country and western or sometimes rock-a-billy as well.

Be-Bop-A-Leopold The Second. Hey kids — rock on!

Imelda May? Imelda Does

Imelda May is not a singer. Imelda May is Lady Godiva’s better looking sister riding in a rockabilly chariot pulled by three horses she stole from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a wink, riding roughshod and bareback over the known world, while making Helen of Troy look like Bella Abzug.

Tag: rockabilly

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