Thursday, March 5, 2009

More on Rockabilly, The Music

By Evan Rytlewski
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Notably missing from this week's Shepherd Express cover story on rockabilly: Any real discussion of the music itself. I was admittedly less interested in actual rockabilly music than exploring the related culture and values, and how those long-held rockabilly traditions have shaped the structure and even the economy of the Bay View neighborhood.

But I understand that it's sacrilegious to write about Milwaukee-area rockabilly and not include mentions of DJ Billy Boy Brad, the host of a Wednesday night spin at Frank's Power Plant and one of the true torch carriers of the local rockabilly tradition; The Spanic Boys, a fairly successful Milwaukee father-son band that brought the city's South Side traditions to the national stage when they played a 1990 episode of "Saturday Night Live;" Ken Davis, a first-wave rockabilly musician who recorded for Starlight Records, a regional label held in considerable esteem among vintage rockabilly buffs; and of course Jonny Z's Chicken Shack, an outstanding WMSE program that plays old country and rockabilly—as well as probably a dozen other figures and institutions that I am not even aware of.

The history of local rockabilly music begs for a much larger article, and frankly there are people more qualified to write it than I am (hearing me explain the difference between rockabilly and psychobilly is like hearing former Senator Ted Stevens explain the Internet). If you're looking for an introduction to the music, though, Jonny Z's show and Brad's weekly spin are probably the best ways to indoctrinate yourself. Or just visit about any bar in Bay View. You're bound to meet friendly, pompadoured people who will show you the ropes.

Finally, it'd be reckless to suggest that there's no rockabilly scene in other Milwaukee neighborhoods. The scene is particularly centralized in Bay View, which is the focus of the article, but last I checked, it's Riverwest that hosts Rockerbox, not Bay View.

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