Category Archives: Rockabilly

Montgomery Gentry

It’s so easy to forget that artists are people with real lives and traumas, not just singer/ song-writers that gain life experience solely for the purpose of putting it in a song. Eddie Montgomery is the better half of the musical group ‘Montgomery Gentry’ alongside Troy Gentry. This past week, Eddie Montgomery’s son was involved in a fatal car accident, a horror I can’t even begin to understand. I spent my entire life listening to Montgomery Gentry on the radio in the car and never once did I wonder about either of their families, or the things they might be dealing with. Upon further investigation, I learned that Montgomery had to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, was divorced by his wife (in the same month), AND closed a restaurant he owned all in under a few years. Doesn’t sound like an easy road to walk to me. I couldn’t have told you ANY of that but I sure can spout their album history off from memory, I could probably hit most of their singles as well.

The duo released their first album in 1999, and ‘Lonely and Gone‘ is one of my favorite country songs to date. Their southern rock influence, in tandem with their small-town, proud and loud personalities makes them one of the cooler country music artists in my opinion, aside from Gentry being kind of a dick, I try not to focus on that too much (exhibit A of people blatantly ignoring a musicians personal life and only caring about their music), alongside my personal favorite Toby Keith. Steven Huey of Allmusic referred to them as “multi-platinum country megastars noted for a soulful twang and a big black cowboy hat” and “rowdy redneck rebels who still hold small-town values”, and I really don’t think I could put it better myself. From ‘Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm” to ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ their sound has been consistent, rambunctious, and in my opinion, it’s been great.

I don’t know if its really a problem that in lieu of scandal or controversy American culture cares more about the song than the artist behind it, I mean to be fair the singers probably appreciate the distance it gives them. Hunter’s death just brought it to my attention. The personal lives of songwriters are the only thing that influences their songs and we care so little about one and so greatly about the latter.  RIP Hunter, and my condolences to Eddie Montgomery.


Filed under Blog Post 2, News, Rockabilly, Southern Rock

Still a Fujiyama Mama

Wanda Jackson

This past August I caught the legendary Wanda Jackson performing at Austin’s Continental Club. It was a memorable show, but it left me with mixed feelings about her legacy and popular culture’s general lack of interest in female musicians once they reach “a certain age.” This is probably why it has taken me well over two months to write about the experience. Conveniently, yesterday was Jackson’s birthday. She turned 77.

Known as the “Queen of Rockabilly,” Jackson rose to fame in the late 1950s as a kind of female version of Elvis Presley. In fact, she and Elvis toured together and even dated for a time. She gives him credit for convincing her to leave the honky-tonk music she grew up singing in California and Oklahoma for the rockabilly songs that would eventually land her a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (she was inducted in 2009).

Wanda Jackson & Elvis Presley

Wanda & Elvis (c. 1956)

The most successful rockabilly performers tended to be men (Elvis, Cash, etc.). Jackson did not ever top them in radio play or record sales, but in her songs she found the room to put their masculinist worldview in its place. “I Gotta Know” (1956), for example, pokes fun at Elvis’s dancing, with the narrator complaining that “[w]hen you’re on that floor you’re cool man cool, but when it comes to loving you need to go to school.”

Furthermore, in songs like “Fujiyama Mama” (1957) and “Riot in Cell Block #9” (1960), she brings into plain view the topic of female sexuality, which the male rockabillies avoided. In these songs, sexual desire is a dangerous and unsettling force–powerful as an atomic bomb or a prisoners’ revolt. In “Riot,” she describes female inmates overpowering their guards and cat-calling the male militia members who are sent in to calm them down. The song had been a hit for the Robins–an all-male R&B band–in 1954, but when Jackson performed it,  it became a kind of transgressive, feminist response to Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” (1957).

In the 1960s, rockabilly began losing its commercial appeal and Jackson moved back into country (and later, gospel) music. In songs like “The Box It Came In” (1966) and “My Big Iron Skillet” (1969), she continued criticizing philandering men, even threatening them with violence. But her bigger hits from this period were more often about heartbreak and standing by your man whether he’s right or wrong, which makes it hard to argue that there is any kind of feminist message unifying her many, many records. Colin Escot, in the book accompanying Bear Family’s 8-CD collection of her country recordings, chalks this up to Jackson’s never having the kind of major hit that would bring her the power to choose the best new songs. In a sense, she made a career making the best she could of the leftovers.

Dusty's Wanda Jackson ShowOn one hand, the Continental Club is a perfect place for Jackson to perform. Open since 1957, it has hosted some of the United States’s greatest musicians, from Tommy Dorsey to Stevie Ray Vaughan. The owner, Steve Wertheimer, has honored Jackson with tribute shows, and she clearly feels at home there. The performance I attended lasted a little over an hour, which was understandable given her age and that there were 2-3 other acts also playing that night. She was surprisingly energetic, shrieking into the mic like a crazed inmate at one point and later yodeling her way through “I Betcha My Heart I Love You.”

But on the other hand, I couldn’t help but think that after rocking for six decades the Queen of Rockabilly should be playing someplace a little nicer–someplace where the audience has sense enough to shut up when she talks about grabbing sodas on her dates with Elvis Presley. For all its history, the Continental Club is a little shabby around the edges and is exactly the sort of place Jackson must have had in mind when she admitted to Escot that she wished she didn’t have to play honky tonks anymore. I would think that Wanda fucking Jackson wouldn’t have to play anywhere she didn’t want to anymore.


Filed under Austin, Bakersfield Sound, Classic Country, Live Music, Reflection, Rockabilly