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Jackson TN 2009

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L. V. Bryant


ROCK-A-BILLY FESTIVAL'S 10TH ANNIVERSARY

AUGUST 6TH, 7TH & 8TH, 2009
JACKSON, TENNESSEE


After looking at the program Saturday night, I was so sorry my sister Patsy and I weren't able to attend Thursday and Friday nights of the Rockabilly Festival. I would have loved to have seen Ace Cannon again (who makes his saxophone talk), and seen Sleepy LaBeef, Carl Mann and Jason D. Williams for the first time.

But we had traveled from Louisiana earlier in the week to Muldrow, Oklahoma, with our mother getting her settled in her new apartment just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in my sister Judy's hometown.

Saturday morning, with Mother settled, we just had to see our favorite, Narvel Felts, in Jackson and knew he was ONLY 388 miles away across Arkansas, past Memphis, and on to Jackson where we arrived in mid-afternoon. After a short nap, we were fortunate enough to have an early dinner with Narvel, his lifetime buddy, Huey P. Long, and other Fan Club members, Tom and Annie Costello who had traveled from Cincinnati, Ohio, for Narvel's show.

Little David Wilkins singing and playing piano with a great backup band of fine musicians were on stage when we arrived at the Jackson Fairgrounds and put on a wonderful show until after 8:00 P.M. I didn't catch all of their names, but Tim Marshall was on bass, Tuck, Randy on drums, guitarist Rod Anderson, and C.W. Gatlin on guitar were part of the group.

Narvel was on stage next backed by Double Edge who warmed up the audience with a few songs including the highlight for me, band member Judy Webb singing "Don't Touch Me" in a pure crystal-clear voice.

Narvel, looking "hot" in black pants, a metallic silvery shirt and a gorgeous deep purple jacket, opened his show with "Funny How Times Slips Away", his 1973 break-through version of "Drift Away", and then took us back to his Rockabilly roots with a song he wrote, "Pink and Black Days."

He set the scene for his first recording session at Sun Records in Memphis, January 23, 1957, with Conway Twitty (still Harold Jenkins) who had drug up a chair next to him, Roy Orbison and Jack Clement in the control room, Johnny Cash and a new, little known piano player, Jerry Lee Lewis, who had yet to have a hit, as he thrilled us with "Great Balls of Fire".

Back to his Rockabilly days as he recalled that in the summer of 1957 at shows in both Flint, Michigan, and Poplar Bluff, Missouri, after his first record had come out, the girls "tore his clothes off," a thrill for a country boy who had spent many autumns picking cotton just a short time before then. He sang "Kiss-A-Me Baby" from this era and received one of several standing ovations for his snappy rendition of this classic.

"Reconsider Me" followed, his 1975 Billboard and Cash Box Single of the Year. Then a beautiful ballad, "If Ever Two Were One (Then Surely We Are)", a song I had never heard him sing before after seeing over 50 of his shows in the last 12 and a half years. Narvel told us later that it's on his "Doin' What I Feel" LP. "My Babe" followed, with the words, "And when she's hot, there ain't no coolin'." What a great Rockabilly classic!

Laying his guitar to the side and singing without it, Narvel dedicated "Danny Boy" to his son Bub who he and his wife Loretta lost on September 14th, 1995. As Bub played drums for him in August of that year in what would be their last show together in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the club owner, Larry Frye, requested "Danny Boy" for an encore.

Of course I've heard Narvel sing this song before. He always dedicates it or "Even Now" and once the beautiful "Sonny Man" to Bub in his shows and whatever he sings in Bub's memory is always special. But I have to tell you that this rendition of "Danny Boy" was in a class by itself. I don't know how Narvel poured more of his heart and soul into this song this night, but he did. It was hauntingly beautiful and will burn in my memory for a long time.

Narvel closed out his show with "Headin' Home" which he wrote in 1957, a foot-stomping "Lonely Teardrops" and the timeless "My Prayer". He vowed to keep "Huey's Record Rack" and his autograph line open "until the last one of you comes through," which he did for almost three hours until around midnight.

Double Edge stayed on stage after Narvel headed for his waiting fans and backed Wanda Jackson singing her signature song "Right or Wrong" which she had written. Ronnie Dove also had a mega hit with this song. Wanda told us that she had written it with Brenda Lee in mind, but decided to record it herself instead. I had never gotten to see her before in person so was thrilled to hear her sing. She has a fine voice and was gracious and spent a lot of time talking to me as I got her autograph afterwards.

While Wanda was still on stage, Marshall Grant, Johnny Cash's bass player, made a presentation to her inducting her into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Travis Wammack's trio was up next and, boy, were we in for a treat. I had never heard of Travis, but met him after buying one of his CDs when he was called over to autograph it for me. He told me he had a hit when he was only 16 and a half with the song "Scratchy," and that he used to appear on Narvel's TV show in the '60s.

Travis was proud of the fact that both Little Richard and Tom Jones had recorded one of his songs "Greenwood, Mississippi" and did that song for us during his show. Travis has a distinctive voice and is an outstanding guitar player, continually making his electric guitar "talk." The other members of his trio were Butch Ledford and Roger Clark on drums. Narvel was thrilled to see Roger who played drums on several of his Muscle Shoals albums.

We also got to hear Travis's hit "Scratchy", plus "If I Don't Lose These Blues, I'm Gonna' Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes", a medley of "The Twist/Twist and Shout", "Johnny B. Goode", "Roll Over Beethoven" and many others.

The CD I bought, "Travis Wammack Still Rockin'", has great rock and roll classics: "Play That Funky Music", "Hand Jive", "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Chain of Fools" and my favorite on the CD which touched my soul, "When Something is Wrong With My Baby."

Let me just say here, there's no justice in the world that I'm not getting to hear Narvel in regular rotation on 107.3 FM Country Legends in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, singing "Reconsider Me", "Lonely Teardrops", "Somebody Hold Me", and "My Prayer", and there's also no justice that Travis Wammack isn't a household name that we've gotten to hear on the radio throughout the years.

Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers closed the show. If you ever get a chance to see Sonny and his wonderful band, don't miss them. They might be Senior Citizens, but they are a long way from being "over the hill." They leave you breathless with their fast-paced, high energy show. Just a few of the songs they did included their 1956 Rockabilly classic, "We Wanna Boogie", plus "Mathilda", "Wooly Bully", the classic "Caldonia", a hot, hot "Tear It Up" and "Last Date". I know I left out so many, but I make no apologies. I was busy taking pictures, chatting with Roger Clark and getting pictures of Narvel and him, buying CDs, talking to Marshall Grant, getting Wanda Jackson's autograph. You get the idea.

All too soon, the show was over, five hours of Rockabilly heaven. If you ever get the chance to make this venue, don't miss it. My goal next year is to attend all three nights, not just one.

Sunday found us with Jackson in our rearview mirror by 8:00 A.M., arriving in Baton Rouge at 4:00 P.M. Patsy left her van idling as we unloaded my things, backing out of my driveway shortly thereafter for another hundred miles to her home in Slidell, Louisiana.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely!!

Faye Huffman
Baton Rouge, LA
 

Photos: Narvel Felts, Wanda Jackson, Travis Wammack & Sonny Burgess
Click on photos for larger view