ROCK-A-BILLY FESTIVAL'S 10TH ANNIVERSARY
AUGUST 6TH, 7TH & 8TH, 2009
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Was it all worth it? Absolutely!!
Baton Rouge, LA
Photos: Narvel Felts, Wanda Jackson,
Travis Wammack & Sonny Burgess
Click on photos for larger view