EDIT: A few years ago I was bored, living in a shit hole town (that would be Madison, WI), not able to find a decent job, and miserable. The only things that made me feel better at that moment were the oodles of obscure country, blues and rockabilly songs I was hearing via Mark Lee Allen’s “Vinyl Wastelands” CD comps and YouTube playlists (now out on vinyl on Trailer Park Records). Desperate for distraction (other than all of the beer and cheese), I decided to write a book about some of my favorite scandalous, raunchy and silly tunes. It helped to pass the time and keep my fingers warm in the freezing apartment I lived in with my emotionally frozen then-wife. Life was UNGOOD.
But the music, and writing about it, got me through. I dunno if I will ever finish or publish this book, but I wanted to share some of it here. Below is the opening chapter.
RECORD COLLECTORS ARE PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLES (or, how I selected the songs for this book)
I have a recurring dream. In this dream, I am floating through the air in slow motion. The world seems to look as if I was watching it on an old sepia-tone film, and a golden light streams softly into my vision from afar. Clouds, or unseen hands, or perhaps an invisible mini bar on wheels supports my weight as I lay there on my back, slowly floating forward. All around me, spinning slowly, rotating and flipping sides, are floating 45 rpm records. I languidly reach out my hands to grasp them, but they slip through my fingers before I can read their precious labels. But I can see their logos, oh yes. I can see the Sun rooster, I can see the slick fonts of Cadence and Swan and Starday and King and Meteor. I look around and I realize that there are millions of these records, suspended in the air. Billions. All floating just beyond my reach. Falling like black licorice snowflakes. I know then, and the sudden sickening lurch of my stomach knows too, that I will never be able to hear them all. These beautiful, spinning black discs. These shining prizes. This arcane knowledge, this vibrant, unknown music that is etched in the grooves of these magical records will not be mine to know.
Somewhere off in the distance, I am certain I can hear the voice of Charlie Feathers, his southern drawl dripping with honey and laced with a delicious, hiccupping speech impediment. It is the voice of the hopes and dreams of men. Men and women who wanted to drive Cadillacs, wear fine clothes and sing absurd hillbilly rock and roll for a living. Still, their glorious records are spinning faster now, wildly faster and out of my grasp. Charlie Feathers’ honeyed tones turn into a slap back echo laden, tortured wail, and I jolt awake, sweating.
Writing this book was a lot like that dream of mine. I started earnestly and with great hope. I made a list of some rockabilly songs that I loved, that I figured were both a little “out there”, and fun to write about. Some pretty well known, and some more obscure. Then I started sending the list to rockabilly and hillbilly DJs, record collectors, musicians and fanzine writers whom I either knew personally or was friendly with on the internet. Some of these people referred me to other people, those people referred me to others, and it went on and on. Many of them were not interested in speaking with me. Many were suspicious of my intentions. Many mocked my song selections as “too obvious, too popular” and said that these records were merely the tip of the iceberg. The peak of the mountain range that is the great, mid century, hillbilly detritus. The vast, ever-reaching piles of obscure, bizarre, strange, inept and disturbing rockabilly and hillbilly records recorded in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Of course, I already knew all of that. I knew that even if I researched this book for the rest of my life, I would still likely never hear all of the crazy shit that’s out there. So, about two days into my research, which began on Elvis Presley’s birthday (January 8th), I decided to ignore the experts and do what I wanted to do, which was write a book about a handful of songs that moved me, rocked me, made me laugh, made me feel taller, made me dance drunk with my wife against her will in our living room, made me shake my head in silent disbelief, made me put extra grease in my hair, and made me eat a whole boot sock full of raw bacon fat, just because.
Another good reason to write about a record is that the record in question is utterly terrible. Whether it’s terrible in a humorous way, or terrible in a way that makes you dizzy and feverish with vomiting and loss of consciousness. Those records are also fun to write and read about.
These simple and very personal pre-requisites had to be my guide, because as soon as I discovered one hilarious hillbilly song about alien abduction, I then unearthed a behemoth mountain pile of even more demented, obscure, arcane, wigged out songs.
Every time I found a great tune about ghosts, or vampires, or ghouls and goblins, I soon stumbled onto endless lists of a million more mid-century Halloween novelty records.
There are a gazillion religious country songs that mention Satan in a quaint and amusing manner. There are a shocking amount of songs about suicide and death out there, such as Buddy Knox’s “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”, Billy Hunt’s “The Welcome Touch Of Death”, and Louie Innis’ “Suicide”, all of which are great songs, on top of being either amusing or disturbing. Sexual politics is another favorite hillbilly subject, and songs such as Gloria Becker’s “16 Pounds (of Laundry)”, Benny Johnson’s “Burn Your Bra, Baby”, and Little Carolyn Sue’s excellent (and to the point) tune “I Hate Men” are some pretty viable examples. There are even some records out there that are too weird to be categorized, such as young Troy Hess’ jaw-dropping “Please Don’t Go Topless, Mother”, and Jerry And Brad’s absolutely brilliant kitchen sink drama “The People Hater”, which I had not heard before writing this book, and is now one of my favorite songs. There are artists like Nervous Norvus, who was committed to being weird on every song he ever recorded. There are also thousands of songs with weird or funny concepts that just aren’t very good as music, like Yodelin’ Shorty’s “Crazy Laughin’ Blues”, which sounds exactly like you’d think it would. If you delve into the Rhythm and Blues side of the rockabilly fence, there are even more crazy discs to spin.
There are a million songs about prison, drugs, booze, sex, midgets, werewolves, witches, vampires, chickens....you name it. Many of the artists behind these obscure songs are simply unknown. They seem to have recorded their bat shit crazy tunes and then promptly vanished into the ether, forgotten by time and whichever of their peers are still living all these years later. Even the internet seems clueless. There’s hardly enough information- meat to sink my jaws into there, as much as I might have wanted to. The last thing I wanted to do with this book was to simply write a dry, academic list of every weird rockabilly and hillbilly song in the universe. You have the internet for that. I do want to mention the better and weirder of the obscurities that are out there, and I did attempt to address those where and when I could.
Some people will question some of my choices. Why, for example, would I include Billy Lee Riley’s “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”, when it’s a fairly well known song (in rockabilly circles), and when there are so many other, even more demented UFO songs out there? Two reasons. Number one, that record is not only weird and funny, it rocks. It is a great song, and a song that I love. Number two, while I welcome the readership of record collectors and experts, this book isn’t just for you, who have already heard all of these songs and thousands more. It’s for the casual rock and roller, or punk rock or garage punk fan who is discovering this weird world for the first time. We all remember how we felt when we first encountered this stuff, no? We were amused, inspired, frightened and a little sickened, but we wanted more. I want to share that feeling with the world.
Having said all of that however, I did get some spot-on suggestions and pointers from some truly great record collectors and experts, and I thank them whole heartedly. They are fine, passionate, and knowledgeable people and you’ll find their names in the acknowledgements section of this book. If anybody out there reading this has any corrections, additional info on any of the songs/artists, or suggestions for future editions of this book, please get in touch.
To all of the crazy, debauched, drunken, inept, bad ass, politically suspect, morally dubious, disquieting and downright demonic records that I did not include in this book, I say this: Don’t fret, little babies. You are spinning black discs of shiny perfection. We will meet again. — Charles Matthews
MORE “Get Behind Me Satan And Push” coming soon!