Thursday, June 6, 2013


Friday, Saturday , Sunday ;  June 7- 9th, 2013
Tucumcari Convention Center, Lizard Lounge, Tri Star Lounge and Highway 66 itself in


With all of the events planned for the inaugural Rockabilly on the Route weekender (the Classic Car Show & Burn Out, Gilded Cage Burlesk, Miss Rockabilly Route 66 Pin-Up Contest, Gospel Brunch Bowling and more, bracketed with plenty tats and enough pomade to start a grease fire) it may seem a shame to focus on the music here. But that’s no more outrĂ© than capital-R Rockabilly itself . Seen from the outside, it may seem an unlikely holdover from the early days of rock and roll but there have always been Rockabilly holdouts, just as there have always been Doo-Wop holdouts or Rocker holdouts (eg. the infamous Mods Vs Rockers debacle of early Swinging London).

A celebration of those holdouts, Rockabilly on the Route has been in the works since last November according to Miss Loca Linda (editrix of La Loca Magazine), one of the event organizers who has been working with the local Chamber of Commerce,  the Wheels on 66 Rally and the New Mexico Route 66 Association Motor Tour. Proceeds from the weekender benefit Tucumcari’s  under-construction New Mexico Route 66 Museum.

More than any other rock genre, Rockabilly has retained a strong take on fashion,  form and old fashioned values. Don’t misunderstand. Rockabilly is not just appearance. The music is the heartbeat, the centerpiece over which the rest of the culture is draped. Witness the couples at any Rockabilly show swinging each other all over the floor or the cats standing by the stage carefully assessing the vintage amps.

Which brings us back to the Saturday night headliner of Rockabilly on the Route, the fabulous Miss Wanda Jackson. First things first. She was not just a “ female Elvis” ( as Jackson and her contemporary , the great Janis Martin were often billed). Presley may have introduced Rockabilly to the masses but don’t forget he took most of those masses right along to Vegas with him while Jackson stayed true to her country roots. Some of her earliest mid-fifties recordings  were straight up country at a time when the genre was moving well away from front porch picking to the more urban concerns of a swiftly modernizing countryside. Like Patsy Cline, in the hands of record producers who believed that “Girls don’t sell records” , Jackson was often saddled with maudlin weepers, strings and pop choruses behind her.

It wasn’t long though before songs with a heavy bass backbeat and Jackson’s  growling lioness voice and glamorous fashion sense (spiked heels, bangle earrings, tight-fitting midriff- baring dresses) made her stand out from the conservative Country & Western crowd. A select group of top sidemen didn’t hurt either: pianist Big Al Downing, pedal steel player Ralph Mooney and guitarist Vernon Sandusky.

Although often called The First Lady of Rockabilly, Jackson’s later country career was much more successful and lucrative, capped by a turning toward Christianity that produced some wonderful but lesser known gospel recordings. Jackson in fact has always been uncomfortable with the rock lifestyle,  saying in 1987, “I got thrown into the rock and roll scene and I didn’t understand these people. I was just country folk, you know?”

But don’t fret. Jackson is still known for playing the full range of her material and it’s a goldmine with over fifty years worth of recordings. And yes I know what you’re thinking: can a 76 year old performer still deliver onstage? Trust me. Unlike many “oldies” acts that tour the lucrative but embarrassing casino circuit, Miss Jackson has taken care of her voice and health and still knows how to perform. There’s nary another in her age bracket that can boast the same.




Of notable bands on the bill --including the all-fem Danger Cakes (Austin TX  ) or The Chop Tops (Santa Cruz, CA) -- we’re happy to see a couple of Albuquerque’s newest rockabilly  acts. Mr Right and The Leftovers veer toward the punk side of the scale while the formidable Shadowmen are deep on the trad end.

The Shadowmen win my curmudgeonly heart with statements like , “ [The ’ 50s ] studio musicians that never got any recognition for their hard work is who we really cherish!” Nowhere is that more evident than in the masterful guitar playing of Shadowman Tom Sanderson (Hi-Lo Tones, ex -Long Gone Trio). Recognized throughout the national rockabilly scene, his playing is pure class. There’s never a missed note or wasted movement. Sanderson is all about musical economy, placing each lick exactly where it needs to be and for exactly the right reason and for exactly the right duration. No more and no less. Keep your eyes but especially your ears on him.
The Line up:

Wanda Jackson
The Chop Tops

Danger Cakes

The Shadowmen

Mr Right & The Leftovers


 this orignally appeared in Weekly Alibi in slighty a different format