Is It Ok For A 14 Yr Old Boy T Rockabilly Piano Players Made a Huge Contribution to Rockabilly Music

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Rockabilly Piano Players Made a Huge Contribution to Rockabilly Music

When most modern rockabilly fans think of the genre, the image that comes to mind is probably a three-piece band consisting of a drummer, a stand-up slap bassist and a singer who also plays electric guitar. It’s a typical rockabilly lineup in modern times. But the piano played a key role in rockabilly music from the very beginning. Let’s look at a few rockabilly songs that made the piano an important aspect of their sound.

  1. Jerry Lee Lewis: This one is obvious! Jerry Lee, “The Killer”, is known for his crazy piano antics and style. Lewis began as a session man at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service studios and played piano on many early releases for Sun Records (which Phillips also owned). . Lewis played and acted like a wild man and actually set the piano on fire – literally on one occasion! In his style and game, he was the ultimate showman. Lewis set the standard for rock and roll pianists to follow for years to come.
  2. The great Al Downing: Big Al was a rarity in his early years. He was a simple country boy from Oklahoma who taught himself to play the piano on an old, semi-functional piano that someone had given his parents as a gift. He began playing country music, which is not so rare for a white musician, but for a black man (in fact, only a boy of about 14 when he was first noticed), country music was indeed unusual. He also picked up a lot from R&B pianists and it was his R&B playing that eventually led to gigs with Bobby Poe and the Poe Cats. Eventually, the Poe Cats became rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson’s band and toured extensively with her, as well as playing on some of her biggest hits like “Let’s Have a Party.” Downing’s piano playing became a big part of Vanda’s sound. Downing continued to make music and played with countless artists until his death in 2005.
  3. Sonny Burgess & the Pacers: Sonny Burgess and his band The Pacers were one of the craziest acts in rockabilly. In addition to piano, their line-up included a trumpet – as far as I know, they were the only rockabilly band to have that instrument! The Pacers’ pianist was Kern Kennedy who became Phillips’ favorite pianist after Jerry Lee’s hit. Eventually Kennedy had a session with Burgess and the two became lifelong friends. Kennedy’s style was similar to Lewis’s and perfectly matched the wildness of Burgess’s acting.
  4. Jerry Lee “Smoochy” Smith: Yep; another pianist named Jerry Lee. Smith became another of Sam Phillips’ session pianists and appeared on many Sun recordings from 1957 to 1959. His style was similar to the other Jerry Lee and the two became known as innovators in the “pumping piano” sound of the day. He played on records by Billy Lee Riley, Warren Smith, Ace Cannon and others, although he is often not mentioned on his recordings because he was young and naive and did not belong to a musicians’ union. Sometimes Lewis is credited, other times the name Jimmy Wilson is used.
  5. Charlie Rich: Rich is another big name that got his start at Sun Records. He brought a much more melodic country-sounding piano to his rockabilly recordings and would naturally become a country music star in later years.

The music these people made with their pianos is just as rockabilly as the records made without pianos. The piano brought a different dimension to rockabilly music and these pianists brought a lot of crazy antics to the rockabilly scene!

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