Gary James' Interview With Authors
Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday
Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday are the authors of The Rockabilly Legends: They Called It Rockabilly Long Before They Called It Rock and Roll. The title should tell you everything about the content of the book. We're going to tell you about the authors of the book.
Jerry Naylor became the lead singer of The Crickets after Buddy Holly's death in a plane crash. He was a regular on the ABC-TV music show Shindig in the mid-1960s, hosted the nationally syndicated television series Music City USA from 1967 to 1968, as well as the Country music radio show Continental Country from 1974 to 1976. Jerry Naylor was inducted into the West Texas Music Hall Of Fame in 1998 and The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame in 2000.
Steve Halliday is the author of several best selling books and worked for many years in newspaper publishing and reporting. He is now president of Crown Media Ltd., a literary company that specializes in book editing and collaboration.
Both gentlemen talked to us about Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Johnny Horton, Gene Vincent, Buddy Knox, Bob Luman, Charlie Rich and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette - The Rockabilly Legends.
Q - Where did you guys find all the photos and memorabilia for The Rockabilly Legends?
Jerry - Actually, many came out of our private archives because as you know, I started my career with these guys. And if it didn't come from my private archives, it came from the estates, and then adding to that, it came from licensing with a great company up in Toronto, Canada; Showtime Video. It's a clearing house for people like all the artists they broker. All the photos of course still belong to the artists themselves, but this is a broker house that makes them available. We pay thousands and thousands of dollars, not only for the licensing of the still photos, but also licensing of the footage for the three hour documentary.
Q - Have you guys gone out on the road to promote this book?
Jerry - I have. Steve hasn't done it yet.
Steve - Well, we're hoping to. There's a number of opportunities that look like they're percolating, that may get us out on the road to do some concerts and some really interesting things that have to do with Rockabilly and getting it in to the modern context. I've done a couple of radio interviews with Jerry, but so far Jerry has done all the hoofin' it.
Jerry - I've done book signings in many of the major cities. The show that aired on PBS is an abbreviated version of one hour of our documentary and even within that hour, it's a specially edited, specially produced one hour from the original 165 minute feature documentary. When that was released, it premiered March a year ago (2007), I did eighteen cities in twenty-one days, from Texas to New York. Then I turned around and did book signings in many of the same, because the book was released at the same time.
Q - Do the kids today even know what Rockabilly is?
Jerry - Well, they do. I say that because the ones that come there are huge fans, and the fan base runs from 16-17, all the way through the late 70s, 80s...whatever it is. Steve and I did a pilot event because we're beginning to do some colleges and universities. It's amazing the breadth of that demographic as well. However, let me say something to that question, and it's a great question; we tested our over all project, which is the book, the feature documentary and four soundtrack CDs, eight compilation CDs of the original masters and two additional "Live At The Louisiana Hayride". These are 'live' performances of all of us who performed at The Louisiana Hayride, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Johnny Horton, Bob Luman. On that very special Collector's CD, we even have a 'live' performance of Hank Williams Sr., who had a great influence on this music in the beginning of Rock 'n' Roll.
Steve - It's interesting to me. My wife and I just had dinner with some friends the other day and their young daughter, who just got married, came over with her husband. We started talking about this book. The young guy, who's probably 24-25 years old, he started talking about Rockabilly and apparently, and I didn't even know this, but there's not only a revival of the original Rockabilly, but there are a number of bands that are calling themselves Rockabilly, that are going back to those roots and trying to do this same kind of music today. He mentioned a band I never heard of, but it's a Rockabilly band. It's because they like the purity of the sound, the simplicity of the sound. Buddy Knox said "Why do I like this kind of music? First of all, the beat. It's not complicated. It's not trying to sell me something. It's not trying to straighten my morals out or screw my morals up." I think there's a real thirst for that kind of thing these days, with some of the excess we've seen over the last few decades, to get back some of the original, pure, just for kind of fun music. Young people are really gravitating toward it.
Q - Well, they almost have to. Music has gone about as far as it can go. So, the only thing to do is go back.
Jerry - Seems like it. This music was the foundation of all of Rock 'n' Roll. It was the contemporary switch between what had happened before and what had not happened before '53, '54, when this came about. It was the blending together of all the great foundational elements of what we now know as Rock 'n' Roll. The Southern Gospel, The Delta Blues, then you mix in Hank Williams Sr., Roy Acuff, The Carters, Jimmie Rodgers, The Yodler and all those great characters of Hillbilly music and Country music. Then you add to that Bluegrass music from Bill Monroe and what you've got is Rock 'n' Roll. And, that's where it all came from. It is best exemplified in the transitional period which was this period of Rockabilly music.
Q - Did you guys personally know any of these Rockabilly singers?
Jerry - I knew every one of them. I started my career in 1953, at 14 years old. By my 15th birthday I was working at The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana. I lived in West Texas, San Angelo and worked in radio. By the time Elvis came there in August of 1954, I was already there. I did what was called the First Tour, (laughs) if you call it a tour. It was three nights in West Texas. We indeed have a nice chapter on that in the book. And of course, Johnny Cash started there and Bob Luman and all of these other wonderful people and I worked with every single one of 'em.
Steve - And one of the fun things in the book, Jerry talks about how during that particular tour he was actually working for the radio station that sponsored it. So, he was out front taking tickets and then he had to run around out back because he was the opening act for Elvis, or Alvis, as they had it on the first flyer. They didn't have his name right.
Jerry - It was my foster father actually that co-owned that radio station with Dave Stone of KPAV in Lubbock where Buddy Holly started. What happened is, Tilman Franks, who was the creative director of The Louisiana Hayride and a wonderful slap bass player as well, as well as the manager of Johnny Horton and a lot of others; he's the one that got Elvis to come to The Louisiana Hayride and then booked him all over the country and took all of us with him. There was no drummer, just Elvis and Scotty Moore and Bill Black. This was the very first tour. It was three nights in West Texas. San Angelo first, that was on January 5th and then the next night, the 6th in Lubbock and the 7th in Midland. Roy Orbison was there. Roy had a group called The Wink Westerners. He, like Buddy and I, once we saw Elvis, we knew that was exactly what we wanted to do. That had been working in our brains for a long time, and that mixture and that love of Southern Gospel music, that Black music, the Black Delta music, Black Blues and of course Hillbilly and Bluegrass, which was what we were performing, when we saw Elvis mix all that together, by accident by the way, 'cause he wanted to be a crooner. (laughs) He wanted to be a ballad singer. Anyway, Sam Phillips changed that. When we saw him perform that first night, it was amazing. Those three nights were an amazing change. Elvis was not the headliner of this show. Billy Walker, who had many hit records at that time, was the headliner and a couple of guys by the name of Jimmy and Johnny were the co-headliners. Elvis was third down. It was the only time I made more money than Elvis. Elvis, Scotty and Bill made $150 for that night. I made $75 just for myself. It's the only time I made more money than Elvis. (laughs)
Q - When you saw Elvis perform that night, did you see the future of Pop music?
Jerry - Oh, I saw the world change. Absolutely. I formed a small group, which we would name shortly after that, The Cavaliers. After I was with The Crickets in 1964, they would go on to have a million selling recording called "Last Kiss", a Wayne Cochran song. I formed that group in late 1955. We went out and did our four songs and then Scotty, Bill and Elvis came out. They only knew six songs. They did "That's Alright Mama", "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" and then these other songs. The audience didn't know what to expect. But, it was like watching a volcano erupt...and I never seen a volcano erupt. But, it started off and then it just rumbled and then it got bigger and bigger. By the last part of the second song, these people of all ages were standing, young girls were screaming. Woman were literally flabbergasted with this. It was a magic and yes, it changed the world. We all saw the future of what it was the next night. Buddy Holly would tell you that same story.
Q - Were you what they called a "singing DJ"? You played Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash records on a San Angelo radio station?
Jerry - Well, Buddy Holly hadn't recorded yet. I mean, I started there in '53, when the station was begun. Buddy was like me. He had a band and did 'live' shows. Then I became a disc jockey for that radio station and then also had the band and was recording. I recorded my first recording in '55.
Q - I'm still trying to figure out what a singing DJ did. You sang songs and then you played other people's records.
Jerry - Oh, yes indeed.
Q - That's what the singing DJ is?
Jerry - I suppose. It's two careers merged together. But, there was a time when I got too busy to be a DJ. unfortunately with hit records. However for the longest time I've had a fondness for radio. I had a contract at the end of my DJ career, which I stopped finally in 1983, I guess. I was in Los Angeles. I moved there in 1960, right after Buddy died. The Crickets moved to California. J and I signed a contract with Liberty Records. All the post Buddy Holly Crickets were done with EMI / Liberty and I was the lead singer for all of those. So, I went to work, first for KRLA Radio in California for a short time and then eventually, because we made our home there and lived there, we only moved to Oregon ten years ago (1998), I worked for Metro Media Radio. KLAC, the number one Country music radio station there. Plus, I had a world-wide syndicated radio show that was ranked by The Country Music Association and Billboard Magazine as the number one show in the mid 70s, called Continental Country. But, I love radio. XM has offered me a Rockabilly Legends Show. We're trying to work out a time schedule that we can do that.
Q - So, you got to play with The Crickets when they were starting off?
Jerry - Indeed, that's true. I turned it down at first. When Jerry Allison came to me in early 1960...January, 1960, I turned him down. Glen Campbell and I had moved to California and signed with American Music Publishing Company to write songs. We had just written one for Elvis called "Yesterday's Teardrops", which Elvis was gonna record. We recorded it in this project ourselves. American (Music) Publishing was at 9109 Sunset Blvd. and directly across the street was 9110 (Sunset Blvd.) where Jerry had set up offices with his manager. They had just signed The Crickets, although there were no Crickets. Sonny Curtis was in the Army. Joe B. Mauldin, who was their original bass player didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore. Of course you realize...let me back up just a little and tell the pre-story. Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison had decided to break apart. Buddy left in the Fall of '58 to live in New York and he was just gonna record as Buddy Holly and no longer be associated with The Crickets. Jerry was going to stay in Clovis, New Mexico and be The Crickets. That would just be Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry. The problem was they didn't have a lead singer. Jerry was the drummer. Joe B. was the bass player. So, they tried a couple of people and it didn't work out at all. There was a young man by the name of David Box, that recorded one session with them. A wonderful singer and ironically, he too was killed in a plane crash. That wasn't the reason he didn't stay with The Crickets. It was some years later that he died. But, he just didn't want to do that. It was intimidating. That was the reason for turning it down. You realize I'm gonna tell you fifteen minutes later I went over and changed my mind. A friend of mine, who was Eddie Cochran's manager, Jerry Kapart, brought me to my senses. He said "Jerry, this is the number one group in the world. While you don't play guitar like Buddy Holly..." which was one of the main things, I could sing somewhat like Buddy. That's been my natural way of singing. He said "you need to re-think this and go over and visit Jerry Allison very quickly and take that position", which I did. But it was intimidating. I thought somebody would throw a spear through my heart. Buddy Holly was so dynamic and he only had eighteen months from the first hit of "That'll Be The Day" 'til his death on February 3rd (1959). Yet, he greatly influenced so many people. So much of a change was offered to all of music because of what he created.
Q - You were a regular on Shindig! You were in the house band?
Jerry - That's right. I was when I left The Crickets. Actually when I was still with The Crickets I did a couple of shows. Ironically, Glen B. Hardin and I both went to Shindig!. I went there in the latter part of their first season and the entire second season.
Q - You saw all the greats come across that stage!
Jerry - Oh my, I certainly did. I also, in May of 1965, I was the opening act for The Rolling Stones when they first came to California in the Longbeach Arena. Seventeen thousand screaming girls. That was a great thing. (laughs) We did Shindig! together as well.
Q - Jerry, after The Crickets, did you go on to perform with other acts?
Jerry - No. I performed with other acts as a solo act. I had a very good hit in 1970 with a song called "But For Your Love", which earned three Grammy nominations. We didn't win, but it was wonderful to be nominated. It was a song written by Pistelli, Cashman and West. They're wonderful songwriters. It was a great song on Columbia Records. When I left The Crickets, I met a young man who was a fan of The Crickets. As a matter of fact, the last recording session we did as The Crickets in January, in Clovis, at Norman Petty's...January, 1965, this young man, Mike Curb and I had written a song together called "You're So Thoughtless" and we recorded it in that session. It was his first recorded song as a songwriter. He wanted to be a producer. Then when I left The Crickets in the latter part of '65, he had set up a company called Sidewalk Productions. I signed with him as one of his first acts. He was eighteen years old. (laughs) But, I thought he had great potential. I stayed with him seventeen years. We built that company to the billion dollar company it is today. I left him after seventeen years. Mike has done remarkably well with Mike Curb Productions, Mike Curb Records.
Q - How is it that Sam Phillips got to record all of those great singers on Sun Records? If he was based anywhere else in the U.S. at that time in history, would he still have been able to get that talent?
Jerry - Sam had a dream. He had been recording wonderful Black acts; B.B. King and the list goes on. He recorded many, many classic Rhythm and Blues, Delta Blues songs and artists that went on to be historical. But he wasn't making any money doing that, 'cause we lived in a segregated nation and you couldn't get Black records played as easily as you could other records. He had a dream that if he could find a white singer that could sing and perform like these great Black singers that he loved, he believed that he could sell more records and have greater success.
Q - But, had he set up shop in any city other than Memphis, would he have found an Elvis Presley, a Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis...a Carl Perkins, a Charlie Rich?
Jerry - No. I don't think so. The reason is Memphis, is the same reason as Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico. What made Norman Petty and Sam Phillips historically famous and what made them very, very successful, and it's not my quote, it's a quote from Tommy Allsup, a very well-known Grammy Award winning producer, "the reason they were successful with their studios is because they had Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox" and the list goes on and on, walking through their door and they didn't produce. What they did was turn on the tape recorder and capture that person's great talent. These artists came in with their small groups and they were able to just perform what they were, who they were and with the simplicity if you will, the very complicated simplicity I call it. That identity made that music what it was, historical. So what happened was, Sam Phillips captured that. He found Elvis by accident. Elvis came in. Scotty Moore had an agenda. He wanted a job. He wanted to stop playing Country music in honky-tonks. He wanted Sam Phillips to give him a job as a recording producer there in his studio, as a session musician. What happened was, he bugged Sam Phillips so greatly, Sam finally said "OK. You help me with this kid that came in here." He told him about his dream. Sam's secretary was sitting there with them and said "Why don't you try that boy that came in and sang some songs for his mother? There was something about him that was really special." That was Elvis. He came in and did some ballads. He wanted to be a crooner. He wanted to be Perry Como or Bing Crosby. He didn't know anything about Rockabilly. So he came in. Elvis actually did the audition at Scotty Moore's home. Scotty realized the kid had maybe some talent, but he didn't know any songs. What songs he knew were these ballads. But he kind of fibbed and told Sam Phillips 'cause he wanted the job. Well, on July 5th, 1954, a very hot night in Memphis, they went into the studio to do some demos and again for several hours, a young Elvis sat there with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, trying to sing these ballads. Sam Phillips was really aggravated and frustrated and getting ready to run them out. He was not shy about speaking to people when he got angry. He was about to throw them out of the building. They took a break for coffee and all of a sudden, for whatever reason, Elvis picked up his rhythm guitar and started strumming and started singing that old Arthur Crudup Blues song, "That's Alright Mama". He started singing it real up-tempo. Sam screamed at him "That's it! What are you doing there boy?" He said "Well, I'm sorry Mr. Phillips." He said "Well keep doing it!" And the other guys joined in. Scotty Moore didn't even know the song. Bill Black had never heard the song. Well, maybe he had heard it by Arthur Crudup once or twice. So, he started playing bass. Scotty Moore started plugging in some chords and some riffs and that was the "hit" recording that made the difference and started Rockabilly music and started Rock 'n' Roll. Why Memphis? Because it was the center of Rhythm and Blues and Blues and other music. It became the center of everything that happened thereafter. If you look at Norman Petty, the same thing happened. Buddy went to Nashville and his recordings didn't work. Buddy Knox had been in there a few months earlier, and recorded using a cardboard box for drums, borrowed a bass player from the Norm Petty Trio and they did "Party Doll", a song they were gonna do a few records for their fraternity friends. It turned out to sell over fifteen million records. They paid $60 for a session and in that session, there were three, million selling records, multi-million classic selling records. So, they were all accidents. None of it was planned. It was magic. It was letting Buddy Holly be Buddy Holly. It was letting Johnny Cash be Johnny Cash.
Steve - The simple answer to it is, could it have happened anywhere else? Well, it was an accident. You don't know where it's gonna happen. You don't know how it's gonna happen. It happened. Because it was an accident, it just happened to be in Memphis, with Elvis, on that night. Had it been another night, another studio, had it been different musicians, would the same thing have happened? Probably not. Because it did happen there, that's what gave birth to everything else. It wasn't like Sam Phillips was this genius who brought all these people (together). Once the accidental Big-Bang with Elvis happened, then it goes on the radio. A Carl Perkins hears it and says "I can do that." Or a Jerry Lee Lewis hears it down in Louisiana and says "I can do that," and they start moving towards whoever had made that music. So, that's how it became sort of the center.