Rock

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Entry Category: Rock

Beatles, Stopover of the

In 1964, the world’s most popular music group, the Beatles, visited the Lawrence County town of Walnut Ridge. Though brief, their visit left a lasting impact on the community and has recently been the subject of a documentary movie. That year, the popularity of the Beatles was without rival. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr were mobbed by teenage fans at each public appearance. The Fab Four, as they were dubbed, had five singles in the top five slots on the Billboard charts. Their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, appeared in 500 U.S. theaters. The group’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show drew an estimated seventy-three million viewers. In their legendary 1964 concert tour, they …

Black Oak Arkansas

Black Oak Arkansas, a popular rock and roll band of the 1970s from rural Arkansas near Black Oak (Craighead County), was the first Arkansas rock band to have significant commercial success. Originally called the Knowbody Else, the band was formed in 1965 by singer James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum from Black Oak and guitarist Ricky Reynolds from Manila (Mississippi County). The band was signed to Stax Records and released an album, The Knowbody Else, on Enterprise, a Stax subsidiary, as well as Early Times, which was released on Stax. Despite the failure of these albums, the band continued touring the nation and was “discovered” in California by Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, who signed the band in 1970. They changed their …

Buchanan, Roy

aka: Leroy Buchanan
Leroy (Roy) Buchanan was a guitar innovator whose skill inspired an aptly titled documentary, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World. For more than thirty years, the guitarist melded blues, country, jazz, and rock music into a unique sound. Roy Buchanan was born September 23, 1939, in Ozark (Franklin County), the third of four children born to Bill Buchanan and Minnie Bell Reed Buchanan. When he was two, the family moved to Pixley, California, a tiny San Joaquin Valley farming town, where his father was a farm laborer. At age five, Buchanan learned a few guitar chords. When he was nine, his father bought him a red Rickenbacker lap steel guitar, and, by age twelve, he was playing lap steel …

Burgess, Sonny

aka: Albert Austin Burgess
Albert Austin “Sonny” Burgess was best known as one of the original rock and roll recording artists for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and as one of the pioneers of rock and roll. He and his band, the Pacers, made a hit of his first recording, “Red Headed Woman,” and the flip side, “We Wanna Boogie,” both of which Burgess wrote. The record sold approximately 100,000 copies, a phenomenal number for that era. Burgess and the Pacers performed at various events in the United States and Europe until his death in 2017. Sonny Burgess was born on May 31, 1929, in Newport (Jackson County). His parents, Albert and Esta Burgess, raised him, his two brothers, and his three sisters on …

Caldwell, Walter Garnett “Punky”

Walter Garnett “Punky” Caldwell was a musician who caught the attention of some of the best performers of the rockabilly and early rock and roll era, such as Sonny Burgess and Elvis Presley. Caldwell was known for his accomplishments on saxophone and clarinet. Notably, in the late 1950s, Caldwell played in a racially integrated band. Soon after his career took off, he left Arkansas and toured the United States and Asia. Punky Caldwell was born on October 31, 1929, in Searcy (White County), the son of Arkansas native Charles Eric Caldwell and Kansas native Thelma L. Alexander Caldwell. Caldwell was large from the start (he was more than 300 pounds as an adult), weighing nearly thirteen pounds as a newborn. …

Cash, Johnny

aka: J. R. Cash
Johnny Cash was a world-renowned singer/songwriter of country music. With his deep, rich voice and often dark, often uplifting lyrics, he created a body of work that will be heard and remembered for generations to come. J. R. Cash was born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland (Cleveland County) to Ray and Carrie Cash. He had six siblings: Roy, Louise, Jack, Reba, Joanne, and Tommy. In 1935, the family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they lived modestly and worked the land. The tragic death of Jack Cash in a 1944 sawmill accident haunted young J. R. for the remainder of his life. His mother introduced him to the guitar, and the local Church of God introduced him to music. …

Deckelman, Gene Darrell “Bud”

Gene Darrell “Bud” Deckelman was a country and rockabilly musician who had brief success in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s. His most popular recording was “Daydreamin’,” which was issued on the Meteor record label in Memphis. While his output was relatively small, he toured with artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Wanda Jackson. Bud Deckelman was born in Harrisburg (Poinsett County) on April 2, 1927, to Louisiana native George Deckelman (1904–1984) and Arkansas native Lillian Agnes Ellezy Deckelman (1906–1999). He grew up in a poor farming family and with limited education in Scott (Poinsett County). He had four sisters and three brothers. According to the 1940 census, his father owned the family’s house, but it was valued at …

Deckelman, Joseph Dewitt “Sonny”

Joseph Dewitt “Sonny” Deckelman was a musician, songwriter, and record label owner active in the Memphis, Tennessee, and northeastern Arkansas rockabilly scene in the late 1950s and 1960s. While his artistic output was modest, his recordings were well received and have maintained a small but enthusiastic following. He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Sonny Deckelman was born in Harrisburg (Poinsett County) on September 1, 1933. He was the son of Joe V. Deckelman and Nell Ellzey Deckelman, both natives of Arkansas. His father was a farmer and mechanic, and his mother was a housewife. Deckelman came from a poor family; the census of 1940 shows his father earning no income. He was the youngest of four …

Ditto, Beth

aka: Mary Beth Patterson
White County native Beth Ditto is the singer and songwriter for Gossip, an indie, dance-punk band based in Portland, Oregon. Ditto is also known for being a model and fashion designer who promotes positive body image, as well as for her outspoken support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. In 2006, she became the first woman voted “Coolest Person in Rock” by NME, a long-running British music magazine. She also released her first solo album in 2017. Beth Ditto was born Mary Beth Patterson on February 19, 1981. She was raised by a single mother, Velmyra Estel, and grew up in Judsonia (White County), near Searcy (White County); she did not know her father and was given the last name …

E&M Recording Company and My Records

aka: My Records
In the 1960s, Little Rock (Pulaski County) was home to E&M Recording Company, a studio owned by Earl Fox. The initials in the company name stood for “Earl” and “Myrna,” Fox’s wife. Through his two independent record labels, E&M Recording Company and My Records, which he established later, Fox provided a creative outlet and commercial venue for local singers and musical groups. My Records, in particular, played an important role in nourishing the creative energy released in the late 1960s profusion of central Arkansas rock and roll groups. In 1959, Fox built a sound studio behind his house at 1612 South Buchanan Street in Little Rock; this was an avocational enterprise, which he undertook for his love of music and …

Evanescence

Evanescence, a popular alternative rock band from Little Rock (Pulaski County), has brought new music to the world with its dark, lyrical melodies. Evanescence was established in 1999. Amy Lee and Ben Moody (former lead guitarist) had met as teenagers at a summer camp in Arkansas in 1995. They started writing music together, playing together, and recording at their parents’ houses. Eventually, the band grew into a world-renowned phenomenon. The name “Evanescence” means dissipation or a disappearance, as with vapor. Before deciding on Evanescence, however, the group went through several names, including Childish Intentions and Stricken. The lineup included Lee as lead singer and pianist, guitarists John LeCompt and Terry Balsamo, bassist Will Boyd, and drummer Rocky Gray. Ben Moody …

Falco, Tav

aka: Gustavo Antonio Falco
Tav Falco is an innovative rock musician who combines rockabilly, blues, and fractured noise. He has created films and documentaries about musicians and the cultural scene in Memphis, Tennessee, in addition to touring across the globe. The New York Times describes Falco as a “singer, guitarist and researcher of musical arcane who hasn’t let his increasingly technical expertise and idiomatic mastery compromise the clarity of his vision.” Tav Falco was born Gustavo Antonio Falco on May 25, 1945, to Rita Rose Falco on the East Coast. After his mother married Horace Homer Nelson, a sailor from Arkansas, they settled in the rural land between Gurdon (Clark County) and Whelen Springs (Clark County), where Falco was raised. Falco moved to Memphis in …

Faucett, Adam

Adam Faucett is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Benton (Saline County). With his trademark long beard and powerful voice, one critic called him an artist who “roams the backroads and gas station parking lots of some strange, haunted country, hinting at a terrifying truth behind mundane imagery.” By 2019, he had released five albums as a solo artist, the last two on the Little Rock (Pulaski County) label Last Chance Records. Faucett lives in Little Rock, but he tours regularly with his band, the Tall Grass, across the country and in Europe. With its often dark lyrics and subject matter, he has described his music as “Arkansas Gothic” and “swampy soul.” Adam Faucett was born on February 24, 1982, …

Felts, Narvel

Albert Narvel Felts is a singer and songwriter best known for a string of commercially successful country music recordings in the 1970s. Over the course of his career, Felts has been known for performing a wide range of music, including rockabilly, pop, R&B, soul, and gospel, but it is his traditional country and rockabilly recordings that gained him the most attention. Narvel Felts was born on November 11, 1938, near Keiser (Mississippi County) to Albert and Lena Felts. In 1953, when he was fourteen, the family, including Felts and his older sister Ogareeda, relocated eighty miles north to the community of Powe, Missouri. As a teenager, Felts taught himself to play a guitar that, he has said, “was held together with …

Garage Bands

With the arrival of the Beatles on American shores in 1964, the “British Invasion” became a national pop-culture phenomenon. Representing the second generation of rock and roll, wave after wave of English rock groups—such as the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Who—followed the Beatles during the next two years. Teenagers across the United States were inspired to form four- or five-member bands patterned after their British role models. Because they often practiced in garages, these amateur groups came to be known as “garage bands.” Like many mid-sized American cities, Little Rock (Pulaski County) witnessed a mid-1960s explosion in the number of neighborhood teenage groups, all competing for school, fraternity house, or country club engagements. Other cities and towns in …

Hawkins, Dale

aka: Delmar Allen Hawkins
Delmar Allen (Dale) Hawkins Jr., a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, specialized in creating a sound (called “Swamp Rock” by some) that helped shape rock and roll music. Hawkins was successful in many roles in the music industry: singer, songwriter, recording artist, producer, arranger, band leader, musician, TV host, disc jockey, and promoter. Billboard magazine lists Hawkins’s Suzie Q album in its Top 100 most valuable albums in the development of rock and roll. His first cousin, Ronnie Hawkins, rose to fame with the musical group the Band. Different sources have reported different birth dates for Hawkins (given the practice in the 1950s for promoters to alter birth dates to make their clients more appealing to a younger …

Hawkins, Ronnie

aka: Ronald Cornett Hawkins
Ronald Cornett (Ronnie) Hawkins, a rock and roll singer and bandleader, is known primarily for starting the group the Hawks, which later became the Band. Ronnie Hawkins was born on January 10, 1935, in Huntsville (Madison County). His father, Jasper Hawkins, was a barber, and his mother, Flora Cornett Hawkins, was a schoolteacher. In 1945, the family, which included Hawkins’s older sister Winifred, moved to Fayetteville (Washington County). Hawkins was educated in the city’s public schools, graduating from Fayetteville High School in 1952. During his high school and college years, Hawkins formed his first bands, which played such Fayetteville venues as the Tee Table, the Bubble Club, and the Shamrock Club. A physical education major at the University of Arkansas …

Helm, Levon

aka: Mark Lavon Helm
Mark Lavon (Levon) Helm was best known as the drummer and singer for the Canadian rock group the Band. Following the demise of the Band, he continued to have a successful career leading his own band, as well as acting in numerous motion pictures. Levon Helm was born on May 26, 1940, outside Elaine (Phillips County) to Nell and Diamond Helm. He had two sisters and one brother. He grew up in Marvell (Phillips County) working on the family cotton farm but was always encouraged to play and sing music at home and in church. Helm knew that he wanted to become a musician at age six, after seeing bluegrass musician Bill Monroe perform. He began playing guitar at age eight …

Janes, Roland

Roland Janes was a well-known session guitar player who worked with Sam Phillips at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. He was elected to the Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. His guitar is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Roland Janes was born on August 20 ,1933, in Brookings (Clay County) to R. D. Janes and Mary Pearl Janes; he had three brothers and three sisters. Janes learned to play guitar and performed in country bands with his cousins while living in Arkansas. His parents divorced when he was about ten, and his mother moved to St. Louis, Missouri; he shuttled back and …

LaBeef, Sleepy

aka: Thomas Paulsley LaBeff
Sleepy LaBeef is a rockabilly musician who has been performing in the United States, Canada, and Europe for more than fifty years. He has shared the stage with a long list of greats, including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, and Glen Campbell. Sometimes called the Human Jukebox, he is said to be able to play as many as 6,000 songs. Sleepy LaBeef was born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff (the family name was originally LaBoeuf) in the oil-boom town of Smackover (Union County) on July 20, 1935, the youngest of ten children. His family owned a farm, raising livestock and growing cotton and watermelons, before selling the land to be drilled for oil. He got the nickname “Sleepy” in the first …

Mangrum, Jim Dandy

James Leslie “Jim Dandy” Mangrum is the flamboyant frontman for the southern rock group Black Oak Arkansas, which reached its height of fame in the 1970s, charting ten albums and a hit single. According to author Ron Hall, “Jim Mangrum claims to be the first long-haired rock ’n’ roller in Arkansas, and he may well have been.” His often raunchy onstage antics and froggy, raspy voice have been cited as an influence on rock stars such as David Lee Roth and Axl Rose. After health problems and many incarnations of the band, Mangrum continues to record and perform with a group called Jim Dandy’s Black Oak Arkansas. James Leslie Mangrum was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on March 30, 1948, …

Palmer, Bob

aka: Robert Franklin Palmer Jr.
Robert Franklin (Bob) Palmer Jr. was an author, music critic, musician, ethnomusicologist, lecturer, record producer, and documentary filmmaker, not to be confused with the British rock singer of the same name. Critic Greil Marcus called Palmer “one of the few distinguished pop music critics to come out of the South.” Bob Palmer was born on June 19, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to teacher/pianist Robert F. Palmer Sr. and award-winning poet and freelance writer Marguerite Bowers Palmer. He grew up in the lower Pulaski Heights area of Little Rock. He had one sister, a half brother, and a half sister. From an early age, Palmer had his ear to the radio. Unbeknownst to his parents, the teenaged Palmer sometimes …

Presley, Elvis (Arkansas Performances of)

Elvis Presley started his meteoric musical career in 1954 in Memphis, Tennessee, recording for Sam Phillips’s Sun Records. His style of music—combining country (called hillbilly in those days), gospel, blues, pop crooning, and rhythm and blues with his unique singing and dancing talents—can truly be said to have originated a particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll later dubbed rockabilly by music critics and DJs. His music career blossomed a second time in 1968 when he made a comeback after several years in the Hollywood doldrums. His second rise to fame and fortune continued until his death at his Graceland estate in Memphis on August 16, 1977, at the age of forty-two. Elvis’s presence in Arkansas has three general phases. First …

Riedel, Teddy DeLano

aka: Teddy Redell
Teddy DeLano Riedel was a professional musician and songwriter. He toured widely throughout the nation and world, and his songs were recorded by artists such as Elvis Presley and country music star Sonny James. Teddy Riedel was born on June 7, 1937, in Quitman (Cleburne and Faulkner counties) to Ted Wilson Riedel and Mabel Quinn Riedel. His parents were farmers, primarily growing strawberries, which were a major crop in the region. Riedel graduated from Rose Bud High School in Rose Bud (White County). While in high school, Riedel played piano on KWCB radio in Searcy (White County) and became a member of radio show host Lloyd Sutherland’s band. He was befriended by the harmonica virtuoso Wayne Raney, who recruited the …

Riley, Billy Lee

Billy Lee Riley was a rockabilly musician whose career began in the Arkansas Delta and peaked in the 1950s after he signed a record deal with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. He recorded many songs during his life, alternating between the rockabilly style that made him famous and the blues music that he loved. Billy Lee Riley was born in Pocahontas (Randolph County) on October 5, 1933, to Amos and Mae Riley; he was one of nine children. Although his father was a house painter by trade, the economic disparities of the time led the family into sharecropping. As a result, the Riley family moved frequently to different towns in Arkansas, at times living in intense poverty. Through this lifestyle, …

Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67

Rock ’n’ Roll Highway 67 is a segment of U.S. Highway 67 running approximately 111 miles through Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph, and Clay counties in northeastern Arkansas, with a portion in Miller County in southwestern Arkansas. Its name is derived from the rockabilly music performed at nightclubs and other venues located on the highway by legendary progenitors of the genre. The designation by Act 497 of the Eighty-seventh Arkansas General Assembly in 2009 has since spawned music festivals, museum exhibits, and plaques in communities situated along the highway. The term “rockabilly”—a portmanteau of “rock ’n’ roll” and “hillbilly”—is defined as a mixture of blues, country and western, and rhythm and blues music that saw its biggest popularity beginning in the post–World War II era …

Rock and Roll Music

Although the roots of rock and roll music can be traced back much farther, the genre made its musical debut in the early 1950s with artists such as Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, all of whom helped shape what rock music has become. The music of the 1950s gave way to the 1960s and the popularity of surf music, as well as the very significant “British Invasion.” Arkansas musicians played an important part in this burgeoning genre. In the mid-1960s, Little Rock (Pulaski County), along with many other mid-sized American cities, saw an explosion in the formation of garage bands, all of which began competing for performance spots at school, fraternity, and country club engagements. This excitement …

Rockabilly

Rockabilly, a musical genre that appeared in the mid-1950s, is an early form of rock and roll initially performed by white musicians from the mid-South. Several Arkansans became leading rockabilly songwriters and performers. A distinctly American phenomenon, rockabilly was strongly influenced by developments of the post–World War II period. These include the introduction of the single-play 45 rpm record, the early phases of the civil rights movement, and the increasing mobility and purchasing power of teenagers. Characterized by a blues structure and a moderately fast tempo, rockabilly music celebrated a world of cars, parties, fast living, and sexual relationships. Its use of slang, much of it from African-American origins, and its themes of rebellious youth and self-indulgence, caused disfavor in …

Rolling Stones, Arrest of the

The July 5, 1975, lunch stop and subsequent arrest of Rolling Stones guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richards in Fordyce (Dallas County) is fabled in the town, and the incident became a footnote in the police record of the English rock and roll band. The quintet had cultivated an outlaw image since its early 1960s inception. According to Arkansas native Bill Carter, the Rolling Stones’ attorney from 1973 to 1990, everywhere the Stones went in 1975, it was a challenge for authorities. Riot squads and narcotics units were common during the group’s twenty-eight-city, $13 million-grossing tour. On July 4, the Stones played Memphis, Tennessee. Richards and new member Wood decided to sightsee and drive with two others to their July …

Saunders, Michael Earl (Mike)

aka: "Metal Mike"
Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Michael Earl Saunders is the lead singer and guitarist of the Angry Samoans, a California-based band that formed in 1978 out of the first wave of American punk music. Saunders, a music journalist in earlier years, was also the first to use the term “heavy metal” to describe the musical genre. Mike Saunders (a.k.a. Metal Mike) was born on May 1, 1952, to Earl L. Saunders Jr., who was an architectural photographer, and Jean Cox Saunders, who was an office manager for Burns Security in Little Rock. He has one younger sibling. Saunders attended Hall High School in Little Rock, where he played trombone in the marching band. His first album review was published in …

Trammell, Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee Trammell was known as a boisterous performer of boogie-woogie-flavored rockabilly music with such songs as “Arkansas Twist” and “You Mostest Girl.” He was later elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Craighead County Quorum Court. Trammell’s high-energy music has been compared to that of fellow Arkansan Sonny Burgess, while his onstage antics drew comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis. Bobby Lee Trammell was born on January 31, 1934, in Hergett, a small unincorporated community in Craighead County near Jonesboro. He was one of four children born to Wiley and Mae Trammell, who were cotton farmers. His parents were also musicians, with his father playing fiddle and his mother playing the church organ. Trammell was exposed to gospel …

Vaden Records

Vaden Records, based in Trumann (Poinsett County), started as a mail-order company featuring gospel music. It soon grew into a regional studio that released music by such blues and early rock and roll artists as Bobby Brown, Teddy Riedel, Larry Donn, and many others who went on to regional and national fame. In the early 1950s, husband and wife Arlen and Jackie Vaden of Trumann were singing gospel music all over northeastern Arkansas in a group called the Southern Gospel Singers. They also started singing on local radio stations in Osceola (Mississippi County) and Blytheville (Mississippi County) and soon branched out to stations in other states, such as XREF in Del Rio, Texas, and XEG Radio in Fort Worth, Texas; XREF …

Williams, Jason Donald

El Dorado (Union County) native Jason Donald Williams is a pianist, singer, and songwriter based in Memphis, Tennessee, whose music combines elements of rockabilly, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, country, and jazz. Often compared to Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams is known for his dynamic piano-playing style and outlandish stage antics (including balancing items on his head and tap-dancing). Williams’s inspirations include Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Memphis Slim. Jason D. Williams was born on January 28, 1959, in El Dorado and is the adopted son of Henry J. Williams Jr. and Dorothy Carpenter Williams. Williams learned to play the piano by ear when he was two years old and received a piano at the age of three. He took lessons from …