Various Artists - Welcome To The Club - Early Female Rockabilly (El Toro, ETCD 1013)
reviewed by Michael Macomber
Welcome To The Club is the ideal title for this collection, as these 33 tracks detail the way female performers stormed the gates of the rockabilly boy’s club in the 1950s. Claiming their rightful place alongside artists such as Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, these women proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that testosterone levels had nothing to do with making great rock and roll.
Elvis Presley’s childhood friend, Barbara Pittman, is a prime example. Initially turned down by Sun Records, she was told she might be better off setting her sights on learning how to type or finding a husband. Unswayed, Pittman instead went to work refining her voice and logging in some touring experience with movie cowboy Lash LaRue’s traveling road show. Soon she was taking another run at Sun, and this time she was signed instantly. Listening to Pittman swing and wail through “Sentimental Fool” on Welcome To The Club, it’s easy to understand why. She clearly had the blues deep in her gut, as evidenced on both “Sentimental Fool” and the more down and dirty “I Need A Man.”
Jan Smith’s reading of Gabe Tucker’s “It’d Surprise You” is another blues heavy number, with a thumping Delta beat. Smith’s low end, husky voice is perfectly suited to Tucker’s you-done-me-wrong-but-I-don’t-care lyrics. Her sense of rhythm is impeccable. She bounces every syllable off the drums with a Muddy Waters kind of ease. Mimi Roman shows even more rhythmic aplomb on “Little Lovin,’” flavoring her vocal with a spine-tingling rockabilly hiccup. She sounds as if she’s vibrating from head to toe, while the band twists like a house on fire. And speaking of fire, Little Miss Dynamite herself, Brenda Lee, sets off some sparks with “Bigelow 6-200,” the B-side of her Decca label debut. At a mere 12 years old, Lee was already belting out a tune with the command of a seasoned performer. Her phrasing on “Big-ah-lo-ohhhhhhhh-six-two-oh-oh” is absolutely stunning.
Of course, no collection of classic female rockabilly would be complete without a couple of gems from the undisputed Queen of Rockabilly, living legend Wanda Jackson. Nobody, man or woman, bops and rolls like Jackson. Her ultra-cool attitude, her magnificent voice, her brilliant guitar work, are all well represented on “Baby Loves Him” and “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad.” Still out there touring and recording, Jackson is slated to appear at the Screamin’ Festival in sunny Spain this Spring.
From the badass barroom rock of Sparkle Moore’s “Skull and Crossbones” to the boppin’ beat of Bolean Barry’s “Long Sideburns,” from the soda shop hop of Connie and The Cytations’ “Boogie Rock” to the furious hillbilly jump of Anita Carter’s “He’s A Real Gone Guy,” Welcome To The Club is a worthy nod to the women who shook up the status quo at the dawn of rock and roll.