It’s hard for rock and roll fans to imagine how a rock song could exist without a drummer. Well, maybe some rock ballads or slower folk-rock tunes could get away with it. But it’s not a driving rock song that makes you want to get up and move to the music. No way, right? Wrong. Enter rockabilly!

It’s true that most rockabilly songs do include drums. In fact, the drums, particularly the snare, have become an integral member of the typical rockabilly combo. But it was not always like this. Some of the most famous rockabilly songs had no drums at all and still sound as loud as any other tune ever recorded.

Rockabilly evolved from a combination of various musical styles. Blues, rhythm and blues, gospel and some elements of jazz contributed something. And the purveyor of the “billy” part of the name: country music (which was often called “hillbilly” music in the 1940s and early 1950s). It can probably be pointed out that various artists and bands created music that sounded awful. like rockabilly even as far back as the 1940s. Some of these bands were R&B bands and other country oriented bands. It was Elvis who really fused these styles to make it clear that this was a new kind of music and that it came to be called rockabilly.

Elvis had obviously been influenced by all of these musical forms, but what he was after was country music. Of course, that made a lot of sense since he was a white kid and blues-related music was made primarily by black musicians. In the early 1950s, that color difference made a world of difference. Blues and R&B music was “race” music. A white artist would be defying strong racial currents to participate in it. And so Elvis turned to country.

But the other music had become such a part of young Elvis that he couldn’t sustain himself for long. When he showed up at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service studios to lay down some country tracks for Phillips’ Sun Records, Sam hired a couple of country musicians (Scotty Moore on electric guitar and Bill Black on double bass) to accompany Elvis in the sessions. . Country music was not drum-intensive at the time, so no drummer was brought in for the session. During a break from recording the scheduled songs, Elvis began camping out an old R&B number called “That’s Good, Mommy”. Moore and Black followed his lead and teamed up. Phillips knew there was something special about what he was listening to and told the children to start from the beginning, this time with the tape running.

The result was an incredible recording of the song that Phillips released on Sun Records under the title “That’s All Right” along with a country track “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in the same style. Maybe they didn’t know what to call it at the time, but it was rockabilly through and through. Both recordings are as rocking as anything ever recorded and there is no drums on either recording! Instead, Bill Black provided the slap-bass-style percussion he had learned from listening to and watching blues bop and R&B bassists. This slap style has become a hallmark of rockabilly music ever since.

It wasn’t long before Phillips began adding drums to Sun Records recordings of Elvis, bringing in drummer DJ Fontana to provide the groove. Everyone recognized what drums could bring to an already exciting rockabilly recording, and of course drums have become a must-have in rock and roll music. But those early recordings show that this was not always the case.

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