As rock’n’roll approaches its 60th birthday most of the great vintage rockin’ stashes would appear to have to have been fully exhumed. Virtually every scrap of worthy 1950s rockabilly or rock’n’roll has been relatively easy to obtain over the past couple of decades. Therefore it’s refreshing to present a full disc worth of rockin’ goodness that hasn’t been regurgitated ad infinitum. In fact 80% of “Going Wild! Music City Rock’n’Roll” is previously unissued, and its highlights are the tracks which fell to the cutting room floor.
Music City Records, of Berkeley, California is most closely associated with vocal groups. Ray Dobard’s venerable imprint, in operation for a quarter century from the early 50s on, had its greatest success with records such as ‘WPLJ’ and ‘Ichi Bon Tami Dachi’. These were discs that catered principally to the black community, though they also found favour amongst white teenagers, who began flocking to Dobard’s record store to purchase the hot R&B sounds. Rock’n’roll is not a genre that comes to mind when thinking of the label’s release schedule, even though the acts Dobard recorded, and the records he put out, traversed the dawn of the rock era. The truth is, rock’n’roll did not kick in locally until 1957.
Thus, Music City has traditionally not been on the radar of collectors of rockabilly or vintage rock vinyl. However, the vaults of the label reveal a small but significant cache of recordings, equally distributed between white and black artists, that fall squarely in the rock’n’roll category, or even some of its sub-genres. Rockabilly ravers, piano pounders and juke jivers all lurk amongst the many hundreds of tape reels Dobard amassed, as he welcomed musicians of all abilities into his studio to show him what they had. The man’s reputation as a ruthless exploiter of local talent was fairly well-known, even back in the 1950s, but he continued to attract hopefuls because of his track record and the belief that he had the connection to success. As the 1950s wore on and rock got a stronger grip on the Bay Area scene, more and more acts showed up with rockin’ material.
Given the initial awareness of rock’n’roll on a national level in 1956, it was unsurprising that the speculative Dobard would attempt to exploit what many viewed as a fad, by having some of his vocal groups tackle rock’n’roll or teenage-type material. But even though he released very few discs that qualified as rock’n’roll at the time, because Dobard recorded enough of it, the Music City cache is noteworthy.
There are a couple slightly familiar names on parade: Sugar Pie de Santo and Music City flagship acts such as the Gaylarks, who benefit from the guitar slinging of band leader Johnny Heartsman. The Five Crystels, Dialtones and Klixs deliver Coasters-flavoured delights, while Jimmy Cicero, the Pendletons and Ron & Don parlay the plaintive East Bay teen rock sound. There’s primo rockabilly from Roy Burk and the Emarks, and three tracks from the finger-snapping 3 Honeydrops, veterans of perhaps the only genuine rock’n’roll disc on Music City in ‘Rockin’ Satellite’.
The contents of “Going Wild!” were all recorded between 1957 and 1961. There can be no doubt that if Ray Dobard had released some of these unpolished gems at the time, they would rank not only alongside the venerated Music City blues and doo wop rarities, but among rockin’ records of any description.
By Alec Palao