Third Ear 

The history of rockabilly in Virginia, as captured by Don Harrison and Brent Hosier on a new two-CD set and in extensive liner notes.

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Les King's piano playing is among the many rockabilly gems resurrected by a new two-disc release that his son Chris King helped produce. Local blogger Don Harrison helped research the project.Everybody's heard that absurdly catchy “Woo-Hoo” song from Quentin Tarantino's “Kill Bill,” later made more popular through a national TV campaign for Vonage broadband. But did you know the original 1959 song came from an Oregon Hill-based group, the Rock-A-Teens, featuring longtime local ad man Jess Duboy?

If you did, another “woo hoo” for you.

Thanks to a double CD set, released just last week, “Virginia Rocks! The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth” (on British label, JSP Records) — unsung local rockabilly acts such as the Rock-A-Teens are finally getting their due. The collection, part of a larger exhibit from the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College in Southwest Virginia, features the likes of “female Elvis” Janis Martin, Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, Link Wray, Wayne Newton and Norfolk legend Gene Vincent — hero to future rock gods John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison.

“This is a part of Virginia history that rarely gets talked about,” says Don Harrison of local blog Save Richmond fame. Harrison and Charlottesville's Brent Hosier spent the last several years conducting more than 75 interviews and writing extensive liner notes for the project from research funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. “[Rockabilly] was a response from the country and western community utilizing R&B influence and creating this new form of music,” Harrison says. “They were also trying to get in on that teeny bopper craze.”

Many people don't know that a lot of chart toppers and cult figures came out of Virginia, or that the King himself was involved early on.

“Virginia was one of the first markets for Elvis' music,” Harrison says: “His very first Sun 78 made the charts in Richmond, and he toured here early and often and directly influenced some of these artists.”

Some tracks included in the set, such as the Dazzlers' “Gee Whiz” or Jeanie Lee with Roy Ellis and the East Rockers' “Tic-Toc-A-Boogie” come from very rare albums. “I'm most proud of the records we uncovered that have never been put on CD,” Harrison says. “I'm glad we rescued them from obscurity.”

The music was co-produced by Roddy Moore and Grammy-winning sound preservationist Chris King of Nelson County. The owner of Long Gone Sound Productions, King has now worked on 348 CD projects during the last 12 years, receiving five Grammy nods and one win for his remastering of “Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton.” For this project, the unofficial criterion for inclusion was any rockabilly performer or dabbler who came from or lived in Virginia, or recorded here in the '50s and early '60s.

“This era is not my specialty,” King says, noting that he didn't have an easy time working with Blue Ridge Institute, and that the project took more than four months to assemble the 78s and 45 rpm recordings, which came haphazardly from private collections (some “broken to bits in a pizza box,” he says). Yet he was happy with the outcome and calls it one of his “most personal” projects to date because one of the rare records by the Hi-Tombs features his father, Les King, playing piano.

“This was the first time I was able to honor my dad directly,” King says, noting how much of a thrill it was to show his mother a CD with his father's image included.

The Ferrum exhibit, which features vintage memorabilia such as rare film excerpts, jukeboxes and guitars, began in May at the school (http://www.blueridgeinstitute.org/gallery.htm) and will travel around Virginia, possibly stopping at the Virginia Historical Society next year, Harrison says. Eventually it will end up as a visiting exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

The CD set should be available at all fine record stores as well as County Sales (www.countysales.com), which can be reached at 540-745-2001.

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