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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Beatin' the Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
by Big Rude Jake

As seen in the Fall 1999 issue of ATOMIC Magazine

Some friends of mine went down to Las Vegas this Easter weekend to partake in one of the greatest events in the retro world: The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. The annual happening is anticipated with glee by cats the world over, and this year, I was told that hep daddies from as far away as Japan made their way to the Nevada Desert to get their fix of what they love best: diggin’ retro sounds and drinkin’ with their friends. By all accounts, the weekender was an eight-cylinder blast, and everyone had the time of their lives.

So, why mention a Rockabilly event in a magazine that covers swing? Because there’s a lot to be learned about the new swing movement by observing the recent history of Rockabilly. The parallels are enough to give one pause.

Consider this: The Rockabilly revival started to pick up steam when the Brian Setzer’s Stray Cats had their first European hit with “Runaway Boys” back in the early Eighties. It took some time, but eventually the Stray Cats were topping the charts in America too. “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town” were all over the radio, and Rockabilly went from obscure to mainstream.Then came the backlash—serious cats who had been into the scene for years were suddenly being crowded by half-baked wannabes who were just jumping on the bandwagon. It was nothing less than media overkill. Newspapers ran stories about the nutty kids and their funny, old-fashioned get-ups. Record labels signed bands because the lead singer had a pompadour.

The true beauty of the music was lost in all the hype, and the spirit of the movement was diluted by too much crappy media input. Soon after, the critics declared Rockabilly “over,” and suddenly, being into retro music was uncool. The average cat went from being a weirdo to a sell-out to a bumpkin in the space of about ten months, and the movement, from the perspective of the main- stream, appeared to disband.

But appearances can be deceiving. Although the numbers dropped, hard-core listeners and road-tempered musicians kept the music alive through Rockabilly’s darkest night. In a few years’ time, the scene recovered, and now it is better than ever. A whole new crop of young bands has sprung up, and the fan base is growing by leaps and bounds. But the best thing about the latest wave of Rockabilly is that the media is oblivious to it. At one time, a convention of greasy wildcats in full-tilt Fifties regalia converging on Las Vegas would have attracted media attention nationwide. But the Rockabilly feeding frenzy in the media is over, and so the kids are left alone to dig their own vibe without being exploited by journalists and other bottom-feeders.

Sound familiar? It should. For years, there were terrific swing scenes in big cities across America, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They thrived on their own with no help from newspapers or television. Then came the deluge. The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and (once again) Brian Setzer broke into the mainstream. And good for them! They went platinum playing the music they love. Unfortunately, the media sharks smelled blood, and soon enough, the movement was all over. Every media outlet in America was running pictures of swingers taking a twirl on the dance floor. Talking heads on the tube and pundits in the press blabbed on about the cute kids and their funny two-tone shoes. In the age of heroin chic, they saddled the swing scene with a wholesome, squeaky-clean image. And eventually—perhaps inevitably—critics and record industry wiseguys declared that swing was dead. Media overkill claimed yet another victim.

But, if the Rockabilly scene is any indication, having the media turn its back on swing might actually be the best thing that could happen. It seems journalists are possessed with an anti-Midas touch: Everything they get their hands on turns to shit. They might have wrecked our scene if we had let them, but we stood firm, and now the future looks bright. Today, we can start to grow and develop the cult of swing without being preyed upon, and we can return some of the integrity that was lost last year when the hype was just too much. What’s more, we now have our own media through which we can stay in touch with each other and keep the swing community alive and thriving. Magazines like ATOMIC are available across the country, and you can access a truckload of cool sites on the Internet with just a drag and a click. And then there are such venerable organizations as Hepcat Records, a successful mail-order company that publishes a thick catalog of old and new swing, big band and Rockabilly music titles.

Fortunately for us, the media experts were wrong. Swing is now better than ever. Exciting new bands are coming out all the time, pushing the boundaries of a familiar style and taking the music to strange new places. And the fans are legion. Some folks are in it for the dancing, others because swing is the last truly vibrant form of alternative music left in this era, the last gasp of the 20th century. Without a doubt, word of mouth is the best way for good music and a great scene to prosper these days. Don’t trust the mainstream press or what you see on TV. Those dorks will only lead you astray. Just keep diggin’ the music and spreading the word.

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
SwingTime! Across The USA:
The Jivin' Lindy Hoppers
Breuker Breaks The Rules
Beatin' The Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Paris (Combo) By Night
Sewing To the Oldies
Royal Crown Revue
Walks On Fire
Ode To An Ape:
The Legacy of King Kong
Karaoke Swings!


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