Various Artists – The Best Of ACE Rockabilly

The preservation of long forgotten gems from rock ‘n’ roll’s golden age continues

When people think of ‘50’s rock ‘n’ roll, the name Elvis Presley will likely be at the top of their list. But the evolution and revolution of rock can never be credited to just one man alone. Blues, Rhythm & Blues, country, and hillbilly music had been around for some time, long before a young Presley walked into Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in 1953 to record a song for his mother. In other words, the musical landscape was already abundantly rich with artists just itching to make their mark.

The liner notes to The Best Of ACE Rockabilly state that “this is one of the finest collections of red-blooded 1950’s Rockabilly music ever released.” A bold declaration to be sure – but is it true? Well, yes and no.

Texan native Sonny Fisher might have had the look of someone ready to defend The Alamo, but he was a pretty damn fine singer, even if he was another one of those Presley wannabes who were cropping up in their droves by the late ‘50s. And what he may have lacked in charisma, at least compared to Elvis, his music shouldn’t be ignored entirely.

Two of his tunes, “Rockin’ Daddy” and “Sneaky Pete” are represented here, and are fine examples of Fisher’s primal no-nonsense approach to writing a decent and entertaining rock song. Louisiana’s Link Davis was also no slouch when it came to penning a decent rockabilly tune (“Trucker From Tennessee”), while Glen Glenn’s “Everybody’s Movin’” and “One Cup Of Coffee” could easily be described as minor-major classics of the genre/

Other artists such as Sonny Hall, Thumper Jones and Hal Harris might not exactly be household names but whose recordings on this collection still sound as fun and fresh as the day they were recorded. Hall’s “My Big Fat Baby” in particular perfectly captures all the enthusiasm and spirit of the era in which it was made.

So too George Jones’ 1956 “Rock It,” a track which gives the distinct impression that many Jones, along with many other artists were still grappling for a formula which had yet to exist.

Sleepy La Beef (what a name) was one of the finer singers able to channel the essence of Elvis and whatever else was coming out of Memphis, Tennessee, and his “Little Bit More” and “I’m Through” are a case in point. However what this compilation makes abundantly obvious is the sheer impact Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison et al were having on country and hillbilly artists across the US. Suddenly there was an explosion of pompadours and sideburns, electric guitars, and men singing in deep voices.

ACE has played a superb role in preserving and representing many of Rockabilly’s un-sung pioneers. Anyone interested in rock ‘n’ roll’s more obscure origins need look no further than The Best Of ACE Rockabilly. That the majority of material was recorded on budget labels such as Starday and Dixie, the sound quality is far better than one would expect. Obviously ACE have utilised the best possible sources in their mastering process – and for that, along with their efforts at preserving the past – they should be congratulated.