Memphis Music History: Rockabilly
Rockabilly was born as one of the earlier styles of rock and roll music. Its place in Memphis music history was created from a combination of country, blues, jazz, and rock and roll. It crossed cultures, generations, and nationalities to form its own unique genre in the early to middle 1950’s.
In 1956, rockabilly reached its peak with Memphis songs by Elvis Presley and hits from Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins that landed on the charts. However, by the end of the decade the style declined in popularity, likely due to Presley joining the army and other artist returning to their country roots. The deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens are also cited as reasons for the decline. Rockabilly inspired a youth culture following with the emerging teenage demographic. The rebellious nature of the music and of the artists set into motion the rock and roll mindset and attraction that resounds currently in subcultures of the genre.
Sun Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, was a small record label primarily promoting Memphis songs of the blues and country types. They also ran a recording service for artists off the streets to record a song for a fee of $3.98. One such person to come into the studio was a young Presley, who made a huge impression on the label and Sun Records began to record and promote him. Presley is credited with popularizing rockabilly and bringing it to the mainstream.
Presley came from poverty and was surrounded by the black culture in his youth. This upbringing planted the seeds of the rock and soul that came out in his early recordings and placed him as a pioneer in Memphis music history. Over the course of his career, Presley had 94 gold singles and 40 gold albums. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.