Rockabilly Opera - Crown Elecctric

Crown them Kings of Rockabilly

Rockabilly Opera (Rollin' & Tumblin'Records)
Crown Electric

By Tim Roberts

Arguably, a shy, polite young man in Memphis shifted Western culture more than 40 years ago. He legitimized a young form of music, his moves hinted of an open, smirky sexuality yet to come. He was thrust quickly into superstardom and later embellished a tragedy that ends the life of most common folks.

The type of music Elvis (no last name needed) played at the beginning of his career was that blend of uptempo rhythms and country twang ‘n swang called rockabilly. Rockabilly Opera, the debut recording from Lexington's Crown Electric, latches on to that lyrical and instrumental simplicity of rock's early days. All but two of its 13 tracks are originals that demonstrate the appeal this music has more than 40 years later.

Named for the company that had employed Elvis as a truck driver, Crown Electric consists of Michael Tevis on rhythm acoustic guitar, Bob Burris on lead guitar, Frank Turner on upright slap bass, and Jon McGee on drums. The selections run the range of rockabilly themes: girls ("Sweet Little Dee, "Radioactive Girl"), cars ("Pink and Purple Plaid Cadillac" and the intense "Edge of the World"), cry-in-yer-sody-pop ballads ("Greener Grass" and "Fireproof Heart"). There's even a spiritual ("Traindriver"). In each song Tevis blends his clear vocals with hiccup phrasing common in rockabilly numbers. His voice is only one instrument in this group. Along with Turner's subtle slap-bass, Burris's relaxed picking, and steady, direct drumming from McGee, the blend of all creates a sound that's cleaner than the soda fountain counter at a five-and-dime.

Crown Electric's influence is shown clearest in "The Closing Vamp," about the final concert Elvis performed. It begins with the six note intro to "C.C. Rider," performed by guest pianist David Barrickman, which was the opening and closing vamp (or theme song, if you will) for Elvis's concerts. Without naming the subject matter directly, the lyrics mention all the peripheral people who were part of Elvis's shows: band members, bodyguards, staff. The chorus poses the haunting question, "I wonder what was going through your mind / When they played the closing vamp for the last time."

Despite the influences with the band's name and the subject matter of one song, you won't find some blind tribute mimicry in this recording. Rockabilly Opera is not a direct tribute to Elvis. What Crown Electric has delivered is a Valentine to us, to their indirect namesake, and to the music that grew into rock-and-roll.