WTM #1062: Twistin’ Rockabilly Swingin’ Blues Boogie Yodel

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wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3

Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies

15 June 2009 // 17.00-19.00

photo of Kenny & Bettyanne Roberts by author in Mt. Zion, PA

Blue yodel (My Lovin’ Gal Lucille) > The Rhythm Wreckers

Wildcat Woman Tomcat Man > Cliff Carlisle [A Country Legacy 1930-1939 / JSP]

She Won’t Be My Gal No More > Rhythm Wreckers [Whitey McPherson]

Mouse’s Ear Blues > Cliff Carlisle

Yodeling Blues > Robert Lunn [The Original Talking Blues Man /

Rattlesnake Daddy > Al Shade [single on ALjean, 1978]

Yodel Your Blues Away > Bill Haley [Hillbilly Haley, Roller Coaster, 1984]

Boogie Woogie Yodel > Kenny Roberts [Jumpin’ & Yodelin’ / Bear Family, 1996]

Boogie Woogie Yodel > Rosalie Allen [The Hillbilly Yodel Star of the 1940s / Cattle]

Yodeling BoogieWesley Tuttle & Speedy West

Sweet Sarah Blues > Darby & Tarlton

Echo Waterval > Bobbejaan Schoepen [Bobbejaan Schoepen 4 / Dureco vinyl]

Love Song of the Waterfall  > Ian B. MacLeod, the Rockabilly Cowboy

Mockingbird Yodel > Carolina Cotton [Yodeling Blonde Bombshell #1 / Kit Fox]

Mexicali Rose > Karl Denver

Sioux City Sue > Merle Travis

A Lonesome Heart > Slim Whitman

Yodel Boogie > Wylie & the Wild West [Paradise / Rounder]

Jodel Boogie > Alice Babs [Mittsommernacht / Bear Family]

Jodel Twist > Susi Schuster

Jealous Heart > Hank Locklin [Knapp’s Country Yodelers]

Two Gun Daddy > Marty Robbins

Blue Yodel Blues > Ray Whitley

Tom Tom Yodel > Betty Cody

Cowboy Herder’s Song > Roy Rogers

Rockin’ Yodel > Leake County Revellers

Twist and Yodel > Claude Brownell & The Country Cousins

Muleskinner Twist > Ray Kannon

Twistin’ Is A Funny Thing > Al Sherron & The Blue Sky Rangers

Cowboy’s Sweetheart > Mysterious Asthmatic Avenger [Wild Rock n Roll for Bad Tasters]

Big Chief Yodel > Big Chief Redbird

Rockabilly Yodel > Bob Cribbie

Switzerland > The Champs

He Taught Me to Yodel > Diane Jewett

Skunk Yodel #7 > Fortytwenty [Sober & Stupid / Slackjaw] “she didn’t love you too”

Muleskinner Blues Fendermen [Kingsford/Milwaukee]

Muleskinner Blues > Jad Fair/Half Japanese [A Classic Guide to No Man’s Land / NML]

Boo Boo the Cat > Hasil Atkins

Yodellin Rambling Cowboy > Frank Marvin [Yodeling Mad! / Venerable]

MAA 666Techno Jungle Hop > Mysterious Asthmatic Avenger [My Mother Killed Rock and Roll in 1979 / Ken]

Ding Dong Bells > Kenny Roberts [Midnight Jamboree with Kenny Roberts / private]

Tennessee Houn’ Dog Yodel > Marvin Rainwater

I Saw the Light > Mysterious Asthmatic Avenger

Yodeling Sweet Molly > Ira & Florence Louvin

Rockabilly Yodel > Johnny Cardell [Roc Larue?] & 3 Pals

Dump Road Yodel > Those Legendary Shack shakers

If I’m Blue > Kenny Roberts [Indian Love Call / Starday]

Cannonball Yodel > Kenny Roberts

His Name is Jesus > Mysterious Asthmatic Avenger

When I started on this “yodeling addiction,” to quote the cowboy queen of the yodelers, Janet McBride, I never had any idea where it would lead me. One of the places I did not think it would lead me very much was toward rock and roll via boppin’ and swingin’ country to rockabilly and beyond. It can be said that the roots of rock and roll were fertilized by yodeling. One of the enduring charms of rockabilly and the period of boppin’ cowboy country, say the later 1940s to the mid-1950s, is the richness and suave kinetics of the sound. There was already a postwar impatience with what had come before in this sound. A sound driven not only by hormones but by the need to be as explosive as a battle scene.  This sound was of course heralded by many who I played here today but also includes people like Elton Britt and, of course, Hank Williams. The sound had everything to do with the emerging youth culture as something distinct from their parents [albeit limited for the most part to different sartorial and hair styles and shopping habits].

The craziness was a reflection in increased emphasis on individualism and how that can be shaped by consumption and culture. This led to intense choices, style factions and young people increasingly identifying with a specific set of lifestyle codes. One of the major manufacturings of youth culture involved protest culture [Whaddayuh rebellin’ against? Whaddayuh got?], which was manifested in hundreds of manners but was first manifested in the era of “Rebel Without a Cause” and the snarl and noise affected by the rockabilly fans. The music was more insouciant, in your face, slap that bass around, swing it, twirl it, things gone cuckoo, dizzy, speed, and the kinetic force of guitars strummed as if they were weapons and as if their lives depended upon it. The dances went farther afield, higher kicks, more motion, more martial arts, some would say a return to the primitive as religious nuts judged, trying to ban this music [and rightly so] because it riled people up, sent them into a tizzy, worked up, muscles tensed, fandemonium because the music seemed to mirror or express the increased tensions of everyday living on a personal style and on a global cold war level. And besides the instrumental intensification we also have other expressions such as the increased staccato delivery of the vocals, get rid of the melismatics and turn to something more confrontational. This does not mean that the era did not have the crooners or the smooth and bluesy stuff any more, it just meant everything got pumped up a notch as a reaction to the environment.

Just listen to Cliff Carlisle and the insinuations of Jimmie Rodgers become blatant sexuality [his “mouse ears” is slang for a woman’s labia!] and delivered sinisterly as are the vocals of Whitey McPherson. There is an extra edge of cynicism, of increased vigilance, of needing to appear cool and with it [meaning aware of the treachery that awaits us all in the adult world of selling out. That is not to say that naivete was out and everybody was suddenly worldly and wise. It just meant there was an extra level of context and extra nuance that went with any innocent sounding vocal about innocent love. Everything was tainted and, yet, the young of the time could still revel in it.

One of the elements that was used to good effect was the employment of yodeling [at a rate greater than most hill/rockabilly fans and experts have ever actually noticed]. Yodeling in the context of cowboy bop and rockabilly was used to good effect, at least it was earnest if not always the greatest.

Let’s not chalk all decisions to rock as ones attached to expressions of lifestyle and rebellion. Of course not. Many turned to rockabilly because they liked the sound or suddenly saw it as the future of country, as the cutting edge of pop about to rock. But the use of yodeling obviously added to the raucous, unhinged, screw the boss, screw my parents, screw decorum, let’s let our hair down and let loose kind of spirit.

The yodel in this music was a definite compliment to the pumped up feelings. It was often bravura and delivered at a ferocious blush-sweat-faced velocity that just further pushed the limits of decorum but also of logic, of level-headedness, none of which prevented WWII and so this party atmosphere or letting go, of live and let live was furthered by the extremes of the yodel – discretion went out the door so lets yodel and hiccup and twitch and jerk and bop and sway those hips suggestively because everything may come to a sudden end and then what are you going to do with your investments, your stocks, your clean bathtub…

Many of the artists played here you can read plenty about on the internet but some you cannot find no matter how hard you look. I hope to straighten that out with book 2, YODEL IN HIFI. But for now, suffice it to say that places like Hillbilly.com offer nice introductions into some of these artists’ lives and careers.

Many here were pinioned between 2 worlds and could not let go of the anchor and roots of tradition so they maintained certain allegiances of style and sound to the old cowboy/hillbilly/Texas Swing sounds and cultures. But there was something in that sweet cross-over – I consider it the Bering Strait of yodeling and vocals – when Kenny Roberts taught Billy Haley to yodel so that he could lead the Saddlemen while Roberts did his tour of duty for Uncle Sam.

Or the yodeling by Florence Louvin shortly before Ira would die in tragedy muddled by religion, jealousy, the big passions and foibles. But no one ever talks about her. This neglect in culture has always fascinated me and I wonder why Cliff Carlisle is not a household word like Slim Whitman or Jimmie Rodgers. He was a very good yodeler, better than JR, wrote some intensely interesting and sinister songs full of seething, insinuation and seduction or why almost no one can say anything with any authority about these early rockin’ yodelers: Claude Brownell, Ray Kannon, Al Sherron or Bob Cribbie, Johnny Cardell – or is it Roc LaRue? I have found some odd bits about them but there is VERY little out there. Then there is the fact that someone as hard-workin’ as roots based and as someone with some hit records, someone with some resonance and backbone like Kenny Roberts is NOT accorded more attention or renown is beyond me. I mean, here is a guy who was one of the first and foremost to combine country with yodeling and ushered in the era of when country when rockabilly. I mean, here is a guy who is still touring barns and outback venues yodeling to senior citizens who roll off a tourist bus and to think he was the equal of Peter Townsend at one time with his on stage athletics, doing his jumpin’ yodel, leaping over 3 feet in the air, while playing guitar and yodeling. Don’t try this in your low ceiling abode.

We include some locals like Al & Jean Shade of old mining country in Pennsylvania and Robert Lunn and they both hold their own. We also include the inimitable Carolina Cotton, who to my ears was a better yodeler than Patsy Montana, quite a looker, did some Hollywood movies, was an excellent songwriter, had a gift for melody and witty lyrics and could yodel just about all of the others out of Deadhead Gulch.

I also include some Europeans like Bobbejaan Schoepen[BE], Karl Denver [UK], Alice Babs [SW], Susi Schuster [GE] who were all crossover pop stars and who all have/had substantial vocal chords and a natural ability to break into yodeling. Europeans in the post-war period went for things/culture American [jazz, cowboy, Hawaiian], fostering many strange aberrations that included yodeling like a Lowlands cowboy who whistled the Belgian entry on the Eurovision Contest [Schoepen] and could sing and did in 5 languages, having hits all over Europe with his Lowland cowboy act. Alice Babs was a pop star from the jazz end and did a wide variety of yodels in her native Sweden and also was popular in Germany. Karl Denver had a mega-hit [and some minor ones] with Wimoweh but also did some cowboy numbers that reached the charts.

We have some contemporary rockabilly yodel acts or bands that yodel once in a while such as Honkytonk band Fortytwenty or not to forget the excellent punkabilly of Hank Williams III [grandson of Hank, aka Sheldon Williams and Hank Three with his band Assjack] who just genetically yodels break-voice style on every number – this is punk honkytonk at its rowdiest best. The yodel infection passed on genetically indeed. Then there is the excellent piece by contemporary unit Those Legendary Shack Shakers. But also Jad Fair, who is known to rummage through roots music and recombine it in an eccentric fusion of country and punk.  But by far the most extreme yodeling is that of the Mysterious Asthmatic Avenger whom I profiled in the Brooklyn Rail last year. He is wilder than Slim Whitman [“hero vocals” in Mars Attacks] who is sometimes accorded a kind of pop-lightweight approach but this guy is among the best despite whatever questionable style choices he made [he remains one of the biggest selling stars in any genre ever and when he lets loose in anything approaching roots he can really knock em dead. I mean going Vegas and spangles is just as wacked as anything Hasil or the Cramps ever did] Meanwhile,  the MAA takes the Cramps, Hasil Adkins, psychobilly and Zorro and gives it all a French spin [the French are big fans of Cramps-obilly type stuff]. Wild man, wild. All of this promises to be one of the more interesting chapters in the book. Please stay tuned.

And don’t forget Mademoiselle Montana’s yodel-oriented blog.


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