Although difficult to find a major American city that didn't have at least one rockabilly-influenced act in the latter half of the '80s that wasn't capable of attracting a decent audience, few attracted a national or international following.
The pendulum began to swing the other way in the early '90s, thanks to Big Sandy's Fly-Rite Trio (later the Fly-Rite Boys), the Dave and Deke Combo, Go Cat Go, and, in particular, an Austin-based band called High Noon.
High Noon, over the course of the past 14 years, has proven to be special. The band is quite probably, in fact, the most respected rockabilly band of their generation.
Though the band's members – vocalist/guitarist Shaun Young, lead guitarist Sean Mencher and upright bassist Kevin Smith – went their separate ways in early 1997, they recently reconvened to record their first new studio album in 7 years, "What Are You Waiting For?," just released on Finland's Goofin' label, but available in the U.S. through Goofin's U.S. branch.
Young, 34, grew up near Denver and credits his parents' love for early rock 'n' roll for his interest in rockabilly at a young age.
"A lot of guys around that time who got into rockabilly got into it through the Stray Cats and punk," says Young. "My parents were big Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly fans, so I grew up with that music in the house. My dad was stationed in Korea in the early '60s. He had a reel-to-reel recorder that he'd record armed forces radio shows on, and he'd record all his buddies' LPs. So I got into those things when I was a kid. Those armed forces radio shows were actually the first place I heard 'Summertime Blues' by Eddie Cochran. I just really liked that sound."
"Of course, when the Stray Cats hit, they had an impact because you didn't hear anybody doing that kind of stuff. But something was missing from the whole neo-rockabilly sound; the subtlety and the swingin' groove of the records I liked. It didn't quite have that same effect. So, it was kind of a process for guys our age back then to figure out how to play it right."
Smith, also 34, also grew up in a Denver suburb and first played with Young in 1987 in the Shifters, a punk-influenced neo-rockabilly band that moved down to Austin the following year and broke up a few months later.
Unlike Young and Smith, Mencher, 40, had grown up in Washington, D.C. A lawyer's son, he regularly skateboarded as a teenager with future punk rock kingpins Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag/Rollins Band) and still shows considerable enthusiasm for the sport.
In spite of having had several friends in D.C.'s blossoming punk scene, it was rockabilly that captured Mencher's heart as a teenager. In the late '70s the nation's capitol had a thriving rockabilly scene, boasting the likes of Tex Rubinowitz, Danny Gatton and Evan Johns' H-Bombs. Mencher was quickly hooked.
"My dad is a great piano player," says Mencher. "And I was supposed to play piano as a kid, but I really wasn't into it. I'd got out to the ballpark or go out with my buddies skateboarding. But I guess the music was inside me because I was always thinking about it. When I was growing up, George Gershwin was The Man in my house. There was a great appreciation for American music."
"When I heard rockabilly, that really got me going. I saw Tex Rubinowitz play at Ft. Reno Park, and that was it."
Moving to Austin in 1987, Mencher played with a country band called Chaparral before hooking up with Young and Smith at a 1988 jam session in his garage shortly before the Shifters called it a career.
"Sean was playing guitar with a country band," says Young. "And (Kevin and I) did some gigs with them when we were in the Shifters. We were freaked out by Sean's playing. It was the first time we'd ever heard anyone fingerpick like Merle Travis."
"Sean and Shaun had gotten together and played a little bit and had gotten to know each other," says Smith, picking up the story. "And after the Shifters broke up, I had decided that I was going to move back up to Denver and play with a band up there. And before I did, Shaun Young said, 'Why don't we just go to this guy's house and play some?' I'd had this (upright) bass not for very long, so we went over and played for four or five hours."
"We ran through so many songs we knew in common," says Mencher. "Sun sessions stuff, all the Buddy Holly stuff…Pretty much the top 40 of rockabilly, in a way. That was the first time we had found the ingredients for the sound that we all loved and made us happy."
But Smith returned to Denver, only to realize that in "the band I was playing with up there, I would probably end up playing electric bass. And I realized that I would rather be an upright bassist in Austin than an electric bassist in Denver."