Nick 13’s and Jim Heath’s Stirring Words About Roots Music
The Dale Watson-organized Ameripolitan Awards happened Monday night (2-24) in Memphis at The Guesthouse at Graceland, where many awards were given out, and many performances transpired (see winners and recap). But there was a moment near the end of the show that’s feels like it was worth separating out from the rest of the presentation and shining a spotlight on, since it embodied the reason things like the Ameripolitan Awards, or even a site like Saving Country Music exists.
Handing out the award for Best Rockabilly Male were rockabilly legends Jim Heath of The Reverend Horton Heat, and Nick 13 of Tiger Army—both who are best known for fusing rockabilly and punk in the “psychobilly” subgenre. As opposed to the regular canned statements ahead of handing out the award, Nick 13 spoke about the importance of not just rockabilly, but all roots music that is going ignored in mainstream music.
“Rockabilly music by all accounts was first recorded right down the way at Sun Records in 1954, but it’s a music that has spread all over the world, and its influence has been felt as diverse as The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, and The Smiths,” Nick 13 said. “Its as American as blues or jazz, but for some reason it doesn’t get the respect it should in my opinion.”
“That is what the Ameripolitan’s is about,” he continued. “It’s about the music that the mainstream has forgotten. That’s the music that we all in here remember. And the music that the mainstream has cast aside, that’s the music we’re taking and we’re holding dear to our hearts, and we’re bringing it into the future. Western swing, rockabilly, honky tonk, they don’t think it’s important, but we know there’s real value in all of those American roots musics.”
When it was Jim Heath’s opportunity to speak, he smiled and said, “I don’t think I can add anything to that!” But then he found important words that equaled Nick 13’s. “It’s my dream to bring back mid-century music to the masses. And one reason that I think mid-century music was so great, and not just rockabilly, but everything served in the singers and standards was because before our legacy of recording technology hit, it had to be great players, and they had maybe one or maybe two chances to get it right. And now really for the last 40 years, music can be pieced together unlike how they used to do it. But there was some kind of dreaminess to that era that I think all of these guys have latched on to.”
When you see something like the Ameripolitan Awards, or hear a band playing what many consider an older style of music, it’s not just about participating in some hipster version of nostalgia. It’s about taking modern music back to a time when the words and songs were just more meaningful compared to much of the music today that leans on the crutch of technology.
The moment can see at about the 2 hour, 55 minute mark on the video below, along with the entire 2020 Ameripolitan Music Awards presentation.
February 25, 2020 @ 10:52 pm
Great words,Jim is a god amongst men and will be having my annual pilgrimage to a RHH gig in May, double headed with I believe previous Ameripolitan nominees The Delta Bombers. Although I agree also with Nick 13, it’s tempered a little by him trying his hand at country at the time when every one was gone country. Regardless of this I appreciate what he said.
February 26, 2020 @ 12:28 am
I’m sorry, countrypolitan was as bad an era for country as bro country.
Its when cowboy music played on a guitar wasn’t welcome in Nashville, (except for the classic pink album)
Yes its true that rockabilly was recorded ages ago, but its not born from the earth that gives life and music.
February 26, 2020 @ 9:04 am
who said anything about countrypolitan? and, no it wasn’t. this whole post is confusing… “it wasn’t born from the earth that gives life and music”? what?!
February 26, 2020 @ 3:39 am
If what Jim means by bringing it mid 50’s back to the masses, i am at a loss. He does it well, and i don’t care much for psychobilly or tiger army, If it becomes a revival, you will get all the phony bands jumping in and getting a double bass. I don’t think the psychobilly / rockabilly movement needs that.
By the way trigger, crazy cavan died. He was not really country, but he was a rockabilly / country roots music piece of history. Bringing it back whenit was disco, and bringing it back when the fade was off.
February 26, 2020 @ 5:51 am
Realistically, rockabilly isn’t going mainstream again. There was a revival in the mid nineties thanks to Setzer and company, but that’s as close as it gets to mass mainstream acceptance, I think. The scene lives on here in the US mainly through festivals like Viva Las Vegas, Nashville Boogie and New England Shake Up. I’m personally thrilled that Dale makes it such an important part of Ameripolitan. Who else is gonna give an award to a rockabilly artist? Nick 13 is correct, it gets very little respect , it’s most often labeled throwback or retro and largely ignored by radio. I’m guessing you are from Europe , based on your Crazy Cavan reference. He was indeed a huge part of the rockabilly revival of Britain . The whole Teddy Boy movement came about largely due to his music. Understand though that few people here in the US know about him. Robert Gordon and Stray Cats were the biggest names in the US rockabilly revival although Levi Dexter had some impact as well.
February 26, 2020 @ 7:40 am
Love Stray Cat Strut, by the Stray Cats.
February 26, 2020 @ 8:17 am
I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but at the time I thought it was the movie Swingers that was most responsible for the mid 90s short lived comeback. Seltzer just happened to be there and capitalize on it. I also thought that movie influenced the poker craze that lasted longer. Again, just my perception, from memory.
February 26, 2020 @ 8:52 am
SG, there have been a couple rockabilly revivals in the US. Late 70s into early eighties were all about Robert Gordon, Tex Rubinowitz, Link Wray and of course Stray Cats. Should mention The Cramps as well. Also, mid eighties you had The Palomino Club folks like The Blasters, X, Rosie Flores, and others like James Intveld and of course Dwight Yoakam who mixed honky-tonk with rockabilly
The nineties thing happened with a resurgence of swing dancing due to a few movies and a music trend. But if you had to nail it down, Brian Setzer Orchestra put out The Dirty Boogie, which included Jump, Jive and Wail, the monster hit that spawned the craze. At the same time you had folks like Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys, The Paladins, Reverend Horton Heat, Deke Dickerson and many others who created a rockabilly scene separate from the swing scene, although many fans liked both. Setzer appealed to both scenes equally. Also should mention on the hillbilly side you had Wayne Hancock, BR549 and The Derailers who mixed Honky-Tonk and Rockabilly. It was a fun time to be a music fan, for sure.
February 26, 2020 @ 9:55 am
Yeah I’m aware of the other trends and resurgences. I was a Cramps fan actually at one point in the 80s.
I just personally witnessed what movie did to poker, music, and Dean Martin like cocktail culture to many people around me. Obviously there was some ground swell before that, but that movie featured Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, etc all on the soundtrack. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy actually credited that movie with their popularity. Of course then came the Squirel Nut Zippers, Mighty Mighty boss tones, ska, etc and then a year or so later the craze was gone as quickly as it came. I’m just saying that I don’t think Setzer was responsible.
Actually just looked up on Wikipedia the “Swing Revival” and:
“In 1996, the American comedy Swingers, which featured scenes filmed at The Derby and a musical performance by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, became a critical and commercial success and is frequently credited with bringing the swing revival into the cultural mainstream.”
Funny we started off talking about rockabilly…Setzer by that time was swing himself. Anyway, it was an interesting time, and it was briefly mainstream for sure – albeit as a short lived fad.
February 26, 2020 @ 1:10 pm
We might have to agree to disagree on Setzer. Here’s where I’m coming from. His big band debut was in 1994. He was playing that stuff as early as 1990 however. Jump, Jive and Wail was a massive radio hit on rock radio, in fact the only swing revival era tune that was played on rock radio. I too was following the scene at the time. As a young guy I went to some swing dance places during the heyday and that song was always THE crowd pleaser. The Dirty Boogie record won Grammys and sold a bazillion copies. Setzer filled arenas all over the place, especially Europe and Japan. I’m not discounting Big Bad Voodoo Daddy by any means, they were huge for a few years but Setzer is by far a bigger name hands down. So to say Setzer had nothing to do with the swing revival is asinine.
In terms of Setzer and the rockabilly revival of the nineties there is a direct correlation. His fan base included the rockabilly crowd as well as the swing dance crowd. His big band at the time at core was a rockabilly band, Mark Winchester on double bass and Bernie Dresel on drums. Every show he did back then included a rockabilly trio set in the middle, giving the horn guys a break. He continued to do solo rockabilly shows and albums which he still does today. Check out 68 Comeback special album as an example. All those artists including Horton Heat , Big Sandy and a hundred others, were fans of Setzer. Simply put there is no one in modern times that has had more success or influence on the Rockabilly Revival than Setzer. No one. This is why the Ameripolitan organization gave Brian an award a few years ago.
February 26, 2020 @ 2:15 pm
Ok agree to disagree. I knew a lot of people who were into that scene and to say Setzer “was responsible for it,” I believe is incorrect. Saying he had “NOTHING to do with it” would also be incorrect, which is why I didn’t say that.
Surely there’s an area somewhere between “he was responsible for” and “he had nothing to do with.” There were a lot of bands in that scene, and a lot of people got into the old original stuff.
I saw the same people dressing up in vintage outfits and listening to this stuff saying “this place is dead anyway,” getting way into Texas hold em, and even playing golf. It got a little goofy IMO.
February 26, 2020 @ 9:32 am
Didn’t the original rockabilly include the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly? Also Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash?
February 26, 2020 @ 9:59 am
Yes, those guys are the original rockabillies. My comments are specifically about the numerous Rockabilly Revival movements that occurred here in the US and Europe much later after the initial wave of 1st generation guys faded from the mainstream. The original stuff ran from about 1954 to 1960.
February 26, 2020 @ 11:38 am
Yeah, I don’t think anyone is advocating for another short lived swing craze-style revival of rockabilly, but more representation in popular culture of mid century music would mean a boost of style and substance that I think we could all benefit from. I think that’s what Jim Heath was saying. And by the way, he lived through the late 90’s Swing craze and was arguably a catalyst for it, so he knows the trappings of trendy vs. sustainability.
February 26, 2020 @ 9:06 am
I keep thinking that as AI and technology continues to take over our lives, that there will be some resurgence of the appeal of human made things, especially in the arts. But who knows. For now, most people seem fine with music being made on the grid with a mouse / trackpad.
February 26, 2020 @ 9:28 am
February 26, 2020 @ 9:58 am
Yeah same here. I’ve gone down many other genre rabbit holes but I keep coming back to music made by humans. Especially country.
February 26, 2020 @ 11:40 am
Just like the slow food movement has taken hold, so will it come to music, which we’re already seeing with the resurgence of vinyl and other markers. And people who actually play music instead of program it will be in the winners seat.
February 26, 2020 @ 11:54 am
Amen to that.
February 26, 2020 @ 12:37 pm
Love what you do in educating us Trigger.
And for the evil ones out there, i’ll go ahead & say piss off, now.
Save me from having to comment on this thread again
February 26, 2020 @ 11:06 am
Hi Trigger, I’ve been watching the video of the Ameripolitan Music Awards, loved it, is there any way to download the entire video?
February 26, 2020 @ 11:23 am
I’m not really sure about that. Either you’d have to do it via Facebook, or perhaps reach out to the Ameripolitan people. They probably should put it on DVD.
February 26, 2020 @ 12:00 pm
OK, thanks a lot
February 26, 2020 @ 11:28 am
Rockabilly really doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
One reason is that the lines are so blurry between rockabilly and other genres that i don’t think a lot of people know it when they hear it. To me Alan Jackson’s Chattahoochee is a great rockabilly song. Likewise, The Cramps played rockabilly and made it something completely different. In the Carl Perkins song titled “Rockabilly Music” he states “ it’s just a hopped up country song”.
Another reason is that most people’s exposure to bands that label themselves as Rockabilly or especially Psychobilly often cross the line into a novelty act. That can be a lot of fun but it doesn’t really generate respect or recognition as a widely relevant genre of music
February 27, 2020 @ 7:27 am
Hmm, I’ve never thought of Chattahoochee as a rockabilly song. Just a really overplayed country song.