Be Boppin' with Nashville Cat Bob Timmers
The Founder of The Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Divides Time Between The Hall and His Guitar Playing
by Michael Buffalo Smith
He has been my friend since 1998, and has been the GRITZ webmaster for over two years, all the while maintaining the most massive rockabilly website in the history of pink and black, and perhaps one of the biggest music sites on the web in general! The Rockabilly Hall of Fame is a full tilt boogie info fest, and Timmers maintains it from his recently acquired digs outside of Nashville.
Lately, Timmers has found himself onstage with some pretty big heroes, not the least of which are Gene Vincent's Blue Caps and (soon) Bill Haley's Original Comets.
When GRITZ goes to print in the Spring, Bob will be along with a great News from The Rockabilly Hall of Fame column.
What events caused your initial interest in rockabilly music?
Being 13 years old in 1954 and wanting something with more "bite" than Perry Como and Frank Sinatra (although Guy Mitchell did come close) I welcomed Bill Haley, then Elvis, Johnny Burnette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent and that whole gang of crazies from Memphis on Sun Records. "That" was what we wanted and needed, we knew it the minute we heard it. Watching Alan Freed, Haley and Chuck Berry in those early R&R movies was exciting, because were now seeing "our" music, not our parents music. Speaking of parents, my father wouldn't let me watch Elvis on Ed Sullivan, I had to go to a friend's house to see the King shake, rattle and roll.
When did you first start playing guitar, and who were your major influences? Did you like other music besides rockabilly?
After hearing this "new sound," I just had to get involved. My grandfather gave me an old beat up acoustic with only three strings about an a inch off the neck, but I tried and managed to figured out some melodies. I talked my dad into letting me take stand-up bass lessons. I rented a bass and had to travel 5 miles to the music store for lessons. That lasted for three months. I even had to bum rides to the store, even hitch-hiked a few times (with a bass) to town. That wasn't easy.
Soon, I have saved enough to order an electric guitar from Sears, their "Black Beauty" model. Gene Vincent was just hitting the charts and I really dug his guitar players: Cliff Gallup and, later, Johnny Meeks.
As a sophomore, I joined rock and roll band in high school, "The Jitterbugs" with my high school buddy, drummer Dave Pozolinski. We played only Haley and Elvis material. I played doghouse with them. But my real love was lead guitar. I would go to live shows and stare at the lead player's hands the whole time, getting free lessons and ignoring my date. I saw many early rockers live, including Vincent four times in the late '50s. Other Music? I love old blues and traditional country.
Tell us how you started the Rockabilly Hall of Fame on the Internet
Going to Cleveland's R&R Hall of Fame in 1994, I was disappointed in the acts they had on display and who they considered as legends of the music. I decided to post a list of 5,000 names on the net. A friend, Joe Wajgel, in Vegas, gave me the names from his data base and I did all the HTML coding. We thought that would be it ... finally most of the true and lesser known roots rock artists would at least get line listing on the Internet. Soon, all hell broke loose ... artists, their relatives and fans wanted more than just a mention, so we started doing profiles pages, adding news, features, photos, show schedules, blah, blah ... and now we're well over 1100 individual pages. Our inductees currently number close to 200. We also have an office in the UK (London), managed by Rod Pyke and have just opened one in Florence, Italy, managed by super-guitarist Marco Di Maggio
What have been some of the highpoints so far in your association with the Hall of Fame?
Almost every day is a high for me. Getting emails, letters and phone calls from the cats I idolized as a kid, happens frequently. I managed to make friends with many of the folks that help create rock and roll. I even got a chance to record and jam with a few of 'em. They all have a story to tell and actually want to tell it to me! I'm living a dream and thanking the Man upstairs every minute.
The RHOF has grown into something that's much bigger than "Bob Timmers," the person, during it's five years of existence. All the major TV and radio networks have checked in with us when they needed something related to the roots of rock a/k/a rockabilly. Schools and colleges use our site as a reference source and some even use the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as part of their course requirements.
All of this is cool, but my goal remains the same as the day we started our web site. The little known pioneers of rock and roll never got enough ink. We have changed that. I'm excited when we uncover some history and/or photos on a one-hit artist, sidemen, songwriter or studio that needs recognition. That's why we exist. My reward is hearing from such an artist or a family member after we do their profile page. My favorite phrase is "I didn't know my Grandpa was a rock star!" I know we have had some effect on many veteran performers ... some even went back to work, playing and recording.
Tell us a bit about the building that houses your operation, its legacy, and a little about the well-used soundboard that lives there.
To get closer to the birthplace of rockabilly music, I moved from Wisconsin to Burns, TN (just west of Nashville) in June of 2000. My office is located in Burns Station Sound, a small, low-profile, out-of-the-way recording studio that probably has recorded more heavy-weight traditional country artists than other studio in Tennessee during the past twenty years. And when you yourself stumbled in here about a year ago and recognized the board, we discovered the recording board once was housed at Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals. Well, when you consider all the super-stars that have used that board before it got here in 1981 and those who have used it since, it's an amazing list of talent. See the Burns Station Sound site owned by G.D. Stinson.
What is rockabilly anyway?
Three chords in the key of E. Oops, that's blues. I'm going to cheat here and quote you something that I use for the media when they ask that same question. Here goes ...
"Don't confuse the typical radio station, DJ, dance band that claims to play 'oldies music' with authentic rockabilly music. Very few of these folks know, understand and actually promote true rockabilly music. Without saying 'it's just a feeling,' rockabilly is a hard term to pin down. The simplest way may be to describe it as picturing an exciting blend of the blues, country and gospel sounds of American music that were prevalent, up to the mid 1950's. Mix that in with the heavier beat that was becoming more and more a part of pop music of the day and the result was 'rock and roll.'
So what then is rockabilly? Let's call it a window. Many young musicians found a sound that appealed to the ears and dancing feet of their generation. The older generation stepped back in amazement. During the time frame of 1955 thru 1960 a unique musical historical window was created. All the musical ingredients that came through that window shined into the souls of American teenagers. 'Rockabilly music' WAS THE WINDOW."
Rockabilly is very basic. A bare bones group consists of a rhythm guitar, lead guitar and acoustic slap bass, and hoping that one of these cats can sing. When you add a drummer, you are building on the sound. Another guitar?...OK. Piano?...maybe. Sax?... no! Vocal harmonies?...no! Of course other instruments can used, but the instrumentation for true rockabilly is very simple. Today we have distorted guitars and then we start deviating into psychobilly.
What are the future plans for The Rockabilly Hall of Fame?
Well, like many reference sites like ours ... just try to keep things going, despite the expenses involved. I know we will never run out of artists to profile as we continue to hear from more early performers now that the Internet has reached so many homes. Each day we gain more readers and thus get a chance to educate more and more young net surfers about the true roots of rock music. They need to know that The Beatles did not start rock and roll. They need to hear what a fun, simple, happy music early rock was.
Along with that thought, I'd like to remind folks that we also have a sister site: The Traditional Country Hall of Fame. I found that most of the hardcore rockabilly fans also dig traditional country music - artists like Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, etc. There a cross over here - the same, but different. I think you know what I mean. I'd like to help bring real country back, especially when I know that true "country" music has deteriorated into over the past ten years.
Bob and British Hall of Fame partner Rod Pyke.
There has been some confusion still over the difference between what you are doing and the projects being launched by Jackson, Tennessee's Henry Harrison. Can you explain for our readers the difference, and why you guys don't just "team up" for a Hall of Fame?
First off, our Rockabilly Hall of Fame was established March 21, 1997 and is properly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Mr. Harrison, a businessman in Jackson, TN started his Rockabilly Hall of Fame about two years ago and is not registered. We are NOT connected in any way. Yeah, it is a headache. People think that we are involved in everything that happens in rockabilly. I'd like to tell folks more about the rip-off men in suits who know nothing about what they are representing, but legal counsel has advised me not to say much about this situation and let the government sort it out.
If I asked you to name the ten most influential artists or groups in the genre of rockabilly, who would you name and why?
I may wind up giving you more than ten.
* Bill Haley & The Comets - the first rock and roller, not pure rockabilly, but damn close.
* Elvis - His first five Sun records ARE pure rockabilly. Amen!
* Sam Phillips - not for creating anything, but for opening Sun Studio doors to the great talents of Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers, Sonny Burgess, Roy Orbison and others, so they could "do their thing."
* Carl Perkins - "The Father of Rockabilly" who stuck to the music (while mixing in a little country) until the end.
* Johnny Cash - who turns 70 this February. Needs no hype.
* Jerry Lee Lewis - Super talent, super problems.
* Chuck Berry - more on the R&B and R&R side, but his licks are everywhere. Almost every rock band still uses his basic background and lead patterns.
* Buddy Holly - had a short career, but influenced so many. His vocal style is still imitated today.
* Sleepy LaBeef - the most underrated troubadours of rockabilly, still playing one-nighters for well over 40 years. See him if you can, he's one of a kind. Six foot-four, 240-lbs. of roots rock comin' at ya like a runaway train!
* Brian Setzer - not for the tattoos ('cause we didn't have tattoos in the fifties, unless you were in the Navy and got drunk one night) but, for reviving rockabilly in the early '80s.
* Cliff Gallup - the lead guitarist for Gene Vincent's original Blue Caps influenced dozens of super rock pickers over years ... and Cliff didn't even know who Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were when he died in the late '80s.
* Gene Vincent - simply had the best damn voice in rockabilly. So, much more than "Be-Bop-A-Lula". Gene didn't have the charisma of Elvis and didn't have a Col. Tom to tell him when to pee. Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that I run Gene's official web site.
We are happy to announce that you will be writing a column for the print version of GRITZ, "News from The Rockabilly Hall of Fame." What can readers expect to see in that column?
More of the same BS I'm tellin' you now, son. Naw, rockabilly is growing and has some dynamite shows on the 2002 calendar. We'll get into that right off. Then we'll address some of the more obscure performers, recordings and even how rockabilly music may be much more popular overseas than right here in the US of A. I'm looking forward to converting a few Gritz fans to rockabilly and having them add some rockabilly discs to their library.
I know you have been playing a lot of music yourself recently as a guitarist. I was really happy to have you on my last cd, which came out on your Rockabilly Hall of Fame Records. Tell us about some of the music you have been doing, studio and live. I understand you played with Gene Vincent's Blue Caps. How cool was that?
Ya know, I've been dreaming about something like this since I was a teenager and it happened last month (December, 2001). The "Caps" asked me to sit in for two shows, one in San Francisco and one in San Jose. To top it off, Lee Rocker is also on the bill for the San Fran gig. So I climbed up stage, played a little rhythm and traded a few solos with Johnny Meeks - the man I've idolized since 1957. Then we break into "Be-Bop-A-Lula: and Johnny gives me the solos - un-freaking-believable!! Lee Rocker is groovin' and tuggin' at my arm and I saw God.
Since I've been in the Nashville area, I've done some session work with D.J. Fontana (that was a 2 day session), Paul Burlison, Stan Perkins (Carl's son). W.S. "Fluke" Holland (Johnny Cash's drummer), Bob Moore (the premier session bassist of all time) and others.
While out boppin' around the country, I'm also had the privilege to be on stage jamming with a few of cats: Narvel Felts, Eddie Bond, Marty Stuart, to name a couple.
Tell us about the record label, and what's up with that?
To date, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame record label has 13 releases. Besides Michael Buffalo's "Midwest Carolina Blues," we have five 28-track compilation volumes, an album by the legendary Light Crust Doughboys, and a super disc by the Di Maggio Bros. from Florence, Italy. Our next recording project may be on our new country label, Keep It Country. We are currently looking for choice material that is strong in the traditional country sound.
What's the hottest news in the world of rockabilly right now? Shows and recordings, etc?
As mentioned before, 2002 will be a great year for rockabilly buffs. The annual Viva Las Vegas weekend is set for Easter, March 29, 30, 31. The Rockabilly Hall of Fame will have a stage in the Gold Coast Hotel all three days with a great line up. Then, comes the "Big One" in Green Bay, July 7-13, over 100 acts. This will be the biggest rockabilly event in history. We'll be there for that one, too. See the RHOF site for complete information on both events. Oh, I mustn't forget the Indianapolis Rockabilly weekend set for the first weekend in June.
Sad to say, at this time in history a lot of the news consists of obits. We are losing more and more of the legends to Father Time. This past year, we lost Paul Peek, Chet Atkins, Grady Martin, Jerry Merritt, Malcolm Yelvington, James Myers, Jimmie Logsdon and Robert Linville.
What's next for Bob Timmers?
There are rumors of me traveling to Florida to do a 2-day star-packed show with Bill Haley's Comets in May. The Blue Caps have hinted at dragging me along on an East Coast tour this spring or summer and maybe on over to Europe in the fall. Nothing definite. Meanwhile, I'll be at the computer keyboard in Burns 24/7 trying to keep up with all the news flowing through here.
Visit The Rockabilly Hall of Fame Website