|Al Ferrier and his Boppin' Billies|
Elvis Presley's famous 1954 Sun sessions in Memphis, Tennessee, ushered in a new breed of country artist. He was young, confident, with slicked-back hair and disrespectful good looks. His music was loud, deafeningly loud, with relentless rhythms generated by eccentric electric guitars and strident string basses. Country music had been given a shot of rhythm and blues: rockabilly was making its dramatic entrance, and the rock 'n' roll age was dawning. Scotty Moore, the guitar player who changed Elvis Presley's world, gave a beautiful definition of "rockabilly" to writer Peter Guralnick: "It had been there for guite a while, really. You see, from the honky-tonks you got such a mixture of all different types of music, and I think what happened is that when Elvis busted through it enabled all these other groups that had been going along more or less the same avenue - I'm sure there were hundreds of them - to tighten up and focus on what was going to be popular. If they had a steel guitar they dropped it, the weepers and slow country ballads pretty much went out of their repertoire. And what you had left was country-oriented boogie music."
Helped by Elvis Presley's barnstorming appearances on the Louisiana Hayride, the revolutionary rocking sound spread with frightening rapidity to South Louisiana. Country music, which had innocently provided rock 'n' roll with its initial platform, was almost wiped out in the process, Cajun music, like other regional forms, also teetered on the brink in the face of this frontal attack. Several South Louisiana artists added "country rock 'n' roll" to their repertoires, but Al Ferrier and Johnny Jano were the only notable local rockabilly performers.
Al Ferrier was a young country singer from Montgomery in the central Louisiana whose first two singles, "No No Baby" and "My Baby Done Gone Away," were pleasant country boogies recorded for Goldband in Lake Charles in 1955. If this was the birth of rockabilly, as Eddie Shuler impishly claims, it was a very quiet beginning. There was no doubt, though, that Ferrier could whip up a good Carl Perkins-type sound with his accomplished group the Boppin' Billies; the exceptional lead guitarist was his brother Brian Ferrier, who had played with Hank Thompson and the Alcan Playboys and accompanied Elvis Presley on the Louisiana Hayride. Playing much of the time in the Acadiana area, Al tried his luck with Jay Miller in 1957. His first Crowley single, "Hey Baby" (Excello), was classic rockabilly; the grease simply oozed from the grooves. Ferrier exuded all the brashness the rock 'n' roll idiom demanded:
But "Hey Baby" did not sell, and Al did not repeat this artistic triumph. After recording much lethargic material for Miller's own labels he hung up his guitar. A decade later, inspired by the astonishing European rockabilly revival, he came out of retirement and recorded again for both Eddie Shuler and Jay Miller, with variable results. He went on tour in Europe in 1987 and we witnessed a real good concert at the Rockhouse in Zwolle (The Netherlands) with Johnny Allan and The Balham Alligators.
Commercial success had continued to elude Ferrier, as drummer Warren Storm affirms: "Al never had a real big hit. At the moment he is working and playing on the weekends in Natchitoches, just around his hometown. He's doing country and western and some of the old fifties things. I am surprised he was never a superstar, all the talent that he has."
Partly from the Rockhouse concert leaflet 1987.
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