What a memorable night and a celebration of a life devoted to rock. Within the rockabilly scene both in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. I learned about Tex Rubinowitz and Billy Hancock. At the May 20th Tribute to Billy Hancock at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C., I had the great fortune to learn more about Billy’s extraordinary life and see so many local legends live!
Singer and bass player Billy Hancock may have passed away on January 22nd, 2018, but at the Tribute, his spirit lived on. Born in Alexandria on November 4, 1946, Hancock cut a singular figure in the D.C. music scene. With his bouffant pompadour and imposing presence, Hancock recorded rockabilly music with his band The Tennessee Rockets and Danny Gatton and the Fatboys but also a wide variety of other genres. However he is best known for his authenticrockabilly songs that captured a following in the late 1970s and 1980s; a time when the genre was far from the typical Top 40 sound. Hancock’s signature songs include “Hey! Little Rock and Roller,” “Rockabilly Fever,” and “The Boogie Disease”. Read more about Billy Hancock in the Washington Post Obituary.
Watch Hancock playing “Fire and Brimstone” by Link Wray with Dave Chappell in this circa 1980s video:
Tex Rubinowitz, an original ““Bad Boy” (with Tex Rubinowitz and the Bad Boys) and contemporary of Hancock’s, made a rare onstage appearance for the first time in thirty years in his honor, performing songs from the former glory days of D.C. rockabilly along with original tunes. He is known in the rockabilly world as the original “Hot Rod Man,” and his song by that title is a classic:
Now in his seventies, the Texas-born, D.C.-raised Rubinowitz most recently teamed up with another standard of the D.C. rockabilly scene, Bob Newscaster, for the album “The Old Man Mississippi,” which features a more mellow, bluesy sound with Dixieland influences and even accordion. You can hear one of the songs from the album, “Tryin’ to Get to You,” originally recorded as a single by D.C. R’n’B group The Eagles in 1954, and by Elvis Presley in 1955:
Here he is again with Dagmar Swenson, lead singer of Dagmar and the Seductones (and wife of Bob Newscaster). They are joined by Newscaster, Eddie Angel, and more. Watch their take on “Ooby Dooby.” Written by Dick Penner and Wade Lee Moore, Roy Orbison made the song a hit in 1961:
And now for Tex’s most well-known song of the night, Hot Rod Man!
Billy Hancock’s bass made an important appearance that night. It was even auctioned off to one lucky bidder!
Thomas Bowes, drummer for The Rock-A-Sonics, presents Billy Hancock’s bass for auction
Throughout the night, many artists kept the rock’n’roll spirit alive. I wish I had been able to capture them all (including my friends The Rock-A-Sonics-but check them out September 2nd when they return to Pearl Street Warehouse)! Female rockers joined the boys including punk rock and rockabilly queen Martha Hull. She gave quite a riotous performance of Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama Mama!” Luckily I do have a video of Virginia Lawrence of Virginia and the Blue Tops shakin’ up the boys’ club with Tex:
Eddie Angel (guitar, now playing with Los Straightjackets) Johnny Castle of the Thrillbillys who played with Hancock in The Tennessee Rockets (bass), Jim “Ratso” Silman (guitar); all legends of the scene in their own right, are shown with Tex performing one of his original tunes, “Rock’n’Roll Ivy”:
And here are Johnny Castle, Eddie Angel, and Ratso playing “Lillie,” an ode to Link Wray’s mother Lillian Mae “Lillie” Coats Wray. Such a heartfelt tune for those rockers:
All in all, what an epic night to preserve the soul of D.C. rockabilly and rock’n’roll music rendered by the giants of the local scene. I have no doubt Billy Hancock would have been pleased. Check out more videos from the concert on Honeysuckle Roads’ YouTube channel.
Keep Rockin’, D.C.!
August 25, 2018 at 8:16 pm
A similar, but somewhat less traditional, rockabilly band called the Fabulous Thrillbillys will be playing a Halloween show on Saturday, October 27, at Atlanta’s Star Bar.
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August 25, 2018 at 8:45 pm
Thanks, Steve! I love the music of this area but I do miss the Star Bar! I’ll look them up.