There are several legendary drummers in the world of rockabilly…guys who laid down a solid beat and provided the backbone to some of the rockinest barnstorming rockabilly numbers to ever scream through a radio tube.
J.M. VanEaton was the house drummer at Sun Studios in Memphis back in the 1950s and is the most recorded drummer on Sun Records. He was one of Billy Lee Riley’s Little Green Men and played on classics like “Red Hot” and “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll” and was Jerry Lee Lewis’ drummer right from the get go of The Killer’s career playing on his first Sun recording “Crazy Arms” and going on to provide the beat in the classics “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls Of Fire”.
Another Sun Records legendary drummer is W.S. “Fluke” Holland who was Carl Perkins’ drummer and provided the solid rockabilly shuffle beat to all of Carl’s Sun Records releases including “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Matchbox” and “Honey Don’t” and Holland was the ‘fifth member’ of the famous Million Dollar Quartet when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all jammed together at Sun Studios on Dec 4th 1956. Holland went on to become one of the Tennessee Three, backing Johnny Cash for many years.
DJ Fontana was Elvis’ first drummer and played with Elvis, Scotty and Bill on all their post Sun Records live dates in the 1950s and on classic Elvis releases on RCA records like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog”. DJ was right there when Elvis became a superstar and appeared with him on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Dorsey Brothers Show and the Milton Berle Show. Prior to backing Elvis DJ played with some of the greatest honky-tonk country artists in the early 50s like Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce and George Jones and he even toured for a while in the late 50s with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps.
And talking of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, the great Dickie “Be Bop” Harrell started his career as Gene’s drummer when he was just 15. You can hear him playing with brushes on “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. He toured with Gene and played on the rockabilly classics “Race With The Devil” , “Gonna Back Up Baby”, “Woman Love” and “Crazy Legs”. You can see Dickie in action with Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps in glorious color in the classic 1956 movie “The Girl Can’t Help It”.
Jerry Allison was a founding member of The Crickets along with his pal Buddy Holly. Allison co-wrote “That’ll Be The Day” and provided the steady driving beat for all of Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ hits with a style that perfectly complemented Joe B. Mauldin’s percussive slap bass. Jerry appeared at the London Palladium with Buddy Holly during their 1957 UK tour and after Buddy’s death in 1959 continued playing with The Crickets, backing other rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly legends in the studio like Eddie Cochran and on tour with the Everly Brothers. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Jerry as #44 on the their Top 100 Drummers list.
The Wheelgrinders have their own legendary rockabilly drummer. Hailing from Liverpool in the UK but calling Vancouver, BC his home for many years, Stuart Quayle is a veteran of the Vancouver Rockabilly/Roots scene. He was a member of the Deadcats and recorded and toured with that classic lineup as well as recording and touring as a member of Big John Bates’ band. After a year with fellow Wheelgrinder, Greg, as a member of Vancouver rockabilly trio The Fire Bottles, Stuart and Greg formed The Wheelgrinders with ace slap bassist Caroline Helmeczi and Stuart laid down the beat at Sun Studios, on the same kit as played by Dickie “Be Bop” Harrell, for four rockin’ tracks which are part of The Wheelgrinders’ upcoming debut album. Here’s Stuart in action with The Wheelgrinders at Falconetti’s East Side Grill, Vancouver.