Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music. It dates back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered “classic” rock and roll. Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. The term “rockabilly” itself is a portmanteau of “rock” (from “rock ‘n’ roll”) and “hillbilly“, the latter a reference to the country music (often called “hillbilly music” in the 1940s and 1950s) that contributed strongly to the style. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.
Defining features of the rockabilly sound included strong rhythms, vocal twangs, and common use of the tape echo; but progressive addition of different instruments and vocal harmonies led to its “dilution”. Initially popularized by artists such as Wanda Jackson, Billy Adams, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Bob Luman, Eddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis, the rockabilly style waned in the late 1950s; nonetheless, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, rockabilly enjoyed a revival. An interest in the genre endures even in the 21st century, often within musical subcultures. Rockabilly has left a legacy, spawning a variety of sub-styles and influencing other genres such as punk rock.
During the 1930s and 1940s, two new sounds emerged. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were the leading proponents of Western Swing, which combined country singing and steel guitar with big band jazz influences and horn sections; Wills’s music found massive popularity. Recordings of Wills’s from the mid 1940s to the early 1950s include “two beat jazz” rhythms, “jazz choruses”, and guitar work that preceded early rockabilly recordings. Wills is quoted as saying “Rock and Roll? Why, man, that’s the same kind of music we’ve been playin’ since 1928!… But it’s just basic rhythm and has gone by a lot of different names in my time. It’s the same, whether you just follow a drum beat like in Africa or surround it with a lot of instruments. The rhythm’s what’s important.”14