Roy Orbison

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Long before Roy Orbison scaled the charts and achieved stardom as the purveyor of dramatic ballads, he made his initial pull from his native small-town Texas surroundings fronting a country band called the Wink Westerners. With some flashier duds and a couple of personnel changes (although still keeping electric mandolinist James Morrow), they reinvented themselves as the Teen Kings, purveyors of a rockabilly beat that was loaded with slam-bang energy and unerring instinct. They were soon the big ducks in a small pond, starring in their own TV show on the local ABC affiliate in Odessa, Texas, where they played guest to visiting rock & roll pioneers like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. These 16 performances were recorded in 1956 at KOSA-TV and capture the Teen Kings plowing through the rock & roll hits of the day (high-energy, fiery versions of "Blue Suede Shoes," "All By Myself," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Rip It Up" and an absolutely savage rendition of "Bo Diddley"), as well as live takes of their "Ooby Dooby," "Go! Go! Go!" and "Rockhouse." Orbison's cleanly picked guitar work (and yes, he was a great rockabilly guitarist) is highlighted on the instrumentals "Racker Tacker," "Jam," "TK Blues" and "St.Louis Blues," while Roy duets with Morrow's electric mandolin on "Pretend," producing a dual tone so empathetic it's hard to tell where one instrument starts and other begins. Billy Pat Ellis (co-writer of "Go! Go! Go!") may just have been the greatest rockabilly drummer of all time, and Jack Kennelly's whoops and slappin' bass brings the Bill Black-with-Elvis quotient to the mix in a big way. The last track on here is an answering-machine-quality interview with the surviving members of the band that goes on for almost 40 minutes, presumably added to beef up the running time of what would have been a 34-minute disc. While it's worth a one-time listen, most will want to program their way around it on future listenings. Aside from that small intrusion, this is a marvelous document of rockabilly's early heyday, and we should be thankful that such an early one exists at all.