Various Artists

Crazy Alligator

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In rock & roll's early days, Texas was one of the few Southern states where the new music truly flourished. Rockabilly singers and like-minded combos sprang up in the wake of Elvis and other Sun rockabillies who played in the state, and venues that normally booked strictly country acts embraced the new sound as well. One of these cities was Dallas with its Big D Jamboree, which gave both visiting rockers and local bands a chance to shine. These 15 tracks from the vaults of the Dallas, Texas-based Felco Records and its subsidiaries, Kick and Jamaka, document that scene with a handful of wild singles, fleshed out with one-offs from local labels like Elbridge (Larry Dale's "Crying Over You"), Mark (Mackie Beer and the Rockits' "That Jim" and "Lorie Lee"), Blaze (Meredith Neal's "Gertrude") and Sowder (Carl Belew's "I'm Long Gone"). Label owner Jimmy Fields seems to have tampered very little with the output on his label, as most Felco singles exhibit an unvarnished and unbridled passion in their performances. Emblematic of these raw, rocking achievements are four Felco 45s that serve as this collection's centerpieces.

Billy Taylor's "Wombie Zombie" is unlike any other rockabilly record lyrically before or since (featuring the classic mumbled line, "then they started screwing to the 'St. Louis Blues, '" making it still unsuitable for airplay 40 years after it was recorded), with all of this lyrical genius surrounded by a solid beat, fleet guitar work and a doo wop group intoning the title at the end of each verse. You won't find many records tying rock & roll music to graveyard rituals with images of a hot combo ("Raunchy Man and Ramrod were there") raising and rocking the living dead then or now.

Answer records were always plentiful in those times, but few were as off-kilter as "Crazy Alligator" by Irwin Russ. This was an answer record to Johnny Horton's "Battle of New Orleans" as told from the perspective of the alligator used as a cannon in that Jimmie Driftwood number ("and when we touched the powder off, the 'gator lost his mind"). The military drumbeat from Horton's big hit pops up to push the narrative along on the breaks, but the song itself is a driving little shuffle played by a tight little combo framing Russ' unbelievably hicked-out deadpan vocal. An oddball delight, but a delight nonetheless. Also on tap is the record's flip side, "My Imagination," and, as the ultimate title track tie-in, the cover art for this collection is the original 45 picture sleeve for "Crazy Alligator." The Twisters were a smokin' quintet of instrumental rockers who contribute the wild and woolly "Bandstand Rocket" to the list of hot entries to this compilation. To a wild, frantic boogie beat with extra crispy high-hat cymbals from the drummer -- featuring ultra-treble accented guitars, bleating sax, a group chant of the title, and a girl screaming in key with the music well enough to blend in as an additional instrument -- this pants-on-fire romp clocks in at under a minute and 30 seconds and features one of the slickest endings ever appended to a rock & roll record. Also aboard are three more instrumentals from the band, "Kat Walk," "Speed Limit," and "Count Down 1-2-3," fine rockers all, but somewhat of a letdown after the go-man-go roller coaster ride of "Bandstand Rocket." Bobby Crown's "One Way Ticket" and its flip "Your Conscience" has long been a sought-after collector's item of fans of rockabilly with the accent on the 'billy part of the equation. Both sides appear here, although curiously credited to a Bobby Lumpkin, which was a first pressing label goof-up. Closing out the compilation is a group with a Norman Petty connection (songwriting, publishing and production), the obscure Texas combo K.C. Grand and the Shades with "Lookie, Lookie, Lookie." Although much of this collection duplicates tracks found on the other Felco compilation (Texas Kat Music on Gulf Coast), this is actually the better of the two, with the outside Texas label one-offs making for a more solid package and better transfers of the source materials than its reissue partner to recommend it.