Rusty York

Rusty Rocks

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By any standard, Rusty York is an obscure early rock & roller, cutting a handful of singles on several labels during the late '50s and early '60s yet scoring only one hit single -- "Sugaree" in 1959 -- and, at least according to Billboard, it wasn't even much of a hit, peaking at 77. Charts can be deceiving, and "Sugaree" was more popular than most singles that peak at 77, sticking around on radio and jukeboxes for many a year, and turning into one of the great one-shot rock & roll singles of the late '50s. But to define York's career merely in terms of "Sugaree" does him a disservice since he was quite active and versatile, playing with Jimmie Skinner in bluegrass groups early in his career and spending time on the road with Bobby Bare in the '60s, playing in his backing bands and taking the opening act slot. And, as Bear Family's 2004 set Rusty Rocks proves, he did a fair amount of recording, bouncing between Jewel, Gee Dee, and Chess during the '60s. Bear Family rounded up these sides, including unreleased takes, plus tracks he recorded as a member of the Cajuns and in an atypical teen pop vocal duet with Bonnie Lou. This isn't complete -- in the excellent liner notes by Colin Escott, there are some allusions to sessions that don't seem to appear on the disc -- but it's close enough for most listeners, and by concentrating on York's rockabilly and rock & roll (throwing in the bluegrass "Don't Do It" and a couple of country-leaning tunes), it gives the sense of cohesion. Much of this is quite good -- nothing that tears it up like "Sugaree," but there are a lot of little gems, from a bunch of effectively skeletal readings of rock & roll standards ("Mean Woman Blues," "The Girl Can't Help It," "Peggy Sue," "Great Balls of Fire") to originals like the rollicking, sax-fueled ravers "Sadie Mae" and "Tore Up Over You," the swaggering "Tremblin'," and the terrific "Goodnight Cincinnati, Good Morning Tennessee," an excellent fusion of Johnny Cash story-song and teenage rock & roll. Some of this is a bit generic, but in an enjoyable way, and those aforementioned highlights make this worth seeking out for hardcore lovers of pre-Beatles rock & roll.

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