Happy Birthday, “Hillbilly Cat”

He was born on January 8, 1935.

He would have other nicknames over the course of his career, such as “Elvis the pelvis” and “The King of Rock & Roll” but, for the purpose of this discourse, I’d like to stick with the one he was identified with during his early days. I’ve always felt it was a good summation of how the music establishment of that time perceived this new kid and his new sound.

Endless volumes have been written about every phase of his career and personal life and they’re easily available in any form you can think of, so I won’t take up your time retelling any of those tales here.

And, I’ve previously recounted my very first exposure to Elvis in a blog post I’ve linked here.

But now, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a “moment” from my past that the Hillbilly Cat played a significant part in.

13 year old me spent a fair amount of time hanging out with a neighborhood friend, Bill Conn, and listening to records on his Webcor phonograph. Bill was a big Bill Haley fan and his Haley collection occupied a lot of our time but, now and then, he’d drop the needle on some new find by another artist. We were both aware of Elvis Presley and his hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” Elvis’s second RCA hit “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” had just been released and Bill had just purchased it. After listening to it, Bill flipped the record over, dropped the needle — and I was transfixed.

D.J. Fontana‘s drums kick/slammed the beat for four bars, followed by another four bars of a room shaking descending stand-up bass run by Bill Black, followed by Scotty Moore‘s guitar blasting the all-time definitive rockabilly riff.

“My Baby Left Me” was off and running.

The Hillbilly Cat hadn’t even stepped up to the mike, yet and I was already hooked by this groove. When the cat started singing, I just started grinning. THIS was the definition of cool. THIS was the definition of ROCK & ROLL!

Yes, I was a Bill Haley fan, but THIS was something else. THIS kicked it into a higher gear.

And remember, this was before the Hillbilly Cat recorded “Hound Dog!”

The only thing better than that first exposure to “My Baby Left Me” on Bill Conn’s Webcore was the first time I heard those drums, that bass, that guitar and the Hillbilly Cat’s voice exploding from much bigger speakers on a Seeburg jukebox.

Nirvana!!

Although, over the years, I’ve developed an appreciation for and love of many different flavors of music, to this day, anytime “My Baby Left Me” comes on any speaker, I HAVE to turn it up.

Years later, during my first interview with Scotty Moore, I asked him about that recording session. He said that they just decided to cover another song from Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, whose “That’s All Right Mama” was Elvis’s first record. “My Baby Left Me” was similar in structure to “That’s All Right Mama” but, the difference was, along with the addition of D.J. on drums, the group had matured and developed their own sound.

And, that scared young kid Scotty and Bill worked so hard with before their first recording session had turned into the Hillbilly Cat.

Happy Birthday, Cat!

Stay safe,

Steve

About steveandjohnnie

Award winning Chicago Broadcasters, inducted into WGN radio's Walk Of Fame. Authors of the Les Paul memoir, "A Little More Les." http://alittlemoreles.com You'll find even more about us at http://www.steveandjohnnie.com/
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2 Responses to Happy Birthday, “Hillbilly Cat”

  1. Anne Feeney says:

    Miss you two n WGN in Chicago! Know they just made some shift changes this week…
    But JW just doesn’t cut it for me. And his speed jokes are stupid! That’s just my opinion… but still listen to WGN when my radio is on at home! So Happy New Year to my fave radio broadcasters!

  2. LINDA JOHNSON says:

    Steve, dear….you have lots of knowledge and you know how to put it into words.. written and vocal. I am so glad to know you. Take care and stay safe! My sister that had Covid and was hospitalized December 8th just took her first shower by herself. She is still improving! IOW..Thank you to everyone who wears a mask!!!

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