In 2010, bassist Stephen Palmer was considering the Savannah music scene. “I thought ‘You know what this town doesn’t have? A straight–up rockabilly band. They seem to like that genre of old Johnny Cash and old Elvis, and things like that.’”
Palmer had moved here in 2004 from Seattle, where he’d fallen under the spell of early ‘50s rockabilly, after a few years playing thrashy punk rock. “It’s the kind of stuff that goes right down into your bone marrow,” he says about rockabilly. “One you get that upright bass against your body and you start hitting it and slapping it ... I’m like ‘Wait a minute ... we got something going on here.’”
The Jinx, the Wormhole, Live Wire Music Hall and several other hip clubs routinely brought in those pompadoured rockabilly bands, all twangy guitar, standup, kick and snare, hollering and snotty attitude. And people ate it up.
Still ... “Being from the West Coast and big cities, it was a little bit of a shock to the system to find out how little music is in this town. And the music that is here, I thought ‘I can do this.’ Heck, everybody plays ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Cocaine Blues.’ I knew all those songs.”
Palmer – who had no interest in Jimmy Buffett and Eagles covers, thank you very much – found a kindred spirit in Train Wrecks frontman Jason Bible, another local guy who likes it raw, loud and honest. He filled in for bassist Eric Dunn on several occasions, and also played a couple of times with Georgia Kyle.
But there’s a lot of country in the Train Wrecks’ music, and Kyle’s electric stuff is more blues–based than Palmer likes.
So he advertised: “Looking to start an image–based rockabilly band, with music the way it was played originally – volume, not necessarily faster but a lot of power to it.”
One by one, like–minded musicians found their way into the rehearsal room at Palmer’s house. The first was drummer Skinny Jim Reesman. Then came vocalist Sean Conradson (who’d sung in a psychobilly group called Hellvis), and, finally, guitarist Scott Schneider.
Called Crazy Man Crazy after Bill Haley’s 1953 hit (generally considered the first rock ‘n’ roll song to make the Billboard charts), the band began rehearsing last February.
Palmer, who’s always used the moniker MrPalmeronBass, assigned the others stage names – Skinny Jim, Con Man and The Rocket. They played their first gig in August.
The band – onstage with Megan Jean & the KFB Nov. 26 at the Wormhole – plays early Haley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Cash and the rest of the crew.
Most of those original guys, Palmer says, were so homogenized in their TV appearances (the only existing visual record) that the energy and excitement of their actual concert performances can only be re–created from written recollections. And musicians’ logic.
It’s said that riots routinely broke out at Haley shows – repressed American teenagers were breaking out of their families’ post–war stupor.
“You’d see them in movies like The Girl Can’t Help It, where they were all cleaned up and presentable,” says Palmer. “I’m trying to imagine what it must have been like when they were renting auditoriums back in the day. What was Eddie Cochran really doing when he was shaking his hips? And so that’s kind of the power we’re trying to capture with today’s sensibility.
“Again, not faster, just a little more umph–ier. Let the punk rock roots come out in me. Not just thrash it out. Like if you to take Bill Haley and throw him into the Clash – what could they do with this?”
Crazy Man Crazy, Palmer insists, is not a “retro” or comedy act. For them, raw rockabilly is just as vibrant and alive now as it was back in the glory days. The band’s sets include covers from the Clash, Stray Cats, the Paladins and even Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” of course).
They’re talking the talk as well as walking the walk. “I think the stage names help, because it gives each of us a persona that we have to kind of live up to,” explains Palmer. “Skinny Jim has to be Skinny Jim, a name that you can remember.
“The goal is also to see if we can get people dancing. One of the things I remember about rockabilly culture is that people, no matter how bad–ass and tattooed and greaser they are, they want to get on the dance floor with their girls and do a little of that swing–dancing to this kind of music.”
Crazy Man Crazy
Where: Wormhole Bar, 2307 Bull Street
When: At 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26
With: Megan Jean & the KFB