‘Dig That Beat!’ In focus with steadfast roots music expert Sheree Homer
“In Dig That Beat! Interviews with Musicians at the Root of Rock ’n’ Roll you won’t find any tabloid fodder about the artists’ personal lives,” declares steadfast roots music expert Sheree Homer. “I write biographies concentrated on their music, either told by the artists themselves or musicians/producers who have worked with them…stories about recording in the studio, their signature tunes, and life on the road can be found within its pages…”
Over the course of an exclusive interview, Homer sheds substantial light on why she champions a musical genre that is rarely appreciated in modern times. An unabashed old soul raised on her mom’s dazzling array of vintage 45 RPM records who wishes that she had been raised in the 1950s, Homer would time travel back to Sam Phillips’s iconic Sun Studio in Memphis at the drop of a fedora.
The former managing editor of Rockabilly Revue magazine curated original interviews conducted for that defunct publication as well as conversations exclusive to Dig That Beat! — 39 in total spread over 234 pages in a large 7" x 10" page format. A selected discography for each artist, chapter notes, index, and a classy black and white photo still accompanies each conversation.
Available on Kindle or paperback via Amazon, Dig That Beat! isn’t strictly rockabilly oriented — rhythm and blues, pop, and country are copiously covered, too. Most of the artists profiled aren’t hot shot stars, but that was never Homer’s intention. Names that will ring a familiar bell include Conway Twitty, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Leroy Van Dyke, Dale “Susie-Q” Hawkins, Ace “Tuff” Cannon, and Billy “I Can Help” Swan.
Elvis Presley and Rick Nelson aficionados will discover illuminating anecdotes mentioned repeatedly regarding their favorite singers like Presley’s meteoric ascent on the famed Louisiana Hayride radio telecast and Nelson’s rarely explored rockabilly renaissance touring years with drummer Ricky Intveld. Incidentally, Homer’s previous book was the critically acclaimed Rick Nelson: Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer, also published by McFarland.
Music remains a constant companion in the journalist’s life and keeps her grounded in moments of personal calamity, particularly during her frightening battle against cancer which she emerged victorious over. So pull up a chair as Homer thoroughly examines Dig That Beat! and why she’ll forever “support roots music until the day I die.”
The Sheree Homer / Dig That Beat! Interview
How did you become such a dedicated rockabilly connoisseur?
My mom was a teenager in the 1950’s, and every week she spent the majority of her paycheck on the latest 45 RPM records. Luckily for me, I grew up hearing many of the greats, including Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. From an early age, rock and roll was a mainstay for me.
I didn’t discover rockabilly until 2002 when I purchased a Sun Records CD compilation box set. I wanted it for my collection because I recognized the songs by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
However, it also introduced me to artists I had never heard before, such as Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley, and Ray Smith. The first time I heard Burgess’ “Red Headed Woman,” it blew me away, and it still does. I wondered if he was still alive and performing.
A few months later, I got the opportunity to see him live at a rockabilly festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That festival and the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans showcased a wide range of artists that were new to me. I then dug deeper by searching the Internet, and friends also suggested different songs and musicians.
How did the idea of Dig That Beat! Interviews with Musicians at the Root of Rock ’n’ Roll manifest itself?
I produced a rockabilly magazine from 2002–2004. I had accumulated many interviews during this time, figuring that they would be featured in the magazine at some point. After only eight issues, I decided that continuing with the magazine wasn’t cost effective, so I quit publishing it. A short time later, my mom and several friends suggested that I write a book based on the interviews that I had stored away.
In 2007 that dream became a reality when I received my contract to write Catch That Rockabilly Fever: Personal Stories of Life on the Road and in the Studio. I was limited to how many artists I could include, so I always knew that there would be a follow-up.
For Dig That Beat some of the interviews date back to 2002, but I also conducted several more recently. When I first got into rockabilly music, I wasn’t familiar with several of the artists that I ended up writing about in Dig That Beat, such as James Intveld, Buck Owens, Janis Martin, and Al Ferrier.
Was it difficult convincing McFarland & Company that your idea held merit?
My publisher is always up for new ideas from me, but they also warned me that they didn’t want leftovers. That meant that I had to change up the idea a bit to make it appear fresh. I ultimately decided that it would be best to include a couple of other genres like rhythm and blues and traditional country since I love those as well. Dig That Beat is also different from Catch That Rockabilly Fever in that it includes a selected discography on each artist.
What was the trickiest aspect in compiling Dig That Beat?
The trickiest aspect in compiling Dig That Beat was deciding which artists should be featured. My publisher requested that this book be different than the first. Catch That Rockabilly Fever concentrated solely on rockabilly artists. Dig That Beat would feature musicians from four different genres: rockabilly, rhythm and blues, pop, and country.
It’s sometimes a challenge to locate people. Once I do, they not only have to agree to an interview but also sign a permission slip. My original list of featured artists might not reflect the final list.
There are many levels of production before my books are complete. Each one has taken me two and a half years to write. It doesn’t help that I am a perfectionist either, reading over each profile five or six times before submitting it.
Did your research for Rick Nelson: Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer open any doors during the writing/interview process for Dig That Beat?
It opened a couple of doors and contacts. When I spoke to Ronnie Mack and James Intveld for the Ricky Nelson book, I had the intention of concentrating on their music in my next book. They are very talented and highly revered in the industry.
Who was the most difficult artist to track down for an interview?
Thankfully, I have made a lot of great friends in the industry who have helped me with contacts. However, there were a couple of people that were harder to locate than others. I contacted the Nashville Musicians’ Union to locate Willie Cantu and the Shreveport Musicians’ Union to seek out Sonny Trammell and Allen Harris. Musicians’ unions have proven vital in obtaining contact information.
Were there any artists that you really wanted to include in the book but were ultimately unable to locate?
There were several artists I wanted to speak to but weren’t able to for one reason or another. I would love to speak to Faye Adams, Don Everly, musicians that worked with Waylon Jennings, Ray Sharpe, and Young Jessie. I actually started a list for another book. Hoping that there will be a third edition since people have already inquired about one.
Generally speaking, when you would reach out to an artist and tell them that you wanted to interview them for a rockabilly book project, what was their reaction?
They are usually very receptive and thrilled to hear that I would like to include them in a book. Some of them are surprised, but for the most part by this time in their careers they have been contacted numerous times.
This leads to a discussion about the first time they were approached for an interview and their initial appearance overseas at a rockabilly festival. The legends have told me that it’s like stepping into a time machine, returning to the 1950s.
Who were some of your most insightful interviews for the book?
I enjoyed hearing all the stories. It was like time traveling back to the 1950’s/early 1960’s. However, if I had to pick, I would say drummer Willie Cantu, who was one of the original Buckaroos. He was great with detail whether it be in regard to live shows or recording in the studio. I really got a kick out of hearing him talk about those early days with Buck Owens and how he helped create the “Bakersfield Sound.”
I also enjoyed speaking to Dale Hawkins, which occurred on four different occasions. The last time was the most difficult because he was gravely sick with cancer. I knew his time on Earth was coming to an end, and I have never forgotten his kindness.
I loved hearing about his time spent at Chess Records — hanging out with Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson — and his musical influences. Jimmy Reed was one of Hawkins’ biggest inspirations, and I wasn’t familiar with his music. After he died, I searched Reed out. Now, he’s my favorite blues singer [e.g. “Baby What You Want Me to Do”].
Another one that stands out is Bob Sullivan. I spoke to him for three hours because he had a wealth of knowledge, having engineered at the Louisiana Hayride and having produced so many hit records at KWKH in Shreveport, including Hawkins’ “Susie-Q.”
Sullivan’s memory was flawless, and his attention to detail was mind boggling. I could have talked to him all day. I am thankful that I interviewed him when I did because shortly before he passed away, he suffered several strokes that stole his remembrances.
Of the artists featured in Dig That Beat, who in your opinion deserved a bigger career but for whatever reason(s) that failed to happen?
Dale Hawkins deserved a bigger career. Unfortunately, most people know him strictly for “Susie-Q.” He had so many great songs, especially in the 1950’s.
His label Checker Records, which was a subsidiary of Chess Records, was like Sun Records in the regard that they had too much talent at one particular time. After all, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Etta James were also on the roster. Leonard and Phil Chess were working with limited resources; time and money were at a premium.
Hawkins was difficult to pigeonhole into a particular genre. He could sing blues, pop, rockabilly, ballads, and even novelty tunes. That versatility made marketing challenging.
Several people have told me that the section on Hawkins is their favorite, and a few have even mentioned that they dug deeper into his catalog because of the inclusion. I highly suggest that everyone add Dale Rocks, which is available for sale on the Bear Family record label, to their music collection. It’s top notch from beginning to end.
What were some of the most revelatory nuggets that you uncovered?
Through my research for Dig That Beat, I uncovered several tidbits that I didn’t know before. Prior to Dale Hawkins’ first record release on Checker, Leonard Chess called and spoke to him briefly. Due to the poor phone connection and Hawkins’ accent, Chess thought that he had said Dale Hawkins and not Del, which was really his name. Hawkins’ real name was Delmar, Del for short, and not Dale. After that day, he was known as Dale.
I also discovered that Jimmy Sutton is an artist. He even created a cartoon flip book for Count Basie, which he presented to him personally. I didn’t realize that James Intveld had written “Cryin’ Over You” for Rosie Flores. I also didn’t know that he has appeared on most of her albums.
I was surprised to find out that the Nudie suits that the Buckaroos wore were not theirs to keep. Buck Owens purchased them and kept them in his possession once their tenure was over. One other item that stands out from the book is the fact that Leroy Van Dyke opened for Marilyn Monroe while stationed in Korea.
How did you uncover the eye-catching cover photo?
I didn’t choose the cover photo. In fact, I had no say in it whatsoever. The publisher purchased the rights to use it from a stock photography company. The title isn’t completely mine either. I had originally wanted Dig That Beat: Musicians’ Journeys at the Root of Rock and Roll. I am thankful though that most of the concept was kept.
How can folks purchase an autographed copy of Dig That Beat?
People can purchase a copy directly from me for the same price as the publisher, and that way they can get it autographed. Of course, shipping costs will vary, depending on where the buyer lives. If anyone is interested, they can email me with a query at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What artist(s) excites you the most regarding rockabilly’s future?
While standing in the hall after attending a Mavericks’ concert, my friends Susan Rose and Linda Ferris asked if I was going to come again next month to see the Cactus Blossoms. A year earlier, they had seen the brother duo from Minneapolis, Minnesota, when they opened for Chuck Mead at the Turf Club.
I had only heard one or two of their songs and was still on the fence on whether I should attend. My friends mentioned that they harmonized like the Everly Brothers and were very handsome. I got home, saw the ticket price, and decided why not?
Since then, I’ve seen the Cactus Blossoms seven times in concert. They get better every time. I love how they pay homage to their influences, such as the Everlys and the Louvin Brothers, in their original material. I have faith that they will grow in popularity.
At 17, Lance Lipinsky moved from his hometown of Wimberley, Texas, to Las Vegas, Nevada. It was there that he embarked on his professional career, portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in the Legends in Concert stage show. Lewis is his main influence, but he also cites Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Floyd Cramer, and Larry Williams. As Lipinsky’s popularity grew, he toured all over the world to sold-out crowds. Then for five years he played Lewis in the Chicago production of Million Dollar Quartet.
Lipinsky is most well known for pounding out the tunes of Lewis on the piano, but he would also like to be recognized as an artist in his own right. Since he began, he’s wanted to record an analog album but could never find the right studio.
In 2012, concentration on his first full length album, Roll, became his top priority. The album consists of 13 self penned tunes. Every song is different. “Show Her” sounds like a long lost Roy Orbison track. “Fool a Fool” is a rockabilly number. Incidentally, it was recorded at Sun Studio as the majority of the tunes are. “A Boy Like Me, A Girl Like You” is a rewrite of his song “Pretty Little Girl From Los Angeles,” same arrangement and melody but different lyrics. “Move, Move, Move” has a dance party theme.
In 2005, I discovered Lipinsky but didn’t actually see him in concert until six years later at the Rockin’ E Jamboree II in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He did an hour long set with the Modern Sounds and also backed Sonny Burgess and the Pacers. It was a long wait to see him live, but he didn’t disappoint.
Lipinsky gives his all in every performance, and just by watching him you can tell how much he truly respects the music and the era. He’s an exciting dynamic performer who not only loves entertaining but also meeting his fans. I couldn’t wait to hear his original tunes. I highly recommend that everyone pick up a copy of Roll when it is released. If you get a chance to attend one of Lipinsky’s concerts, do so as you won’t be disappointed. Lance Lipinsky is the best thing to come onto the music scene in a long time.
Can you envision functioning without the presence of music in your life?
I could never imagine my life without music. It has been a constant companion for a very long time. It’s always fun to discover new music whether it be from an artist who suggests someone or from a singer who mentions his/her musical influences.
For example, one of Dale Hawkins’ biggest influences was Jimmy Reed. After Hawkins’ death, I looked up Reed on YouTube, and now he’s my favorite blues singer.
The Cactus Blossoms were relaying a story about meeting Joel Paterson and happened to say that Pokey LaFarge was with him and how they all hung out. I had heard the name Pokey LaFarge but wasn’t familiar. Again, I searched his catalog. I am discovering new songs all the time. It’s always exciting when I find a song I really like, and I’ll usually play it over and over again when I first hear it.
Music has gotten me through so many hard times, including my battle with cancer. Elvis Presley’s catalog is especially soothing. He makes everything better.
Any money that I earn I spend on either CDs or attending concerts. I have been to hundreds of shows over the years and have met so many wonderful people from all over the world. It’s like a big family reunion. I live to go to concerts. Life would be so boring without music. I wouldn’t be me without it. I’ll support roots music until the day I die.
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