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Rough ‘n’ raw rockabilly
The neo-rockabilly trio, Three Blue Teardrops, dabble in the traditional ’50s sound, but also let the chaos of the ’70s punk scene and ’80s hardcore influence its music.
Formed in 1991 with Dave Sisson on hollow body guitar and vocals, Rick Uppling on upright doghouse bass and vocals, and Randy Sabo on drums, the three have made its impact on the American rockabilly, replete with greasy pompadours and leather motorcycle jackets.
Its punk-flavored rockabilly music has survived through the rise of the Internet and auto-tune, and the group has stayed true to its gritty rock ‘n’ roll colors since the release of its first album, “One Part Fist,” in 1991, all the way to the band’s latest work, “Rustbelt Trio,” out in 2006.
The Chronicle caught up with Sisson to discuss the cycles of rockabilly, what it’s like to be in a band 20 years strong and what the music scene was like when many Columbia students were still in diapers.
The Chronicle: To what do you credit the longevity of the band?
Dave Sisson: We’re friends—that’s the main thing. We still have problems that a lot of bands go through, [like] creative differences. When we were younger, we hit [the scene] pretty hard. We traveled a lot and tried to get our name out there, but as time went on, music styles changed and [what was] popular changed with the wind. You can chase it or you don’t, and you just play the music you love to play. We are playing for the right reasons, not to get rich
The Chronicle: How did the three of you meet?
DS: We met each other through the rockabilly scene. We all wanted to play something that was harder than most of the bands were playing at the time. We didn’t want to do it straight ’50s style. We wanted it to be dirtier and meaner.
The Chronicle: What was the music scene like in the early ’90s, and how does it compare to today?
DS: Number one, there was no Internet. You weren’t trying to pimp yourself out on there. Bands who had followings played shows, and they had flyers out on the streets to attract crowds. We made newsletters. The bands all had some gimmicks going. One of the bands, The Cocktails, had action figures. The music we played was original, instead of ’50s covers, which a lot of bands were doing. And we also didn’t try to be pure. We mixed punk into our music. It turned off a lot of the rockabilly people, but we brought in a different kind of crowd—people that were into punk or ska. Things were more primitive back then. Now, bands are more worried about making it on the Internet.
The Chronicle: How many subgenres of rockabilly are there and which one do you think Three Blue Teardrops fits best?
DS: There’s traditional rockabilly, which I do like, [where] people pretend that they’re still living in the 1950s with the way they dress and how they record their music. They do everything the old-fashioned way and try to make everything original to replicate that sound. It’s interesting to create within those limitations. Psychobilly bands, which, sadly, some use the term for an excuse to play badly, but there are others that fit into the genre with weird pop hooks and create a science fiction, horror B-movie sound. Then there is neo-rockabilly, which I think we fit into the best. It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a nod to the ’50s stuff, but it’s also not stuck in that time period.
The Chronicle: Do you think the rockabilly scene is alive and well? What kind of following do you have?
DS: I think it goes through cycles. Rockabilly, when it first happened, existed for only four to six years—from about 1954 to 1960—until corporate rock came with the teen idols. Then it reappeared in the ’70s with Greasers and Teddy Boy rockers. In the early ’80s, [the band] Straycats made it big and then it disappeared for a while. In the early ’90s, we came along and Reverend Horton Heat came along and it got real big. Swing came and it stole some of the thunder from bands like us. It goes up and down, and I think it’s coming up from a down spiral right now. People still come out, so we still play.
For more information, tracks and tour dates of Three Blue Teardrops, visit its band page at Myspace.com/ThreeBlue