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By Johnny Angel

American's seeking American rock's true roots need look no further than The Nashville Network

Esconced in the video age as we are, we tend to blur the line between fashion and reality with a little too much impunity. Today's tirade concerns the misconception that rockabilly--the ultimate bastard child of American music--is somehow the true sound of the heartland.

Bull-cookies. Rockabilly is a wacky hybrid of R&B and hillbilly, a sped-up subgenre that disappeared off the face of the earth in 1958. Were it not for the valiant and obsessive efforts of the goddamn British, it may have gone the way of the wagon wheel. But the Teddy Boy cult kept the flame alive as a template for sharp-dressin' gals and dudes over on Blighty ever since. In the wake of the Stray Cats stateside ascendance in 1982, rockabilly has become a viable vehicle for bar-bands and their habitues.

Sporting quiffs and brothel-creepers, today's 'billies embraces the notion that they are truly the walking, talking accurate parody of trailer trash, as if that's something to be proud of. Wrong. The bedrock music of the white lower-middle and working classes is pure country--the schlockier and, oddly enough, the more current, the better. Butter-headed socialites may think they're slummin' with real class, grooving to obscuroid Sun sides, but if they were really down with the Elvis-derived tip, they'd be huffing Doritos, planted on a sofa and grooving to The Nashville Network's endless parade of cowboy-hatted male models.

So there.

Knowing that the entire rockabilly trip is another variation on the "Let's all get dolled-up like people we ain't" vibe has soured me on twangified, would-be roots music for the most part, but I must tell you that the absolutest dopest disc to arrive in chez Angel in the last month belongs to one Rockin' Ronnie Dawson. Couldn't tell you if Ronnie is a transplanted Yank in Britain (record says it's cut in London, sounds mighty real to me), but I know from listening that this is no yawning romp through tired readymades. Shit-hot, wound tighter than a starter coil on a '57 T-Bird, Dawson's music doesn't even hint at the laid-back lassitude that sinks almost every Amer-roots release. I love it.

And I think it's because Dawson's a lifer and a pro-entertainer that he pulls it off. Unlike the Teds, American butter-heads are a fickle lot. I figure many of them were Goths or skins in their younger days, not loyal to the King at all. Fashion posing sure is fun, but boy, does it get in the way of the music itself sometimes--no, always, maties. Buy Ronnie Dawson's disc, and maybe for a minute or three, you can forget this infuriating conundrum. I did.

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From the June 6-12, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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