Johnny Carroll

TrackSingle / Album
Rock N' Roll RubyDecca 9-29940
Wild, Wild WomenDecca 9-29941
Hot RockDecca 9-30013
Crazy, Crazy Lovin'Decca 9-30013
Sugar BabyRock, Baby, Rock It
The SwingWarner Bros 5042
Bandstand DollWarner Bros 5042
SugarWarner Bros 5080
Black Leather RebelThe Black Leather Rebel
People In Texas Like To DanceTexabilly

 

 

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Johnny Carroll photo 2

Johnny Carroll

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Johnny Carroll is one of those “What Could Have Been” stories, which really doesn’t make him that different than so many early Rockabilly performers. He seemed a little disconnected from the goal of becoming famous though. To begin with his name is actually John Lewis Carrell. And unlike most artists the name change wasn’t dictated by any actual reasons, but because of a mistake by the Decca Records label that nobody bothered to correct.

If you’ve never seen the “it should be a classic” movie Rock, Baby, Rock It from 1957, you should. Carroll plays the leader of Johnny Carroll & The Hot Rocks. He and his band, along with Don Coates & The Bon-Aires, Preacher Smith & The Deacons, Rosco Gordon & The Red Tops and the Belew Twins battle back against the mob who are intent of taking over their beloved local Rock n Roll Club. Of course, all of our heroes take time to play a lot of music while fighting off the bad guys. Carroll was top billed in the film, which you would think suggested significant things were intended. Whatever expectations anyone had never really came to any sort of fruition, and instead of stardom we’re left with a forgotten man who had essentially a ten year plus hole in the middle of his career.

He learned guitar, or at least was on some level mentored by, Scotty Moore. Who of course played in Elvis’ band. In the early 1950s he often shared band members with his friend Gene Vincent and wrote at least one early song Vincent recorded. After failing to achieve any real level of success in the states, although I’m told he is a bit more well known in European Rockabilly circles, he stopped recording in 1962, after releasing only a handful of songs during 1960-1962.

In 1974 he popped up again putting together a Gene Vincent album after Rollin’ Rocks Records President Ronny Weiser came across some of his 1950s recording. Weiser claimed for him it was like hearing Little Richard for the first time. So he tracked Carroll down and recorded The Black Leather Rebel with him. A half a dozen or so more albums happened between 1975-1986, including 1977’s Texabilly.

He fell off the map again after that, eventually succumbing to liver failure in 1995.

But he left a lot of great songs for a man who really recorded so few; here are 10 of them.

Rock N’ Roll Ruby from 1956 should have made him a star. Not only are the lyrics fun and really pretty smart, as you expect from a Johnny Cash song, but he brings it across better than the original. Which I know is sort of blasphemy. But when he sings about how when Ruby starts to Rock it satisfies his soul you certainly believe it. The use of the word Daddy to refer to himself and others just screams mid 1950s Rockabilly as well, but doesn’t seem the least bit disingenuous. Two great solos help the song along at its breakneck speed as well. The guitar solo that starts at the one minute mark and continues for about 20 seconds is just raucous rockabilly at its best. The piano solo that also clocks in at about 20 seconds during the two minute mark is just as fantastic.

Also from 1956 is Wild, Wild Women, about a subset of the female sex who like to have fun and dig Johnny Carroll it seems. You’ve really got to see the movie, which is not so good as a film, but the musical performances are amazing. Jay Salam, who played lead guitar on these early Carroll tracks, was just as on fire on this track as the first. And Carroll’s gyrations make Elvis look like Perry Como. The man just moved.

“Well come on baby, shove the rug / Rockin’ and a-rollin’ beats a-kissin’ and a-huggin’ / Hot rock, hot rock, hot rock, let’s rock and roll tonight / Well wrap your arms around this frame”. Hot Rock is just a great sound. I swear I hear as much punk in the music as I do rockabilly.

Crazy, Crazy Lovin’ (see top clip) was on the flipside of the previous single, and was almost as good. Carroll looked like he was laying out some killer one-two punches while starring in his first film. He was going to be a star. But it just never happened. And again, I hear a guy that might have been just as comfortable in the punk era, the way he brings across his music just smacks of that sort of aggressiveness.

I think my favorite song of Carroll’s is Sugar Baby, which was also featured in the movie. He and his band rip through it with all the cool kids jamming to the tune in the club Johnny was saving from the gangsters. I love watching all the kids, and some people a bit older to kids, just rocking out in their Sunday best suits and ties. Especially the close up shot of them all tapping their hands on the table together. Oh, the 50s.

At this point Carroll starting bouncing around a bit. During the next five years he released on Phillips International, Warner Brothers, WA and Duchess Records. For my money nothing touches the stuff from that first year and a half on Decca. In 1996, after his death, the 33 sides he recorded from 1956-1960 were released on a compilation. If you go buy that release, and the first two Rollin’ Rocks releases, then you’re good Johnny Carroll wise.

I think my favorite song during this later era, when he slowed down his music a bit, is The Swing. He wasn’t exactly crooning at this point but he held his notes a bit, while using a softer tune. Still some nifty guitar and piano solos though. He really reminded me a bit of Gene Vincent at this point. Whether the music was evolving or he saw his friend Vincent having considerably more success than he was, it’s hard to say. But his music was evolving. Truthfully, I’m not sure for the better.

If my favorite song from the post Decca years isn’t The Swing it’s Bandstand Doll or Sugar. Bandstand Doll was as slowed down as Carroll got; you could actually here him singing it in a smoky club as almost a torch song. Sugar is really interesting as there are some effects, and some guitar work, from Howard Reed that scream 1964 and not 1959. It seemed Carroll was staying ahead of the curb.

And then he released less than 5 songs over the next 15 years.

In 1974, he was back in the studio recording the aforementioned Gene Vincent tribute album. The album was billed as by Johnny Carroll and the Blue Caps. Although I’m reasonably sure none of Vincent’s Blue Caps appear on the album. Carroll does, and he was involved in the production. His tribute song to Vincent, Black Leather Rebel, for which he received co-writing credit, is a great tune. He has a growl in his voice he didn’t have a decade before. And he can play fast and slow within the same song, where early on it was either ballad or full throttle. I think playing lead guitar by his own hand connected him more to the song as well. He seemed poised for a significant comeback. Or really, first act.

His second album for Rollin Rock Records should have solidified that. Texabilly was a nice piece of work. Although 40 year old Johnny Carroll’s voice had changed considerably. But the song People in Texas Like To Dance was solid rockabilly. Not as good as some of his earlier sides, but pretty good for 20+ years into a career. You would have thought some good things were going to happen. But I guess nobody wanted to listen to a 40 year old Rockabilly performer during the disco era.

So instead he became a regional act. From 1980 to 1990 he recorded seven albums with three labels, often in a duet act with a woman named Judy Lindsey. She had a pleasant voice and was a nice foil for Carroll. For many years he was a fixture at the Cellar Club in Forth Worth, Texas and frequently did shows at some of the other Cellar Clubs across Texas. But if he had any influence or fan base in the U.S. it was on Forth Worth and a few other places in Texas.

Johnny Carroll retired at 48 after never really having the success he should have, and was dead a couple years before he reached 60.

He probably has gotten more acclaim since his death. He was placed in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and both Decca and Rollin Rock released compilations with all the sides he recorded for those labels.

He is worth a listen.

 

 

Johnny Carroll (1937-1995)

 

Johnny Carroll photo 1

(l-r): Bill Buntin (bass), Johnny Carroll (vocals/guitar), Jay Salam (lead guitar), 1956

 

Rock Baby Rock It poster

 

Johnny Carroll: Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Johnny Carroll Discography at 45cat

Johnny Carroll & Judy Lindsey Shades Of Vincent LP (1986)

Johnny Carroll biography (Wikipedia)

 

The Akron Sound cover

Calvin Rydbom’s latest book is “The Akron Sound: The Heyday Of The Midwest’s Punk Capital” published this year by The History Press. He is the vice-president and archivist of the “Akron Sound” Museum and vice-president of freelance archiving firm Pursue Posterity. He has published a number of music-related articles and was elected to the Society of American Archivists steering committee on recorded sound before being promoted to website liaison. Some of Calvin’s other toppermosts are on the Dead Boys, Rubber City Rebels and Tin Huey all from Ohio. He has also written about many non-Ohio acts for this website including Johnny Horton, Johnny Rivers and Wanda Jackson.

TopperPost #748

3 Comments

  1. Dave Stephens
    Nov 2, 2018

    Calvin, you got in before me! I thought I was the guy who did rockabillies. Seriously though it’s a fine post. I’d previously seen Carroll as something of a parody figure in the genre i.e. OTT in a genre that’s OTT but there are more interesting tracks in your post than I was expecting. Loved the Vincent tribute but did feel that “Sugar Babe” was a lift from the Presley take on “Money Honey”.

  2. Calvin Rydbom
    Nov 2, 2018

    Well, I think so many early guys borrowed from each other, they were starting from scratch. And I never thought of him as a parody as there are 3-4 songs I think are just killer.
    You aren’t going to do an article on an Akron band to retaliate are you?

    • Dave Stephens
      Nov 3, 2018

      Now there’s a thought!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓