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CHRIS CASELLO TALKS TAMMI SAVOY & CHRIS CASELLO COMBO OZ TOUR

Short history lesson kids! Dating back to the early ‘50s, Rockabilly is one of the earliest forms of rock music. Pioneering rockabilly artists included Bill Haley and The Comets, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis to name a few. Known for its mix of Rock n Roll and Country and Western Music, Rockabilly came back into favour in the 80s with an added punk element thanks to bands such as The Stray Cats, The Polecats, Robert Gordon, and The Cramps. Rockabilly has also become a huge fashion sub-culture, featuring slick clothes, big hair, hot rod cars and fleet-footed dance moves.

Keeping the rockabilly flame alive today and bringing it to Australia in July are Tammi Savoy and The Chris Casello Combo out of Chicago. Who are they? TAMMI SAVOY grew up listening to classic rhythm and Blues, rock ’n’ roll and jazz and effortlessly captures the feel and sounds of Ruth Brown, Laverne Baker, Sarah Vaughan and other greats. Tammi Savoy is also the 2019 Ameripolitan Award recipient for Female Rockabilly Artist. She also possesses an enchanting stage presence. CHRIS CASELLO is a veteran of Detroit, Nashville and Chicago music scenes. He was the 2017 Ameripolitan Award recipient for Musician of the Year and voted Nashville Scene’s “Honk Tonk Hero” and Critic’s Choice in 2012. Chris is also a 2nd generation inductee to The Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Tammi and Chris met a just a couple of years ago while both playing in a vintage rock tribute show with one of rockabilly’s new heroes, Lance Lipinsky. They then decided to have a jam together at Chris’s home, recorded it and the rest is history. A 6 track EP resulted, word spread and now they’re about to embark on an 8 date Australian tour.

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to acclaimed guitarist Chris Casello about the rockabilly genre, his guitar playing, the upcoming the tour and the day Bo Diddley stole his glasses.

CHRIS CASELLO AND GUITARS
You have a series of instructional guitar videos on your YouTube channel but how did you learn to play guitar?

It’s been a long time. I was stubborn and was set on teaching myself but when I finally had lessons, everything opened up for me. But listening to records and it was something I always knew I wanted to do. I was collecting records when I was 8 years old. That’s not how I learned but that’s how I started.

Who some of first artists that inspired you?
Growing up in the 70s in America, right off the bat it was Elvis and Little Richard, Bill Haley those were the records that I liked first. Then I was distracted by the British Invasion stuff for a while. When I was growing up I learned how to play rock n roll first and I have been going backwards ever since. Oddly enough I was originally attracted to the early rhythm and blues, rockabilly then I got distracted by the English rock of the 70s and started going backwards when I was about 20.

When did you first become aware of tone as opposed to licks and riffs?
I have always been into tone. I have learned so many different styles and so many different things over the years it’s hard to get a handle on it. When I was a young man I figured out how to play all the rock stuff by ear. Back then I would have been using Les Pauls and Marshalls but I got away from that rather quickly, so that would have been a very short period of my life. Then I discovered the Fender sound and got more into blues and surf music, I really dug The Ventures. I was also very aware of the country players … guys like Glen Campbell and Chet Atkins were on television all the time … Roy Clark. Those were huge influences on me. The discovery of the single coil pickup was a big thing for me. After I went from Les Pauls to Strats, I never thought I’d leave the Strat but then I would up on the Telecaster and then it was all hollow-bodies and Telecasters for the last 20 years. The discovery of flat-would strings was a big deal as well and that happened in the last decade. When I moved to Nashville, everybody was still trying to sound like Brett Mason and I showed up with heavier strings and hollow-bodies and I would do my own thing and when I was in Detroit, everybody was playing blues and rock and I was playing Chicken-pickin’. I’d turned to the sound of James Burton. So I have always been a rebel, wherever I’d live, I’d always try to bring something different to the mix.

You have played with a lot of people but tell me about your association with Bo Diddley.
I played several shows with him in Detroit in the late 80s early 90 and I was a big fan of his for many years and of course he was a huge influence on anybody who’s worth their salt. There’s another tone giant, his use of echo and vibrato and tremolo were big ones with him. I followed him and when I got to play with him I was in a band called The Ovations in Detroit, which was the band that John Sinclair managed after the MC5, they were like a horn band … a big R’n’b thing. So I played with them for a couple of shows in Detroit and then a couple more after that. Then when we wanted more money, they just got somebody else. We were enamoured by Bo Diddley, I mean he was certainly one of the legends who influenced me first before I got side-tracked. He really liked me but the strange thing was … he stole my glasses! I lost my glasses and you know he wore those big coke bottle glasses right? So I am looking around in my dressing room and I’m saying has anyone seen my glasses? Bo Diddley says, what do they look like? Which means he’s got ‘em right! I’m going well they look like seeing glasses, they’re for seeing … and he had them in his pocket. We really hit it off.

The week before that it was Martha Reeves and The Vandellas and we were backing her up and that did not go well. I’d had a guitar stolen that week and I got fired at the end of the show, it was just a bad weekend. The next weekend with him was just terrific, he kept throwing me solos and I had a really good experience with him.

How many guitars will you bring out with you for this Australian tour?
That’s a good question. Normally I incorporate my double neck steel but I don’t know if I can fly that thing down there. Do you think I’d be able to pick up a 40s or 50s double neck Supro or National, a double eight, two eight string necks? I could suffice with one. It makes it sound like a horn section. I’ll be lucky if I can bring a hollow-body and a Tele. If not, I’ll bring one guitar with P90s in it. You know, it’s an 8 day tour with a lot of flying.

What about amps?
What I play with Tammi is a 1954 Gibson GA-77. I also like to use super reverbs. I like the Blackface stuff with hollow-bodies. I like slightly earlier amps with the Telecasters. I like a lot of weirder stuff too like Premier, the multi-vox company out of New York. Most of the stuff you are hearing on the record is a 52 Gibson ES5. When you are not hearing that, it could be a number of guitars but most of it is that or a Telecaster, which is a ’72 that I play most of the time.

I gather you’re not big on effects with this kind of music?
No not really but I busted a pedalboard out on the last gig and I could really imitate B3 and stuff like that. Again, with flying I have a pretty stripped down pedalboard. I have a simulator for an Echoplex, a nice sounding reverb and an overdrive for if they give me too clean an amp. That’s it.. sometimes a tremolo.

CHRIS AND ROCKABILLY
The rockabilly scene is always associated with slick looking clothes, classic cars, gorgeous looking people with great hair. Is that part of the attraction for you as well as the music?

Like I said, the first records I heard were Sun Records and Specialty and Fortune, things that my mum had, so when I first heard them, I didn’t even have a face for them. It was very mysterious. I was 7 or 8 years old, playing 45s. Imagine not knowing what Elvis looks like! Do you think there was ever a time in your life when you didn’t know what Elvis Presley looked like? Well that was the case when I heard Mystery Train. I didn’t know what these things were but they sounded so crazy to me as a child. In the early 80s I started to hear this music again but it was part of the punk scene. There was Robert Gordon, who was in Tough Darts and there was The King Bees, The Stray Cats, The Polecats. I was hearing this music again but I couldn’t tell you who it was. I couldn’t articulate the word for it but there was something country about it and something crazy. When I finally saw The Stray Cats on TV, they looked great! Here were these guys with nine foot hair, wearing big trousers and looking like Elvis Presley. So now I started to have a visual for it as well as a word for it and for me it was like … I could already play really well and I was learning how to play jazz and chords and that and here was a band doing all that stuff that was like a punk band. I thought here’s a way I could fit in, so yes of course the visual was a huge attraction for me. It has become something else since then, it has become a culture within a culture. It’s a huge underground culture with a whole sets of rules.

You were actually inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, what did that mean to you?
A plaque in the mail! (Laughs) Bob Timmers from Tennessee, bless his heart as they say down there… he put together this massive rockabilly website, somewhere in the early days of the internet. I think it is still up. It was officially recognised by the library of congress or whatever, it’s a big deal. It was hundreds of internet pages and that was all we had for a long time. I was a second generation inductee, meaning I am an older guy, you know, Stray Cats age. I came from that 80s resurgence. Of course we owe it all to the English, who started this stuff up, the revival festivals in the late 70s. But yeah, it was a thrill. When I was reintroduced to this music in the 90s and decided to try to do it again, I didn’t even think anyone knew who i was, so yes it was great.

CHRIS AND TAMMI
Which brings us to this upcoming tour with Tammi Savoy. I believe the association Tammi only began a couple of years ago? Tell me how you two got together to work on music.
Barely two years. I met her a couple of years ago on a gig. She was singing backups and I was playing guitar. I was a substitute guitar player. Lance Lipinsky, have you heard of him? He won a rockabilly award a couple of years ago from Ameripolitan, the same year I think I won for instrumentalist. He’s a celebrated Jerry Lee Lewis kind of guy. He’s played piano with the Reverend Horton Heat. Lance puts on a big show and he has back up singers sometimes and a couple of horns. It’s like a variety act, a tribute show. He does, the 40s, 50s and 60s and there’s a girl group within that group called The Lovettes and Tammi was one of them. She showed up at one of my small club dates I was doing in Chicago and her and her husband and she sat in and sang Jim Dandy To The Rescue and the place just came alive. They called me the next day and bought all my CDs and said do you want to do a record. I said let’s do better than that, come on over. And here’s where everything started to get a bit strange. She comes over … and I had just like an 8 track recorder in the basement and it’s An old one. I’m not into home recording, I just do it to do demos for records. If someone asks me to do a record I’ll do a demo and send it to other musicians in Nashville and go to a real studio and cut it. That’s all it’s for… I mean I don’t have a studio. She comes downstairs I turn on 2 or 3 microphones, two channels, so two tracks like the old days. From the moment I hit record … just to see how it would sound … well, that’s our CD! We got a couple of songs down and the next two times she came over we got the rest of them down. From the moment she came over, that was the beginning and it just keeps getting better. Now we are writing and I can’t tell you how excited I am with the new material that we are coming up with. It’s been like that every step of the way. Everything we do, goes well. It’s a very unique act. I think she’d do well anywhere but she was just singing back ups before that. Now she’s writing songs too.

You currently only have the 6 track recording with Tammi, so what will Australian shows consist of? Obviously you’ll be playing some of the newer material as well?
Absolutely. We’ll be doing our original material. We are putting out a ten song record, including our single that we have on a small start up label called Swell Tunes, which is everything rockabilly. Everything with her is on vinyl. What’s funny is the song that I wrote, Big Baby, was picked up by Wanda Jackson. I thought that she had dropped the song and wasn’t going to record it. Joan Jett was producing it. We were recording it again on 8 track in the basement and used two or three of the tracks. It’s kind of a miracle that they came out sounding so good. So we cut the track and then Wanda’s management blew a gasket and I had to talk to them and tell them no, this is not a new artist, this is me recording it and the singer is with a group… you know, we’re just going to do vinyl, you can still put the record out. As it turns out she had recorded it. It was supposed to be coming out on her last record … so that’s kinda funny.

What will the band consist of for this tour?
It will be rockabilly instrumentation, doing old RnB tunes that used to be with horns and piano but we have stripped it down to bass guitar and drums, so it is different to the original recordings but an act like no other.

Apart from this gig with Tammi, what else is happening for you?
Probably the most known one is Carlene Carter. I’m flying down to Nashville and playing the Grand Ol Opry and a number of dates but Tammi is getting so popular I am beginning to get schedule conflicts. I don’t know how that is going to pan out but it’s nice to be wanted. Tammi definitely attracts a lot of attention

THE TAMMI SAVOY AND THE CHRIS CASELLO COMBO LIVE IN AUSTRALIA! 

Friday July 5 Meeniyan Town Hall, Vic
Sat July 6 Caravan Club, Melbourne
Sun July 7 Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Wed July 10  Oxford Arts, Sydney
Thurs July 11 Lizotte’s, Newcastle
July 12 & 13 Bello Music Festival, Bellingen, NSW
Sun July 14 Lefty’s, Brisbane

Ticket info: http://davidroywilliams.com/tours/tammisavoy/

Think you might like to know a little more about rockabilly? Here’s some homework. Check out these classic rockabilly albums.

Bill Haley – Rock The Joint
Elvis Presley – Baby Let’s Play House
Tennessee Ernie Ford – Blackberry Boogie
Johnny Burnette & The Rock ‘N Roll Trio – Sweet Love On My Mind
Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes (1956)
Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps- Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps
Eddie Cochran – The Eddie Cochran Memorial Album
The Meteors – Metoer Madness
Wanda Jackson – Rockin’ With Wanda
Link Wray & The Wraymen – Link Wray & The Wraymen
Blast Off! by The Stray Cats
Reverend Horton Heat – Revival
The Polecats – Rockabilly Guy

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