Let’s talk about rockabilly. And let’s start the conversation with Hardrock Gunter. His debut single Birmingham Bounce is another entry in the pantheon of proto-rock’n’roll.
And arguably the first by a white man… A white man in a cowboy hat, fusing country with R&B to create what would later be called rockabilly – and would soon grow into rock’n’roll.
He formed his first group, the splendidly named Hoot Owl Ramblers, when he was only 13 and performed solo in local talent shows under the stage name Goofy Sid.
Until this tribute to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, came out in 1950 Sidney Gunter Jr. had been playing country swing in Happy Wilson’s Golden River Boys.
Goofy Sid must have been happy himself when his boss bestowed the new nickname of Hardrock after he banged his head his head hard on a car boot with no noticeable effect.
After army service in World War II Gunter became the band’s agent and appeared on children’s TV, earning himself and the Golden River Boys a record contract. This was their first release, credited to Hardrock Gunter & The Pebbles (who were actually the Golden River Boys).
Birmingham Bounce was only a local hit but gathered momentum when it was covered by at least 20 other artists including postwar country star Red Foley, whose version reached the national Top 20.
Gunter later signed to Decca and released a duet with Roberta Lee in 1951, a saucy version of Sixty Minute Man, regarded as another prototype rockabilly number, which had been a hit for Billy Ward & His Dominoes (featuring Clyde McPhatter who would later leave to form The Drifters).
Hardrock had stints with countless other labels, including Sun Studio, where he had a single out before Elvis – Gonna Dance All Night – followed by Jukebox Help Me Find My Baby with The Rhythm Rockers. My own favourite is Dixieland Boogie.
In another tiny piece of pop history, in 1958 Gunter became one of the first musicians to use both echo and overdub Boppin’ To Grandfather’s Clock (released under the name Sidney Jo Lewis) and Whoo! I Mean Whee! (by Hardrock & The Rhythm Rockers).
He quit the music biz in 1964 to run an insurance agency in Colorado, but became a cult figure in British rockabilly and psychobilly circles in the 1970s and 1980s.
As a result he came out of retirement in the 1990s to perform at festivals in Europe, including England. He died in 2013 at his home in New Mexico, at the age of 88.