from Boston (as their name doesnt
indicate) The Memphis Rockabilly
Band is one of the best band to
appearin the late 70s. A
dynamite combo made of the great
voice of Jeff Spencer, the
sparkling guitar of Bill Coover,
Terry Bingham on drums and
various bass players (including
Sarah Brown who later played with
Bill Kirchen and Preston Hubbard
who joined The Fabulous
Thunderbirds and later Nick
Curran). Talent knows talent.
They soon made a deal with French
label Big Beat and released
From Boston To Memphis
on 10" format. This 5 song
ep was a good representation of
the band : solid rockabilly with
classic covers (Curtis
Gordon,Rudy Grayzell and Elvis'
Baby Let's Play House), one
instrumental (Link Wray's Rumble)
and Lindy Rock
written by Jeff Spencer featuring
an amazing guitar part by Coover
(that's unbelievable the good
things you can put into a 2'10"
A couple of years later they
released a full length LP. And
although it was an all covers
album, the sound was unmistakably
theirs. In their career they have
played with legends like Carl
Perkins (who said about them
The best Rockabilly band Ive
ever seen), Jerry Lee
Lewis, Roy Orbison, Link Wray and
Jack Scott to name but a few.
1986 saw the release of a new
record on Blind Pig records, this
time with Spencers
originals which are still
favourites in the bands
But in the late 80s the
band took a break and each of
them held a day job. During this
period Big Beat record issued the
cd Back To Memphis, a
kind of best of with unreleased
songs on it too.
Finally the band rejoined in 2005,
toured Europe, released a DVD
In Vergèze and they
now have a new album out Rock,
Roll, and Rhythm featuring
five new Spencers originals.
Both are on Big Beat and Rock,
Roll, and Rhythm is also
available on Itunes.
And be sure theres still a
lot of good things coming from
The Memphis Rockabilly Band.
left to right Milt Sutton, Jeff Spencer,
Paul Justice and Bill Coover.
remember the first rockabilly/rocknroll
record youve heard ?
I think the first rockabilly
record I heard was Carl Perkins'
"Blue Suede Shoes." I
bought it. If you listen to it
today, it still rocks.
When did you decide to
sing? What did appeal to you in
I never sang or played any
instrument till I took up guitar
at 25. By 29 I was playing guitar
in a blues band called "Rocket
88." I then took over the
band as the singer. (Sadly, that
was the end of my being a serious
guitar student, since I had to
sing and manage the band.) We
played Chicago blues and 50's
r&b, and a few rockabilly
tunes. The band broke up and I
decided to do rockabilly.
Who are your favourite
artists and who would you cite as
My early main influence is of
course Elvis. Next would be Carl
Perkins, Hank Williams, Jimmy
Reed, Little Richard, Fats
Domino, Chuck Berry, the
Moonglows, the Platters and Ray
Charles. Later I got into Louis
Jordan, Amos Milburn, Little
Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and
a lot of other blues players. My
biggest influence on guitar was
Robert Jr. Lockwood.
The Memphis Rockabilly
Band was formed in 1978. How did
you meet Bill Coover and decide
to form a band?
I was living with a great blues
band called "Powerhouse,"
and the guitar player was my
guitar teacher: Tom Principato. (He
plays alot in Europe these days).
One of our roomates knew Bill.
Bill liked the old Elvis
rockabilly tunes, and the roomate
told Bill that I sang some of
that stuff, so Bill and I met. I
played Bill some Link Wray
instrumentals the first time we
met, and when I saw him next, he
had them all down.
So we started found a bass player
and drummer, rehearsed, and
started playing gigs as the
Memphis Rockabilly Band. Mostly
we played country & western
bars. The only accomodation we
made was to play more slow songs
than usual. At that point, Johnny
Nicholas (from Rhode Island) and
the Rhythm Rockers
broke up. (They were also Big
Walter Horton's band.) We
acquired both Sarah Brown on bass
(now in Austin, Tx) and Terry
Bingham on drums. We began
playing the blues bars a lot, and
things happened fast after that.
We became one of the top bands in
The majority of your
recordings (with the exception of
Betty Jean) were released on Big
Beat. How did a band from Boston
end on a French label?
If I remember correctly, my wife
of French grandparents got a
contact to Jacky Chalard, and we
sent him a tape.
Talking about France, you
did a great show on national TV
Party. Do you remember this
The "Bop 'n Roll Party"
was shot in Jan, 1982 in Paris. I
had been sick for several weeks,
and was just getting over it when
we left for Paris. My memory of
the event is personally painful,
because I lost much of my voice
by the end of the soundcheck. So
when I hear the audio, I can hear
myself struggling more & more.
But that's just my perspective.
It was fun other than that.
Your first lp Bertha
Lou was made of covers. You
later proved to be a solid
songwriter, so was it a wish of
the label ?
"Bertha Lou" on Big
Beat was our first attempt to do
an album. We produced it
ourselves, and I expect we would
have done better with a producer
who knew what they were doing. We
added the older tape of "Lindy
Rock," which was my first
original. I had written a few
more by that time, but we didn't
I enjoy writing songs, and have
done so since the beginning. I'd
write more, but I seldom find the
time to sit down and do it. I
have more we will be recording
soon, I hope. Some I wrote in the
80's, some are new.
second one, Betty Jean
on Blind Pig showed a slight
change with self penned songs and
new styles with a bit of country
and Mexican flavour
Blind Pig didn't pay for us to
record; they mostly just took our
demo tapes and some older stuff
and made an album. I never cared
much for it. We never recorded
In the late 80s/early
90s the band took a break.
Why, and were you still playing
music during this period?
I quit playing altogether in Jan.
1989. I sold my guitars and
amplifiers. I did not sing or
play a note, nor did I go into a
bar for over 11 years. I got a
job, had a child. Most people I
knew never knew I played music. I
never played a note until I got
separated from my wife. I bought
a Roland digital audio
workstation and started fooling
around. I wrote "1 Ain't
Dead" in 2000. I started
jamming with people and sitting
in with bands I knew. Eventually,
Bill and I got together because
there was, according to Jacky
Chalard, a market for us in
Europe. Bass player Paul Justice
had been in a Boston band "Fat
City" for 25 years, but had
left it, so I recruited him. When
we went to play in Vergeze in
2005, we were very much a new
band, and we didn't know how it
would go. We were very warmly
received, and I hope that was the
start of much more play in Europe.
In your career you shared
the stage with many legends, do
you have special memories, a show
that marked you
There have been many special
shows, but it was Carl Perkins
who stands out. We did 3 or four
shows with him and he was very
gracious and complimentary.
Unlike Jerry Lee, Carl watched
our shows. He had us onto his bus
and hung out with us. I was told
he put my version of "Ducktails/Lindy
Rock" on his home jukebox.
Have you heard of the new
rockabilly acts like Big Sandy,
High Noon etc. and what do you
think of them?
I like them all, but I have never
actually seen any of them live.
What is the difference
between the late 70s when
you started and today?
What's different now from late 70's/early
80's. The big difference is that
back then there was a healthy
club scene. We would pack people
into a club, and have lines down
the street. Now most of the clubs
are gone. If a club draws 100
people, that's considered pretty
good. There are many reasons for
this, but mostly it's that the
younger people, 20's and 30's,
and even 40 year-olds don't go
out as much, and don't support
live music, especially roots
Lee Rocker had to change
the name of one of his album. In
Europe it was issued under the
name The Curse Of
Rockabilly but in the USA
they renamed it Racin
The Devil because,
according to the label the word
rockabilly was a
problem with the radios and wasnt
easy to sell. Did you ever face
such a situation with the name
Memphis Rockabilly Band?
I don't know if having "rockabilly"
in the name will hurt us. The
chances of getting airplay are
nil anyway, now that radio is
segmented into oldies, rap,
country, and alternative. Roots
music can only air on college
radio and other very small
stations. The internet may be a
factor in killing CD sales, and
keeping people at home, but it
also offers the opportunity to
all bands to be discovered by a
world audience. Having "rockabilly"
in our name may help people
discover or find us more easily
if they are trying to find
rockabilly. I believe we could
have appeal to a country
audience, but I don't know how to
make that happen. We do not have
any agents or representation in
You just have a new album
out, still on Big Beat, called
Roll, Rock and Rhythm.
A word about this one
"Roll, Rock & Rhythm"
is comprised mostly of tunes
produced on my Roland. 3 tunes
were done at Duke Robillard's
studio. We have 3 or four more
half done at Duke's. We'll record
soon, hopefully. Our drummer Milt
Sutton may produce one for us too.
Its a bit of
curiosity but the answer is
always interesting : whats
in your record player right now?
My records and CDs: I have a
large collection of blues and 50's
r&b and 50's rock & roll.
I didn't start collecting
rockabilly as such until I
started playing guitar when I was
25. I have tossed out most of my
"rock" records, but I
spared the Beatles, Pink Floyd
and Jimi Hendrix. I listen to
Patsy Cline alot.
Do you want to add a last
I believe that if we can survive
as a band we will be able to
produce better and better music.
With a solid rhythm
section (including the
great Preston Hubbard on
double bass) and its two
secret weapons (Coover's
guitar and Spencer's
voice) the band goes
through a set of 12
Down The Line, Rockin'
Daddy, Draggin'. Ernest
Tubb's Nearly Lose your
Mind features an amazing
guitar solo from Bill
Coover, and brings a bit
of country swing to the
mix as The Stroll with
sax and piano adds a
touch of blues. Some
songs later appeared on
cd on "Back To
Memphis" (BBR 058)
but the whole album has,
to my knowledge, never
Spencer says in the
interview he wasn't in
fine form when this show
was taped, but when you
watch this DVD it's hard
to believe him. The
Memphis Rockabilly Band
litterally steals the
show. They perform songs
from their records (Lindy
Rock, 16 Chicks) a superb
rendition of Muleskinner
Blues (inspired by The
Spencer stage antics on
Breakdown are worth the
price of this DVD. Too
bad they only play 5
songs, but Big Beat
issued another one
featuring 24 tunes
recorded in January 2005
(with the new rhythm