In the 1950s a style of music emerged in the United States that combined the sonic wonders of early Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hillbilly Music, a particularly swingin’ kind of country music. The people who pioneered and made this music famous are not unknown souls, they are people like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presly, and especially Carl Perkins. They called it Rockabilly. With some notable exceptions scattered sporadically throughout the last 60 years, the genre has stayed out of the limelight, relegated to an underground, niche status. In the 70s a group called Levi and Dexter did a brief stint in the national spotlight, and in the 80s the Stray Cats, with their iconic guitarist, Brian Stezer, brought some modern Rockabilly revivals, but in the last ten years, bands like the Reverend Horton Heat and other even lesser known Rockabilly groups have stayed in the clubs, and off the mainstream charts. The notable exception here is, obviously, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, which stitched the rockabilly scene together with a growing swing revival in the late 90s and early 2000s. In the UK, Canada, and Australia there are similar underground Rockabilly scenes to that of the United States, but until recently, the only scene in Asia was in Japan. That changed in 2001 when Tiger, Velvet Geena, Eddie Tarantuala, Roy, and Jack “The Knife” burst onto the Seoul club scene as the Rock Tigers.
The self-described pioneers of Korean Rockabilly call their aggressive, up-tempo music, Kimchibilly. The band throws a show each month to showcase Kimchibilly, and this month, it will bring in a Rockabilly group from Japan called “Swamp Rats” as part of the 14th Kimchibilly night at DGBD (sic) on March 27th.
On stage the group looks very much like a punk-influenced Rockabilly group, with black leather jackets, a flame emblazoned upright bass, and Les Paul-style hollow-body electric guitars. Leading the pack is Velvet Geena, the only woman in the group, with shockingly ultra-blond hair and a screaming, powerful voice who dances and sings, putting on a performance that goes all the way to eleven (because ten just wouldn’t be loud enough). We saw the Tigers at DGBD as part of the Hands for Haiti benefit, an event that spanned across two other venues, and donated all of its proceeds to help the relief efforts following the devastating earthquake that hit the Caribbean island earlier this year.
We were impressed with the group’s stage presence and creativity. Most Korean pop music, K-Pop, is boring, obnoxious, and designed to be catchy, and thrives on sex appeal, and monetization. The Rock Tigers nail the appearance, and energy that any good live show should have, and their music doesn’t lie down either. Velvet Geena’s powerful voice, Tiger and Roy’s wailing guitars, and the pounding of Roy’s bass and Jack’s kick drum, nag at that voice that say “dance.” The Tigers are currently on tour but will be back in Seoul with shows on March 14, 20, 26, and rounding out the month with the Rockabilly Night on the 27th.
We took some audio at our show last month, and attached a couple of the band’s music videos via their website. They recently released a new album called “Rock ‘n’ Roll License.” Make sure to check them out the next time your are in Korea, or if they ever come to your hometown.
Bonus: Our friend Andre Francisco (Seoulful Adventures) makes a cameo in one of these podcasts, see if you can hear him daring me to turn off the wireless mic receivers at DGBD.