Roots of Rock Legends

By Chris Murphy

Rockabilly is without a doubt the most exciting, artistic and raw form of early rock and roll today. Originally a term used an an insult, “rockabilly” became the foundation of rock with its simple slapping bass percussion and a boogie beat that’s guaranteed to make you dance, just like it did in the early days of Rock. And it came from Modesto USA.

Don Maddox, A Rockabilly Original
KC “Don Juan” Maddox is still with us today and he has more energy and sense of humor than most any other 95 year olds you meet, or anyone for that matter! It is rare to be able to speak to someone that was actually there, building the foundation of the music we love today. Don Maddox was an inspiration to the young and future rock and rollers, and he also watched as rock and Roll took off, leaving his family band behind. Today still, his voice is loaded with character and energy and we chatted about the origins of Rock and Roll, Rockabilly and the Maddox Bros & Rose Sound.

ModestoView: How did the Slappin’ Bass sound start?
Don Maddox: Fred just started with the string bass and he really wasn’t that good and it and he just slapped it to get this percussion sound and he would just beat on it. People would come to see us and say, “you have the best bass player” but he wasn’t that good, he was just slappin’ it like crazy and having a great time.

Don recounted how a young Elvis would be on the same concert bill as an opener in the early 1950s. Bill Black would sit in with the Maddox Brothers and Rose and Elvis would admire their flashy outfits, many that were made here in Modesto. Elvis once commented to Don at one of these shows, “someday I will have a suit like this”. Mama Maddox, made him take his hands off of the suit. The Maddox influence was felt everywhere in music.

According to Don, as the youngest, he learned how to play by going to the dances and watching the band play and after the war joined the band as the fiddle player and one of the chief comedians for their legendary sound. Their colorful live recordings are still available and some of their KTRB radio jingles are on You Tube. Don Maddox is still making music and his CDs and merchandise will be available very soon. ModestoView will keep you informed.

Reverend Horton Heat’s Jim Heath spent some time with us when he played in Modesto and we talked about the history of Rockabilly, the Maddox Brothers and the roots of Rock and Roll. “Rockabilly wasn’t just Elvis and Bill Haley, it was a outgrowth of everything. It was the hillbilly people listening to R&B one thing lead to another”. Jim continues “Rockabilly has kind of been the kicking dog of the music business and I hope someday that Rockabilly will get its place in history. Whether that really happens or not, we’ll see, but that’s what I hope”. In fact, the word Rockabilly was used as a ‘hillbilly insult” in the early years and the term was not really used widely until the early 50s.

Marty Stuart has been a champion for the Maddox Family history and is largely responsible for keeping the legacy alive and purchased many of their flashy outfits that are on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. He also presented the Lifetime MAMA Award via Video to KC “Don Juan” Maddox at the 2013 MAMA Awards.

Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats is very familiar with the Modesto history of Rockabilly and spoke highly of our history and the inspiration of the Maddox Brothers and Rose during his appearances in Modesto at the State Theatre and the Gallo Center.

Modesto is the home of Rockabilly, the foundation of Rock and Roll today and the beat of the songs that became our Graffiti Cruising Culture.

Learn more at www.modestomusichistory.com

Photos courtesy of the Maddox Family and ModestoView

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.