Hello there! This week our blog features a great old rockabilly tune, Oh Boy! First we will discuss the original version by the songwriter Sonny West. Next, we will show the song as it was covered by Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and finally by Brian Setzer.
Sonny West and All My Love:
Sonny West is a good-ole boy who is a country and western singer-songwriter. Joe “Sonny” West was born in 1937 outside of Lubbock, Texas. He hooked up with producer Norman Petty and frequented Petty’s recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico.
Sonny West’s solo career was rather unsuccessful. His main claim to fame is that he co-wrote two songs that became blockbuster hits for Buddy Holly and the Crickets. We previously discussed the second of those hits, Rave On, a song released in February 1958. At left is a photo of Sonny West being inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Here is the first big hit co-written by West, Petty and Bill Tilghman. They initially called the song All My Love. In this tune, the singer expresses confidence that the girl will fall for him once she is the beneficiary of his love and affection.
All of my love
All of my kissin’
You don’t know what you’ve been a-missin’
Oh boy, when you’re with me
Oh boy, the world can see
That you were meant for me
… Stars appear and shadows a-falling
You can hear my heart a-calling
A little bit a-lovin’ makes everything right
And I’m gonna see my baby tonight
In February 1957, Sonny West recorded a demo of All My Love on acetate; however, the song was never released as a single. Just a few months later, the song was covered by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, but with a different title. We will discuss their version of this tune in the following section.
So here is the audio of Sonny West’s demo of All My Love.
As you can see, Sonny West is a decent performer who sings All My Love as a straight-up country and western tune. You can also see why the recording was never released as a single (because of its historical significance, this demo was finally released in 2002), mainly because there is little that distinguishes Sonny from a run-of-the mill C&W artist.
This tune features a honky-tonk piano that backs up Sonny’s vocals. The production values are not very good, and in particular the balance between the vocals, piano and drums is rather poor.
Now here is Sonny West decades later, in a live performance of his song Oh Boy! As you will see, West gives a decent performance, although he has some difficulty hitting the correct notes.
Here, Sonny is accompanied by Tommy Allsup, who contributes some tasty rockabilly guitar licks to this song. Allsup was a country guitarist for several decades. His main claim to fame was that in the late 50s he was a member of The Crickets traveling band.
Sonny West has continued to perform since the 50s. He actually performed with The Crickets on a few of their tours following Buddy Holly’s death.
Sonny West’s name will live on because he co-wrote two gigantic hits that helped kick-start Buddy Holly’s career. We wish Sonny all the best.
The Crickets and Oh Boy!:
We previously encountered Buddy Holly in our blog post on his song That’ll Be The Day. We also reviewed his songs Not Fade Away and Rave On. So here we will give a brief summary of Holly’s life and career.
Charles “Buddy” Holley was one of the all-time great ‘roots’ rockers. He grew up in Lubbock, Texas where he learned to play guitar and aspired to be a musician. Although his initial exposure was to country musicians such as Hank Williams and Bob Wills, Buddy was also drawn to the late-night stations that played blues and R&B music.
Buddy began to play various venues in the South, and gained some exposure opening for artists such as Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets. This took him to Nashville, where he signed a contract with Decca Records and produced some work in the studio.
Buddy’s Nashville period was unsuccessful; after leaving Nashville he eventually ended up in Clovis, New Mexico, where he joined forces with producer Norman Petty.
There Buddy assembled a band consisting of drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Bill Mauldin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan. Buddy sang vocals and played lead electric guitar. The group was called The Crickets, and Buddy’s initial songs were released under that name. Buddy didn’t use his own name in order to avoid conflicts with Decca.
Here is a photo of the Crickets, from L: Joe Mauldin, Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison, taken on their UK tour.Embed from Getty Images
Buddy Holly and the Crickets were pioneers in what became the ‘classic’ rock group lineup – two guitars, bass and drums. Beginning in May, 1957, The Crickets struck gold with hits such as That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue.
Holly’s guitar work was simple but effective. His solos often contained a small number of chords or some simple finger-picking, but they fit perfectly with the group’s style.
We will discuss the first of two songs that were co-written in the mid-50s by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Norman Petty. As we discussed in the preceding section, West recorded a demo version of “All My Love” in Feb. 1957. In June, Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded this song, with Buddy on vocals and lead guitar and the Crickets providing instrumental backing.
In late 1957, they released an album called The Chirping Crickets. One of the songs from The Chirping Crickets album was released as a single. It was the West-Petty-Tilghman tune, but with a new title “Oh, Boy!”
That single was yet another massive hit for The Crickets. It shot up to #10 on the Billboard pop charts in the U.S., and was an even bigger hit in the U.K., peaking at #3. So here is Buddy Holly and the Crickets in a “live” performance of Oh Boy! on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Here, Buddy is simply lip-synching to his record. While Sonny West’s performance of his own song was rather pedestrian, in the hands of Buddy Holly the song was transformed into an unforgettable rockabilly tune.
An interesting side note is that while the Crickets provided instrumental backing for these first songs, the vocal support was by an uncredited trio The Picks. The Picks consisted of brothers John and Bill Pickering and Bob Lapham. They were good friends with producer Norman Petty and provided backing vocals for some of the records Petty produced. In July 1957, Petty played a few songs that Buddy Holly had recorded.
Everyone agreed that the song Oh Boy! would be improved with additional backing vocals, so The Picks recorded vocals that were overdubbed onto Oh Boy! After that, The Picks recorded backing vocals for eight more Buddy Holly tunes; but their contribution was never acknowledged until 1987, when MCA re-issued the album The Chirping Crickets.
In any case, it immediately became clear that Buddy Holly was the creative genius behind The Crickets. Relatively soon, Buddy was issuing solo albums.
As Buddy Holly’s star continued to rise, tensions arose between him and the other members of the Crickets, and between Holly and producer Norman Petty. Buddy felt that he was inadequately compensated by Petty. After Holly split with Petty he was left with a cash-flow problem, since Petty was holding onto Holly’s royalties.
This forced Holly back onto the road in the winter of 1959, when he set off on a “Winter Dance Party” tour. The artists on this tour were traveling around the upper Midwest in January, 1959. The tour buses were badly heated and began breaking down. In Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a private plane to take him to the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup and singer Ritchie Valens flipped a coin to see who would fly a plane to their next destination, and who would have to ride the bus. Allsup ‘lost’ the coin toss, so Valens boarded the plane.
The plane took off in bad weather, then crashed into a cornfield just outside Clear Lake. The pilot, Holly, Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were killed instantly, in a tragedy that later became known as “The Day the Music Died.”
Holly’s shocking death was a major setback for rock music. Buddy was a prolific and creative musician who was moving in new directions at the time of his death. He had branched out from his earlier rockabilly tunes to acoustic songs and ballads.
Buddy Holly had a tremendous influence on rock music. He was an inspiration for groups such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones – in fact, the Beatles’ choice of an insect-related band name was a shout-out to Buddy’s band The Crickets. As a singer-songwriter, Buddy Holly set an example subsequently followed by Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards.
Brian Setzer and Oh Boy!:
Brian Setzer is a musician who has spent most of his career resurrecting older musical styles. Setzer was born in 1959 in Massapequa, New York, a suburb of Oyster Bay on Long Island.
In 1979, Setzer joined up with two other musicians from Massepequa, bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, to form The Stray Cats. That group was inspired by 50s rockabilly music, and gained a local following on the East Coast.
Below is an early publicity photo of Brian Setzer.Embed from Getty Images
In 1980 the Stray Cats heard rumors of a rockabilly revival in Britain, and they moved to London where they met Dave Edmund, who was himself a big 50s music fan.
Edmund produced the Stray Cats’ first self-titled album in 1981. That album had two UK hits, Stray Cat Strut and Rock This Town. The Stray Cats developed a strong UK fan base that included members of iconic groups like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who.
The band’s second album was a commercial disappointment. However, EMI America assembled the best songs from both albums and in 1982 released an album, Built For Speed, in the U.S. That album was a smash success, eventually reaching #2 on the Billboard album charts.
Here is Brian Setzer performing at a Buddy Holly tribute, I think this is from 1992. Setzer performs two Holly hits; the first is Rock Around With Ollie Vee, followed by Oh Boy! By the way, I believe that is Setzer’s Stray Cats bandmate Slim Jim Phantom on drums.
As you can see, Setzer applies his guitar mastery to some oldies from the 50s. He retains all of the stylistic elements from rockabilly – a hollow-body guitar, upright bass and a stripped-down drum kit.
The Stray Cats were a breath of fresh air, and they spearheaded a 50s revival in the early 80s. Unfortunately, personality clashes caused the group to break up in 1984. At that time, Setzer began a solo career and collaborations with other artists, while Rocker and Phantom joined up with former David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick.
Then in the 1990s, Setzer turned to another old musical style. He assembled a 17-piece big band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, that played swing music.
Brian Setzer has made an impressive career by taking old-fashioned musical idioms such as rockabilly and swing, and updating them. A consummate musician, Setzer combines his smooth and versatile vocal abilities with his mastery of the electric guitar. Setzer is a performer that I would travel a long way to see. Keep it up, Brian!