Cave Catt Sammy – Revitalizing rockabilly
The last thing you might expect to spring, fully formed, from the suburban high school environs of San Antonio is a greasy rockabilly band. The Alamo City is much more notorious for keeping heavy metal dinosaurs like Ratt and Great White in business than for contributing much to the authentic rhythm-bound rebel-rousing sound that arose from the South in the 1950s.
But with their third album, Love Me Like Crazy (on Rubric Records), Cave Catt Sammy — formed by four MacArthur High School teenagers in 1997 — is giving the rockabilly genre a swift and much-needed kick.
Guitarist Stephen Scott and Beau “Sammy” Sample, the band’s singer, songwriter and bassist, formed a musical partnership when they were in middle school. They were united by a common love for American roots music of all sorts, from jazz and blues to western swing and country, but shared a particular affinity for Sun Studio-style rockabilly. The duo later added rhythm guitarist Dustin Hutchinson and recruited drummer Paul Ward from another area rockabilly group.
The arrival of Ward in particular seemed to have a galvanizing effect. “When we met Paul, that really opened a lot of doors,” says Scott. “He has that swing. It started to feel right and it got that beat that it should have had that it didn’t really have before.”
You can hear that swing — as if the music’s twitchy rhythms naturally inhabit the players’ very souls — on the new album’s opening salvo, “Gonna Rock And Roll”. The song is nothing if not a statement of purpose, driven by Scott’s delightfully demented guitar runs (shades of Jimmy Bryant) and Sample’s twangy Southern-boy vocals with just a touch of ‘aw-shucks’ vulnerability.
Recorded at Hollywood’s ancient Electrovox Studios, where the Maddox Brothers and Eddie Cochran laid down timeless sides in the 1950s, Love Me Like Crazy glistens with authenticity and presence. Former Fly-Rite Boy Wally Hersom and engineer Tim Magg outfitted the studio with vintage microphones, reel-to-reel tape delays and tube amps, while another ex-Fly-Riter, Carl Sonny Leyland, added some wicked piano runs on three cuts.
Though Cave Catt Sammy released two previous albums on the tiny Big Bellied label — 1999’s Fast Cars & Smoky Bars and last year’s Comin’ On Strong — they seemed almost incidental to the band’s increasingly sharp stage show, honed over a rigorous itinerary of 250 gigs a year. “I got sick of hearing people say we sounded better live than we do on our CDs, which I guess is a compliment,” says Sample.
While so many latter-day rockabilly upstarts have latched onto the music’s more superficial or transitory elements, the Catts come off as primordial rock ‘n’ roll scholars who just happen to have the talent and chemistry to fill up the dance floor. The band’s playfulness, effervescence, and sense of the music’s history ensure that they aren’t just another group of rote revivalists.
Sample carries the lion’s share of the songwriting, and his compositions, and phrasing, recall the avatars of rockabilly: Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Burnette. But the band is not averse to revisiting some of the more arcane corners of Americana. A juiced-up cover of an obscure gem, San Antonian Harmon Boazeman’s “No Love In You”, is a highlight of the new album, and the band has been known to mystify its audience with renditions of Don Harden’s 1956 single “Dig That Ford” and Jerry Reed’s ultra-obscure “Money Makes You Purty”.
“It’s the same with any old American music,” explains Sample. “Blues, jazz, hillbilly, western swing — the important thing is that it’s human expression, and that it’s real, not computerized. It’s people actually telling stories in their own way.”