A Round of Applause for the Joy-Givers: Rockabilly

Jerry Lee Lewis (Jerry Lee Lewis/Facebook)

HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! We always need more smiles, music and laughter. This fun series salutes those seriously unsolemn people, places and things that bring joy to the world. Starting during the pandemic, an oft joy-challenged time, readers are introduced to present-day joy-givers and reminded of cherished joy-givers of the past. Each salute will have online links to add more opportunities for happiness in the comfort of your socially-distanced home. Many installments of the series will include a salutary food or drink recipe to add another element of pleasure.

The “SHIELD THE JOYOUS” shields, which will be given to those honored or to their family, are inspired from a passage in “The Book of Common Prayer” (1662). Prayers are lifted to “tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying…and shield the joyous.” Joy-givers are precious. Let us preserve them, protect them, treasure them, smile with them, laugh with them, tap our toes with them and give them A ROUND OF APPLAUSE.


If I were stranded on a desert island and could only hear one genre of music, it would be Rockabilly or possibly works by Bach. Bach-abilly? It’s nearly impossible to hear a Rockabilly performer go at it and not be tapping your toes, be-bopping your head and grinnin’ like a mule eatin’ briars. Rockabilly is the marriage of rock-and-roll and hillbilly country and all it aims to deliver is bouncy happiness.

Let’s get rockin’ with some of “The Greatest Rockabilly Stars” of all time:

  • JERRY LEE LEWIS- My dad, who loved the ladies, hated Jerry Lee Lewis. Dad admitted he was jealous when he went to a concert and Jerry Lee Lewis, who grew up rockin’ his Pentecostal church and helped create “piano rock,” rocked “Great Balls of Fire” and got the girls and women swooning and screaming. “The Killer” was a showman too full of spunk to sit down. He would kick the piano stool away, pound the keys with his frenetic fingers and feet, which brought the house to a giant, collective “roargasm.” I had dinner with Jerry Lee Lewis’ daughter during an arts festival in Natchez, Mississippi. She said, “Jerry Lee Lewis, the performer and my father, had a lot of wild energy and liked to raise hell. But, if his music was taking him to the devil, Daddy was taking thousands of frenzied, fun-lovin’ fans with him.” In “The Killer’s” own rockin’ Rockabilly words, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brains, too much love drives a man insane. You broke my will, but what a thrill. Goodness gracious, GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!” I’m not sure “goodness” had much to do with it but, my gracious, Jerry Lee Lewis brought the joy.
  • WANDA JACKSON- became “The Queen of Rockabilly” by crashing the glass-ceiling of the male-dominated, early days of rock-and-roll. Born Wanda Lavonne Jackson, this proud “Okie” was from Maud, Oklahoma. She dated Elvis, and it was “The King” who seduced her to give up years of country gospel and try rock-and-roll. Jackson, who was even bigger with Rockabilly fans in Europe than in the U.S., had great hits with “Let’s Have A Party,” and “Fugiyama Mama.” She was da Rockabilly bomb.
  • GENE VINCENT- is considered by many music reviewers to be “The Ultimate Rockabilly Star.” His biggest hit, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” was on Billboard’s charts for 20 weeks in 1956. Just hear the lyrics, “Be-Bop-A-Lula, she’s my baby. Be-Bop-A-Lula, I don’t mean maybe. She’s the one in the red blue jeans. She’s the queen of all the teens. Be-Bop-A-Lula, she’s my baby, now. My baby now” and then try to extract that earworm and calm your dancin’ feet down. This American Rockabilly pioneer was backed by his rocking band, The Blue Caps. Gene Vincent’s signature look was snug-fitting, black leather and his band wore the much less erotic blue caps. Vincent was huge in England and his LIVE shows there were a “must experience” rite of passage.
  • LITTLE RICHARD- was a Rockabilly innovator and called “The Architect of Rock-and-Roll.” With his raspy voice and virtuoso piano-playing, this charismatic showman and his trademark pompadour that Marge Simpson and Vestal Goodman would covet was an “American original.” His biggest hits like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” were from the mid-1950s, but I didn’t become a Little Richard groupie until the early 1970s. Once during a break at a disco club, Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia) and I were chatting on a terrace and I said, “Man, I would love to be you revving up this room.” And, he said, “Each of us needs to just fully be who the Lord brings us into the world to be. I’ll be Little Richard and y’all be y’all.” Richard’s dad was a church deacon who sold moonshine at his nightclub, The Tip In Inn. Little Richard had lots of facets like that, too. He was a great Rockabilly singer/songwriter/musician, a philosopher, a fun and kind friend and for many of his last years, a fierce preacher of Christian gospel.
  • GORDON TERRY- Yeah, I know some are saying, “Who?” But I’m writing this about 30 miles from Moulton, Alabama, and there’s a highway named for Rockabilly star Gordon Terry there. Besides, he was my mama’s first cousin and the closest thing our family ever had to a rock star. The Terrys were natural songbirds and each of the forty-leven kids (there are six pages of Terrys in the Moulton phone book) were taught to excel with at least one musical instrument. Gordon played guitar, fiddle and mandolin at the Grand Ole Opry. He was a crowd-delighting, country-tock-Rockabilly singer and musician who built a miniature Dollywood-esque, musical theme park called Terrytown in Loretto, Tennessee.
  • BUDDY HOLLEY- born Charles Hardin Holley, hailed from Lubbock, Texas. This sweet talent came from a gospel music-performing family. He and his high school friends originally started playing local gigs as The Crickets, which is the name they used with their first mega-hit “That’ll Be the Day.” After opening for Elvis Presley, Buddy Holley decided to go full-time professional. The group with some staffing changes became know as Buddy Holley and The Crickets and topped the charts with “Peggy Sue.” Remember this? “Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty—Peggy Sue.” That playful, fun-loving bounce is pure Rockabilly. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holley and Rockabilly stars Richie Valens, The Big Bopper and others were killed in an airplane crash. That tragedy inspired the Don McLean hit, “The Day the Music Died.” Rolling Stone magazine ranks Buddy Holley at no. 13 of “The 100 Greatest Rock Artists.”
  • CHUCK BERRY- was called “The TRUE King of Rock-and-Roll” by Sir Paul McCartney. When I talked with Chuck Berry before a show a few years ago, I was surprised how the hard-living star was humble, gracious and gentlemanly after decades of accolades and fan-worship. Some of his biggest hits were: “Maybellene,” my personal favorite, “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” but it was a much earlier tune “My Ding-A-Ling” that President Jimmy Carter invited Chuck Berry to play at the White House. When Chuck Berry died just three years ago, he was buried with his cherry-red guitar bolted to the inside lid of this coffin. The night before his funeral, all the bars in St. Louis held a citywide toast as Chuck Berry ascended into Rockabilly heaven.

FREE YOUTUBE ROUND-UP OF ROCKABILLY FUN: Each of the stars I profiled above have great, fun, FREE, videos for you to find on YouTube. And, there are many more hours of fun to be had with these Rockabilly greats: Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Stray Cats, Bill Haley and His Comets, Ricky Nelson, early Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette, Duane Eddy, Southern Culture on the Skids (who deserve their own “Round of Applause” salute), Brenda Lee, The Everly Brothers, The Big Bopper, The Mavericks, Hank Williams III, early Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran and new Rockabilly finds The Brian Setzer Orchestra and also Reverend Horton Heat.

Please join us in giving all these joy-givers “A Round of Applause” and enjoy this recipe for GREAT ROCKABILLY BALLS OF ENERGY found at EatingWell.com.


These are easy, no-bake, energy-filled snacks for autumn hikes.


At EatingWell.com you’ll find a number of flavor choices, but my favorite is Blueberry-Pecan (other choices are: Peanut Butter-Date, Cranberry Oat, Apricot-Ginger, Cherry-Cocoa-Pistachio), which calls for

  • 1 1/2 cups dried blueberries
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 6 tbsp. cacao nibs
  • 6 tbsp. almond butter
  • 3 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 3 tbsp. pure maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt



  1. Combine all the ingredient in a food processor.
  2. Pulse until chopped, 10 to 20 times, then process for about 1 minute, scraping down the sides when necessary, until the mixture is crumbly but can be pressed to form a ball.
  3. With wet hands (to keep the mixture from sticking to them) squeeze about 1 tbsp. of the mixture tightly between your hands, and while singing “Great Balls of Fire” with your best Jerry Lee Lewis whoops, roll into a ball.
  4. Place in a storage container.

You can refrigerate for up to a week and freeze for 3 months. Makes about 3-4 dozen “energy balls.”


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Ben South