White rock & roll and rockabilly

As discussed in the R&B-derived rock & roll section, white rock and roll artists were less often covered by the Stones than were than African American artists, although that does not mean that they were not influential.

Rockabilly, a particular subgenre of rock & roll, was predominantly, perhaps exclusively, performed by white musicians. It was born out of the marriage between country music, especially honky tonk, and the then nascent rock and roll music.

THE BIG BOPPER  (1930-1959)

Born in Texas, the Big Bopper scored a first hit with Chantilly Lace in 1958 just before meeting his death in the same airplane crash that cost the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

The Stones covered Chantilly Lace on their 1982 European tour.

EDDIE COCHRAN  (1938-1960)

A pioneer of rockabilly like Gene Vincent, Oklahoma-born Cochran was one of those white musicians whose music struck a chord with Mick and Keith in particular. Along with their Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, the Little Blue Boys incorporated a lot of Cochran and Holly into their material and while they have never recorded his songs, through the years the Stones have run through Cochran's songs, like Holly's, in rehearsals, or to inspire songwriting.

(Mick) was into singing in the bath, he had been singing with a rock group a few years previous, couple of years. Buddy Holly stuff and Sweet Little Sixteen, Eddie Cochran stuff, at youth clubs and things in Dartford...

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1970

The Stones even had what we may call a brief "neo-rockabilly" period in 1980-1982 where they emphasized a rockabilly treatment (slightly delayed echo and "damped" guitars) on a number of songs: She's So Cold, Little T&A, Hang Fire. This culminated in their performing Cochran's own Twenty Flight Rock during the 1981-82 tour. (Was it calculated that the Stones' stage set for that tour used 1950s-like pastel colors?) Keith also played Cochran's Something Else on his 1992-93 solo tour.


The Everly Brothers were only a moderate influence on the Stones in a direct fashion (they never covered their songs), but they were later (late 1960s, early 1970s) a  tremendous one by way of Keith's love and appreciation for them.

Born in Kentucky in the late 1930s, Phil and Don Everly started out as country singers in their teens and formed a singing duo in the tradition of great traditional country duos like the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers and the Louvin Brothers, emphasizing tight-knit harmonies. Their arrival on the scene coincided with the birth of rock and roll, however, and that's how they achieved success, but their brand of rock and roll was distinctive precisely because of these important country textures such as their Appalachian-styled harmony singing.

Keith loved country (Johnny Cash, early Elvis) and harmony singing as early as his teens, and so the Everlys fit right in. He must have been thrilled when the Stones' first real tour in the fall of 1963 was being part of a British package tour headlined by Bo Diddley and the Everlys. In the early to mid 1960s, as their hits started to dry out, they remained popular in Great Britain.

I realized that one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world ever is Don Everly, who always used open tuning. Don is the killer rhythm man. He was the one that turned me onto [windmill waves his right  hand] - all of that. It's the weirdest thing, right, because it's country shit, basically. That was why the Everly Brothers stuff was so hard, because it was all on acoustic.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1992

Since the rest of the Everly Brothers' influence on the Stones was as a country or country rock act, the rest of their career is discussed under that section. (See here).

DALE HAWKINS (1938-     )

Louisiana-born Hawkins was a one-hit rockabilly wonder, but what a hit. His 1957 classic Susie Q. has been covered by many rock bands, perhaps most successfully by Creedence Clearwater Revival, but the Stones took their own dab at it in 1964. An underappreciated artist, even though his success was limited.

BUDDY HOLLY  (1936-1959)

Although he started out as a rockabilly artist, Texas-born Buddy Holly became much more than that. Like Chuck Berry,  Holly was a groundbreaker and special talent among the early rock and roll stars. In his short-lived career, before dying in an infamous plane crash, Holly wrote and recorded an entire catalogue's worth of romantic, simple and yet exquisite songs that have influenced a great many performers. He was also an innovative recording artist, who experimented with new techniques in the studio and enjoyed a control over his material that anticipated what groups like the Beatles and Stones would later enjoy.

Holly had an especially important influence on English bands, including the Beatles and the Hollies. The Stones were no exception. From the days of Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, Mick and Keith always appreciated Holly's songwriting. Not Fade Away may have been the only song they recorded of his, but his entire approach to songs and songwriting has influenced the Twins in particular and both have openly admitted to this influence. Even not too long ago in an interview, Keith has said that usually when he starts composing, he'll run through other people's songs, and still oftentimes runs through Buddy Holly songs.

On October 22, 2006, Keith Richards sang Holly's Learning the Game onstage during the Rolling Stones' concert in Austin, Texas.

Mick had been singing with some rock and roll bands, doing Buddy Holly... Buddy Holly was in England as solid as Elvis. Everything that came out was a record smash No. 1. By about '58, it was either Elvis or Buddy Holly. It was split into two camps. The Elvis fans were the heavy leather boys and the Buddy Holly ones all somehow looked like Buddy Holly.

      - Keith Richards, 1971

To English people Buddy Holly was an enormous inspiration. Therein lies the difference because he was a songwriter, which Elvis wasn't. And he wrote very simple songs - sort of lesson one in songwriting. Great songs, which had simple changes and nice melodies and changes of tempo and all that. You could learn from Buddy Holly how to write songs, the way he put them together. He was a beautiful writer.

                                             - Mick Jagger, 1977


JERRY LEE LEWIS  (1935-     )

Like Little Richard, Louisiana-born Lewis was less of an influence on the Stones than Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly, say, but he nevertheless struck a big chord in Mick, Keith and Bill as teenagers. Keith, especially, who always had a great fondness for country, could appreciate the country influences in Lewis' brand of R&B/rock & roll. In the later 1960s, after his rock career had fizzled, Lewis re-cycled himself as a "pure" country singer, and Keith loved playing his country songs (like She Still Comes Around), as well as those of the Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard and others, during the time he met and hung out with Gram Parsons, and later on by himself.

In 1983, Keith was hand-picked by Lewis to participate in a Dick Clark-sponsored TV special celebrating the Killer. Keith gave a great performance as background vocalist and guitarist. His licks were really good on songs like Lewis' Whole Lotta Shakin' and a cover of Hank Williams' Your Cheatin' Heart. Check it out if you can find it. Ronnie also played with Lewis a few times in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Jerry Lee, what a gent... I've been listening to him since Crazy Arms. He's part of my stable diet. As necessary as vegetables are.

                                             - Keith Richards, 1983


CARL PERKINS  (1932-1998)

Born in Tennessee, rockabilly legend Carl Perkins will be most remembered for the classic songs he wrote (which helped the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, to name just those) and for his influence on other rock greats, particularly the Beatles. He recorded successful versions of his own songs in the mid-1950s with Sam Phillips' Sun Records, such as Blue Suede Shoes, but by the end of the decade he was no longer having hits. He died of cancer.

As predominantly R&B performers, the Stones were never huge Perkins fans, but they did perform his High Heel Sneakers in their early days.

ELVIS PRESLEY  (1935-1977)

The Stones, and especially Mick, have often made it a point of how they were not particularly big fans of white rock and rollers, especially Elvis. This should be taken with a grain of salt, however. Keith, Mick and Bill obviously all had a great love for the rock and rollers of the 50s, black and white included. One of Keith's first records as a teen was Elvis' Sun Sessions, whose mix of R&B, country and rockabilly certainly resonates in Keith's musical identity. It has remained a favorite record of his throughout the years.

The Stones performed Elvis' Hound Dog occasionally on their 1978 American tour.

Keith was particularly enamored of Scotty Moore's guitar playing on the early Elvis records, and like Chuck Berry he was an important influence on his own guitar playing style. In 1996, Keith contributed to a record by Elvis's former players Scotty Moore and drummer D. J. Fontana.

I was playing acoustic before, and Chuck (Berry) and Scotty Moore were the ones that turned me on to saying, Oh yeah, I've really got to get my hands on an electric.

                                             - Keith Richards, 1989

(Keith and Brian) also taught me to enjoy Elvis Presley, through D. J. Fontana, who I think is a wonderful player. Before that, there was only one record I ever liked of Elvis'.

                                                   - Charlie Watts, 1994


RITCHIE VALENS  (1941-1959)

Born in California, Valens became the first Hispanic rock and roll star in 1958. He scored a few hits, but his biggest was La Bamba, his reworking of a traditional Latin American song. He died in the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. The Stones (and before them Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys) occasionally performed La Bamba in their very early days.

Written by Ian McPherson, 2000.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

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