Born Therman B. Fisher, 13 November 1930, Chandler, Texas
Singer / guitarist / songwriter
Rockabilly pioneer Sonny Fisher, "The Wild Man From Texas", never achieved anything more than regional stardom in the US. During the 1950s he cut only a handful of records, which were not released in Europe at the time. But when the Ace label in the UK reissued his recordings in 1979, he suddenly found himself proclaimed King of the rockabilly revival by European fans.
Sonny Fisher's date of birth is usually given as November 13, 1931. He was actually born in 1930, but his mother didn't record his birth until a year after. Sonny learned to play on his father's guitar and from listening to the Grand Ole Opry. His favourites were Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb and Little Jimmy Dickens, later also Hank Williams. The Fisher family left Texas during World War II, moving to California and later to Tacoma, Washington. But Sonny missed Texas and moved back there in the late 1940s, settling in Houston. He formed his own country band in 1951 and started playing local clubs. After the addition of Joey Long, an exceptionally talented electric guitarist, the band began to incorporate R&B covers into its repertoire.
"Everything we did came from R&B ; we picked up the beat, the rhythm, everything from Joe Turner, Fats Domino, B.B. King, people like that. Then we heard Elvis and recognized it as something different." Like many others, Fisher was under the impression that Presley was black until he saw him perform in Texas in November 1954. Sonny decided that this new rockabilly music was for him, sacked his fiddler and his steel guitarist and dubbed the remaining trio The Rocking Boys. He paid for his first session in January 1955, at Bill Quinn's Goldstar Studio in Houston, consciously going for a sound like Presley's. Quinn called Jack Starnes, co-owner of the Starday label, to tell him that there was someone doing songs similar to Elvis's material. Starnes came to hear the band, signed Fisher to Starday and would produce all his 1950s recordings. The four songs from that first session (all his own compositions) became Sonny's first two records : "Rockin' Daddy"/"Hold Me Baby" (Starday 179) and "Sneaky Pete"/"Hey Mamma" (Starday 190). Rockabilly at its most primal. "Rockin' Daddy" was covered by Eddie Bond for Mercury in February 1956 and Bond adopted it as his theme song.
In spite of limited sales, Fisher was allowed to do a second session for Starday, in the summer of 1955. Again four self-composed tracks were cut and issued on two singles : "Rockin' And A Rollin'"/"I Can't Lose" and "Pink And Black"/ "Little Red Wagon". The latter song was the odd one out, a rather old-fashioned country song, but still with a rockabilly touch. When all four singles netted Fisher a royalty check amounting to $ 126, he refused to renew his Starday deal, instead founding Columbus Records with his drummer Darrell Newsome. Fisher produced sides for singer/guitarist Eddie Eddings and saxophonist Hub Sutter, but never recorded for Columbus himself, eventually selling his share of the company to Newsome. After the Rocking Boys split up, Sonny led his own R&B group for some time before returning to country, working the Houston nightclub circuit until 1965, when he retired from music to run his own flooring business. In 1979 Ted Carroll and Ray Topping, founders of the British reissue label Ace, tracked down Fisher at his home in Crosby, Texas. With vintage rockabilly all the rage in Europe, they financed Fisher's first tour of the U.K. and assembled his eight Starday sides on a much-acclaimed 10" LP, "Texas Rockabilly". The singer's talents proved to have diminished little if at all in the years since his retirement, and with his jet-black pompadour and jaw-length sideburns, he also looked much as he did on-stage at the Cosy Corner 25 years earlier.
In 1980 he made his first new recordings since 1980, in a London studio, backed by Johnny and the Roccos. The results were released on a four-song EP, followed a year later by the recording of his first LP, "Texas Rockabilly Tear Up", for the French Big Beat label. He became very popular in France, toured there in front of enthusiastic crowds and a second Big Beat album ("King Of Rockabilly") was recorded and released in 1983. He also performed in Holland (Eindhoven), at the Rockhouse International Rock & Roll Meeting, in October 1983, with a very good band that included piano.
After returning home to Texas, Sonny dropped out of sight for a decade, but in 1993 he turned up in Spain, cutting the live album "Rockabilly Fiesta" with fellow Texas legend Sleepy LaBeef and the Spanish group Los Solitarios. It turned out to be his final recording. Then he disappeared again. Various concert promoters tried to reach him but all to no avail. In fact, Fisher had become so evasive that many people assumed he had died quite a few years earlier than his actual death date of October 8, 2005. He died of cancer in his hometown of Texas.
CD's : The Starday recordings have been reissued on many compilations, but as far as I know, no collection includes all eight of them. The 3-CD set "It's Saturday Night! Starday-Dixie Rockabilly 1955-1961" (Fantastic Voyage FVTD 145, 2012) includes seven (all on CD 1), omitting "Little Red Wagon". The "Texas Rockabilly Tear Up" album has been reissued on CD by Big Beat in 2011, with extra live tracks from a Paris concert.
Acknowledgements : Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide), Stuart Colman, Craig Morrison.
Dik, April 2014
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