Couple and musical partners Danny B. Harvey and Annie Marie Lewis are damned near rockabilly royalty.
Harvey's a luminary in the music's ongoing revival, having played guitar with early '80s outfit Levi and the Rockats, real-deal pioneer Wanda Jackson and supergroup HeadCat, which included Lemmy of Motörhead and Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats.
Meanwhile, Lewis — the niece of Jerry Lee Lewis, daughter of Linda Gail Lewis and cousin of Mickey Gilley — has toured with her mom since her teens as a vocalist, opening shows for her rock 'n' roll pioneer uncle.
The Austin-based pair met when Lewis was performing as part of her uncle's 75th birthday celebration. They've been touring extensively since 2014 and released a critically acclaimed first album Barbwire Heart on Lanark Records in 2015.
Harvey, Lewis and their band will roll into San Antonio Friday, April 9 for a free gig at St. Paul's Square. Ahead of the performance, the Current caught up with Harvey by phone to talk about what drew him to rockabilly, the music's staying power and the ebbs and flows of life on the road.
After you and Annie became a couple, was it almost immediately that you started playing together?
Well, first we were a couple. We had a date, but it's kind of one of those things. After your first date, you say, "What are you doing tomorrow night?" So, that was three days in Atlanta. We went out all three days. Then she went to Norway [on tour]. She was supposed to go for two months to Norway, but after three weeks of being over there, she sent me an email saying, "Mom said I can come home early. She can finish the tour without me. So, I'm going to come home because I miss you." And I said, "Well, I got a tour booked for September. Why don't you come join me on a tour?" At that point, Annie and me had never played together, and I had a four-week tour booked. So, Annie came home early from Norway to join my tour and she bought a one-way ticket to Austin. That's sort of how it started. She never got a return ticket.
As I watched videos of you performing, it struck me that you seem to be putting your all into it, whether you're in a large theater or just playing in the corner of a little bar. How do you stay so enthusiastic when the venues and crowds ebb and flow?
I love music, and I would do this even if I wasn't making a dime from it. So, I never had issue with downsizing it. And the thing is I've played with Nancy Sinatra and Lemmy, two of the most humble people. Nancy is one of the most down-to-earth people. I've sat with her in McDonald's and eaten McDonald's with her on the road. And with Lemmy, we'd play with HeadCat, sometimes we'd be playing a bar to like 12 people, and the night before we'd have been in a packed [concert hall]. So, I figured, if they could bring themselves back down to play music, who am I to ever complain? The biggest show I did, [HeadCat] did Wacken [Open Air, the mega-sized German heavy metal festival], and we played in front of 400,000 people, and then two days later I was playing on a small stage in a 150-seat club. And I flew straight back to have lunch, took a little nap, and went and played the gig. And I didn't see any difference. It's just fun to play.
There's been a rockabilly revival going on in one form or another since the late '70s or early '80s. Is there ever going to be an expiration date for this music, or will new generations keep discovering it?
At this point, I think definitely there always will be a crowd for it. I'm not the first one to say that. They thought rock and roll was going to die in the early '60s and it never died — and it just keeps coming back. So, I don't think it will ever go away, because when people first discover it, they get kind of blown away by the fact that, in the '50s, people were greasing their hair and walking around with switchblades. Now, not everyone was like that, but that was the image portrayed by James Dean and with that music that was so fast and frantic. It was the opposite of "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" Elvis was gyrating on stage on TV, which no one had ever done. So, I think that when young people discover that, they go, "Wow, there's this group of people in the '50s that just gave zero Fs."
You obviously have wider musical interests than rockabilly and the guitar chops to pull off other styles. Can you point to an exact moment when it clicked for you that this was the kind of music you wanted to spend your life playing?
My first professional gig was playing bass with John Wilkinson, who played rhythm guitar for Elvis in the Vegas years. ... So, I remember John was playing at the bar at a Mexican restaurant ... and this guy came in and he had this Elvis impersonator, who was a really good one — and he had lots of money behind him — and he wanted John to back him up. Of course, John said, "No way I'm going to back up an impersonator after playing with the real Elvis." But I took the gig. We went down and did it, and when I was in the rehearsals, I remember going like, "Wow, what's this? What are these songs? Like, "These are crazy!" It was "That's Alright Mama" and "There's Good Rockin' Tonight." After that, the Elvis impersonator told me, "You should listen to Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent, and as soon as I heard Gene Vincent and heard Cliff Gallup's guitar playing, well, I'd never heard guitar playing like that. And then I heard "Train Kept a-Rollin'" by Johnny Burnette, and he sang that rougher and tougher than Steven Tyler did. I was blown. That was it. I said, "This music is way beyond belief. I never knew this stuff existed."
Free, 8 p.m. Friday, April 9, St. Paul Square Courtyard, 1160 E. Commerce St., stpaulsq.com. Get our top picks for the best (online!) events in San Antonio every Thursday morning. Sign up for our Events Newsletter.
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