Wild Records Keeps Rockabilly Fresh
Since 2001, Dublin-by-way-of-San Francisco transplant Reb Kennedy has released some of the highest energy rock and roll this side of Little Richard. Under the auspices of Wild Records, he's discovered and developed new, predominantly Latino talent.
The "Wild sound," as it's known abroad, isn't rote worship of a bygone age. On the contrary, it's fresh and vital rock and roll informed in equal parts by rockabilly's golden age, Stax Records soul, '60s girl pop, Chicago blues and first wave punk rock. This unholy brew of rock's past creates an exciting sound that has hundreds of Southern California young people and eternal teenagers alike turning up at clubs, parties and swap meets.
Documentary filmmaker Elise Salomon has recently completed Los Wild Ones, which chronicles the label and debuts Friday at the Santa Monica Pier. We spoke with Kennedy, who is 52 and lives in Altadena, about the Wild sound.
Why did you start Wild Records?
Well, you look at a place like Sweden. It has one of the biggest rockabilly scenes in the world; But they've got a lot of what I call "rockabilly Nazis." They want everything to sound like the '50s. I just wanted to record good rock and roll music. One of the most important things to me is to keep it sounding fresh. We use musical instruments and influences from everywhere, but I do have one rule: Everything has to be recorded on tape.
What does tape give you that digital doesn't?
Soul. We're really a soul label. I always want the right take. There can be a lot of fuck ups on the right take. The band can be out of tune or off time. I want to get the band past their fear and start to play with heart and soul. I make Gizzelle cry every time we record. That's what makes for a great take.
How did it all get started?
I was running a club in Brisbane, CA called the 23 Club. It's this old honky tonk that still has a piano Jerry Lee Lewis played on. These older guys just kept getting older and I wanted to do something fresh. I wanted newer bands to open for established acts. That's when I came across Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens.
Why did you start with them?
Well, first of all, they were the worst musicians I had ever seen. They had a lot of horns, which I'm not a fan of unless it's soul. Still, the energy from the band was unbelievable. They'd get drunk on stage and go crazy. They'd all stop playing at once. It wasn't a planned rest or anything, it was just a pause in the sound. I loved the focus on the energy. That's what blew me away.
What's the attraction for Latinos to this type of music?
There are a lot of social similarities between my background and theirs. I grew up with music on constantly. Roy Orbison. Johnny Cash. My dad brought me to a pub when I was 13 and everyone was drinking and signing. The Irish Catholic thing is tied to music and rock and roll is basic, uncomplicated music.
See also: Latino Rockabilly In Los Angeles FTW
Rockabilly appeals to a working class person for the same reason punk does. If you're a working class person with aspirations, this is something you can do. Our listeners know that Omar Romero gets out of bed every day and cuts hair for eight hours. They know that they're always going to need a job. But if they start playing in a band, they can make a statement with music and they can see the world.