Right about the time that Jack Earls should have been basking in acclaim as one of the handful of greats to come from the rock-and-roll wellspring that was Sam Phillips' Sun Records, he was working on an assembly line at a Chrysler plant in Detroit. Best known for his rollicking single "Slow Down," cut in the mid-'50s, Earls was a rockabilly forebear, a high-steppin' legend who would have to wait close to 40 years before beginning to get his due in the early '90s.
"Earls is right up there with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins," says Greg Yanito, a guitarist in the Cleveland western-swing troupe the Capgun Cowboys, who also helps run the Rockabilly Uprising website. "He was in the studio when Elvis cut 'Mystery Train,' and rumor has it he ran home to get his copy of the song, so Elvis could learn the words. The reason he didn't 'make it,' per se, is because he chose to keep his day job instead of going on the road. He had only one single released on Sun, but the unissued recordings are every bit as rock-and-roll as anything else that Sam Phillips recorded."
It's a major coup, then, for Yanito to have landed Earls for the Rockabilly Holiday, an annual charity event (patrons get a dollar off admission with a can of food, and all proceeds go to local food banks), now in its ninth year, held at the Beachland Ballroom. This year's concert features such regional rockabilly favorites as Cincinnati's Jerry King and the Rivertown Ramblers, Detroit's Hi-Q's, and Chicago's the Honeybees. Of course, a headlining set by Earls is the real attraction.
"To have him here for the holiday is very exciting, as not too many of the original recording artists perform in Cleveland any longer," says Yanito. "The big festivals like Viva Las Vegas and Green Bay usually draw a few legends, but this is certainly a unique opportunity to see and hear how it was done back in the day."
The show will feature vintage wares from such vendors as Vintage Deluxe (Chicago), Lucky Kat (Columbus), and Bop City Fashions (Cleveland). There will also be a holiday raffle of retro items, with prizes donated by local stores Flower Child and Suite Lorain.
"Last year we had a huge lineup, just an amazing list of bands playing, vendors, etc.," Yanito says. "This year, we are fortunate enough to bring back one of the legends who started it all. And, well, who can argue with cool cars, cool guitars, and cool clothes?"