Back to Articles
Sonic Net [ Fri., September 4, 1998 6:48 PM EDT ]

Feathers commanded a wide range of vocal effects.
Rockabilly Pioneer Charlie Feathers Dead At 66

As a contemporary of Elvis and Carl Perkins, he co-wrote such classics as "Defrost My Heart."

Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports:

Pioneering rockabilly singer Charlie Feathers died in Memphis, Tenn., last Saturday after suffering a massive stroke in August, according to his son, Ricky. A lesser-known contemporary of famed artists Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, Feathers, 66, was a musical pioneer in his own right.

Feathers fell off the porch of his Memphis home after suffering a stroke on Aug. 25, Ricky Feathers said Friday (Sept. 4). He was taken to the emergency room of St. Francis Hospital, where he then fell into a coma. After doctors pronounced the singer brain-dead last Saturday, Feathers was removed from life support and died 15 minutes later, according to his son.

"He is a self-taught artist, homemade and hand-rolled with the rough-edged, rabbit-trap tobacco hanging out both ends." -- Jim Dickinson, producer

Although Feathers was revered by rockabilly purists, he was considerably less well known by the mass of listeners who, during the 1950s, latched on to his Sun Records labelmates Presley, Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

As a result, Feathers was particularly thankful to those fans that recognized his contributions, said Sherman Willmott, owner of Memphis' Shangri-La record label and music store. In June, Shangri-La hosted a record release party for Feathers' latest collection, Get With It: Essential Recordings (1954-69) (Revenant).

Feathers signed CDs for two hours, Willmott said, despite fatigue brought on by poor health. In the past 15 years, the singer suffered from diabetes and had a lung removed, according to Willmott.

"He didn't turn away a single person, and it wasn't easy for him to sit there and write," Willmott said. "Maybe he doesn't get the appreciation around here that he should have, so it was a nice swan song."

In the years following Presley's and others' fame, Feathers often claimed that he played a crucial role in developing the "Sun sound." "I arranged all of Elvis' stuff," he told writer Peter Guralnick in the 1979 book "Lost Highway," and he also claimed to have given Lewis the notion for his wild piano style.

While many of Feathers' assertions have never been substantiated, Feathers' own recorded work bears out his contributions to the world of rockabilly and country music. He is best known as the co-writer of Presley's 1955 #1 country hit "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," and for his own country lament, "Defrost Your Heart" (1956) (RealAudio excerpt).

Still, it's Feathers' raw brand of hillbilly rock 'n' roll -- which he continued to perform in small clubs long after the Sun flame had been extinguished -- that built his legend. Guralnick described one performance as "an orchestration of exuberance, passion and feelings, an informal symphony of hillbilly soul."

Feathers wrought songs such as "One Hand Loose" and "Bottle to the Baby" from genuine sparks of life, while he colored "Can't Hardly Stand It" in ominously dark shades. Adding to his renown was the storehouse of vocal effects, from squeals to growls to hiccups, which he used to imbue his work with believability beyond the range of words.

Charlie Feathers was born on July 12, 1932, outside Holly Springs, Miss., a region now famous as the home to such unrefined artists as R.L. Burnside and the late Junior Kimbrough.

Kimbrough, who died last January of a heart attack, taught Feathers how to play guitar. During a home recording session in 1969, Kimbrough and Feathers recorded two tracks together, "Release Me" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Feel Good Again," which were recently issued on Get With It.

Feathers maintained an eclectic roster of jobs before and between his sporadic recording sessions: He worked with Presley and Johnny Burnette ("The Train Kept A' Rollin' ") at Crown Electric Company. He also drove an ambulance and raced cars.

His discography is equally unique. In addition to Sun, he cut sides for such labels as Meteor, King, Walmay and Holiday Inn.

Along with his music, Feathers will be remembered for his sheer passion and persistence, more often than not in the face of public indifference.

Jim Dickinson, a producer (Big Star) and musician (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), wrote in his notes to Get With It that Feathers' music "remains a life-long compulsion, an act of blind faith."

"He is a self-taught artist," Dickinson wrote, "homemade and hand-rolled with the rough-edged, rabbit-trap tobacco hanging out both ends."

Feathers is survived by his wife Rosemary, daughter Wanda Van Zandt and sons Ricky and Charles "Bubba" Jr.

Russian Language

Rockabilly Central | Tours | Chicago | Swing | Photos | Articles | Reviews | Movies | Links

Get Smart! lisa wertman marc koch frank loose kansas chicago One For All remotes since 09/16/1999.