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Good Rockin Saturday Night! - (Feb, 17th 2000)
by Amy Finch
Jan Svensson's been gone on early American rock 'n' roll since he was 8 and first heard Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." After that, the Swede, who has fronted Wildfire Willie and the Ramblers for 14 years, was destined to grow into a passionate proponent of primitive late-'50s musical goodies. Svensson mines that treasure trove for inspiration - he writes most Ramblers' songs, many of which could double as Sun Studios time-travelers. The Ramblers also covers songs by Roy Orbison and Charles Feathers, among others.
By phone from Sweden, Svensson characterizes the Ramblers' style as "1956, 1957 rockabilly," but the band burns it up beyond those confines: Sometimes it's hard to decide when the "-abilly" morphs into "'n' roll." Svensson first visited the United States in 1993, when he and some friends plowed through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas, soaking up the culture that begat the music. His second visit was in 1995, when he won a trip to Memphis through a Swedish newspaper contest for "best-dressed '50s style"; there wasn't much competition.
"On that trip I made a point to meet as many of the old guys as I could," he says. By that he means guys who were present at the genesis: Feathers; singer Doug Poindexter (who was with Bill Black and Scotty Moore before they played with Elvis); Jimmie Lott (drummer for Warren Smith, and the first to record with Elvis); and Roland Janes (a guitarist with Billy Lee Riley's Little Green Men and with Jerry Lee Lewis).
"When I come to the States," Svensson says, "the main thing to me is to meet all the old guys, because they're not going to be around forever." Saturday night, the main thing is to go to T.T. the Bear's, where the Ramblers play a rare US show. Also on the bill are the Bourbonaires (it's their CD release) and the Raging Teens (who admire the Ramblers enough to have organized and paid for this US visit, which includes a New York City show Friday).