The Sun Session-The Rock Road Ramblers.
Recorded 09/01/2019 Sun Studio, Memphis. Released: 2019 on streaming platforms and released on CD available from the band https://jonnyandlynnette.com/rocky-road-ramblers/ Mixed and Produced by Boz Boorer (from the Polecats) Reviewed by-Terry Mead 09/09/2023.
The Sun Session-The Rocky Road Ramblers are a traditional four-piece Country/Rockabilly band based near Newark, England. They are a family made up of husband & wife, daughter, and wife’s younger brother. Jonny and Lynnette have become a winning formula on the country music scene since they combined their solo careers to become a duo back in 2009 and since then have never looked back, winning both solo and duo awards.
Then, with their passion and love for traditional country and rockabilly music, The Rocky Road Ramblers were formed.
They initially got together for a one-off show at Walesby’s Golden Buckle festival in the summer of 2017 and from that performance one thing led to another and the band found themselves on the road heading north to the Broken Spoke festival and the rest is history.
The band consist of: Jonny Williams- Lead & harmony vocals, rhythm & lead guitar (Piano on 12). Lynnette Maire- Lead & harmony vocals, double bass. Adrian Marsh-Lead guitar, steel lap. Sophie O’ Shea-Drums This is the second album from the band, the previous one being ‘In The Jailhouse Now”. Along with this, they have released numerous DVD’s which are available from their website. The album consists of twelve covers from various well-known Sun artists and a track that contains various out tracks from the session.
So, let’s review this album ironically recorded at the legendary Sun Studio:
Night Train To Memphis – So here we go straight off with a track originally done by Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys in 1942. Formally more of a gospel song, this version is Rockabilly for the first cord with the Sun studio acoustics to give it further taste.
Big River- No need for an introduction about who wrote this none other than the legendary Johnny Cash in 1958 and released on Sun records. This is a great cover with Jonny’s vocals in comparison to old J.C.’S and the tempo of the beat the correct pace, defiantly a crowd pleaser live.
Rock n Roll Ruby- Warren Smith’s 1956 Sun recording and boy what a tune and this version doesn’t fail to please love the echo and mix with some superb guitar licks thrown in.
Forever Yours- Moving onto Carl Perkins 1957 recording of this lovely ballad sung here by Lynnette in true Perkins style, a perfect smoochy track to end the night.
My Baby Left Me- Originally recorded by Arthur Crudup in 1950 but made famous by The King aka Elvis Presley Rockin’ it up as a B-side to “I Want You’ I Need You’ I Love You in 1956 and here The Ramblers some sixty years later have pushed it to the limits again with this electric version which right from the familiar intro will have you moving and grooving.
Matchbox- Another Carl Perkins Sun recording from 1957 and although numerous artists have recorded it in and out of the Rockin’ scene how many have recorded it in the legendary studio of Sun and this track has the edge having done just that another great rendition from the session.
Hey Porter- Early Johnny Cash recording from 1954 , superb rendition with Lynnette singing this time and giving it plenty of slap. The sound on this production is so crisp and the beat is on parallel to J.C.’Ss original recording.
Honey Don’t- Triple helping of Carl from 1956 that old bopping classic and Jonny will have you doing just that with this terrific cover that dots all the I’s and crosses all the t’s .Spot on with the intro and beat throughout.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky- Bluegrass musician Bill Monroe’s 1945 waltz tune which was ramped up by Elvis in 1954 which he turned into a bluesy Rocker which wasn’t received well when he performed it at The Grand Opry. The Ramblers have recreated this sound that Elvis produced back then and cut another gem from this session, has all the ingredient’s musically to honour those legends The Blue Moon Boys who rocked it up back then.
End Of The Road- Recorded by the Million Dollar Quartet during that famous session in 1956 and was the B-side to Jerry Lee’s first single ‘Crazy Arms’ this bouncy jolly version has a deep vocal sound backed by a musical accompaniment that adjusts without the use of a piano which was so dynamic on the original version. There are some great guitar licks that break the verses up to but for me the vocals by Jonny here have captured the pitch that Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny created.
Keep Me In Mind- From Jerry Lee Lewis’s 2014 album ‘Rock n Roll Time’. A lovely ballad from Lynnette that will have you hitting the dance floor with your true love, Jonny joins in on backing vocals to produce some harmonising which caresses the song along.
Down The Line- And I’m afraid we have come to the end of the line, Go Go Go (Down The Line) written and recorded by the Late Roy Orbison and The Teen Kings. This track comes complete with Jonny playing the piano Jerry Lee style so a neat boogie woogie number to end with toned down from the big O’s raw original.
To summarise: Having experienced a tour round the Sun Studios some years ago you certainly get the vibes from his mecca of a place, and I don’t mind admitting I left with a tear of emotion in my eye. So, to have the chance to record an album there must have been such a momentous task in getting the production and sounding right. But I feel they have achieved this and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening and writing about the songs which transform you back there. It’s a great selection to from Rockers, Country to serenading ballads but then its all-Rock n Roll. Grab a listen to it sometime it’s a time warp.
Listen to ‘My Baby Left Me’ on YouTube from the session: https://youtu.be/F92pN8osWW8?si=EQw6Oi6eRqyEMOHd
Bio from The Sun Session: The following piece is by Jonny, who originally wanted to use this as sleeve notes on the CD but as you can see, we'd have needed a 20-page booklet to fit everything in! When I first discovered Rock’n’Roll/Rockabilly music in 1982 as a 15-year-old schoolboy it grabbed me like no other music I’d ever heard before. This was a new music to me that I soon learned was called ‘rockabilly’ hitting the UK charts, the bands with their quiffs, bright clothes and amazing sound soon took over my life, I lived and breathed this wonderful sounding music.
I soon had a firm favourite ‘The Polecats’. I played their album ‘Polecats are go’ so much I literally wore it out. Being naturally inquisitive I started digging and wanted to know more about this amazingly simple, yet powerful music and it wasn’t long before I learned that the roots of this sound started out in the 1940s & 50s. Back in the 80s of course there wasn’t the internet, I had to ask older people who were around in the ‘olden days’ about this music that was known as ‘rock ’n’ roll. It was actually my dad that offered up names such as Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I bought a Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard album from a school friend who wanted 50p for them to buy cigarettes - I found out later they were his father's and ‘he wouldn’t mind’.
I loved Little Richard, but Jerry Lee Lewis blew me away, I couldn’t get enough of him, and I searched local record shops for his stuff. After buying his albums and discovering other artists such as Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Warren Smith and Elvis Presley I soon became aware that they’d all recorded at a little studio in Memphis, Tennessee called Sun Records owned by the legendary Sam Phillips.
To me this was the Mecca of Rock 'n 'Roll music, the melting pot fusing blues, country, hillbilly, and gospel, thus creating this amazing music. This was where it all started! I could only envisage what it must have been like.
The studio closed down and moved to other premises on Madison Avenue in the early 60s and eventually ceased trading in 1969.
The original studio re-opened in 1987 under new ownership as a museum and then started to record again.
Fast forward to May 2018 when I found out a friend of mine recorded a couple of songs there and after an email to him to ask about it he simply said ‘Jon., you’ve got to do it’.
I spoke to my daughter, our drummer and asked her ‘what do you think about doing an album in Memphis at Sun studio next year?’. She never even questioned it and said ‘absolutely ! We’ve got to do it’.
I just had to convince Lynnette who I knew would think her husband was having a mid-life crisis (maybe I was) and of course we needed to speak to Adrian who took no persuading at all!
A meeting was held the next day and it was agreed we’d go in January 2019. The studio was booked, the flights were booked, the accommodation ... we were really doing this!
The build-up through 2018 was a mixture of emotions, from excitement to nerves, to would we actually achieve this once in a lifetime opportunity.
For me personally, although it was on my bucket list, I never thought for one minute this dream would come true.
We arrived at the studio for the last museum tour of the day at 5.30pm which was amazing, everything and more than I expected, we just soaked up the history and atmosphere of the place. I couldn’t believe I was standing in the room where Elvis recorded his first songs, where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Johnny Cash recorded Folsom Prison Blues, the list goes on.
As the other people from the tour left, the doors were locked and the engineers turned up to set the room up, the atmosphere calm, yet intense, with huge pictures of my heroes on the walls watching over me, I knew I was in safe hands.
The set up took around 90 minutes or so and we discussed arrangements, songs and chose our instruments from the vast array of acoustic and electric guitars. Lynnette used a 1940’s Kay double bass and Sophie had to 'make do' with the drum kit left behind by Irish band U2!
Me? Well, I used Marty Stuart’s Martin D-28 that he’d donated to the studio and for one song only the studio piano that Jerry Lee Lewis used on later recordings, Adrian chose a Gibson ES225.
At 8.30pm we started our long-awaited session. Now, all of us are no strangers to a recording studio and what happens during the recording process but what was about to happen none of us were really prepared for. I noticed there were no headphones in sight (for those reading this who are not familiar with recording, each musician usually has their own set of headphones so they can hear everything clearly in the mix, the singer will want to hear their vocals for pitch and delivery, the guitarist his part and so on) we didn't have any., the engineer simply said 'they didn't use them in the 50s!' So that was that!
It was pretty difficult to begin with just singing into a microphone with nothing coming out of it (the signal goes straight to the tape) we weren't sure if we were in tune, if we were playing the right notes even. I thought this isn't going to end well but after a few run throughs we settled into it and it became natural and off we went, Sophie and Adrian soon became experts at lip reading! Midway through we had a very short break when Ples, one of the engineers returned from a quick trip with some local Memphis beers to sample, then we were back at it.
By 11.40pm were all done with 12 songs in the can.