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Culture 0

Arkansas Rockabilly: The Silvershakers


For the recent success of Northwest Arkansas rockabilly band The Silvershakers, you can credit several things: Facebook, a burlesque show, a bit of dogged determination and perhaps a renewed interest in all things vintage.

First, the burlesque show. Husband-and-wife duo Tara and Matt Norwood often watched the live entertainment at Bear’s Place in south Fayetteville. Tara had even performed there as backing vocalist in the Brick Fields blues band. With a burlesque show scheduled a few months away, the booking agent at the venue approached Tara. ‘We’re really wanting a female rock show, and you sing,’ she told Tara.

Tara and Matt talked it over. They really wanted to do it, so they said yes. They had a gig, but no band and no songs. Which, as you might guess, was problematic.

Matt, a drummer, was working with bassist Mark Scharf in a rockabilly side project. And Scharf, who had also spent some time working with the Brick Fields Band, had for a long time been encouraging Tara to sing lead on a project. So that was a start.

While Tara cruised the internet looking for songs that fit her low alto to tenor vocal range, Matt worked to fill in the missing pieces. Their first guitarist, while good, had too much of a ‘90s indie rock vibe. Tara hoped to create something that would be a soundtrack for the burlesque show, something like the YouTube channel/band Postmodern Jukebox.

The Silvershakers / Courtesy photo, Jeremy Scott Photography

Matt, fired up about the upcoming gig, posted something to Facebook to brag about booking a gig but did not explicitly seek musicians. A friend offered to play guitar anyway if the position hadn’t been filled. That friend, Mike Rickard, wasn’t much of a rockabilly guitarist, either. Or at least not on the surface. He was trained as a blues guitarist but was working with a Cajun band. Those influences, sped up and coupled with a booming rhythm section, brought everything together. “You add a little thumpity thump, and you’ve got rockabilly,” Tara said.

The first gig was a success, and now, more than a year later, they are gearing up for what is likely the most exciting month in the band’s 18-month history. On Friday night, the band will release their debut album, “Barely Scrapin’ By,” at a concert at George’s Majestic Lounge. In a couple weeks, they’ll pack up their things and play at a Retro Festival in France.

Rockabilly was the sound the Norwoods had been looking for all along, even if Tara’s original inclination was for a jazzier approach. She wasn’t exactly stranger to rockabilly. Matt played in the rockabilly side project with Scharf, and she discovered rockabilly backwards, she said. Instead of first landing there via the genre’s pioneers, those such as Johnny Cash or Buddy Holly, she listened to some of the punk and psychobilly artists influenced by those forerunners. Perhaps as a result, there’s a bit more of the Pixies or even Weird Al in The Silvershakers’ sound than some rockabilly acts. That gets added to more traditional rockabilly acts, and other classic vocalists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Brown and Etta James.

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Dustin Bartholomew is the co-founder of Fayetteville Flyer, an online publication covering all things news, art and life in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 2007. A graduate of the Department of English at the University of Arkansas and a lifelong resident of the area, he still lives in east Fayetteville with his son Hudson, daughter Evelyn, his wife Brandy, and his two dogs Lily and Steve. On occasion, he tickles the ivories in a local band called The Good Fear.

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