If you're into "authentic" rockabilly the name of Craig "Bones" Maki is without a doubt familiar to you. Involved in rockin' music for years as a DJ, journalist (he wrote some good article for Marc Fenech's Southern & Rocking Music magazine) and of course musician. At first with The Big Barn Combo (they released one great album produced by Jimmy Sutton) then as Bones Maki and The Sundodgers a rockabilly trio with a country edge with the talent of Kenny Bruce (ex Big Barn Combo) and guitarist extraordinaire Graham Tichy son of John Tichy of Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen fame. Together they produced two of the best recordings I ever had the chance to hear in that genre, as high in my own pantheon as High Noon, Roy Kay Trio and Willie Lewis.
Craig also runs his own label Woodward Records on which he issued his recordings but also albums and singles by veterans Edie Jackson and Marv Weyer and reissue of older material like Al Allen and Lonnie Baron.

by Fred "Virgil" Turgis

What kind of music did you grow up with?

A lot of pop music from the 1930s and 1940s (grandparents) and 1950s and 1960s (parents). Also remember hearing a lot of symphonic music, particularly from the early 20th century. I heard country and bluegrass on the radio once in a while. My dad’s parents were children of Finnish immigrants, and they were active members of singing groups in Michigan. My grandma enjoyed big band music and Bill Haley and the Comets. I was always taking some kind of music lessons while growing up — piano, trombone (school band). Funny thing was, no one could make me understand the importance of scales and keys until I was older. Finally learned how to play rhythm guitar from Eddie Jackson and Marv Weyer.

You once said the “Sin Alley” album had a big impact on you …
Getting my driver’s license when I turned 16 was a big deal. I grew up in a small town outside of Detroit, so when I was old enough to drive a car, I started making weekly rounds of record shops around the suburbs. Sam’s Jams in Ferndale was one of the coolest, wildest record stores. I remember seeing the Ronnie Dawson “Rockin’ Bones” LP when I bought “Sin Alley Vol. 1” -- who knew that 5 years later I’d meet the man himself! When I heard the “Sin Alley” album, I realized that you couldn’t call that music “oldies but goodies” because they were completely unknown to me or my parents. So I took a leap of faith and decided that the album had music that could be appreciated and celebrated as if it had been recorded last week! It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered that other people felt likewise about rock’n’roll in the pages of Kicks magazine. If I had to choose one LP to take to a desert island, that would be it, daddy-o!

What did appeal to you in rock’n’roll and rockabilly?
I was too young to know about 1970s punk rock when it came out. But when I was a teen-ager, hearing punk remakes of 1950s songs led me to track down the originals. I liked the energy in punk music, but as a red-blooded American boy growing up at the edge of farm country, I identified more with the delivery of the original 1950s records. There was something about the mix of blues and country music that got to me — especially after hitting my teens. Suddenly I understood rock’n’roll in a primal, emotional way. In high school I got interested in James Dean’s movies and traveled to Fairmount a few times (long before the Rockabilly Rebel Weekenders started). It was during James Dean Days that I found my first Eddie Cochran LP. In high school my friends and I listened to my mom and dad’s “Oldies But Goodies” albums, surf rock (Jan and Dean, early Beach Boys), Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran and Detroit’s “Oldies” AM radio station. At that time (without the Internet!) we were a little isolated in our village.

Tell us about your radio show …
The last show that really took off was the “Rock-Billy Roll Call” at WDTR-FM in Detroit. From 1995 to 1999 I was on the air for 2 hours every week, and it was a blast. I announced and engineered every show and took phone calls live in the studio. I felt very connected to the listeners, and the feeling kept me going every week. I received calls and letters from people of all ages, which I took to mean that the music had some kind of timeless appeal. I sent lots of tapes of the programs to record companies in the US and Europe, and most responded by sending records to play on the show. It was a real thrill to hear from the kats overseas, telling me that they dug the tapes I mailed, because I knew that they had more access to the old music than I did!

And you also had this newsletter you did with Dave Stuckey. What was in it and did you ever think about putting it online?
When I discovered that the radio station would pay postage costs for mailing a newsletter, I assembled a crude layout on one side of an 8.5x11-inch sheet of paper and solicited addresses from my listeners. Over 100 people wrote in to receive it monthly. I also sent one to Dave Stuckey, who I met through the mail by becoming a genuine member of the Dave & Deke Combo’s Stump-Jumpers Club. Dave surprised me by offering to fill the back of my newsletter page with crazy hillbilly cartoons and Pappy’s musings about West Coast happenings. I folded the sheets in their envelopes so that people would see Dave’s side first — I preferred his work to mine! My side of the newsletter kept listeners up-to-date with Detroit-area show listings, history lessons, local music features, and record reviews.

How did you evolve from a rockabilly fan to a rockabilly musician?
It wasn’t easy! When I was in high school, I sang a few rock’n’roll tunes with a band of some older guys I knew. Two guitars and drums. When they graduated, they quit playing together. We had a decent sound, but no name and no gigs. I finally bought myself an acoustic guitar a few years later and started fooling around with it. After Shaun Young heard me sing at an informal barbecue in Texas, he encouraged me to keep at it. Then I met Eddie Jackson and Marv Weyer, and they taught me how to chord like old western swing and jazz rhythm players (although I’m no jazz player). In the meantime, I met some musicians who listened to my radio shows and eventually talked them into letting me jam with them. At the end of the first session, I was told “You’re in the band!” That was the start of the Big Barn Combo (1995).

The state of Michigan has a rich musical history with many small labels. Did it have an influence on you. I mean when you started digging, did you favour Michigan’s label rather than, say, King or Sun?
Yes, records on Fortune were a big inspiration. They still are. Then I started meeting the musicians who actually made the records, and I jammed with some of them ... Plus Jack Earls, a Sun artist of the highest caliber, also lives here. So if you cross the Fortune sound with the Sun sound ... Well, that’s what I was looking for with the Big Barn Combo. I decided to go with the drumless Sun Dodgers after a period of listening to a lot of bluegrass, western swing and Eddie Jackson.

One important person in your musical development was Eddie Jackson. Tell us a bit about your relation and how did you meet him?
Eddie could be called a mentor to me. He was a mentor to a lot of musicians who worked with him during the 50 years of his career. I met Eddie over the telephone, after he heard that I was playing his old records on the radio. I met him face to face at a bar on 8 Mile Road in 1995, along with several of his friends, where they were playing music. After that, he invited me to a lot of parties where he and his buddies, including guitarist Marv Weyer, jammed all afternoon, or all night long. Those parties were more fun than I can describe. You can’t imagine the music, stories and booze that flowed! Anyway, when I assembled his LP on Woodward Records, he thought I was joking ... Until I brought him test pressings! He couldn’t believe how well the record sold, and it was a thrill for me to help him make new recordings. Eddie was amazed by, and thankful for, the crowds that came to the shows that I helped to book for him. He showed me how he led his bands, coached me on my singing and showed me the secrets of his guitar playing. A man who lived to laugh, Eddie Jackson was one of the kindest, most joyful human beings I ever met, and everyone who knew him misses him very much. And his music lives on: My daughter’s number one request when I get my guitar is “Rock And Roll Baby.”

You even made him to record again. How did it happen?
Eddie pulled an unfinished song out of his hat during one afternoon, along with some lesser-known and forgotten songs he borrowed from others. The unfinished number turned into “A Musician’s Life.” Eddie had a hard time remembering the words during the taping, so when he finally got through it without making a mistake, he grinned at me, and you can hear him singing through that grin at the end of the song. The recording sessions were done live in Eddie’s basement, and we had a ball from start to finish.

Tell us more about Marv Weyer who is present on some of those recordings …
Marv grew up in Pontiac. He admitted that he was a teen-aged hoodlum during the late 1950s — he surrounded himself in sharp clothes, sharp cars, and with sharp girls. The only thing he took seriously was playing the guitar. And by the time he was in high school, Marv was working on playing Django Reinhardt tunes. At the same time, he performed every week with Nick & the Jaguars for a few years. They cut an instrumental record for Tamla with two guitars and drums that could have nearly scared Link Wray off stage. Marv joined the Marines and went through a few tours of duty in Vietnam before ending his military service in California. He played with the Mandrell family band out there, and jammed with Joe Maphis and Merle Travis during some of those shows. He found his way to Nashville during the late 1960s and played with Barbara Mandrell, Ray Price and others. When he left Nashville in the 1970s, Marv returned to Michigan and played with Eddie Jackson, off and on, until Eddie died in 2002. Marv is also a very friendly, outgoing person who helped me quite a bit with the guitar.

Another “key figure” is Willie Lewis. You even wrote a song called “Willie”…
Willie was a good friend who hipped me to a lot of things, and introduced me to a lot of great people. He was another mentor/advisor figure in my life, teaching me about the state of the music business and how rockabilly fit into the scheme of the 1990s; besides record collecting, and how to appreciate a good-looking label on a 45 rpm disk. It fascinated me to hear all about the Rock-A-Billy Record Company’s trials and tribulations. I’ve heard people try to discredit Willie, but knowing both sides of some stories, I think Willie had the clearest, most logical mind. And more often than not, he sought to promote rockabilly music in general, before his own music. He wasn’t above changing his perspective, to analyze things from several angles. He seemed open to communicating and talking things through. Besides that, I dug his taste in offbeat music. Willie wasn’t just a musician/promoter/record company businessman — he always made sure to let people know that he was a fan of rockabilly music. He told me several times that it saved his life.

Rockabilly is a very codified type of music. How much of a problem is it to “respect” the genre when you write a song? I mean : did you ever think “No, that’s too modern” or “Oh! Looks like I’m writing Baby Let’s Play House”…
I’ve written some things that I thought might be too modern, but I don’t worry about it. I try to find a sound that feels natural to me. I’ve been listening to old music all my life, and rockabilly music for about half of it. And I’ve been immersed in Michigan country and rock’n’roll music for 15 years. If I find a song starting to sound like another that I’ve heard before, I shift gears and try to change it. I try to make my songs sound different from each other.

Will there be more recordings from The Sun Dodgers soon?
Hope so!

One last word?
Thanks very much to everyone I’ve met and talked with over the years. I’ve been lucky to accomplish some dreams of mine, and it wouldn’t have been possible without y’all. I learned a long time ago that I’m most comfortable around people who enjoy music, so I’ll be around. Have a ball!

More infos about Bones on myspace.


  Big Barn Combo - Comin' All The Ways From Detroit
Brilliant and wild authentic rockabilly and rock'n'roll produced by the talented Jimmy Sutton (Four Charms, Mighty Blue Kings). 10 self penned songs and two covers.

    Bones Maki and the Sundodgers
More on the hillbilly side of the rockabilly, Craig Maki now plays in this drumless trio with guitar wizard Graham Tichy. If you like High Noon, Roy Kay Trio and Willie Lewis stuff this one is for you. Once again brilliant songwriting from Craig.