Coming from Boston (as their name doesn’t indicate) The Memphis Rockabilly Band is one of the best band to appearin the late 70’s. A dynamite combo made of the great voice of Jeff Spencer, the sparkling guitar of Bill Coover, Terry Bingham on drums and various bass players (including Sarah Brown who later played with Bill Kirchen and Preston Hubbard who joined The Fabulous Thunderbirds and later Nick Curran). Talent knows talent. They soon made a deal with French label Big Beat and released “From Boston To Memphis” on 10" format. This 5 song ep was a good representation of the band : solid rockabilly with classic covers (Curtis Gordon,Rudy Grayzell and Elvis' Baby Let's Play House), one instrumental (Link Wray's Rumble) and “Lindy Rock” written by Jeff Spencer featuring an amazing guitar part by Coover (that's unbelievable the good things you can put into a 2'10" song).
A couple of years later they released a full length LP. And although it was an all covers album, the sound was unmistakably theirs. In their career they have played with legends like Carl Perkins (who said about them “The best Rockabilly band I’ve ever seen”), Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Link Wray and Jack Scott to name but a few.
1986 saw the release of a new record on Blind Pig records, this time with Spencer’s originals which are still favourites in the band’s live set.
But in the late 80’s the band took a break and each of them held a day job. During this period Big Beat record issued the cd “Back To Memphis”, a kind of best of with unreleased songs on it too.
Finally the band rejoined in 2005, toured Europe, released a DVD “In Vergèze” and they now have a new album out “Rock, Roll, and Rhythm” featuring five new Spencer’s originals. Both are on Big Beat and “Rock, Roll, and Rhythm” is also available on Itunes.
And be sure there’s still a lot of good things coming from The Memphis Rockabilly Band.

Fred "Virgil" Turgis


From left to right Milt Sutton, Jeff Spencer, Paul Justice and Bill Coover.

  Do you remember the first rockabilly/rock’n’roll record you’ve heard ?
I think the first rockabilly record I heard was Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes." I bought it. If you listen to it today, it still rocks.

When did you decide to sing? What did appeal to you in rockabilly?
I never sang or played any instrument till I took up guitar at 25. By 29 I was playing guitar in a blues band called "Rocket 88." I then took over the band as the singer. (Sadly, that was the end of my being a serious guitar student, since I had to sing and manage the band.) We played Chicago blues and 50's r&b, and a few rockabilly tunes. The band broke up and I decided to do rockabilly.

Who are your favourite artists and who would you cite as influence?
My early main influence is of course Elvis. Next would be Carl Perkins, Hank Williams, Jimmy Reed, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the Moonglows, the Platters and Ray Charles. Later I got into Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and a lot of other blues players. My biggest influence on guitar was Robert Jr. Lockwood.

The Memphis Rockabilly Band was formed in 1978. How did you meet Bill Coover and decide to form a band?
I was living with a great blues band called "Powerhouse," and the guitar player was my guitar teacher: Tom Principato. (He plays alot in Europe these days). One of our roomates knew Bill. Bill liked the old Elvis rockabilly tunes, and the roomate told Bill that I sang some of that stuff, so Bill and I met. I played Bill some Link Wray instrumentals the first time we met, and when I saw him next, he had them all down.
So we started found a bass player and drummer, rehearsed, and started playing gigs as the Memphis Rockabilly Band. Mostly we played country & western bars. The only accomodation we made was to play more slow songs than usual. At that point, Johnny Nicholas (from Rhode Island) and the Rhythm Rockers
broke up. (They were also Big Walter Horton's band.) We acquired both Sarah Brown on bass (now in Austin, Tx) and Terry Bingham on drums. We began playing the blues bars a lot, and things happened fast after that. We became one of the top bands in Boston.

The majority of your recordings (with the exception of Betty Jean) were released on Big Beat. How did a band from Boston end on a French label?
If I remember correctly, my wife of French grandparents got a contact to Jacky Chalard, and we sent him a tape.

Talking about France, you did a great show on national TV called “Bop’n’Roll Party”. Do you remember this one?
The "Bop 'n Roll Party" was shot in Jan, 1982 in Paris. I had been sick for several weeks, and was just getting over it when we left for Paris. My memory of the event is personally painful, because I lost much of my voice by the end of the soundcheck. So when I hear the audio, I can hear myself struggling more & more. But that's just my perspective. It was fun other than that.

Your first lp “Bertha Lou” was made of covers. You later proved to be a solid songwriter, so was it a wish of the label ?
"Bertha Lou" on Big Beat was our first attempt to do an album. We produced it ourselves, and I expect we would have done better with a producer who knew what they were doing. We added the older tape of "Lindy Rock," which was my first original. I had written a few more by that time, but we didn't record them.
I enjoy writing songs, and have done so since the beginning. I'd write more, but I seldom find the time to sit down and do it. I have more we will be recording soon, I hope. Some I wrote in the 80's, some are new.

Your second one, “Betty Jean” on Blind Pig showed a slight change with self penned songs and new styles with a bit of country and Mexican flavour…
Blind Pig didn't pay for us to record; they mostly just took our demo tapes and some older stuff and made an album. I never cared much for it. We never recorded again.

In the late 80’s/early 90’s the band took a break. Why, and were you still playing music during this period?
I quit playing altogether in Jan. 1989. I sold my guitars and amplifiers. I did not sing or play a note, nor did I go into a bar for over 11 years. I got a job, had a child. Most people I knew never knew I played music. I never played a note until I got separated from my wife. I bought a Roland digital audio workstation and started fooling around. I wrote "1 Ain't Dead" in 2000. I started jamming with people and sitting in with bands I knew. Eventually, Bill and I got together because there was, according to Jacky Chalard, a market for us in Europe. Bass player Paul Justice had been in a Boston band "Fat City" for 25 years, but had left it, so I recruited him. When we went to play in Vergeze in 2005, we were very much a new band, and we didn't know how it would go. We were very warmly received, and I hope that was the start of much more play in Europe.

In your career you shared the stage with many legends, do you have special memories, a show that marked you…
There have been many special shows, but it was Carl Perkins who stands out. We did 3 or four shows with him and he was very gracious and complimentary. Unlike Jerry Lee, Carl watched our shows. He had us onto his bus and hung out with us. I was told he put my version of "Ducktails/Lindy Rock" on his home jukebox.

Have you heard of the new rockabilly acts like Big Sandy, High Noon etc. and what do you think of them?
I like them all, but I have never actually seen any of them live.

What is the difference between the late 70’s when you started and today?
What's different now from late 70's/early 80's. The big difference is that back then there was a healthy club scene. We would pack people into a club, and have lines down the street. Now most of the clubs are gone. If a club draws 100 people, that's considered pretty good. There are many reasons for this, but mostly it's that the younger people, 20's and 30's, and even 40 year-olds don't go out as much, and don't support live music, especially roots music.

Lee Rocker had to change the name of one of his album. In Europe it was issued under the name “The Curse Of Rockabilly” but in the USA they renamed it “Racin’ The Devil” because, according to the label the word “rockabilly” was a problem with the radios and wasn’t easy to sell. Did you ever face such a situation with the name “Memphis Rockabilly Band”?
I don't know if having "rockabilly" in the name will hurt us. The chances of getting airplay are nil anyway, now that radio is segmented into oldies, rap, country, and alternative. Roots music can only air on college radio and other very small stations. The internet may be a factor in killing CD sales, and keeping people at home, but it also offers the opportunity to all bands to be discovered by a world audience. Having "rockabilly" in our name may help people discover or find us more easily if they are trying to find rockabilly. I believe we could have appeal to a country audience, but I don't know how to make that happen. We do not have any agents or representation in the USA.

You just have a new album out, still on Big Beat, called “Roll, Rock and Rhythm”. A word about this one…
"Roll, Rock & Rhythm" is comprised mostly of tunes produced on my Roland. 3 tunes were done at Duke Robillard's studio. We have 3 or four more half done at Duke's. We'll record soon, hopefully. Our drummer Milt Sutton may produce one for us too.

It’s a bit of curiosity but the answer is always interesting : what’s in your record player right now?
My records and CDs: I have a large collection of blues and 50's r&b and 50's rock & roll. I didn't start collecting rockabilly as such until I started playing guitar when I was 25. I have tossed out most of my "rock" records, but I spared the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. I listen to Patsy Cline alot.

Do you want to add a last word?
I believe that if we can survive as a band we will be able to produce better and better music.


  Bertha Lou
Big Beat
With a solid rhythm section (including the great Preston Hubbard on double bass) and its two secret weapons (Coover's guitar and Spencer's voice) the band goes through a set of 12 covers: Nervous Breakdown,Sixteen Chicks, Down The Line, Rockin' Daddy, Draggin'. Ernest Tubb's Nearly Lose your Mind features an amazing guitar solo from Bill Coover, and brings a bit of country swing to the mix as The Stroll with sax and piano adds a touch of blues. Some songs later appeared on cd on "Back To Memphis" (BBR 058) but the whole album has, to my knowledge, never been reissued.
    Bop'n'Roll Party
Big Beat
Spencer says in the interview he wasn't in fine form when this show was taped, but when you watch this DVD it's hard to believe him. The Memphis Rockabilly Band litterally steals the show. They perform songs from their records (Lindy Rock, 16 Chicks) a superb rendition of Muleskinner Blues (inspired by The Fendermen version). Spencer stage antics on Cochran's Nervous Breakdown are worth the price of this DVD. Too bad they only play 5 songs, but Big Beat issued another one featuring 24 tunes recorded in January 2005 (with the new rhythm section).