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ROCKET SCIENCE

A new Bear Family compilation, Narvel Felts Rocks, explores the country/rockabilly singer’s musical roots. Vintage Rock learns of a remarkable and varied career – from the man himself…

Precious few 1950s rockabillies possessed pipes as powerful as those of Narvel Felts. That became apparent during the 70s, when Felts crashed the US country hit parade again and again (he just missed topping the charts in 1975 with his soaring revival of Johnny Adams’ soul ballad Reconsider Me). That same vocal confidence was also there during his early career, as confirmed by Narvel Felts Rocks, Bear Family’s new CD overview of the singer’s rockabilly exploits.

Felts has never disguised his rock and roll roots. “I do the occasional rockabilly festival,” he says. “I did Viva Las Vegas last year, and I did Hemsby in 2017… and I also did that Nashville Boogie last year, too. I always thought the business would retire me, that sometime I’d look out there and there wouldn’t be anything. But it hasn’t happened so far!”

BORN OUTSIDE OF Keiser, Arkansas, Felts found his calling as a youth. “When I was in the sixth grade, there was a guy in my class named JW Grubbs,” he says. “He had a guitar, he played and sung a few songs. And me and him became buddies.

“I traded my BB gun to his brother for the old guitar he had. It was an old Gene Autry guitar, and the neck had been broken off. So it had been put back on with two screws and some baling wire wrapped real tight, and then a Prince Albert Tobacco can nailed on it. I learned to do my basic chords there.” In 1953, the Felts family moved to near Powe, Missouri, and Narvel acquired a new, better guitar a year later, purchasing it from Sears, Roebuck with $15.95 that he’d earned picking cotton.

Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb were his early heroes, but rock and roll seduced the teen. “When That’s All Right Mama by Elvis came along, I really liked that and I learned it,” he says. “When Baby Let’s Play House came along, then Maybellene and Rock Around The Clock, they got my attention.

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