Born Clyde Allen Hendrix in 1934, and inspired by the Grand Ole Opry, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry, Al Hendrix went on to become a legend in the world of Rockabilly. Making his debut on Los Angeles’ Rocket to Stardom Al was well on his way to establishing a name for himself in the world of music. Often playing with Buck Owens in Bill Woods and the Orange Blossom Playboys, Al later went on to be the frontman for Jolly Jody and The Go Daddies. After the song Monkey Bites was banned from some radio stations for being too risque in 1962, Al went on to perform in various mediums around Bakersfield with is band Al and The Country Mixers. Al’s work in the industry won him the recognition of Rockabilly Legend by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2008. Time Life recently partnered with him to digitally release seven albums featuring a 107 of Al’s most iconic songs.
Can you tell us a little about you earliest days? Where are you from and what are some of your most fond memories of those times?
I was born in Miami Florida on 11/12/1934. I spent my childhood in FL, CA, GA and when I was 13 we moved to Odessa TX. I loved to fish, ride my bike, gigging frogs and playing the guitar.
When did you first discover your love of music? Do you happen to remember what your very first favorite song was like?
My momma loved the Grand Ole Opry. We listened to it every Saturday night and she would make homemade French fries and hamburgers. My momma encouraged me to learn the guitar and sing. Home on the Range by Gene Autry was the first song that I learned to play on the guitar.
What do you enjoy most about making music?
Pleasing people with my songs!
Who were some of your earliest influences? What about their work spoke to you most?
Hank Williams, Sr, Ernest Tubbs, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Red Foley and Roy Acuff. I loved Hank Williams, Sr – his voice, the way he wrote his songs and performed, he was a very exceptional entertainer. He encouraged my way of writing songs and inspired me to sing from my heart.
Do you remember when you first met Buck Owens? Can you tell us a little about that moment in time?
It was in September of 1956 at The Black Board Café in Bakersfield, CA. One Saturday night I asked Billy Woods if I could sing a few songs. Billy was the band leader and Buck worked for him as his lead guitar player. That is how I met Buck and we became friends. Buck wrote a song called Hot Dog and he wanted me to record it, so I recorded it on the Tally Label. However, Louis Tally and Buck decided not to release it. Then several years later Buck recorded it under the name of “Corky Jones.”
What was he like as a person? What are some of your most fond memories of working with him?
Buck and I got along very well. We didn’t buddy around, we were friends though our music. Buck always liked backing me up when I sang. We joked about the scar on his upper lip – I told him that he should get it fixed when he got famous. We also joked about the girl at the hot dog stand. He never would tell who she was or where she worked, he said that if he told me I would probably try to take her out and I probably would have. (laughs) Buck also wanted me to teach him my back stroke on the rhythm guitar. I told him no because he would steal it.
Looking back over the course of your career are there any moments that stand out most in your mind?
In 1952 I won the High School talent contest in Odessa, Texas and the trophy is still there! That same year I won a countywide contest in Midland, Texas. Leon Payne, who was known as “The Blind Troubadour” band, backed me up and I sang Hank Williams, Sr’s song, Lonesome Whistle. I brought home $50.00 and gave it to my Mom, she was so proud of me. The next day Leon Payne came to my house and wanted me to go on tour with him and his band, but my mom said NO, that I was too young. ‘And what about his schooling,’ she asked and Leon told her he would hire the best tutors for me and she still said NO! Then in 1960, I signed a contract with Herb Monte and Phil LaGree. Herb booked me to appear on Wink Martindale’s Pacific Ocean Beach TV Show which was known as the West Coast American Bandstand. Herb had a heart attack and died, and that was the end, or so I thought. Then in 2008, Bob Timmers nominated me to be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. What an honor that was! In 2010, I was one of the headliners at Viva Las Vegas at The Orleans Casino and Hotel with Jerry Lee Lewis. He played at the car show on Saturday afternoon and I did Sunday night in the Grand Ballroom. In September of 2013, I was invited to headline the four-day High Rockabilly Festival in Calafell, Spain. Then in May of 2014, I headlined the Hemsby Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekender in the UK.
How do you think the music industry has changed most since you first began working in it? The music industry has changed tremendously. When I was younger you could understand the lyrics! Rock ‘n Roll is nothing like it was when I was singing. It is now called Rockabilly, when I think it was really Rockabilly. Alan Freed was the one that termed it ROCK ‘N ROLL.
What advice would you offer the musicians of tomorrow?
If you love the music and it’s in your soul, stick with it and never, never give up. Develop your own style and try not to imitate someone else’s style and enter as many talent shows as possible.
What did it feel like to be recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2008? Why do you think that particular genre has withstood the test of time?
It was an amazing feeling to know that I was recognized to be inducted in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. When Bob Timmers called and told me, I didn’t know what to say other than “Thank you so much.” This has opened doors for me! I think “Rockabilly” has lasted so long because it is Rock ‘N Roll and Country music combined. When you go to any Rockabilly Festival you feel like you are stepping back to the 50’s and 60s, everyone is dressed like we did when we were young.
Can you tell us a little more about the collaboration with Time Life? Are you excited to be able to offer up 107 songs in digital format?
A good friend of mine who is a DJ by the name of Scott Wikle introduced me to Kirt Webster, who is now my PR man, got the ball rolling and what trip it is going to be.I am very excited to have 107 of my songs being heard all over the world.
Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into being?
Yes, I want to write and sing a gospel album.I already have one song written, the title is Flicker of the Flame.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
At my age all I can say is stay true to your upbringing and God! Having faith is everything. You don’t think too much about it when you are young, but it is very important when you get older.
How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
I would like to be remembered by my loved ones and fans as someone who has touched their lives in some way!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yes, I want to thank you again for this interview and remember: “Never Stop Rockin,” it will keep you YOUNG AND WILD.
Al Hendrix, America’s Lost Rocker