Bob Luman, Red Hot Texas Rockabilly
Bob Luman (Carnival Rock)

BOB LUMAN, born in Blackjack, Texas on April 15, 1937, was an outlaw before outlaws were in vogue, seldom betraying his rockabilly roots and upsetting country music traditionalists by sprinkling his performances with Rhythm & Blues classics. Luman grew up on his father's farm where he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on a Battery radio. A promising baseball player, he rejected a trial with the Pittsburgh Pirates after watching Elvis Presley on a local one-nighter. Thereafter, Luman's highschool hillbilly band dropped the songs of Lefty Frizzell and aimed instead for the Sun sound. This was achieved in 1955 when, accompanied by Mac Curtis' band, Luman made his first recordings for Dallas-based songwriter, Jim Shell. The following year he replaced Johnny Cash on the Louisiana Hayride and in 1957 he signed up with Imperial where his records appeared first in the 8000 country series.

All Night Long, from Luman's first Imperial session, featured a band he'd assembled in Shreveport, including James Burton (guitar) - he'd already played the hypnotic tiff on Dale Hawkins' Susie Q - James Kirkland (bass) and Butch White (drums). They performed the song in the Roger Corman film "Carnival Rock", and it was issued on the flip of Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache. A later session produced Red Hot, a number associated with Sun artists Billy Emerson and Billy Lee Riley. Luman's version had considerable influence on rock and roll's progression; Ricky Nelson heard it while sitting in Lew Chudd's office. "I heard this voice and a band playing, particularly an unbelievable guitarplayer", Nelson recalled. "That was rock 'n' roll as far as I was concerned". Thereafter, Burton and Kirkland accompanied Nelson on most of his Imperial singles. Red Hot has spawned some incendiary versions (Ronnie Hawkins, Sam The Sham, Robert Gordon) and a few that come close to 'doodly squat'.

Luman formed a new band and took his riotous stage act to the Showboat in Las Vegas. According to doowopper Tony Harris: "Luman was a special fellow and a good artist. Duke Ellington was there and he liked Bobby". There were records on Capital in 1958 and Warner Bros in 1959-1962. Lets Think About Living, a light-hearted send-up of the late 5Os cult for necromantic pop, cracked the Top Ten in 1960.

Manager Wesley Rose, an avowed traditionalist, eventually squeezed Luman into mainstream C&W and his career entered a newly successful phase with hits on Hickory, Epic and Polydor. But Luman showed some allegiance to rockabilly upsetting icons like Roy Acuff who advised the singer to keep the "nigger sounds" out of his rhythm-centred and very often blues-influenced C&W.

Luman died of pneumonia on December 27, 1978 after battling with the virus which normally kills only the weak or the elderly. That he'll be most widely remembered for Let's Think About Living is the cruellest quirk of all.

Rockabilly from the vaults of Imperial Records (Bear Family).