Rockabilly veteran Matt Lucas, born in Memphis in 1935, grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and while still in grade school began hanging out in jukes and learning the rudiments of blues and jazz drumming. In his early teens he tried to run away from home in a cement mixer he’d stolen, a trip that ended with a 14-month stay in the Missouri Training School for Boys–after which he hit the road in earnest, playing both white and black venues from Watts to East Saint Louis to Calumet City. In 1963 his storming cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 country-and-western smash “I’m Movin’ On” landed on the pop charts, and though he never scored another hit, throughout the 60s his singles continued in the same deliriously unhinged mode: on tunes like Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” (on Dot) and his own “The Motor City Twine” (released on Karen in 1965, and much indebted to Chicago soulster Alvin Cash’s “Twine Time”), Lucas sang like a man possessed, whooping, gasping, hiccuping, and sometimes even clicking his tongue to imitate a car with bad lifters. Today, despite decades on the Saturday-night-special circuit, a long struggle with alcoholism, at least one heart attack, and a handful of go-nowhere record deals, he sounds as driven as ever, and his clear voice doesn’t seem to have aged ten years since ’63. Lucas’s new self-released disc, Shockabilly, features riotous covers of rockabilly classics like Carl Perkins’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Honey Don’t,” as well as such R & B standards as the Drifters’ “Money Honey” and Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” His vocal monkeyshines still recall the playful adolescent machismo of rockabilly pioneers like Charlie Feathers, but his tone, sinewy yet silken soft, evokes R & B “cry singers” like Jackie Wilson and Roy Brown. For this gig he’ll be accompanied by the Chicago Blues All-Stars, and though their drummer, Bob Carter, plays with admirable power and finesse, I hope Lucas takes a turn on the skins himself: his propulsive but delicate ride-cymbal technique, which bespeaks his early jazz experience, remains one of the most identifiable and satisfying aspects of his music. Friday and Saturday, December 21 and 22, 10 PM, Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division; 773-772-6656.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Hollis.