Rockabilly Pioneer Jack Scott Passes

By Robert K. Oermann

Country, pop and rockabilly singer-songwriter Jack Scott has died at age 83.

Long a cult favorite among record collectors, Scott originated such country classics as “Burning Bridges” and “What In the World’s Come Over You.” He was among the first to record a tribute album of Hank Williams songs.

Born Giovanni Scafone Jr. in Windsor, Ontario, he moved to the Detroit area with his family when he was 10. As a teenager, he formed a country band called The Southern Drifters and began singing the hits of Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams in the honky-tonks of Michigan and Ontario.

When Elvis Presley exploded in popularity in 1956, Jack Scott became a rockabilly convert. In 1957, he recorded the bopping “Baby She’s Gone,” and it became a hit in the Detroit area. The song remains a favorite with rockabilly aficionados, and Scott opened his shows with it throughout his life.

Scott retitled his rockabilly scorcher “Greaseball” to become “Leroy.” That song, paired with the teen ballad “My True Love,” became his first national hit in 1958. During the next five years, Jack Scott would hit the pop charts with 20 titles, almost all of which he solo wrote.

Scott’s singles usually had a hit ballad on one side and a rockabilly tune on the flip. His rockabilly “B-sides” of 1958 also included “Geraldine” and “Save My Soul.” In early 1959, he scored a second big hit with the doo-wop tune “Goodbye Baby (Bye Bye).”

The backup vocals on this and all of his early hits were sung by The Chantones. They toured with Scott as his version of Presley’s backup singers The Jordanaires. Scott was unusual for the time in that he recorded his own material with his own band.

His next success was 1959’s tough, bluesy “The Way I Walk.” It was later recorded by The Cramps, Robert Gordon, Link Wray, Guitar Wolf, The Swamp Zombies and country’s The Starlight Drifters.

Jack Scott scored a major, top-10 smash with 1960’s “What In the World’s Come Over You.” Sonny James made this song a top-10 country hit in 1975. It has also been revived by Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Wanda Jackson and Tom Jones, among others.

In March 1960, Jack Scott issued his LP I Remember Hank Williams. Widow Audrey Williams hosted the youngster in Nashville.

Scott became one of the first pop stars to sign with SESAC. He utilized much of that organization’s gospel catalog on his 1960 religious album The Spirit Moves Me.

Scott’s second smash of 1960 was “Burning Bridges.” This became a country chestnut, thanks to Glen Campbell’s 1967 revival. “Burning Bridges” has also been recorded by The Mike Curb Congregation, George Jones, Bill Nash and several other country acts.

Also in 1960, Jack Scott issued his version of The Sons of the Pioneers standard “Cool Water.” Other country tunes in his repertoire at the time included “No One Will Ever Know,” “Blues Stay Away From Me” and “Good Deal Lucille.”

He had only moderate successes with “Is There Something on Your Mind” and “What Am I Living For” in 1961. But Scott’s rockabilly tunes were still eagerly sought after by fans.

By the early 1960s, the rockabilly style was fading away. Jack Scott remained with the style much longer than most of his peers, issuing such definitive performances as “Midgie,” “Strange Desire,” “One of These Days,” “Grizzly Bear,” “Baby Baby,” “Go Wild Little Sadie,” and “Cruel World.”

In 1963, Jack Scott was recruited by Berry Gordy to sign with Detroit’s Motown Records. Instead, he signed with Chet Atkins at RCA in Nashville. A string of country singles ensued in 1963-66.

Never enamored with the life of a touring musician, Scott preferred to stay home with his family. He retreated to playing country bars in Detroit.

Meanwhile back in Nashville, Jim Foglesong signed him to Dot Records. In 1974, Scott made the country charts with “You’re Just Gettin’ Better” on Dot.

In 1977, he headlined a rockabilly revival tour of England. He recorded a live rockabilly LP there in 1978, and he maintained his overseas popularity throughout the rest of his career.

He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2004. Scott joined the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011 and issued a comeback CD titled Way to Survive in 2015. He continued to star in rockabilly-revival shows in recent years.

Jack Scott passed away due to congestive heart failure on Dec. 12 in Warren, Michigan.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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