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"Freaks started coming out of the woodwork," Winski says. "A scene started to develop. Record collectors started coming around. Most of them geeks. Flat-out geeks. But we all talked the secret lingo of rockabilly," Winski says, cupping his hand over his mouth. "We were the secret fraternity of rockabilly."
One Fifties idol that both Weiser and Winski respected was Texan Ray Campi. At this time, standup bassist Campi had been out of music for years, and copies of his long-out-of-print singles like "Caterpillar" and "Scrumptious Baby" were selling for as much as $250. Weiser and Winski were startled by the chance discovery that Campi was teaching school in L.A. and lived two blocks from Weiser. The duo promptly paid him a visit, and their enthusiasm rekindled Campi's interest in music and he agreed to record a single for Weiser's new label, Rollin' Rock Records.
The recording session in Weiser's living room went so well that Campi decided to form a band called the Rockabilly Rebels. The 15-year-old Winski became one of the band's two hip-shakin' guitar players. The other was Billy Zoom, who later found fame in the Blasters.
It was this band that backed Winski on his first record. Again cut in Weiser's living room to give it the raw, authentic feel they all felt was necessary for "real" rockabilly, Winski's debut was an EP whose lead track was an old tune called "Squeaky Shoes." To get the squeaking noise that forms the song's distinctive background, Weiser rubbed the arms of Gene Vincent's leather jacket, which he left to his greatest fan, Ronnie Weiser, when he died.
The Rockabilly Rebels received their baptism of fire in Austin, Texas. Living in a house owned by Campi's father, the band stayed in Austin long enough to play the Fillmore West of Texas musical history, the Armadillo World Headquarters, and to film a segment of PBS' Austin City Limits. The band also found time to do a cameo (as musicians) in a rockabilly porno film, Teenage Cruisers.
Winski cut two albums with Campi, Born to Rock in 1977 and Wildcat Shakeout in 1979. The second album was on Radar Records, a spin-off of Elvis Costello's Stiff Records. By that time, however, egos had begun to tear the band apart. When Campi nixed an offer from Radar to allow Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe to produce the band's next album, Winski and the new guitarist, Jerry Sikorski, quit the band.
"Man, we thought, Nick Lowe producing! We can't lose," Winski says. "It was a stupid move to turn it down. Look what happened next. Along come the Stray Cats, Dave Edmunds snaps them up and bang! They're stars."
Winski and Sikorski formed their own band, the Rebels, which quickly landed opening slots on a Tom Petty tour and for a series of Clash dates on the West Coast. The brief history of the Rebels is unremarkable except for one night in Vancouver, British Columbia. "The night after the Clash tour ended, our agency called and asked if we wanted to make some money cause Judas Priest needed an opening act. We were arrogant and stupid, so of course we said 'Yes,'" Winski says. "We came out dressed like hillbillies. People were booing. But there were a few friendly faces in the front who were boogieing and getting off on the fact that this was a bizarre opening act. "The Clash was in the wings watching. I didn't like the crowd's mean reactions, so at the end of our set, I was yelling, 'Fuck you.' Mick Jones came out and put his arm around me and walked me offstage. It was kind of like, 'You'd better get off before they kill you.'"
That year, Takoma Records called Winski and uttered the words he wanted to hear: solo album. When Sikorski didn't like the idea, he and Winski split. Winski then rounded up a group of studio musicians led by Ventures guitarist Jerry Magee and cut the high-water mark of his career, Rock Therapy. Prized by rockabilly collectors for its wild energy and classic, snarling cover art, the album sold well in Europe and Japan, but died a quick death here at home.
Rock Therapy was also undercut by the Stray Cats, who first appeared on the British charts in 1980. As buzz about the Cats built, Winski and other rockabilly players found more work. But it soon became apparent that no one except the cartoonish Stray Cats would realize any serious cash from this minirevival. At the same time, L.A.'s New Wave scene--with bands like X, the Blasters and Los Lobos--was gaining momentum. Although Winski tried to cash in by penning some X-ish songs, his heart wasn't in it. When the rockabilly craze was pronounced dead in the mid-Eighties, Winski felt lost.
"In Campi's band, someone always took care of the business, the bookings, took care of everything. I was thrust into a role of trying to do all that and I was totally unprepared. It got depresssing. "For me, L.A. became drugs, depression and self-hate. By 85 I couldn't even face going out to a gig. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do Rock Therapy anymore. I didn't want to get up there and be Mister Wiggle anymore. I felt like everybody in L.A. had seen what I do and I wasn't growing. So I escaped."
That's when Colin and Nina Winski moved in with her parents in Phoenix.
"This marriage has survived some hard-ass times," Winski says of their 16-year-old union. Part of the reason it's endured is that like Colin, Nina is also a rockabilly persona. A collector of vintage clothes and memorabilia, Nina recently learned that she's contracted lupus.