To anyone who grew up in an era when there was no shortage of guitar-slinging heroes, it gladdens the heart to see a band like The Joeys find a new means of expression in a form as old and marginalized as rock ’n’ roll seems these days. Even more inspiring — they are first-place winners in Alice Cooper’s Proof Is in the Pudding talent search and will share the stage with the man himself at the Celebrity Theatre. And they won it playing rockabilly, a subgenre that hasn’t seen an uptick in mainstream interest since The Stray Cats in the mid-’80s.
Guitarist Dean Cheney, who is 15 years old, knows rockabilly isn’t exactly on everyone’s speed dial, but he is undeterred. “There’s some rockabilly bands still around that aren’t getting much credit, like Tiger Army, JD McPherson ... but everybody knows rockabilly. Everyone’s heard Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love,’ and that has a huge rockabilly vibe to it. Rockabilly’s the basis for all the rock ’n’ roll came after it.”
And The Joeys play rockabilly with a fervor that you makes you remember rock was once the music of the young made for the young. Cheney’s love of rock legends extends to having an orange Gretsch just like Eddie Cochran and singing into the retro ribbon mics Elvis Presley used to leer into.
But make no mistake, he, 16-year-old drummer Hayden Lamm, and 13-year-old bassist Luci Cormany aren’t a novelty act. Cheney’s ease around the fretboard would make James Burton proud. And the rhythm section is so on the money that it’s hard to believe they didn’t even know what rockabilly was a year ago.
These School of Rock alumni were spotted at a Yucca Tap Room gig by someone who put them in touch with Nashville record producer Jeffrey Teague (Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Joe Diffie). He flew out here to produce two tracks at STEM Studios. Now, he’s flying The Joeys out to Nashville this month for multimedia and imaging sessions, and with impeccable timing — both Cheny and Cormany’s braces just came off in time to win the last round of the Proof Is in the Pudding contest.
Cheney writes all the band’s songs with some input from his dad, Ed Cheney, the fourth Joey if you will. His nurturing of young Dean’s musical taste with The Beatles prompted his son to reach even reaching farther back to the Fab Four’s roots. “I’ve been writing songs since I was 8, but with more purpose in the last three years,” says Dean.
Ed Cheney says, “I don’t have any ability to play an instrument, so all that music comes from Dean. But sometimes I’ll have an idea for a song.”
Case in point: “Phantom Bride of 13 Curves,” the group’s first single, is being released on the same day as the Celebrity Theatre gig so they can call it their release show.
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“In upstate New York, there’s this road called 13 Curves, and two people that just got married got into a crash,” explains Ed Cheney. “Some say you can see a ghost of the bride looking for her husband, and there’s a mysterious light there on the road. Or that you can see an actual image of a face, urban legend type of thing.”
“The cool thing about it was it had cars, ghosts, and the number 13 in it! All the elements to be good rockabilly song,” says Dean. Another song, “I’ll Be Just Fine,” was inspired by a Seinfeld episode. “Planet Z” is The Joeys’ take about how aliens would react when they discovered Chuck Berry in the stash of recorded music Carl Sagan bundled on the Voyager 2.
Between the aliens and The Joeys, rock ’n’ roll would appear to have a foreseeable future.
The Joeys are scheduled to perform at Alice Cooper’s 18th Annual Christmas Pudding Fundraiser on Saturday, December 14, at Celebrity Theatre. The show is sold out.