Dale Rushing wants Northeast Mississippi to have a Rockabilly Way.
The Mississippi House has passed a bill (HB0907) that would designate a section of Old Highway 45 in Lee, Prentiss and Alcorn counties as “Rockabilly Way.”
The Senate now considers the bill.
The new name would pay tribute to a historic style of music and tie Mississippi to the highway as its goes north into McNairy County and north through West Tennessee.
Jackson, Tenn., is home to the Rockabilly Museum.
Rockabilly is a style of music blending country music and rhythm and blues. It first started in the early 1950s and has roots in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama.
“Rockabilly is a form of the blues,” said Rushing, a singer in the band Rust Bucket Roadies, who performs rockabilly, blues and “Miss.-Americana” music. “Music with roots in Mississippi,” he said.
Rushing is a Mooreville resident, but has family history both in Alcorn and McNairy counties. He grew up in those two counties and still has family there.
Rushing is one of the men behind the idea along with Rep. Randy Boyd of Mantachie.
He said the highway is important to the state’s history.
“We need to embrace our past,” said Rushing. “This part of the world was responsible for many changes - not just music - but culture itself.”
Several events happened all along the road where people would perform, Rushing said.
“They would stop in Corinth, Booneville and Tupelo. There was a radio program, called ‘Wildcat Jamboree’, that had Rockabilly artists stop in Corinth to perform a show,” he said.
Artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis popularized rockabilly, with many of these artists recording labels in Memphis, Corinth, Jackson and Booneville, noted Rushing.
“I know many people who recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis,” he said.
Rushing remembers as a child the Corinth Jubilee celebration in the 1970s and a performance by “Jumping” Gene Simmons of Mantachie, not the performer from Kiss.
“Let’s tell these stories up and down Highway 45,” he said.
If the bill passes, “Rockabilly Way” would apply to the road that stretches from the Tennessee state line to Interstate 22 in Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis.
“Tennessee tried to get Mississippi involved when they were working on a similar project, but the state wasn’t interested,” Rushing said. “Mississippi dropped the ball. Now we are trying to build a storyline for Rockabilly’s history.”
Rushing said there are plenty of plans for the highway, such as wall murals in towns along the road.
Selmer, Tenn. has embraced the Rockabilly Highway concept with signage and huge downtown murals. There is an annual Rockabilly Festival and the town even has a Rockabilly Cafe.
“They have had success with bringing people from all over to see those murals,” Rushing said. “We would love to do something like that with the highway, where people could stop in Corinth and Booneville and see these beautiful wall murals.”
There are several state representatives on board for the bill, according to Rushing. He and those involved are hopeful the bill passes through the Senate.
State Rep. Nick Bain of Corinth said he is in favor of the project and sees the potential benefit.
“I am proud to be a part of the creation of The Rockabilly Highway designation for Old 45. These artists are the heart and soul of our heritage and culture and they deserve all the accolades we can bestow. My hope is this will draw people to Northeast Mississippi for generations to come,” said Bain.
Rushing is pushing for others to join the effort to promote Rockabilly Way.
“I’ve been around the history of the music,” he said. “My hope is that we can share with others what we discovered.”