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Who Hardrock Gunter
What Hardrock Gunter obituary
When March 15, 2013
Where Birmingham, AL

My hero Hardrock Gunter, who has died aged 88, is not usually the first name mentioned in the many histories of rock'n'roll. But in 1950 Gunter cut Birmingham Bounce, a rocked-up country song, a good year before the release of Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88, which is often cited as the first rock'n'roll recording. Another 1950 recording of his contained the line "gonna rock and roll, gonna dance all night".

Gunter can also lay claim to being the first man to cross over from R&B to country, with his version of Sixty Minute Man, which must have made ears redden at the Grand Ole Opry. He had a record out on the Sun label before Elvis Presley and was one of the earliest recording artists to use combinations of echo and overdub heard to spectacular effect on his 1958 recording Boppin' to Grandfather's Clock.

Born Sidney Louie Gunter in Birmingham, Alabama, he earned his unforgettable moniker when, as a 14-year-old, and given the chance to perform with Happy Wilson (a country singer who appeared in Hollywood films), he hurt his head on the lid of a car boot. He didn't turn as much as a hair. "His head's as hard as a rock," commented the astounded Wilson.

Gunter rose to the rank of lieutenant during the second world war and later created a successful insurance firm, still in business. His 1950s recordings did not make Gunter a national star (although Red Foley's cover of Birmingham Bounce was at No 1 for 14 weeks), but his records had a significant impact on the British rockabilly scene of the late 1970s and 80s.

Jukebox Help Me Find My Baby, heavily overdubbed and featuring a vocal imitation of a double-bass solo, was a floor-filler in the clubs, as was the echoing sound of Whoo-I-Mean-Whee. His songs featured on a huge number of often bootlegged compilations and owning anything like an original 45 gave you a few extra inches on your quiff. If you were rocking in 1980, then Gunter was a major figure. For many of us, he still is.

His influence wasn't just felt in old recordings; in the mid-90s he returned to the stage, first in Germany and then in London and latterly in the US to huge acclaim. He was also generous enough to perform and record with the English pop duo Pocketsize. From that meeting, I have a signed picture of him that sits on my mantelpiece, next to the clock.

He is survived by his wife Sheila.

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Contact Matthew Loukes
The Guardian (UK)


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