“We wore ’50s clothes, we loved ’50s music, we wanted ’50s amps — if it had been possible, we would have been in black and white.” That’s how Dig Wayne, lead singer of the great rockabilly band Buzz and the Flyers, recalled the band’s obsession with all things midcentury. “We even wanted to have one of those great big old microphones ’cause they looked so cool, but they sounded awful. So we got an old one and rewired it so the guts inside were new and the outside was old and fantastic.”
Watch them in 1980 with their big old mic performing “I’m Glad My Baby’s Gone Away.” We dare you not to bop.
Dig grew up near Columbus, Ohio, listening to Charlie Feathers and Gene Vincent but also loving Captain Beefheart and Charlie Parker. When he met guitarist Michael Gene, a guy who shared his eclectic musical tastes, they decided to start a band. “Michael put an ad in the Columbus paper looking for musicians with an interest in rockabilly,” Wayne said. “These two cats from Kentucky answered, so we went down to meet them.”
The two turned out to be Levi Dexter and Smutty Smiff of the Rockats. They had come from London at the behest of their manager, Leee Black Childers. Having run out of money, they were staying at Leee’s farm in Lexington.
“We talked about how we would take New York by storm someday,” Dig Wayne remembered. It would be almost a year before they did. “I sold my 1960 Studebaker for $600 and left Ohio for New York.” He got a job at the punk clothing store Trash & Vaudeville and started looking for musicians, but he couldn’t find a guitarist like Michael Gene, so he convinced his pal to come East. They picked up a bassist and drummer and started rehearsing. They cranked out songs, with Dig writing lyrics and Michael writing melodies.
“We played places like Max’s and Tier 3. And of course, I saw Levi and the Rockats when they played their first gig that year in New York with The Cramps. You knew something exciting was happening here.”
When a British promoter offered them a UK tour, they jumped at the opportunity. “We were basically just playing to a punk audience in New York,” Wayne said. “When we got to London, we went to our gig at the Royalton Ballroom and saw 100 kids dressed in head-to-toe rockabilly style. Those English kids didn’t just get a t-shirt with a band’s name on it and call it a day. If they were into something, they lived it 24/7 whether it was punk or rockabilly or whatever. They loved us because we were Americans and had authentic vintage clothes. Most of their clothes were sort of reproductions.”
The band continued doing gigs until 1982 when Dig moved to London to front another new wave group, JoBoxers. The band enjoyed top 10 hits in the UK with songs like “I Got Lucky.” But that ended, too, and Dig took to the stage, starring in the West End hit, “Five Guys Named Moe.” He now resides in Los Angeles with his family where he works as an actor and photographer. Occasionally, he surfaces with his band, Dig Wayne and the Chiselers, at rockabilly festivals in the US and Europe. We’d love to see them, in living color or ’50s style black and white.
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