KINGSPORT — It only took 60 years for Hawkins County rockabilly musician Eddie Skelton to become a huge overnight success in Sweden.
Skelton, who was born and raised in the Goshen Valley community near Church Hill, was a Rockabilly pioneer of the late 1950s with modest hits on that U.S. Billboard Top 100 charts including “My Heart Gets Lonely” (1957), “Keep It Swinging” (1958), and his best-charting single, “Let Me Be With You Forever” (1957), which peaked at No. 46.
Although he never became a household name across the country, Skelton was a household name in the Tri-Cities after performing five times on the Grand Ole Opry; hosting a popular local musical TV show for a decade, first on Ch. 11, and then on Ch. 5; and as a longtime D.J. and radio personality on WKIN and WMCH.
He was also a prolific local music promoter, bringing many of the top rock, country and jazz stars of his era to the Tri-Cities. In fact, Chuck Berry stayed at Skelton’s house several times because Berry wasn’t allowed to stay at local motels due to segregation.
At 87, Skelton still operates a financial services business in downtown Kingsport, and he performs his old hits on weekends, although he admits that most of his gigs these days are senior centers — and funerals.
Apparently, rockabilly is huge in Sweden
That’s why he was shocked last month to receive a call from a Swedish promoter offering him the gig of a lifetime.
Apparently, Rockabilly is huge in Sweden, and Skelton is a big star over there. Some of that country’s top singers are recording Skelton’s old songs.
Unfortunately, he’s not getting paid any royalties for those recordings. But his newfound popularity has earned him a free trip to Sweden to star in a nationally televised New Year’s Eve concert.
“That just came out of the blue,” Skelton told the Times News Friday. “They’ve been playing my records, and they’re doing pretty well over there. They called me to come over and do the New Year’s Eve celebration, and I was kind of reluctant to go. But my grandson said, ‘Let’s go, Papaw.’ So he really talked me into going. We’re leaving for Sweden on Dec. 28 and I’m going to do their New Year’s show for them.”
Skelton added, “It’s crazy but I’m going over there anyways.”
“I don’t know why these songs caught on in Sweden”
His two songs that are getting the most airplay in Sweden are “Just Keep It Swinging” and “My Heart Gets Lonely,” so those are the two songs the Swedes are most looking forward to hearing Skelton perform live.
However, he’s putting together an 80-minute show, so he’ll be performing almost his entire catalog of music.
“I don’t know why these songs caught on in Sweden,” Skelton said. “Somehow they got hold of the records, and some of the artists over there have recorded them. A lady over there has recorded ‘My Heart Gets Lonely’ and it sounds beautiful. I’m not getting any royalties out of it, and I doubt if I will, but there have been several of them record some of the songs that I recorded years ago. I don’t know why they’re catching on over there after all these years.”
“This really has picked him up”
Skelton’s local friends and admirers are glad that he’s finally receiving some long overdue recognition for his music.
Ray Price, who has performed with Skelton for more than 50 years, told the Times News this renaissance in Skelton’s musical career couldn’t have come at a better time.
“His wife passed away in January, then later on his secretary who had been with him for a long time passed away, so he’s been down in the dumps,” Price said. “This concert came along at such a good time, and I can tell such a positive difference in him just in his voice. But he’s in great health and still sings great and plays guitar great. This really has picked him up.”
Price added, “He recorded these songs back when he was real young, and you can go on YouTube and hear the recordings. There’s a couple of songs on there he wrote and recorded, and people over there (in Sweden) are crazy about his old music. They’re crazy about the old rockabilly music over there and they just discovered him.”
“It’s safe and on the up-and-up”
Skelton admits he almost turned the trip down. He thought it might be too good to be true.
Then he got a call from a man from Memphis who convinced him to go.
“He said years ago when Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley were all recording for Sun Studios, he played the bass for all of them,” Skelton said. “He said, ‘The gentleman from Sweden wanted me to call you and explain that it’s safe and on the up-and-up.’ He said, ‘I’ve been over there a couple of times and they treat you good.’ If it hadn’t been for him, I may not have gone, but he convinced me.”
The Swedish promoter will have a band waiting for Skelton when he arrives in Stockholm. They’ll rehearse a couple of days before the concert, and when the show is over Skelton plans to take a European vacation.
Skelton’s grandson Travis Gardner and his wife are traveling with him to Sweden, and after the show they will visit Paris, Amsterdam, and London before returning home.
“I’m excited for my grandson,” Skelton said. “He really wants to see Amsterdam and Paris. They called me up and asked me to come over there to do that concert, and I said, ‘I don't really think I want to do that.’ Then I told my grandson, and he said, ‘Papaw, let’s do it.’ He’s more excited than I am.”