This Friday we’ve chosen 23-year-old country, blues, and rockabilly artist Callum Hyslop as our #creatoroftheweek!
Known as @callumsings_ on Instagram, Callum releases his own unique cover versions of classic country, blues, and rockabilly songs.
These include the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, and many more, Callum is slowly but surely growing a dedicated following of fans; all of whom very much enjoy his cover throwbacks to the artists who laid the foundations for the music of today.
A passionate musician who also runs his own music blog here, I met up with Callum over Zoom to find out where his love for this legendary era of music began and talk more about his instrumental talent.
How did you get into country, blues, and rockabilly?
“I had a CD player when I was a kid and my first country-related CD was a Johnny Cash medley of songs, it was a really good little CD.
I remember downloading it onto my Samsung Toko Lite and listening to it on repeat while I was delivering newspapers.
It was grand to listen to that and from there it snowballed. I read some articles that Johnny Cash didn't like to be called country and he wanted to be rockabilly so then I got into that.
But then I learned that he wanted to be more country and not rockabilly so my earlier sources weren’t very wise!
Through that, I discovered Carl Perkins, Elvis... I mean everyone knows Elvis, but I delved deeper into his earlier stuff. Blue is just beautiful, I love that saying, that you don't play the blues, you feel it.
B.B King, Robert Johnson, and Stevie Ray Vaugn they've all got different levels of how much they go into it and it all just sounds beautiful!”
As an avid blues fan myself, it was here that we began to share our love for this music and I mentioned my favourite blues artist, John Lee Hooker.
He was an American blues guitarist best known for his track “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” a classic drinking song for many blues advocates.
“Oh yeah! Oh god yeah! Everyone knows John Lee Hooker. Lightnin Hopkins, Freddy King, even some of the Stones, The Rolling Stones.
But then I got into playing guitar, obviously, country and western music is the easiest to play, it's more rhythm guitar that I play and it's just nice after a long day to go and play guitar and chill out.
But I like the old stuff, I like classic country, I don't like all this pop country. I like the 60s stuff, Roger Miller, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves. I like the earlier stuff with the blue yodeler, which is Jimmy Rogers, the Carter Family...
The 80s with Dwight Yoakam, I actually had the guy who is the protégé of Dwight Yoaham and I have been having a really good crack with him saying that I should get through to Vegas.
I’ve had Roger Miller's son Dean Miller offer to produce me. But I don't have the confidence for that, I’ve just started out! But he was like if you ever wanna do that, let me know and I'll produce you, which is pretty sick.”
It all comes from that first Johnny Cash CD that I had when I was a kid."
So if you don't like pop country so much what are you saying to likes of Taylor Swift?”
“Taylor Swift's earlier stuff is country, I like some of it but the more modern I literally do not listen to it cause it is not country.
It's nice that it's breaking barriers, I mean it happened back in the 60s, like Patsy Cline she was the Nashville sound and they were trying to get into pop.
Pop music back then was Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin so country music was trying to lean into more strings. So if you listen to Patsy Cline's “Crazy” and Jim Reeves’ “Distant Drums” it's more strings than steel guitars and that's what's called the Nashville sound
So that was the original pop and back in the 60s, everyone was like argh that's not country. Whereas now to me, that is country, whereas this stuff blending over into Radio 1 with Radio 1's dance anthems- it doesn't belong there.
That's my personal opinion, but maybe saying it doesn't belong there is a strong one!
Everyone's got their own personal taste and obviously, times have changed but then I feel like I'm the one person in Cumbria that's like no that's not country music! It's not! Like a mad man on his soapbox, but yeah Taylor Swift is alright, her earlier stuff is good"
"I like the old stuff, I like classic country, I don't like all this pop country."
Who are your three biggest inspirations that made you want to start playing this kind of music?
“Jesus! See Johnny Cash is a good influence, he has a song for every emotion but it's got to the point now where I know every song, I know every chord. I suppose that's good because if I didn't know that I wouldn't have learned how to play the guitar!'
I also like Dean Martin, he's just cool. If you watch the clips, he's surrounded by booze, women and he's just having a great time, he doesn't care if he messes up the lines.
For the third one, Carl Perkins- the original king of rockabilly. He influenced The Beatles, he influenced Elvis, that's the reason I play one of my guitars because it's like his guitar.
The riffs, the simple riffs on his guitar, I know a couple but not a lot because it's mainly rhythm that iIdo.”
See, without these original cats you wouldn't have music like it is today.”
How many guitars do you have and what are they?
“Not expensive ones, there is one I own and it's my pride and joy. I left a job last year and I thought, 'I'm gonna treat myself' so I bought a nice Gretsch, I couldn't tell you the model number off my head but it's a nice cherry red Gretsch guitar.
“At the time I was listening to Chet Atkins and Bo Diddley. I thought, 'they're pretty cool' and I bought it and it's so good! When you whack it up on full and play it, it's so nice.
My first guitar was the one that my grandad gave me, he got it off a guy at work. So my grandad learned on that guitar and then he bought a new one so he said listen, you can have this one.
He also gave me the guitar strap and said he used to smoke and play the guitar and because he used to smoke and play the guitar the strap smells of him- he doesn't live up here, so it's nice to have that little thing.
It's a Yamaha guitar, all black, I put some nice strings on there so it sounds bluesy. Nice thin strings, I like to tune that into open D and play some Elmo James on that bad boy.
“I have another one which I swapped for an Ibanez. It was a bright blue Ibanez guitar and it didn't suit my look. So I got this nice driftwood colour, really, it's not even a make or a brand it's nothing major so that's another one...
I also have an electro-acoustic. That's a nice one. But that's not a brand or anything like that, it's not a Fender, it's not a strat, it's nothing major.
I have a little one that I bought with my own money that wasn't donated or swapped. That's not even a brand. I got it from Billy Bowmans in Cockermouth.
Billy Bowmans is a very well renowned musical instrument shop in Cumbria and one that I have been to many times myself and can personally recommend! #shoplocal
So every time I go to Cockermouth to get picks or new equipment I have to stop, I have to get my girlfriend to drag me out of the shop. I’ve always wanted a Martin guitar and that's what I'm working towards next, a nice Martin or a nice Fender maybe."
Have you ever considered playing any other instruments like the banjo or the harmonica?
“I play a little bit of the harmonica bluesy wise. I'm not musical, I've never done music. I was too busy playing with the DJ keyboard in music back in school, I'm so bad at music. I've recorded a couple of songs and while I'm there I don't understand timing, I don't understand beats cause I've been used to playing my way.
To go into an environment where I'm being told you're off count or you're not doing that right it's like hmm okay? Where do you go from here?
But don't get me wrong, it's a great experience and I love going in. But it's also finding people I can relate to because I don't know anyone who plays the type of stuff that I do.
I literally just play the guitar and a bit of the harmonica when I can play along. I've got one of those Bob Dylan neck braces and I’m sat there like I can't keep my timing, so I'm just blowing into the harmonica while I’m strumming the guitar and I need to change the harmonica and I end up having a conversation with myself in the head going- 'no that's wrong'!
I'd love to play the fiddle and I'd love to play the keyboard. I haven't got the fingerpicking skills to play the banjo yet.”
Where would you say your singing style comes from?
“I can't sing haha! I can't sing to save my life. No, yeah everyone can sing but nobody likes the sound of their own voice.
So when I go into the recording studio I sit down and I try not to imitate people, you try to be yourself. But then you find yourself doing all the mannerisms that they do.
But like singing style, I sing in a lower tone because of the way my voice is, I can't hit those high notes. I try to sing in E or sometimes I'm in G. So like Dean Martin is quite low, Johnny Cash is low but then I tried to do Hank Williams which is quite high up there.
But definitely, more low, low range, I don't know the musical term, I don't even know what that is!”
"I’ve had Roger Miller's son Dean Miller offer to produce me. But I don't have the confidence for that, I’ve just started out!"
Have you ever got involved with local folk musicians in Cumbria?
“I wouldn't know where to start. I have tried, I'm part of a music in Cumbria page on Facebook and I put on anybody interested in country music? Or I'm looking for a fiddle player or I'm looking for a steel guitar player and nothing.
I wouldn't even know where to start and obviously, I want to because it's nice to speak to other people who are passionate about folk, country, and blues.
I can't think of a single person around here who does that kind of thing.
There's Miss Dee and the Mustangs, they do rockabilly stuff and I've seen them, they are amazing. I've played with them once, it was my mams wedding and I played there. That's when I got the thrill of being in a band. It's great! I try to go see them every time they’re playing in town.
But it's more like an indie scene, rock scene, there's nothing really bluesy I can't think of like a blues band.”
Have you ever played live in a pub or a club?
“No, I'd love to. There's an open mic night at the Wheatsheaf in Egremont that they used to do. I went once and took my guitar like a nervous schoolboy walking in with my guitar. Then they were like would you like to get up and I was like nah you're alright thank you!
My approach to playing live was to do a couple of records, dish them out to family, friends, people you know. Get them to listen to it, get a bit of feedback, do stuff like this, and then see if I have the courage.
Do it the old way rather than just walking in and being like yes! I can play music, give me that microphone, I wanna put the feelers out first.
Yeah, I'd love to do it, but then as well the equipment costs a lot of money! If your lead goes that's another £30 down the drain or if your amp goes, you snap strings that's like £17 for new strings. It's an expensive hobby, but it's definitely a hobby I'd love to do."
"Blue is just beautiful, I love that saying, that you don't play the blues, you feel it."
Would you say your confidence holds you back?
“Oh god definitely! If I could get up, have a couple of drinks beforehand I'd do it fine but then you know I'd mess up. I mean I've sang, we have a festival at our house every year, a gathering of loads of people.
This year we had a local artist called Tom Taylor, he's a family friend. He fetched all his equipment and then later on in the night, I was drunk as a skunk and they were like get up do a song!
So I got up and sang Blue Suede Shoes and my guitar tutor was there so he was playing the Gretsch and I was playing the rhythm guitar and it sounded really good but Jesus Christ I was sweaty afterward!
I was so nervous I was like Lee Evans, then Tom came running up and was like go and sit down and get a drink and I was like yeah that sounds about right."
Can we expect any original music anytime soon?
“Oh, I can’t song write, like I said I'm not musically talented. I’ve tried, my rhyming is like the ability of a five-year-old, the cat sat on the mat eating a bat, no ones gonna buy that!
I've tried to think of little lyrics and I've tried to put a tune to them and I just can’t. I've even asked people to write me a song because I can put a melody to them no problem but I can't write a song. It's just something I've always struggled with.
I've even tried doing it the old way, getting drunk and trying to think of right. Let's do this, let's think of a song to write but nothing coming, it's fine just leave it. But that songwriters session at Soundwave is maybe something to go to and just sit in at.”
Thank you very much to Callum for coming and speaking with me, make sure you check out his work over on his Instagram @callumsings_
If Callum has inspired you to buy a guitar, he is currently selling one for £250 on Facebook. Readers are encouraged to message him on Instagram if interested.