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Staff by Day...Rockabilly Cat by Night

News Story

University Relations' Peter Sikowitz is getting back to his musical roots and rock 'n' roll's, as a guitarist in rockabilly bands.

By day he’s Peter R. Sikowitz, chief of content and creative and general manager in the Office of University Relations. But nights and weekends he’s something else entirely: a guitarist in a rockabilly band.

Sikowitz, who started playing professionally while in his teens, recently plugged in again, answering ads on Craigslist for bands of that ilk seeking a guitarist. He’s currently playing in two that specialize in early rock and roll that combined country or “hillbilly” music, blues, swing, and rhythm and blues, with a dash of gospel. The founding fathers were the young Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the music was later revived by bands like the Stray Cats in the 1980s. The sound is still going strong and still attracts a passionate following in the United States and Europe, including many fans who dress in the fashions of the 1950s.  

“I think a lot of us eventually reconnect to the things we liked to do when we were younger,” he says of his return to music. “It’s been great to come back to it from a comfort point of view, but also to explore playing, performing, and distributing music in the digital age.”

Sikowitz played in a different genre, new wave, following his graduation from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. He and his future wife, Lisa, a bass player, performed around the Boston area for four years before trading the club scene for careers in publishing. “At 25 we decided we were too old for this,” he recalls.

After working as a writer and editor for publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and Men’s Fitness, he moved into custom publishing at Time Inc., then into content marketing at Studio One. He came to Pace in the fall of 2013.

Though his day and night jobs might seem like, well, night and day, Sikowitz says he learned a lot about management while playing in bands. “It’s a matter of listening to people, respecting where they’re coming from—even though they often come from completely different places—and working hard to come up with solutions that go beyond mere compromise to be genuinely better as a result of collective input and teamwork.”

Not that that’s always easy with creative types. In fact, his wife has suggested a name for one of his next rockabilly bands: Herding Cats.

Want to add some rockabilly tunes to your playlist? Sikowitz shared some of his favorite artists in this Opportunitas exclusive:

Pete’s Picks

1. Anyone on Sun records. “During the 1950s, Sam Phillips’ small, Memphis-based label featured early recordings from blues and rhythm-and-blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and Ike Turner. But the label was more commonly known as Ground Zero for early rock and roll from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. If you haven’t already done so, or if you only know these artists by their later works, check out their essential Sun recordings, which created the basic rock and roll syntax (sub-three-minute format, heavy country, blues and R&B influences, upbeat tempos, sneering, cool hair, attitude, etc.), which is still intact to this day.” 

2. Charlie Feathers. “Feathers began as a session musician at Sun Studios, playing practically any instrument he could in the hopes of getting swept up in Elvis’ slipstream. Although he never got nearly that far, his recordings are memorable, and few rock and roll artists of any era could rival Feathers for the pain, passion, and raw emotion he put into his recordings.”

3. Wanda Jackson. “In the 1950s, country-flavored Jackson dated Elvis, who encouraged her to get more involved in the new sound. The biggest hit of ‘The First Lady of Rockabilly’ was probably Let’s Have a Party in 1960, but she continued to record for years after, teaming up with Jack White for a series of performances during the past couple of years (she was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009). A good example of her style can be seen here:”

4. Brian Setzer. “In the 1980s, the virtuoso guitarist Setzer, along with his group, the Stray Cats, almost single-handedly revived the rockabilly style of music. After many years (and albums) leading The Brian Setzer Orchestra, he recently returned to his rockabilly roots with the release of the smokin’ album, Rockabilly Riot.”

5. The Reverend Horton Heat. “Pushing the rockabilly edge further than Setzer (and perhaps anyone else, for that matter), Heat, aka Jim Heath, plays a more contemporary and extreme version of the genre. In well-trod territory, his style is extremely original, combining primal rock and roll, country, western swing, punk, jazz, and more, usually all within the same song. His latest album, Rev, was released earlier this year.”