Once a month, Piper Down echoes with rock n’ roll music that defined the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The event behind the music is called Salt Lake Rockabilly Presents. It is a themed club night with live bands and both digital and vinyl DJ’s spinning original Rockabilly, Doo Wop, R&B, Hillbilly, Western Swing and more. It is hosted by Paul “Woody” Woodmansey and Jon Grippe. Woodmansey collaborative partnership with Grippe began shortly after moving to Utah from England. “Jon was one of the first Rockabilly people I met here in Salt Lake and he had been putting on shows over the past decade or so.” Woodmansey says, “He had contacts with the owner of Piper Down and we decided that it would be a good place to start a regular night for Rockabilly music.”
Before moving to Utah, Woodmansey had been playing music for over thirty years. His youth was well spent listening to his parent’s record collection, where he was introduced to rockabilly music. In 1986, he joined the Royal Navy and would eventually serve as an engineer aboard the HMS Ariadne. He says, “Joining the Armed Forces was something I always wanted to do from a child. So, when I was old enough I joined up to serve my country.”
During this time Woodmansey met his future wife Maryann at a The Cropdusters and The Men They Couldn’t Hang concert in Portsmouth, England. After hitting it off, Maryann would later be instrumental in Woodmansey’s pursuit of playing music. Woodmansey says, “That was back in 1988 when a bunch of friends started up a Psychobilly band and I saw an Upright bass in a store window. ‘Ahhhhhh’ I said that’s what I wanted play. Maryann bought it for me with her student grant check and the rest is history.”
From there Woodmansey played in several bands, such as the psychobilly group called ‘Depraved’. Further into his musical career, he performed as a stand in bass player for quite a few of the Rockabilly bands in the UK. Woodmansey even played with some of the original 1950’s recording artists when they toured like Scotty Moore, Jack Scott, Johnny Powers, Gene Summers and Rocky Burnette.
Many years later, Woodmansey found him and his family in Utah. Although it was a work related move, Woodmansey had previously visited the Utah and was enamored with the Beehive State. This was partly due to becoming active in the local music scene. “Music has made me appreciate all artists and how much they put into what they do. I have become a much more humble person through what I have done playing Rockabilly,” says Woodmansey. “I guess doing what I have done with playing Rockabilly music has definitely helped me integrating with the people of Salt Lake and this will be my future life and home.”
In Utah, Woodmansey soon joined up Jerry Cochran &The Salt Flat Trio and Fairly Sparks & His Wayfarring Stranger. Woodmansey met Jerry Cochran through a mutual friend Robert Williams aka Big Sandy. After a few months of chatting, Jerry Cochran & the Salt Flat Trio formed. Woodmansey later met Faurly Sparks at a jam at Wasatch Musician. Sparks, who was impressed with Woodmansey’s style of playing, asked him to join up and play bluegrass. Speaking of playing in two bands, Woodmansey says, “The two styles of band are quite different, yet similar in the in the fact that they are both roots Americana. I enjoy playing for both bands and both styles, although I do play the same style of Upright playing and have fun doing it.”
In addition to performing with bands, Woodmansey began establishing rockabilly themed club nights in the Salt Lake Valley. On January 27, 2017, he debuted the Domino Rock n’ Roll at the Eagle Lodge in Murray. He says, “I was contacted by a couple from a jive club wondering if I wanted to dj for their dance club. I agreed and tried to expand it to the Rockin’ crowd.” Unfortunately, the night in Murray failed to attract a significant following.
According to Woodmansey, unlike in Europe where nights like these are many during the week and typically garner the support of a larger more concentrated subcultural scene, in Utah the music scene isn’t as big or concentrated. Not to mention due to alcohol related laws people under the age of 21 are not allowed attending bar club nights. Thus limiting who can participate and be influenced by the music. Speaking of some of these cultural differences between Utah and Europe Woodmansey says, “I guess that with the drinking age being 18 in Europe this also opens up live music to the teenagers where Rockabilly stemmed from in the first place.”
Despite this brief set back, Woodmansey was not deterred. Rethinking his strategy, he says, “After speaking to people on the scene, they preferred it to be a night with live music. After taking the advice we had bands play with dj’s playing rockin music in-between.” With that in mind, Woodmansey collaborated with Grippe—with the support of owner Dave Morris— to establish Salt Lake Rockabilly Presents at Piper Down. With first Salt Lake Rockabilly starting on January 28, 2018, the night has shown to boast impressive line-ups that attract a diverse audience. “Well, due to there not being too many Rockabilly bands here in the Valley, we will be putting of regular shows with local bands,” says Woodmansey “There is a wide variety of people seem to come along to them. Hardcore Rockabillies, Punk Rockers, Hot Rodders, the average Joe and you might even see a Mod turn up now and then…” Bands that play SLC Rockabilly Present include The Rhythm Combo, Buck Cash, Jerry Cochran & Salt Flat Trio and even guest appearances from Rockabilly Hall of Fame recipient Hal Holiday from Three Aces and A Joker.
On the DJ side of the nights, SLC Rockabilly Presents has benefited from DJ Natashas keen digital selection and from records spun by Grippe and Woodmansey—who recently built a DJ coffin draped in “cowskin”— as well as the occasional guest DJ. Speaking of his DJing, Woodmansey plays whatever will make one’s foot tap.” Well I try to play what people would enjoy to hear. I have a collection of original 50’s Rockabilly music and ranging up to the modern day bands.” He says, “There are a lot of facets to Rockabilly which include Hillbilly, Western Swing, R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll, so I play pretty much all of them.” Records that one might hear Billy Haley & The Comets “Rock Around The Clock,” Charlie Feathers “That Certain Female” or even “Rock Billy Boogie” by Johnny Burnette.
The future looks bright for Salt Lake Rockabilly Presents. On June 29th Salt Lake Rockabilly Presents will boast the talents of Wild Records’ own Elvis Cantu. Woodmansey says, “We have Elvis Cantú from Texas and Wild Records artist playing with local Jerry Cochran and the Salt Flat Trio playing and backing him up. We also have the 3 top rockin dj’s spinning, Natasha, Jon and the marvelous Nix Beat.” SLC Rockabilly Presents is only $5 to attend and is open to the public. It is a 21 + event located at Piper Down an Olde World Pub on 1492 S State Street in Salt Lake City.