Psychobilly fashion combines elements of punk with 1950s
Greaser and British Teddy Boy fashions. Brothel creepers are frequently
worn, as well as leather jackets, gas-station shirts, black or white
retro T-shirts, dark-colored drape jackets and vintage motorcycle/work
boots. Hair consists of a quiff, pompadour or psychobilly wedge, usually
with the sides shaved into a mohawk.
Clothing is usually adorned with motifs inspired by classic American
horror films or art-styles inspired by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. This
subculture is strongly associated with the Kustom Kulture movement.
In the mid- to late 1970s, as punk rock became popular, several
rockabilly and garage rock bands appeared who would influence the
development of psychobilly. The term "psychobilly" was first used in the
lyrics to the country song "One Piece at a Time", written by Wayne Kemp
for Johnny Cash, which was a Top 10 hit in the United States in 1976.
The lyrics describe the construction of a "psychobilly Cadillac using
stolen auto parts." The rock band The Cramps, who formed in Sacramento,
California in 1972 and relocated to New York in 1975 where they became
part of the city's thriving punk movement, appropriated the term from
the Cash song and described their music as "psychobilly" and "rockabilly
voodoo" on flyers advertising their concerts
Psychobilly is a fusion genre of rock music that mixes
elements of punk rock, rock and roll, rockabilly, and rhythm and blues.
It is one of several subgenres of rockabilly which also include
thrashabilly, punkabilly, surfabilly and gothabilly.
Merriam-Webster defines it as "music that blends punk rock and
rockabilly"; another dictionary defines it as "loud frantic rockabilly
music." It is often played with an upright double bass, instead of
the electric bass which is more common in modern rock music, and the
hollowbody electric guitar, rather than the solid-bodied electric
guitars that predominate in rock. Many psychobilly bands are trios of
electric guitar, upright bass and drums, with one of the
instrumentalists doubling as vocalist.
Psychobilly gained underground popularity in Europe beginning in the
early 1980s, with the UK band The Meteors, but remained largely unknown
in the United States until the late 1990s. The second wave of
psychobilly began with the 1986 release of British band Demented Are
Go's debut album In Sickness & In Health. The genre soon spread
throughout Europe, inspiring a number of new acts such as Mad Sin
(formed in Germany in 1987) and the Nekromantix (formed in Denmark in
1989), who released the album Curse of the Coffin in 1991.
Psychobilly musicians and fans, who are sometimes called "psychos"
often dress in styles that borrow from 1950s rockabilly and rock and
roll, as well as 1970s punk
fashions. Psychobilly band members of both sexes often have prominent
tattoos, often with a vintage theme. Psychobilly "tattoos followed
the same general notions as band designs, being highly influenced by the
same movies. Common tattoos were images of the macabre nature such as
bats, skulls, gravestones, as well as the occasional pin-up doll and
band logo." The goal of the psychobilly scene member is to "live fast,
die young, and leave a (not so) beautiful corpse."
Other aesthetic influences include the scooterboy and skinhead
subcultures, although not all performers or fans choose to dress in
these styles. Scooterboy fashion includes flight jackets,
mechanic's jackets, and motorcycle jackets. "Skinheads brought in things
Doc Martens and pilot jackets ... [and] Punks brought in clothes
such as the leather jacket and tighter clothing[;] Beneath the jacket
was often a band T-shirt or a tartan shirt taken from rockabillies"
Psychos often cut the arms off of their leather jackets, converting them
into vests, and decorate the jackets with horror imagery or band logos.
Men often wear brothel creepers or Dr. Martens boots and shave their
heads into high wedge-shaped pompadours or quiffs, military-style crops,
or mohawks. The Sharks song "Take a Razor to Your Head"
articulated the early psychobilly scene's code of dress, which was a
reaction to the earlier British Teddy Boy movement: Teddy boys had long,
strongly-moulded greased-up hair with a quiff at the front and the side
combed back to form a duck's arse at the rear. The Shark's song said:
"When your Mom says you look really nice / When you're dressed up like a
Ted / It's time to follow this cat's advice / Take a razor to your
head". "Like most hairstyles of the 1980s, things were taken to
the extreme. People [in the psychobilly scene] tried to get their hair
as tall as possible and brought in streaks of strange colors."
In a psychobilly scene "Betties" is the slang term for "Ladies, most
often of the rockabilly and psychobilly persuasion, who emulate ’50s
pinup queen Bettie Page, particularly with the long, wavy, jet-black
hair and supershort “fetish" bangs." "Women also wore tight leggings,
miniskirts, and even tighter clothes." Women of the psychobilly
subculture frequently model their fashions after B-grade horror films
and hot rod culture.
Learn more about various punk fashion
styles from the main page of this section.