Bobby Joe Swilley, the not-so-hidden treasure Fayetteville has to offer to the music world, is originally from Brandon, Mississippi. Swilley was recently inducted into the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame which is located in Jackson, Tennessee. The museum takes pride in featuring the most influential artists in music history. Rockabilly is a musical blend of gospel, country and blues.


 Swilley’s office is covered in pictures and memorabilia from some of his impressive musical encounters. He has played with several bands, but has played with the same 10 guys for the past 50 years. They travel to meet each other to create music together. The musicians are all from different places in the U.S but still manage to make time for their first love, music. Swilley is known for his rhythm on the drums and his song-writing skills. He entered a song-writing competition in 2002 for the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame and, with all the given criteria they were asking for, he won. His song, was chosen from several international applicants to be the theme song for the Hall of Fame.


Swilley grew up the youngest in a family of six kids, all of whom had natural musical talent. His mother played piano at the Baptist church they attended and he remembers vividly the family gatherings where all they did or wanted to do was play music and sing together. One of his fondest memories was being asked to sing along with the teenage choir with his sister, who was eight years older than him, and him holding the book upside down. It didn’t matter though because he knew the entire Baptist songbook by heart. As a young child he knew music was going to be a way of life for him. “I had a God-given talent as a drummer, a natural feel for it,” said Swilley. The very first albums he ever owned were Johnny Cash, BB King, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, and Meryl Haggard but credits Ray Charles and Chuck Berry for his inspiration. 


Swilley joined his first band as a drummer at the age of 17, with Jimmie Ammons and Delta Records. Swilley recorded some songs in the Delta Records studio as well as with Sun Records, founded by Sam Philips -- better known as the guy who discovered Elvis. “One of my most memorable musical moments, besides being inducted into the Hall of Fame, would have to be recording at Sun Records. I was there with the giants, where all these other amazing artists have been, playing on the same sets of people I’d grown up listening to,” said Swilley. 


Another memorable moment Swilley spoke about was breaking a world record in 2001. He, along with 52 other drummers, played the same song on a full set of drums. That song was “Blue Suede Shoes.” They played it at the same time, in the same place, breaking the standing record. Alongside of him during this amazing life experience was Johnny Cash’s drummer, Stan Perkins. 


Swilley, who turns 70 in September, has led a life full of experiences most of us can only dream of, but encourages those who have what it takes, “You only get one chance — take it. Don’t have regrets.” 


He hopes to one day be able to play at Viva Las Vegas and especially, the Grand Ole Opry. Swilley also expressed how much he would enjoy playing at the Dogwood Festival or even at a 4th Friday, something local, for his guys to get together here. 


Swilley will play at the Rockabilly Festival in Jackson, Tennessee at the Oman Arena on August 7, 8, and 9. That’s three whole nights of incredible music with ticket prices starting at around $50. This is an international event, with bands coming from all over the globe and dancing is strongly encouraged. It will be worth the short drive to Jackson, Tennessee to see our favorite singing drummer, and recent Hall of Fame inductee, and show our support as his Fayetteville family. 


For more information, call (731) 425-8580 or email info@cityofjackson.net. Visit the Rockabilly Hall of Fame at www.rockabillyhall.org.

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