Psychobilly is a genre of music generally described as a mix between the British punk rock of the 1970s and the American rockabilly of the 1950s. The genre is also characterized by lyrical references to horror films, violence, exploitation films, lurid sexuality and other topics generally considered taboo, although presented in a comedic, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Modern psychobilly often resembles horror punk.


The term "psychobilly" was first used by Johnny Cash in the song "One Piece at a Time," a Top 10 hit in 1976, where he makes reference to a "psychobilly Cadillac." It came into use as a genre a few years later, when the Cramps described their music as "psychobilly" and "voodoo rockabilly" on flyers advertising their upcoming shows. Although the Cramps rejected the idea of being a part of the psychobilly scene, they, along with artists such as Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the Stray Cats and Motörhead are considered important precursors to psychobilly. Musically speaking, there are also antecedents in the garage rock scene of the 1960s and the pub rock scene of the 1970s.

The very first verifiable psychobilly band is considered to be the Meteors, who formed in south London in 1980. With one member being part of the rockabilly subculture, another being part of the punk subculture, and the last being a horror movie fan, their musical ideas overlapped to begin psychobilly as it exists today. The Meteors also invented the concept of psychobilly being apolitical, by encouraging their shows to be a "politics-free" zone in order to avoid disputes among fans, as was becoming common in the punk rock scene of the time. To this day, almost no psychobilly songs are political.

In 1982, a nightclub called Klubfoot opened in Hammersmith, west London, creating a home for the UK psychobilly scene. The club was eventually demolished and replaced with offices and a bus station. Because the psychobilly scene has never become very popular, psychobilly fans often organize "Psychobilly Weekends" where many bands are featured on one bill to attract many attendees from all over. The first weekends were organized in the UK in the mid-80s.

Psychobilly eventually spread throughout most of Europe, particularly Germany, Italy, and Spain, parts of the United States, and is gradually spreading to Asia, especially Japan. While the psychobilly of the 1970s (the Meteors, the Sharks, Batmobile) was similar to punk or 1960s garage rock, the psychobilly of the 1980s (the Nekromantix, Demented Are Go, the Klingonz, Mad Sin) had a different sound closer to metal, and the psychobilly of the 1990s and 2000s is closer to the American psychobilly sound (Reverend Horton Heat, Los Gatos Locos, Tiger Army).

Psychobilly fashion is characterized by a hairstyle called a quiff, which resembles a mohawk or a Devilock. The clothing of the subculture often combines punk fashion, such as dyed hair, studded and shredded clothing, and leather jackets, with early rockabilly fashion, such as denim workware and animal prints.

"Cowpunk" was a subgenre of psychobilly confined to southern California in the 1980s, especially Los Angeles. It tended to downplay the fashion elements, and grew directly out of the influence of bands like the Cramps and The Gun Club with few direct ties to the British movement. Bands associated with cowpunk include Blood On The Saddle, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Screamin' Sirens, Frank Black and the Catholics, Tex and the Horseheads, and others. Social Distortion, while initially a melodic hardcore punk band, had moved in a cowpunk direction in the late 1980s. The influence of cowpunk today is most apparent in the work of Reverend Horton Heat and The Supersuckers, and traces of its influence can be detected in some of the work of The White Stripes.

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