One of the first white rock & rollers to record for a major label (Columbia), Sid King (born Sid Erwin) was also one of the first young Southern musicians to go from Western swing to rockabilly in the mid-'50s. Erwin grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He sang and played guitar at school, and while still in his mid-teens he began appearing on local radio with a friend, Melvin Robinson. The duo eventually took over the program, and Erwin and Robinson (who also played steel guitar and sax) formed a band, bringing in Erwin's brother Billy Joe on lead guitar, Ken Massey on bass, and David White on drums.
The group, by then known as the Western Melody Makers, stuck to playing country and Western swing in their gigs and radio appearances, but they were listening to lots of records by black artists. They were signed to Starday Records in 1954 and recorded a handful of songs, but these yielded no hits. They subsequently got a contract with Columbia Records and rechristened themselves the Five Strings. Erwin, in turn, changed his name to Sid King, all for the sake of a rhyming moniker, Sid King & the Five Strings.
The Columbia sessions show just how far afield from country the group's listening had gotten. Their harmonies, the high-compression beat of their playing, and their choice of songs, coupled with Jim Beck's hard, up-front mixing of the rhythm section, made them, for a time, one of the hotter rockabilly acts outside of Memphis. They weren't as wild as the Sparkletones, but within Columbia Records' stable of artists, their music (along with that of the Collins Kids) constituted a tiny corner of rockabilly validity. Hearing their stuff today, they could have been fair rivals to Bill Haley & His Comets or Carl Perkins, with a sound midway between the two.
Sid King & the Five Strings were featured on the Louisiana Hayride alongside Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton and inherited "Ooby Dooby" from Roy Orbison (competing head to head with the latter's Sun version), but they never had the success of those whose paths they crossed. Their success was still confined to Texas, and by 1957 their Columbia contract had ended. The group's sound had also softened by that time, and their music no longer had the same edge, so by 1958 the band had called it quits.
King saw recording activity on his own in the early '60s on the Dot label through his acquaintance with Pat Boone, a fellow native of Denton whom he'd met years earlier, but by 1965 he was out of the music business. He resumed performing part-time in the 1980s, drawn back to the stage by a new generation of Europeans eager to hear authentic American rockabilly.
He never quite jumped into rock head over heels, nor did he ever break through to a national audience. The only vintage King available on CD domestically is an interesting, but not wholly representative, set of radio broadcasts from the mid-'50s that are closer to hillbilly than rockabilly. His Columbia recordings have been reissued in Germany on Bear Family's Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight. ~ Richie Unterberger & Bruce Eder, Rovi