Bangkok-based rockabilly rebels are purists who definitely walk the rock
When I ask Sujittra ‘Tukta’ Likachai, the lead singer of the band Trix O’ Treat, why her birthplace of Nakhon Sri Thammarat in Southern Thailand is referred to as a muang nak leng (“gangster town”), she raises her fist, cracks her knuckles, and bursts out laughing. That’s Tukta for you. She’s the sparkplug in the engine of this revved up rockabilly combo.
Since it first made its appearance in the mid-1950s, rockabilly is a genre that has always had a global following of fans and bands—from Moscow to Milwaukee, and Indonesia to Italy. But it’s a rare crossbreed in Thailand where Trix O’ Treat are the most prominent exponents.
Their set list includes plenty of standards by Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, instrumentals like “Tequila” and “Hawaii Five-0,” and hits by Michael Jackson and Madonna done rockabilly style. They also include a sprinkling of originals, along with “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town” by the last group of revivalists to make a dent in the popular music charts: the Stray Cats back in the 1980s.
Formed some eight years ago from the detritus of a punk group, Trix O’ Treat are well aware that their chances of commercial success in the pop-lite Thai market are scant—and they don’t care. “We could get signed but the label wouldn’t know how to sell us,” says Tukta. This is a band of purists that walks and talks the rock. You can see that both on and off stage.
Most of Tukta’s body ink was etched by her tattoo artist husband Kaittipop ‘Vans’ Makrum, who is also the band’s bassist. Together they run a vintage hair salon called Bangkok Greasers—specializing in the ducktails and pompadours of the early Elvis era—next door to the retro burger and hot dog restaurant called Hotrock that they also started (in the Ratchada Train Night Market).
Through listening to her father’s albums of Johnny Cash, Tukta developed a keen ear for early rock ‘n’ roll, which fused country, hillbilly, blues, and gospel into a whole new style that upended the pop charts, upset parents, and outraged conservatives who dubbed it the “devil’s music.” Even in Thailand a military government (circa 1955) banned the hit song and dance craze called “The Twist”, by Chubby Checker, on grounds of indecency.
While discovering the keynotes of the genre, Tukta came across the early recordings of Wanda Jackson, who has been hailed as the “first female rock star” and still performs and records today. Listening to Jackson scream, holler, and strut gave Tukta the confidence to realize that she could front a rockabilly band too.
More of a crooner than a wailer like her mentor, Tukta still has plenty of front-woman gusto. At one point in the interview, I ask her if she wants to start a family some day, to which she snaps, “I hate kids,” and then burst out laughing again.
With one seven-song EP in their back catalogue, Trix O’ Treat is fine-tuning a number of new originals to release in the not too distant future. For the time being you can catch them every Saturday night at Parking Toys, in Bangkok (starting at 9:30pm), as well as at a number of other special events—like the recent reopening of the TCDC building, and occasionally at the Ratchada Train Market.
In concert, dressed in matching retro outfits, the band is a live wire act and guaranteed good time. At many of their gigs, the grand finale and show-stopper is a raucous rendition of “Woo Hoo” by the Japanese all-female trio known as the 5 6 7 8’s who had a cameo in the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill.
While Tukta sings and sways, the wild man drummer Suwit hammers down the beat, guitarist Suwat embroiders the melodies with his fluid finger-work, and Vans, in time-honoured rockabilly fashion, climbs atop his double bass to stand there while slapping out those fat grooves that carry a freight train of rock, blues, and hillbilly history rocking and clacking down the tracks along with them.
Rock ‘n’ roll will never die, they say, and that’s because musical traditions are reborn and revamped with every new generation. In Thailand, Trix O’ Treat is the living proof that this old saying still rings true.
If you enjoyed this article you’ll definitely want to read Jim Algie’s most recent book, On The Night Joey Ramone Died: Tales of Rock and Punk from Bangkok, New York, Cambodia, and Norway. In addition to two interconnected novellas, there will be a 25,000-word music journalism section added to the new paperback version of the book, which is due out later this year. The current ebook is still available from Amazon for US$2.99.
By Jim Algie