Any discussion of the early days of rock and roll should include a guy whose 1950 breakout hit, “Birmingham Bounce,” is considered by many to be one of the earliest examples of the genre. But Hardrock Gunter (whose nickname is not music-related, but more later about that) has something going for him that most rock and roll pioneers don’t — he’s still around and doing his thing, even in his eighties.
Given the title of his biggest hit, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that Sidney Louis Gunter Jr. was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was there that he picked up the nickname ‘Hardrock’ because his head was able to withstand a car hood slamming on it. But his main interest while growing up was country music, and he began performing professionally as a very young teenager in the pre-war years.
He bounced around and gained valuable experience for several years but by the time the war was well underway he was old enough to serve, so he put aside his musical career for a while. After the war he joined with several previous bandmates to restart their group, the Golden River Boys, and by 1949 he’d managed to land a recording contract. The following year, Gunter and his group — now renamed the Pebbles — cut a record of one of his own songs, “Birmingham Bounce.” It did very well and gave his career a big boost (even though Red Foley ended up topping the charts with his version of the song). And if there was any doubt about the direction Gunter’s music was headed, his follow-up record, “Gonna Dance All Night,” even featured the words ‘rock and roll’ in the lyrics.
Gunter continued to work for another decade or more, finding a lot of success along the way and making many good records, but by the 1960s things began to slow down. He eventually left music behind and went into the insurance business, but in the 1990s he began to perform again on a part-time basis — and is still happily doing so.