Most DJs are about grabbing the newest track, loading it onto their drive and hitting the club. But DJ Lucky LaRue is more likely to pack up a crate full of vinyl albums and head for a record hop. His playlist also skips the EDM norm: ’50s rock and R&B, ’60s soul, Rat Pack-era lounge and, most of all, rockabilly. After moving to Las Vegas in 2007, LaRue hung up his headphones for two years, but found that he missed the thump of a standup bass, the twang of a hollow-body guitar and the twirl of a circle skirt and returned to the turntables. You can hear how he spins at the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender from April 2-5 at the Gold Coast.
How did you get involved in rockabilly?
I was living in Houston as the sounds of the late-’90s swing revival were making their way toward the Gulf Coast. There was a really popular swing band playing in town, and I went [to see them]. I didn’t know that there was a whole culture, but I met a bunch of people there who were into rockabilly and swing, and I was pretty much hooked. Then I started getting into DJing and I started a night, Lucky LaRue’s Swingin’ Cocktail Party, that was mainly swing and lounge. Then I started delving into rockabilly and, when I found there were more modern bands doing rockabilly, I realized it was a good lifestyle for me.
So it’s about more than music?
It’s a lifestyle, and a lot of people will tell you that. It’s not just music or cars or clothes or whatever. The mainstream lifestyle doesn’t appeal to a lot of people—we get enough of modern life every day. Some people like to take a step back.
Have you always spun music from that era?
I was a pretty popular house and hip-hop DJ for about seven years in Houston. I was really good at nightclub work, but I wasn’t as passionate about it as I am about vintage music. It was mainstream, and it paid the bills for a long time and that’s cool, but this is something I love.
Since you’re all about vintage, are you also all about vinyl?
It started out with half CDs and half vinyl, but my vinyl collection just grew, so the record hop nights are strictly vinyl, all 50-to-60-year-old records.
Where do you find your records?
I’ll go to places in town occasionally like Record City but, honestly I don’t like digging for records. I seem to find the best-quality stuff, what I’m looking for, on eBay most of the time. They have to be good-quality, because they’re not just going to sit on a shelf. They get played and they’ve got to last me for a while, so I pay better money for that. I just got Rusty and Doug Kershaw’s “Hey, Mae”— that’s a good rockabilly bop song.
Is there a particular artist or track you play when you want to get everyone out on the dance floor?
I prefer a more ’50s R&B and rock ’n’ roll, so when things get heated up, it’s Bill Haley or Little Richard. But it really depends on the crowd: There are three types of dancing that people do at rockabilly shows. There’s jiving, which is partner dancing. Or strolling, which is basically like a line dance that the girls do. Then there’s bopping, when everyone dances all together. Usually late nights are for bopping, so we do some country—Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers, things like that.
Have you played at Viva Las Vegas before?
This will be my 14th year at Viva Las Vegas. I went to the very first one, and I’ve been coming since 1998. I haven’t done the full 18 years—I skipped a few.
Over all of those years, how has the festival changed?
A lot more people, obviously. It started out at the Gold Coast, which was just under 2,000 rooms, and the car show on the roof of the parking garage with maybe 100 cars. Now it’s at the Orleans, and there are tens of thousands of people from seven continents, and the car show is one of the biggest in the country. Life Is Beautiful and Electric Daisy Carnival, things like that, obviously they appeal to a much broader fan base. But the rockabilly scene is still quite the subculture and, for a subculture, the numbers they get every year are pretty impressive.
Aside from Viva, where else are you spinning records?
I have my regular record hop at Huntridge Tavern about every six weeks, which is more rockabilly and R&B. I’ve recently started doing another format at Davy’s Locker—I’ve brought back DJ Lucky LaRue’s Swingin’ Cocktail Party and that’s more swing and lounge and soul. I’ll also be DJing the Rockabilly Rockout in October.