Rockabilly Woman – Shelley Minson

Meet Shelley Minson, an Australian singer, songwriter and pin-up with a love of rockabilly and 1950’s music and style. She’s also one half of a beloved rockabilly and honky tonk act with her husband Lawrie Minson, playing everywhere from Orleans Casino at the Viva Festival in Las Vegas to Tamworth Country Music Festival. When she isn’t singing, Shelley works with young disabled adults, a job she finds incredibly rewarding. Here she chats with Victory about rockabilly, Bettie Page, and why after some body image challenges she feels she has found her stride:

VL: What first drew you to rockabilly? Was it the music, the look, the lifestyle?

SM: I was working in a primary school in 2010 at Tamworth, NSW, as a school assistant, and a co-worker told me about Pin Up Girl Clothing. After jumping online I was mesmerised… I placed my first order a week later. I was 30 and until then had never really found a look that I felt represented me. I had always been very self-conscious of my pale skin, doing weekly spray tans and also experimenting with sun beds, which horrifies me now. I was also not fond of my curves and in my early twenties went through some pretty terrible dieting stages, bordering on eating disorders, all trying to achieve a stick thin look. I continued to investigate the rockabilly and pin-up look online, and I was so happy to see women of all shapes, sizes, skin colours and ages rocking the style and looking amazing.

I’m embarrassed to admit I used spray tans at one stage. I remember the smell back then was awful, too. 

Though there’s undoubtedly some way to go, a lot of rockabilly and vintage reproduction brands seem to prioritise using a broader range of body types and models of different racial backgrounds. Would you agree with that? Do you feel that the more mainstream fashion industry alienates a lot of women?

I think most of the rockabilly and vintage reproduction brands are doing a great job of including a wider range of sizes and racial backgrounds. For example well known UK-based brand Hell Bunny cater for sizes XS through till 4XL, which is fantastic. I agree there is still room improvement. I definitely think that the ‘pin up’ look is more flattering to different body shapes and doesn’t make women feel they need to be under 25, stick thin and spray tanned to feel attractive.

I love how feminine the look can be for women. If you want the total bad ass rock look, that’s ok as well! For men I think it’s just a really cool style, though I do think in Australia we could definitely do with some more men dressing rockabilly. I love going to the American Rockabilly festivals and seeing the guys all dressed up.

Do you have any thoughts on the body positive movement within pin-up?

I strongly believe that inner beauty is the most important thing and I think that if you’re a beautiful person on the inside it shines through. I support anyone that is being body positive and not making people feel that they need to fit into a stereotypical idea of beauty. I think we all need to be kind to ourselves and to others.

Do you have any particular vintage inspirations? Jayne Mansfield perhaps? Or early Dolly Parton?

I have always been a Dolly fan but I would have to say my style icon is Marilyn Monroe. I know it sounds kinda cliched, but I’ve always thought she was absolutely stunning. I also love Bettie Page and the first song I ever wrote was a tribute to Bettie called Bettie Bang. I think Marilyn and Bettie had some similarities through lives which had a lot of highs and lows. They were both amazingly talented ladies who have influenced many vintage loving gals over the years.

Above: Shelley’s first single was the Bettie Page tribute ‘Bettie Bang’, in 2013.

What made you take to the microphone?

I have always loved singing but never had the confidence to take it any further than singing around the house. Lawrie and I started dating in 2006 and in the beginning I was too scared to sing even in front of him. I accompanied Lawrie to shows and tours with acts he was playing with – Lee Kernaghan, Jimmy Barnes. Having the privilege to be around great artists gave me an insight. At this stage I still didn’t have any plans to take up singing as a career, but in 2011 an amazing singer, Roshani Priddis (seen on X-Factor and Australian Idol) starting teaching locally in Tamworth. I decided I would have some lessons for fun, not really thinking that I would start performing. Roshani was so encouraging towards me, and very supportive. She held a night for her students to perform and I was so nervous I almost thought I couldn’t go through with it.

What did you find the most challenging about performing in the early days?

Lawrie is a well known in the Australian Country Music scene and has been in the business for a long time. I sometimes worry that people may think I’m just doing this for a bit of fun, when for as long as I can remember I have fantasied about being a singer. I used to sing for hours in the seclusion of my bedroom to anything from Madonna to Johnny Cash.

I made it through the performance and a couple of nights later I was at Katrina Burgoyne’s show who is a fabulous singer and songwriter, and she asked me to get up and sing a couple of songs. Since then I’ve been fortunate to perform at some amazing festivals like Viva Las Vegas, Gympie Music Muster, Garterbelts & Gasoline, Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival and of course my local Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Lawrie has been awarded four Golden Guitars (the highest accolade in Australian Country Music) and is well known to fans of Australian Country Music. What is it like performing together and being on the road?

We get on really well, which is fortunate and we are both fairly patient people which definitely helps. We also both enjoy travelling and meeting new people. Lawrie has had 30 plus years experience on the road. In his early career he travelled around Australia with Buddy Williams and then Slim Dusty. On his first tour with Buddy they were on the road for 9 months and played some of the most remote regions of Australia, so I definitely feel like Lawrie knows his way around the country and usually knows the best places for food and coffee!

Goodness knows good coffee helps. Where are you happiest now: at home, on camera or in front of an audience performing?

To be honest, I love being at home with my husband and our little dog Dolly though playing at an awesome venue with people really getting into the music and dancing is hard to top!

Thanks for dropping by, Shelley.

Visit Shelley at her website, Instagram and Facebook page.