INTRODUCTION (revised Sept. 6, 1999): My interest in Bill Haley came about when, as a young child, I saw an episode of a Rock n' Roll Revival variety show on the CTV network in Canada called Shake, Rock and Roll.
The show was hosted by Bobby Curtola, a popular Canadian star cut from the same cloth as Frankie Avalon. My memory of the show has faded a bit over time, but I still remember seeing Bill Haley and the Comets rising out of the floor on a stage elevator, and launching into "Rock Around the Clock." This was in either 1973 or 1974.
Not long after, a TV series called Happy Days hit the airwaves, and with it came the revival of "Rock Around the Clock," which was initially used as that show's theme song. I couldn't care less about the show at the time -- I just wanted to watch the opening credits to hear the song!
I remember bugging my parents at the time to buy me the record. So they bought me a copy of Golden Hits the classic 2-LP set that Decca/MCA put out with most of Haley's great '50s hits. I still have that record -- I got the original members of the Comets to sign it for me when they performed in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in July 1998 and I will treasure it always.
What was it about Bill Haley that kept me interested in his music all these years? I enjoy his work -- and the work of his great band -- on several levels. First off, it's simply fun music. You cannot get depressed listening to a good Bill Haley and the Comets song. And over the years, I have come to greatly appreciate the skill behind the performances.
Haley had the luck and talent to choose some of the best rock musicians of all time to back him, whether on stage or in the studio -- the likes of Franny Beecher, Rudy Pompilli, Joey d'Ambrosio, Marshall Lytle, Nick Nastos and Danny Cedrone to name just a few were second to none.
I have also come to enjoy Haley's music as a link back to that four year old sitting cross-legged in front of a TV set in his now-deceased grandparents' home, watching Bill Haley perform on some long-forgotten TV show. That old copy of Golden Hits is virtually grooveless today, and I now listen to my favorite Haley tracks on a CD player hooked into my computer instead of on a battered Mickey Mouse phonograph. But so long as I find some way to enjoy "Rock Around the Clock" or "Shake, Rattle and Roll," part of that four-year-old will never fade away.
-- NEWS ARCHIVE --
POSTED: May 15, 2008
South Texas Music Walk of Fame to induct Bill Haley
Bill Haley will be one of six performers to be inducted into the South Texas Music Walk of Fame in Corpus Christi, Texas next month.
Presented as part of that city's WaterStreet Market Music, Art & Surf Fest, the inductions honor musicians who have "enriched the lives of those of us in South Texas," say organizers. The Walk of Fame was established in 2004 and past inductees have included Selena, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Nesmith, and Christopher Cross.
Haley spent the last few years of his life as a resident of Harlingen, Texas, on the Texas-Mexico border, and was honored by that city several years ago.
Other inductees this year include Grammy-winner Joe Gallardo, "Queen of the Bolero" Chelo Silva, musicians Pat Grogan and Max Stalling, and rocker Reverend Horton Heat -- who several years back not only recorded a blazing version of Haley's 1952 version of "Rock the Joint" but managed to incorporate a near-perfect replication of Danny Cedrone's immortal guitar solo at nearly double the speed Cedrone played it!
The induction ceremony is scheduled for June 7 at 10 a.m. (the Walk is located in the 300 block of North Water Street), as part of a weekend of live music and other festivities. At "press time" details were still being worked out, but it is hoped that the induction will include a special performance in recognition of Haley's induction.
POSTED: Feb. 4, 2008; UPDATED: Mar. 7, 2008
Haley, Comets featured in new DVD documentary
A new documentary released on DVD this month turns the spotlight on the birth of rock and roll, and those who were there at the beginning.
Rock 'n' Roll is Born: The Story of 'Rock Around the Clock' and the Dawn of the Rock 'n' Roll Era was more than two years in the making for writer/producer/director Barry Barnes, who tracked down members of The Comets, people involved in the production of Blackboard Jungle, and other early rockers to discuss how rock and roll, and "Rock Around the Clock", erupted on the world scene in 1954-1955.Running 80 minutes, the documentary features the last known interview with Johnny Grande of The Comets before his passing. Also featured are interviews with Comet Marshall Lytle, Cleve Duncan of the Penguins, Pat Boone, and Blackboard Jungle co-star Jamie Farr (later of M*A*S*H fame). Peter Ford, son of Glenn Ford, is also on hand to tell about his research into how "Rock Around the Clock" was chosen as the theme song to his father's groundbreaking film.
The documentary also includes original recordings by Bill Haley & His Comets and other contemporaries, and also incorporates footage from the band's rarely seen 1954 short film, Round-Up of Rhythm which adds to Haley's list of firsts as the first rock-and-roll movie (predating feature-length productions of the genre by a year).
What is significant about this release is that Universal Home Video is publishing the DVD; Universal is the company that currently owns the Haley Decca Records song catalogue.
Barnes tells Extra that the DVD is currently scheduled to be available for sale in the UK and Europe as of Feb. 27 (date subject to change), and as a Universal release will be widely available through online retailers and, presumably, well-stocked retail outlets. A North American release is planned for later in the year, he says.
UPDATE: Barnes reports that the DVD is now expected to be released in Europe in mid-March with a North American release still expected in the second half of 2008. Scroll down for a review of the documentary.
POSTED: Feb. 4, 2008
German fan publishes new Haley biography
A German Bill Haley fan has written the first full biography of the Father of Rock and Roll in nearly 20 years.
Entitled Bill Haley: Vater des Rock 'n' Roll (which translates to Father of Rock 'n' Roll, the book is the result of several years worth of research and writing by Otto Fuchs, a music writer and Internet radio host.
The book is being published by Wagner Verlag, and will initially be available only in German, with hopefully an English-language edition appearing in the near future. An exact publication date was not available, but Fuchs reports that the book went to press in late January, and it is expected to be available in stores and via online sources such as the German version of Amazon, within the month.
While there are literally hundreds of books chronicling and re-chronicling the lives of Elvis Presley and The Beatles, there have only been a handful of books on the life of Bill Haley, such as Bill Haley, a 1982 work by John Swenson and Sound and Glory by Haley's son, John W. Haley and John von Hoelle, which was published in 1990 and until the release of Fuchs' book was the most recent professionally published biography of Bill Haley. In 2005, Jim Dawson published Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution which, while featuring substantial biographical information about Haley, was not strictly speaking a biography of the musician.
Watch Extra for future updates regarding an English-language publication of this latest work.
POSTED: Jan. 21, 2008; CORRECTED: Feb. 4, 2008; UPDATED: Mar. 20, 2008
New CD and tribute concert celebrate Danny Cedrone
Back in April 1954, Danny Cedrone recorded the greatest rock and roll guitar solo of all time, but relatively few people know his Danny Cedrone's guitar work beyond his era-defining role on Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock."
A new CD release, however, aims to shed new light on the work of Danny Cedrone, whose life and career were tragically cut short in the summer of 1954.
The new CD is entitled Danny Cedrone, Guitar Virtuoso and features a dozen examples of Cedrone's guitar work both as a solo artist and as a member of The Esquire Boys, a group he fronted in the early 1950s.
To mark the CD's release, Cedrone's grandson, Dan Varone, himself a musician, has organized a tribute concert for Jan. 25, 2008 at Jack's Twin Bar in Gloucester City, N.J., where back in 1950-51, Bill Haley and The Saddlemen gave some of their earliest performances, and it's believed that it was here that Haley first performed his country-fied version of the rhythm and blues song, "Rock the Joint", considered one of the first true rock and roll records. Cedrone's own group, the Esquire Boys, were also regular performers at the Twin Bar. Cedrone was never an official member of the Saddlemen or Comets, but was a valued session musician for Bill Haley, performing on a number of his classic recordings between 1951 and 1954, including "Rocket 88", "Rock the Joint", "Rock Around the Clock", "Thirteen Women", and "Shake Rattle and Roll". His accidential death in July 1954 occurred only days after the recording session that produced "Shake Rattle and Roll" and a year before "Clock" became a worldwide hit.
Scheduled guest performers at the Jan. 25 celebration include Dan Vanore with members past and present of his band, The Business, along with the Billy D. Light Trio, and other surprise guests, as well as other members of the Cedrone family.
The event starts at 9 p.m. at Jack's Twin Bar, 200 S. Broadway, Gloucester City, NJ. It will also be broadcast live on WNJC 1360 AM radio (which can be heard over the Internet at www.wnjc1360.com).
The CD includes a number of tracks Cedrone recorded with the Esquire Boys, including two versions of Haley's composition, "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie", that predate Haley's own 1955 recording of the song (the story goes that Haley wrote the song in 1952 specifically for Cedrone); both performances make their CD debut here. A rare interview excerpt featuring Bill Haley is also included on the CD. The CD also includes an enhanced component, with four bonus tracks, including one by The Business, and a gallery of approximately 80 photos.
Courtesy of Dan Varone, here is the track listing for the new CD: 1. Guitar Boogie Shuffle; 2. Caravan; 3. Taboo; 4. St. Louis Blues; 5. Bill Haley interview; 6 Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie (version 1); 7. Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie (version 2); 8. Oh Babe (with the Cedrone Sisters); 9. Nickelodeon Jamboree (with the Cedrone Sisters); 10. Forgetting You (live); 11. China Boy (live); 12. Fingers on Fire (live); 13. Tico Tico (live). Bonus tracks: Forgetting You, We Drifted Apart, Let's Play Ball, Hip Hop-a-Billy (by The Business); plus photo gallery.
The CD will be available on the Cedrone family's own label, DJC Records and will officially be released on Feb. 21, says Varone. Point-of-sale and availability have yet to be determined. (Details will be added here when they become available.) Varone has also created a MySpace page dedicated to the work of his grandfather here.
Update: Scroll down to the Reviews section for a review of the CD, plus more information on where you can get your own copy of this release.
POSTED: Oct. 26, 2007
Bill Haley museum opens in Germany
A museum dedicated to celebrating the history of the founding father of Rock and Roll, and his band, celebrates its grand opening in Munich, Germany this weekend.
Museum co-founders Klaus Kettner, owner of the Hydra Records label, and Dr. Winfried Grundel, spent several years traveling the world and collecting artifacts from Haley's career. The museum features original instruments, documents, records, movie posters, gold records, and other memorabilia. Also included are displays focusing on Haley's contemporaries.
Kettner says opening a museum is "a logical step forward" for his company, which for more than a decade has issued a number of previously unissued or rare Haley recordings. The label also released two albums by the reunited 1954-55 Comets in the early 1990s, plus a DVD of the band a few years ago. Kettner continues to work closely with the group on their European tours, the next planned for February 2008.
Kettner says the museum celebrates the legacy of Bill Haley and the many musicians who performed as The Comets.
"With the song, "Rock Around the Clock," Bill and his Comets not only launched a musical revolution but changed youth culture forever," he writes. "It is not exaggerating to state that they are one of the most important bands in musical history.
"This is a breathtaking, in-depth overview of one of the leading figures of rock 'n' roll. It has all been carefully set up to entertain and be of interest to anyone who has an interest in music, both past and present."
The Original 1954-55 Comets attended a special pre-opening ceremony for the museum during their March 2007 tour of Germany. On Oct. 27, 2007, the official grand opening was celebrated with a special concert featuring Bill Turner, Haley's guitarist in the mid-1970s, along with Mike Berry, Paul Wurges, 45 RPM, and Marty & The Rocking Comets.
The Bill Haley Museum is located at Schleissheimerstr. 321 in Munchen (Munich), Germany. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Friday, noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
POSTED: Oct. 16, 2007
20 Years of the Original Comets
October 26, 2007 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the longest-lasting reunions in rock and roll history.
On that date in 1987, the Philadelphia Music Awards were being held, and as an added attraction it was decided to reunite the original members of The Comets who worked alongside Bill Haley in 1954 and 1955. Spearheaded by 1970s-era Comet Bill Turner and 1953-55 Comets drummer Dick Richards, the reunion brought together Richards, Marshall Lytle (bass), Joey Ambrose (sax), Johnny Grande (piano) and Franny Beecher (lead guitar) -- musicians who had not worked together for some 32 years at that time. (Lytle, Richards, and Ambrose left the Comets in September 1955 to form The Jodimars, while Grande and Beecher parted company with Haley in the early 1960s.)
"It started out just as a simple reunion to do one show in Philadelphia in 1987, and to see if we could still play like we did 32 years earlier," Lytle writes in a message to fans. "After a couple of hours in the practice session, we found that the Comets sound came back."
Between the 1950s and 1987, the musicians had all followed their own paths. For example, Dick Richards became a film and stage actor (look for him credited as Richard or Dick Boccelli in films like My Blue Heaven), Ambrose had become involved in the Las Vegas casino industry, and Lytle had become involved in a number of business ventures. Grande had retired from music by this time, and Beecher had a few years earlier been involved in a short-lived Comets reunion spearheaded by one-time Comet Joey Welz. Grande, in 2005, recalled that the men barely recognized one another.
At the 1987 show, the reunited Comets performed "Rock Around the Clock", of course, and they also backed Charlie Gracie on a performance of "Butterfly." The event was covered by major media and an all-too-short clip of the Comets in action aired on Entertainment Tonight.
Two years later, David Hirschberg, a New York lawyer and longtime fan and friend of the Comets, helped organize the first of many UK performances by the reunited Comets at Brean Sands. "There we met Jacko Buddin, who sang like Bill Haley and we had him sing with us for a number of years," Lytle writes. Buddin remained a mainstay of the Comets until the early 2000s. "Also, we met The Stargazers. They were a great help in teaching the Comets the arrangements to some of the old hits we had forgotten."
The Comets established a close relationship with the Stargazers, a popular UK rockabilly group that included many Haley songs in their own playlist. Peter Davenport played steel guitar for the band during an early-90s European tour. Chris Gardner - a Stargazers alumni and one of the world's top Haley historians - also worked with the band and continues to be the go-to guy for record companies such as Bear Family whenever they put together a new Haley and the Comets collection. And Stargazers drummer Ricky Lee Brawn produced and performed session drumming duties on the Comets' 1997 album, The House is Rockin'. Marshall Lytle also took a brief side-trip from the Comets in 1993 to record an album backed by the Stargazers (the group was renamed Marshall and the Shooting Stars for the occasion) entitled Air Mail Special.
Since 1989, the Comets have toured Europe and North America extensively, and have also performed on cruise ships. "In 1989, we first met our friend and close assocate, Klaus Kettner, who brought us to Europe for the first time in 1990," Lytle writes. "We have toured all over Europe with Klaus for the last 18 years and are scheduled for another three-week tour in February 2008." In a 2003 interview, Lytle said he and his bandmates have the best retirement plan in the world.
In North America, the reunion of the Original Comets was made complex by the existence of two competing Comets groups, one run by John "Bam-Bam" Lane, who was Haley's drummer from 1965-1968, and Al Rappa, Haley's bass player from 1959-1969. Despite issues surrounding the use of the Comets name, the 1954-55 Comets nonetheless have been able to enjoy a number of high-profile performances, including a Richard Nader-produced "Rock and Roll Revival" commemorative concert in New York City, a recent dedication ceremony for the Twin Bar where Haley and his band gave some of their earliest performances, and in 2005 the Comets received international attention when they took part in the Rock is Fifty celebrations in New York and Los Angeles to mark the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock" hitting No. 1. The 2005 events saw the Comets give a special performance at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in honor of the Deep Impact mission to send a probe to a comet, appear on CBS and CNN, get inducted into Hollywood's Rock Walk, and give well-received shows at the Viper Room club in Hollywood. The JPL performance is mentioned on the official citation that named an asteroid in honor of Bill Haley in 2006.
The reunited Comets have also made numerous visits to the recording studio, to date recording two albums for Kettner's Hydra Records label, one for Rockstar Records in the UK, and two for Ronnie Weiser's Rollin' Rock Records in Las Vegas. They also appeared as special guests on recordings by the likes of Andy Lee Lang and Schurli Weiss, Lytle took part in a hip-hop version of "Rock Around the Clock" by Chad Z, and the group also released two DVDs (one privately, and one for Hydra Records). These recordings have added new songs to the classic Comets song-list, such as "You're Never Too Old To Rock", "We're Gonna Party", "You're the Greatest" and the topical "Viagra Rock", which garnered the band international attention. Most recently, the band has hooked up with Hollywood Argyles founder Gary S. Paxton to record a new single, "When I Die Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart (So My Wife Can Come and Visit Me)". (See news story, below.)
Twenty years after the reunion began, the Comets continue to rock the joint. Besides still touring Europe, the band is also in their second year in residence at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Mo., with a third season scheduled to kick off in April 2008. "We have found the most wonderful place to live and retire and play our music to people who are R & R fans from all over America and they love what we do," Lytle writes, adding that Europeans are starting to discover Branson as a new musical destination. The Comets are also scheduled to tour Europe again in February 2008, Lytle writes.
Unfortunately, the passage of time does bring with it changes. Johnny Grande passed away from cancer in 2006, and remained a part of the reunion right up to the end. Soon after, Franny Beecher announced his retirement from touring (it's still hoped that he'll make a future appearance with the group). He recently celebrated his 86th birthday and he's still playing in a club near his home. Their places have been taken by David Byrd and Jackson Haney, respectively.
"The last 20 years has been the most exciting and unbelievable times in the lives of the Original Comets," writes Lytle.
POSTED: Sept. 28, 2007
Comets release new single
The original 1954-55 Comets have teamed up with an all-star group of vocalists from Branson, Missouri to release a topical new single.
Boasting what is possibly the longest song title ever associated with the Comets, "When I Die, Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart (So My Wife Will Come and Visit Me!)" is a tongue-in-cheek ode to the American mega-retailer penned and produced by Gary S. Paxton. Paxton, who also goes by the name Grandpa Rock, is a prolific songwriter and performer who is perhaps best known as one of the driving forces behind The Hollywood Argyles, who scored a huge hit back in 1960 with "Alley Oop".
This is one of those songs where the title pretty much says it all, and the Comets perform the tune with the same tongues-in-cheek with which they performed their earlier ripped-from-the-headlines track, "Viagra Rock," several years back.
This recording marks the first appearance on record (or, rather, on CD) of the two newest members of the Original Band: piano player David Byrd, who succeeded the late Johnny Grande, and Jackson Haney on guitar, who took over when Franny Beecher retired from the Comets. Both have been with the band since mid-2006 and have been well-received in Branson and on recent European tours.
Producer Paxton has added some extra star power to this recording by recruiting a group of celebrity background vocalists. Included in the roster are Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Paul Revere of the Raiders, David Somerville of The Diamonds, country star Ronnie Prophet, gospel singer Jimmy Jack Whitaker, and New South founder Jimmy Ponder; Paxton himself also contributes vocals. Several musical actors from the Branson area also participated: Bill Brooks, Randy Brooks, Gary Koreiba, and Mark McCauley. In addition, Bill Reeder was recruited to perform additional baritone saxophone work to compliment that of Comets tenor sax man Joey Ambrose. And, of course, Marshall Lytle and Dick Richards are ever-present and proper on bass and drums, respectively.
The single, which was recorded earlier this year in Branson where the Comets continue their long-term residence at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, is available for sale online (with a karaoke version of the song included as a bonus) at garyspaxton.net. The website also features a preview of the single that you can listen to online.
No word as yet whether the single will actually be available at Wal-Mart, however …
POSTED: June 29, 2007
Twin Bar celebrates birthplace of rock and roll
A bar and performance venue in Gloucester City, New Jersey, is about to take on Memphis, Cleveland, and New York City for the title of True Birthplace of Rock and Roll.
It was at the Twin Bar in Gloucester, across the river from Philadelphia and Chester, Penn., where Bill Haley & His Saddlemen spent 18 months performing and honing their craft around 1951, and these performances coincided with Haley's changeover from performing traditional Western Swing to a newly developed melding of country and western with rhythm and blues which, in time, would come to be known as Rock and Roll. This was several years before Elvis first walked into Sun Records in Memphis, and even pre-dated Haley's own epochial work for Essex Records and Decca Records. "Rock Around the Clock" wouldn’t arrive until 1954.
On July 14, 2007, the Twin Bar will commemorate its involvement in musical history with the unveiling of an historic marker along with free performances by The Original Comets themselves as well as Tommy Conwell and Charlie Gracie.
Through the efforts of Haley fan Wayne Young, the celebration will run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Twin Bar, which is still going strong 55 years later at the corner of Market and Broadway. The event will also be broadcast live by King Arthur on WNJC Radio 1360 AM.
The marker, scheduled to be unveiled at 4:30 p.m., will honor Bill Haley and the Saddlemen (later Comets) who performed with him during the band’s historic tenure at the Twin Bar: Billy Williamson, Johnny Grande, and Marshall Lytle, with Lytle himself on hand to perform with the Original Comets. Also to be honored on the marker will be Danny Cedrone, Haley's session guitarist and also frequent Twin Bar performer with his own first-generation rock and roll group, the Esquire Boys. Cedrone will be represented by The Cedrone Sisters: Marie, Theresa, and Janet.
POSTED: March 1, 2007
Drummer John “Bam-Bam” Lane passes away
A former drummer for Bill Haley who has spent the last 20 years helping to keep the music of the Comets alive has passed away.
John Lane Barrowclough, better known as John "Bam-Bam" Lane, died on February 18, according to an e-mail received by a former member of Bill Haley's Comets, the band Lane has led since the late 1980s. The cause of death is not known, and I'm awaiting any further details. Lane's exact age was not immediately available, however an October 2004 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer gave Lane's age at the time as 58, meaning he was probably about 60 when he died.
Lane joined Bill Haley & His Comets in 1965 (some sources say 1964 but this hasn't been confirmed), while Haley's group was in residence with the Orfeon Records label in Mexico. Among his first recordings for the band were the Orfeon sessions of early 1966 that not only gave Lane a chance to play on a remake of "Rock Around the Clock," but also to back Big Joe Turner when Haley lent his old friend his band for an album's worth of recordings.
In 1968, not long before he left the group, Lane participated in Haley's first recordings for Sonet Records of Sweden, including a studio album of remakes of Haley's old hits. This included another version of "Rock Around the Clock"; as such, Lane is the only drummer to back Haley on two different studio recordings of "Rock Around the Clock".
For Comets fans, Lane is best remembered for his work on Bill Haley On Stage (also released under different titles), a 2-LP live set Haley and the Comets recorded in Stockholm for Sonet. Lane delivered an epic five-minute drum solo on "Caravan" as well as a barnstorming drum break on "The Saint's Rock and Roll".
Lane moved on to other musical pursuits after leaving the Comets, with Hugh McCallum's Haley News reporting in the early 1970s that Lane had recorded a big band album. He also worked with a group called The Flintstones, capitalizing on his nickname, which came from a character from the TV series of the same title.
Lane returned to the world of the Comets following Bill Haley's death in the mid-1980s, when he and bass player Al Rappa formed Bill Haley's Comets, picking up from a short-lived Comets reunion organized by one-time Comets piano player Joey Welz in the days after Haley's death in 1981 that had involved Rappa and had existed for about a year until disbanding. The Lane/Rappa Comets appeared on the American TV series Rock and Roll Palace (this performance was released on DVD a few years ago) and toured America. In the late 1980s, Lane and Rappa, in conjunction with booking agent Jolly Joyce, sued another musician over the use of the Comets name, with a court decision going in their favor in 1989. Lane and Rappa claimed trademark rights over the Comets name. Later, issues arose regarding the use of the Comets name by original members of the band from the mid-1950s, but these issues were finally resolved by the different parties in 2005.
At some point after winning the 1989 lawsuit, Lane and Rappa went their separate ways, both forming their own groups of Bill Haley's Comets and continuing to tour North America as of early 2007, with Lane's group having a number of performances scheduled for this spring. In addition, John Lane's group made several recordings, including a live album (titled Almost Live) and a Christmas single. Following the 9/11 attacks, Lane's group showed their patriotism by posting a video performance of "God Bless the U.S.A." to their website.
In 2005, Vision Metal Records, a Tennessee-based label, announced that John Lane's Comets would record a new album. Lenny Longo, the group's lead singer since the late 1990s, tells Extra that the CD will be released in the near future, coupled with live tracks, and that the CD will be released in Lane's memory.
Longo says the John Lane edition of Bill Haley's Comets will continue to perform and tour in Lane's memory. "We miss John but hope, with your help, his legacy will continue and his dream, that Bill Haley's Comets will allow the world to see how Rock and Roll began, will live on," Longo writes.
POSTED: February 3, 2007
German fan pens Haley biography
A longtime German Bill Haley fan will soon be releasing a new biography of the founder of rock and roll.
Otto Fuchs, who has been an active member of the Haley fan community for many years, and who is himself a Rockabilly Hall of Fame columnist, announced that he has signed a contract with the German publisher Wagner Verlag to publish the book, which he has been compiling for several years.
An exact publication date has not yet been announced, but Fuchs says he hopes the as-yet-untitled book will see print either later this year or in early 2008.
The book will initially be published in German; it remains to be seen if an English language translation will be commissioned.
POSTED: December 5, 2006
Rock Around the Clock/Don't Knock the Rock coming to DVD
The two films Bill Haley & His Comets made in 1956 are finally coming to DVD in North America.
Sony Pictures has announced that it will be releasing Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock to Region 1 (North America) DVD on January 23, 2007. The films were produced by Columbia Pictures, which Sony purchased some years ago, and will be released together on one disc.
This release marks the first official home video release of these films, as Columbia/Sony never issued an official release of the films in the VHS tape or laserdisc format, although unofficial releases in these and DVD formats have been circulating for years.
Rock Around the Clock is considered the first true rock and roll film. When it was released it was a major hit and was banned in some jurisdictions due to the fact it sparked rowdy behavior (such as dancing) in theaters. In the UK Queen Elizabeth II reportedly requested a private showing of the film. Its follow-up, Don't Knock the Rock was produced almost immediately but was not as successful and is chiefly remembered as the film that introduced many to the music of Little Richard.
Co-starring with Haley and the Comets in Rock Around the Clock are the Platters and Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, while Alan Dale, the Treniers and the aforementioned Little Richard appear with Haley in the sequel. DJ Alan Freed appears as himself in both motion pictures.
In both films, Haley and the Comets lip-synch to numerous Decca recordings, including "See You Later Alligator", "Rip it Up", "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy", "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie", "Calling All Comets" and, of course, "Rock Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Rock" (although the latter is heard only over the opening credits of the film; Alan Dale sings the song during the movie itself). Of note to Haley completeists is the fact that the performances of the instrumentals "Rudy's Rock" (in Rock Around the Clock) and "Goofin' Around" (in Don't Knock the Rock) are unique to these films and were never released on record by Decca or anyone else. Hydra Records of Germany included off-air recordings of the two film tracks on its CD On Screen in the late 1990s, but no in-studio recordings have ever been released. Haley also gets to do a little bit of acting in the two films.
The listing for the release on Amazon.com does not indicate if there will be any extra features on the DVD.
Go here for my review of this release.
POSTED: November 1, 2006
Extra back in business
After a summer-long hiatus, Extra, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame's column devoted to Bill Haley & His Comets, is back on the air.
It has been a busy year for fans of Bill Haley and His Comets, with several exciting new releases on CD and DVD, and with the continued success of the Original Comets who have spent much of the year playing to sold-out shows in Branson, Missouri. And of course, it has been a sad year as we still mourn the loss in June of Comets founder Johnny Grande.
I haven't had an opportunity to update Extra much this year, but I hope to be able to make more updates in the coming months. We begin with a review of the eagerly-awaited third Bear Family box set devoted to Bill Haley's earliest recordings, as well as some recent DVD releases of rare footage (see below). I have also been able to (after a delay of more than a year) fix up the Bill Haley Who's Who on Page 2, which was knocked for a loop due to some data loss. An updating of the Rock Around the Clock tribute page is also around the corner, along with more features being added to Extra.
POSTED: June 4, 2006
"Quiet Maestro" Johnny Grande passes away
Johnny Grande plays accordion with the first Comets line-up in 1952-53.
Johnny Grande, a founding member of Bill Haley and His Saddlemen and The Comets, has died. He was 76, and was one of the longest-serving of all the Comets.
Grande passed away in his sleep at his home in Clarkesville, Tennessee on the evening of June 2. Although the cause of death has not yet been determined, he had been fighting cancer for the last few weeks, which had forced him to (it was hoped, temporarily) step back from performing with the 1954-55 Comets.
In announcing Grande's death, the band's bass player, Marshall Lytle, said this was "bad news for Comets fans around the world."
Born in 1930, Grande was working with steel guitarist Billy Williamson in the country music industry in Pennsylvania when the two entered into a partnership with Bill Haley, who was at the time a deejay for a Chester-area radio station and was in the process of setting up a new musical group, the Saddlemen. The exact date Grande joined the band is a matter of debate - some say 1949, while others say 1950. In any event this three-way partnership at the heart of Haley's group would continue as the group was renamed The Comets in 1952, and continued until both Williamson and Grande left the band during the winter of 1962-63 (Like his joining, the exact date of Grande's departure from the band is not known). Williamson died in 1996.
On most of his recordings with Haley, Grande played piano, although he could also be heard playing the organ and most notably the accordion; this unlikely instrument for rock and roll allowed more portability than a piano when the group toured from town to town. It also allowed Grande to get in on the action during raucous numbers such as "Rudy's Rock" (see the group's performance of the song in the 1956 Rock Around the Clock film, for example). According to some sources, Grande also had the job of keeping track of the band's arrangements as few of the other members actually read music. Among recordings in which Grande is spotlighted were "A Rockin' Little Tune", "The Walkin' Beat", "Tamiami", "Actopan" (a Mexican version of "The Hucklebuck"), and a 1962 radio performance of "The Saint's Rock and Roll" in which he is given a piano solo (something he did not do in the 1955 Decca recording).
In 1987, Grande was one of the original members of the Comets to be invited to take part in a special reunion of the band. This led to more engagements for the Original Comets both in America and overseas, and the group has been performing regularly ever since, most recently embarking on a summer-long residence at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri. The reunited band has also recorded several CDs over the years, as well as a concert DVD. On one 1994 recording, "All My Ex's Live in Texas" (from the Hydra Records album You're Never Too Old to Rock), Grande plays an accordion solo.
Comets historian Chris Gardner remembers Johnny Grande as "the glue that held the whole show together."
"I would like to recall the occasion in 1989 when the Comets were preparing for their show in Brean Sands," Gardner says. "At the first rehearsal in London where things had great potential to become (shall we say) a bit chaotic ... in the middle of it all was Johnny, quietly clocking what was going on, and when it was necessary (but only when it was necessary), pointing out who was making a mistake, or was playing too loud.
"He was the quiet maestro of the Comets, the man who you might notice more when he wasn't playing than when he was."
Funeral arrangements are pending and more information regarding this loss to rock and roll fans around the world will be posted as it becomes available.
POSTED: May 24, 2006
New CD features 60+ versions of Rock Around the Clock
After a delay of nearly two years, a massive CD tribute to "Rock Around the Clock" has been released.
Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 3: The Story of Rock Around the Clock is an ambitious 2-CD release by Hydra Records of Germany that contains no less than 63 versions of the song that helped launch the Rock and Roll era.
The first disc contains 31 versions of the song recorded by Bill Haley and His Comets, and later successor groups, between 1954 and 2000 (a list of exactly which versions are included was not immediately available). The second disc contains 32 additional versions by a wide range of artists, ranging from Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins to Mae West and the Sex Pistols. Also included is the rarely-heard first recording of "Rock Around the Clock" by Sonny Dae and His Knights, which predated Haley's recording by several months.
Originally announced for release in the summer of 2004, it is perhaps not surprising that a project of this scope required extra time to arrange.
This is the third in an ongoing series of "Bill Haley and Friends" releases by Hydra, focusing on not only rare recordings by Haley, but also recordings by artists associated with him. The first volume, released in the late 1990s, contained Christmas-themed recordings, while Volume 2, released a couple of years ago, focused on recordings made for the Cowboy Records label. Volume 3 breaks the pattern in that Haley's "friends" for the most part have no direct connection with him, save for their love of one epochial song.
Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 3 is expected to be available through the Hydra Records website at www.rockithydra.de and other retailers.
POSTED: March 1, 2006; updated and image added March 12
Haley receives out-of-this-world tribute
Astronomical image from 1999 showing the location of 79896 Billhaley
(Courtesy Klet Observatory www.klet.org)
An asteroid in deep space has been named in honor of Bill Haley.
On February 19, the International Astronomical Union's Committee for Small Body Nomenclature officially announced that Asteroid 1999 BH5, which had been discovered on January 20, 1999 by the Klet Observatory in the Czech Republic, has been officially renamed 79896 Billhaley in honor of the founding father of rock and roll.
The announcement coincides with the 25th anniversary of Bill Haley's death, which was marked on February 9.
The asteroid is located in the main Asteroid Belt between Jupiter and Mars and orbits the Sun approximately every 4.4 years.
As of this writing, more information regarding the asteroid's location is being gathered. Efforts are also underway to try and capture an image of the asteroid, if possible.
POSTED: December 9, 2005; updated: December 11, 2005
Third Bear Family box set focuses on Haley's country roots
The Bear Family label of Germany continues to chronicle the career of Bill Haley by delving into his earliest recordings for a new box set scheduled for release in early 2006.
Entitled Rock and Roll Arrives: The Real Birth of Rock and Roll 1946-1954, this five-CD set will feature many previously unreleased recordings dating back to Haley's earliest turns in the recording studio. The set is scheduled for release on January 23, 2006.
Among the highlights in the set will be several recordings Haley made with the Down Homers for a radio program in 1946. These are the earliest known recordings by Bill Haley and this is their first commercial release. The set will include the various small label recordings Haley made with his groups the Four Aces of Western Swing and the Saddlemen (as well as assorted aliases) between 1947 and 1951 and end with the recordings Haley made with Essex Records in 1952-54, just prior to his moving on to Decca Records and recording "Rock Around the Clock."
Included as bonus tracks are another set of Down Homers recordings, this time from the Vogue Records label in January 1946. These recordings have long been rumored to have also included Haley, though it is now known that Haley was not a member of the band when they were made. Still, they remain of historical interest and can perhaps be seen as a taster of what might be a great box set of Down Homers recordings if Bear Family decides to do one.
Rounding out the set is a 100-page booklet, profusely illustrated and detailed that covers the Haley story during his earliest years.
As with most Bear Family sets, availability outside Europe will vary, though Bear Family product does show up in major retailers such as Virgin and HMV. It will also be available on line at Bear Family's website.
This is the third extensive box set of recordings issued by Bear Family Records since the 1980s. The first set, issued in the 1980s, was entitled Rockin' Rollin' and featured Haley's Decca recordings. It was reissued in 1991 on CD in an expanded edition called The Decca Years and More. In 1999, a second set, The Warner Brothers Years and More, focused on Haley's work for numerous American labels in the 1960s. In 2003, Hydra Records issued Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 2 : The Legendary Cowboy Recordings which also looked at this era of Haley's career.
Here is the track listing for the new set. Tracks marked with ** have never been released before.
CD 1: Too Many Parties, Too Many Pals, Four Leaf Clover Blues, Candy Kisses, Tennessee Border, The Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along, Yodel Your Blues Away, Behind the Eight Ball, Foolish Questions, Loveless Blues, Stand Up and Be Counted, Deal Me a Hand, Ten Gallon Stetson, Susan Van Dusan, I'm Not to Blame, I'm Gonna Dry Every Tear With a Kiss, Why Do I Cry Over You?, Teardrops From My Eyes (alternate take)**, Loveless Blues (alternate take)**, My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada, My Palomino and I.
CD 2: Rocket 88, Tearstains on My Heart, Green Tree Boogie, Down Deep in My Heart, I'm Crying, Pretty Baby, A Year Ago This Christmas, I Don't Want to Be Alone This Christmas, Jukebox Cannonball, Sundown Boogie, Barnyard Special (Curly Herdman and the Saddlemen), Rose of My Heart (Herdman), Two Timin' Blues (Lou Graham and the Saddlemen), Long Gone Daddy (Graham), I'm Lonesome (Graham), A Sweet Bunch of Roses (Graham), Please Make Up Your Fickle Mind (Graham), My Heart Tells Me (Graham), I'm Lonesome (Graham alt. take), A Sweet Bunch of Roses (Graham alt. take), Please Make Up Your Fickle Mind (Graham alt. take), My Heart Tells Me (Graham alt. take), Out Where the West Wind Blows (Down Homers without Haley), Who's Gonna Kiss You When I'm Gone (Down Homers without Haley), Boogie Woogie Yodel (Down Homers without Haley), Baby I Found Out All About You (Down Homers without Haley).
CD 3: Rock the Joint, Icy Heart, Dance with a Dolly, Rockin' Chair on the Moon, Stop Beatin' Around the Mulberry Bush, Real Rock Drive, Crazy Man Crazy, What'cha Gonna Do, Pat-a-Cake, Fractured, Live it Up, Farewell So Long Goodbye, I'll Be True, Ten Little Indians, Yes Indeed, Yes Indeed (alt. take), Chattanooga Choo Choo, Straight Jacket.
CD 4: Rovin' Eyes, Candy and Women, My Mom Heart Me Cry Over You, Cotton Haired Girl, Wreck on the Highway, A Yodeler's Lullaby, All I Need is Some More Lovin', Candy and Women (alt. take), Yodel Your Blues Away, Red River Valley, Behind the Eight Ball**, Foolish Questions**, Easy Rocking Chair**, I Wasted a Nickel**, My Bucket's Got a Hole in It**, Sunday Down in Tennessee**, Behind the Eight Ball (alt. take)**, Rose of My Heart, Within This Broken Heart of Mine**, Down Home (Down Homers with Haley)**, Following the Sun All Day (Down Homers with Haley)**, She Taught Me How to Yodel (Down Homers with Haley)**, Cool Water (Down Homers with Haley)**, Baby I Found Out All About You (Down Homers with Haley)**, Open Up Them Pearly Gates (Down Homers with Haley)**, Who's Gonna Kiss You When I'm Gone (Down Homers with Haley)**, Arizona Cowboy radio advertisement**, Westinghouse and Twin Bars radio advertisement.
CD 5: (All tracks on this CD unissued). Rose of My Heart, Rose of My Heart, Cherry Tree Lane, Cute Little Brown-Eyed Girl, A Sweet Bunch of Roses, Yodel Your Blues Away, Candy and Women, Behind the Eight Ball, Ages and Ages Ago, Honestly, I Dreamed of an Old Love Affair, Whispering, I Love You So Much It Hurts, Little Rock Arkansas, A Bundle of Kisses, Are You Teasing Me?, I Want You, Gotta Have My Baby Back, Take Me in Your Arms, Candy and Women, Teardrops from My Eyes.
POSTED: December 9, 2005
New Comet sighted
The original Comets are adding another player to their all-star line-up for 2006.
Bass player Marshall Lytle has announced that guitarist Andrew Norblin will join the Comets as a guest star beginning in January 2006, and will be a featured player during the band's upcoming stint at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theatre in Branson, Mo. which begins in March. The Comets will be in residence at the American Bandstand Theatre for much of 2006.
Norblin is a longtime fan of The Comets and lists Franny Beecher as among his idols. A few years ago, he recorded a version of Beecher's "Goofin' Around" as a tribute to the 84-year-old guitar legend.
Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theatre is scheduled to open on March 17, and The Comets will be one of the headlining acts.
POSTED: December 9, 2005
Clockathon rocks Hollywood, NASA
Gina Haley meets The Comets at Hollywood's Rockwalk
(Alex Frazer-Harrison photo)
In July, The Comets rocked Hollywood for the second time in less than six months, during a celebration that stretched from one of the trendiest nightclubs in town to the fringes of outer space.
As reported back in June, the Rock Around the Clock-a-Thon was a follow-up to a successful set of events earlier in the year in New York and L.A., continuing the 50th anniversary celebrations of the official start of the Rock and Roll Era. The July events marked a double anniversary: the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock" reaching No. 1 on the American charts, and what would have been the 80th birthday of Bill Haley (the 25th anniversary of Haley's death is coming up in February 2006).
Organized by producer Martin Lewis (whose credits include promoting Billy Connolly, co-founding the Secret Policeman's Ball fundraisers for Amnesty International, and discovering comic Alexei Sayle), the event was designed to elevate awareness of not only Bill Haley's contribution to rock and roll (a fact often overlooked by historians blinded by the light of Elvis Presley) but also that of his Comets, particularly the surviving members of the band from 1954-55, including three members (Johnny Grande, Marshall Lytle, and Joey Ambrose) who actually participated in the original recording of "Rock Around the Clock".
The first major event of the Clock-a-Thon took place less than two hours after The Comets arrived at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank following a successful Fourth of July show in Monterrey the day before. Martin Lewis had cut a deal with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena: if NASA's Deep Impact space probe was successful in its quest to crash into a comet on July 4, The Comets would perform a free outdoor concert for JPL staff on July 5. And that's what happened!
At a private get-together prior to the show, a special music video was unveiled that had been created in less than 24 hours after the successful impact - footage of Haley and the Comets from 1955 performing "Rock Around the Clock" was interspersed with black-and-white CGI footage of Deep Impact en route to the comet; at the moment of impact, the video bursts into color as images of the actual impact are shown to the music of The Comets performing "RATC" at a March 2005 appearance. The video was posted on NASA's website for several weeks afterward and scored thousands of hits.
The concert itself had NASA employees jiving under the noon hour sun, and the event was covered by media worldwide. And the Clock-a-Thon had barely even started.
The Comets rock the joint at the JPL in Pasadena
(Alex Frazer-Harrison photo)
Another major event saw The Comets joining the Hollywood's Rockwalk hall of fame. Hosted by the world-famous Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd., the event saw the band immortalizing their handprints in concrete (a space was left blank for Haley). Afterwards, the band performed a three-song set that had top L.A. Jim Ladd and others watching flabbergasted as these 70-and-80-somethings rocked harder than many performers a quarter of their age.
The Clock-a-Thon was very much a family affair for many people involved. Cuppy Haley, Bill's second wife, attended many of the events, as did Peter Ford, the son of Glenn Ford of Blackboard Jungle fame (Peter, whose mother was MGM dancing legend Eleanor Powell, is now credited by many as being indirectly responsible for "RATC" being chosen for the film's soundtrack). Joey Ambrose brought his wife and daughter along. And Gina Haley, the youngest daughter of Bill Haley and a noted singer-songwriter in her own right, was a pleasant surprise to all when she attended the Rockwalk dedication.
Fans of the two movies Haley and The Comets made in the 1950s were able to watch them on the majestic Egyptian Theatre screen as the American Cinematheque hosted a special screening that opened with a Q&A session with The Comets as well as Jim Dawson, the author of a new book on the history of "Rock Around the Clock". Also, The Comets were interviewed by CBS News for a special feature that aired on the CBS Early News in August.
The Clock-a-Thon came to a close with a performance at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip. Formerly owned by Johnny Depp, the club was filled to capacity with audience members ranging from local politicians and NASA officials to Jane Wiedlin of Go-Gos fame. Gina Haley also attended and thrilled everyone when she agreed to get on stage to perform "Rock the Joint" with The Comets. For the first time in 25 years, if only for a few minutes, "Haley and the Comets" were a band again! In the luxurious Gibson Guitars-sponsored tour bus after the show, Gina met Cuppy Haley for the first time ever, and everyone took a few moments to sing "Happy Birthday" in memory of Bill Haley.
It's impossible to write everything that happened during the Clock-a-Thon in such a short space. I hope to write a more detailed account in the near future. Suffice it to say that, for an old Haley fan, it was a thrill seeing Haley's music and The Comets get the type of spotlight that, truth be told, has been more common in Europe than in North America in recent years.
POSTED: June 13, 2005; updated June 15, 2005
Celebrations to mark Clock hitting No. 1, Haley's 80th birthday, RockWalk induction
The organizers of this spring's successful Rock is Fifty celebrations are gearing up for yet another set of anniversary celebrations in Los Angeles at the beginning of July which will see Bill Haley .
Dubbed the "Rock-Around-The-Clock-Athon", by producer Martin Lewis, a solid 32 hours of special events are scheduled, featuring appearances by the 1954-55 Comets, Haley's second wife Cuppy Haley, and other surprises, starting at 6 p.m. on July 5 and running until 2 a.m. on July 7 at venues throughout Hollywood.
The celebrations mark the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock" hitting the No. 1 spot on the American record charts on July 5, 1955, becoming the first rock and roll record to do so. July 6, meanwhile, would have been Bill Haley's 80th birthday.
Here is a quick rundown of scheduled events (subject to change):
1. The events kick off at the music club The Knitting Factory at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. July 5 at 6 p.m. with a Double Happy Hour get-together with a deejay playing 50s music and The Comets in attendence.
2. At 8 p.m. everyone heads down the street to Grauman's Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. (two blocks east of Hollywood & Highland and the Chinese Theatre) for the grand opening night of the Mods & Rockers Film Festival. Hosted by the American Cinematheque, the event will feature special showings of the 1956 films Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock, followed by a Q&A session with The Comets and Cuppy Haley.
3. After the showings, drop by The Pig & Whistle pub, right next door to the Egyptian Theatre, for a late-night toast to "Rock Around the Clock"'s 50th anniversary and Bill Haley's 80th birthday.
4. Day 2 of the festivities kick off at 8 a.m. July 6 at Duke's Coffee Shop at 8909 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood which will host an early-morning salute to "Rock Around the Clock" with no less than 50 versions of the song being played, including versions by Mae West, the Sex Pistols, and even a version on accordion!
5. At 1 p.m., Bill Haley and The Comets will be inducted into the Hollywood RockWalk alongside other famous musicians and producers. The RockWalk is located at 7425 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.
6. At 4 p.m., the Comets and Cuppy head over to the Museum of Television and Radio at 465 N. Beverly Dr. in Beverly Hills to "relaunch" the Rock is Fifty exhibit at the museum which is being held over due to popular demand.
7. At 9 p.m., The Comets will return to the Viper Room club at 8852 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood for a return engagement dubbed the Comets Jubilee Ball. Known as the club owned by Johnny Depp, the Viper Room is one of LA's hottest nightspots and The Comets have broken the record for the oldest band to play the venue (beating The Rolling Stones).
For more information about these events, as well as how you can get tickets to the Cinematheque and Viper Room events, visit RockIsFifty.com.
For fans of the music of Bill Haley and His Comets, this is a golden opportunity to come out and show your support. Unlike Haley's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1986, the Comets' induction into the RockWalk will be a public event. Plans are for media to be invited to the event, and this is a chance to promote not only Bill Haley's music, but rockabilly in general. Let Joe Public know that there is more to rock and roll (and rockabilly) than Elvis!
Coinciding with the event is the official release of Jim Dawson's book Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution. Watch for a review of this landmark book soon.
POSTED: March 16, 2005
Major 50th anniversary of Rock celebrations planned
The release 50 years ago of Blackboard Jungle and the skyrocketing popularity of "Rock Around the Clock", which kicked off the Rock n' Roll era, is being celebrated this month with two major celebrations in New York City and Los Angeles.
Dubbed "Rock is Fifty!" the cross-continent party will see special events and even a concert by The Original Comets at the legendary Viper Room club in West Hollywood, which promoters say will make them the oldest band to ever play the famous club owned by Johnny Depp.
Planning for the event began last December, and has come together with lightning speed. Scheduled events as of March 16 include:
1. Special screening of Blackboard Jungle, March 20 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
2. Rock is Fifty! Anniversary Party hosted in New York by Gibson Guitars, March 21. This VIP-only event will include a performance by the Original Comets.
3. Premiere of a special video Rock is Fifty featuring rare performances from The Ed Sullivan Show, March 22 at New York's Musuem of Television and Radio, including a seminar with the Original Comets. The video will be shown at the museum starting March 23 and continuing for a month, along with other displays on the early years of rock.
4. Special screenings of Blackboard Jungle and Rock Around the Clock, March 27 at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles.
5. Live performance by the Original Comets at the legendary Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
6. Premiere of the video Rock is Fifty, March 29 at Los Angeles's Musuem of Television and Radio, including another seminar with the Original Comets. The video makes its public debut there on March 30 and runs for a month, along with other displays on the early years of rock.
7. Opening March 30 at the Museum of Television and Radio in L.A.: a three-month exhibition on early rock and roll, created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a second exhibition created by Gibson Guitars.
In addition, organizer Martin Lewis has also announced a new music video has been produced for "Rock Around the Clock", using footage from Blackboard Jungle and The Ed Sullivan Show. Steven Van Zandt is also launching a new satellite radio channel, Underground Garage, in conjunction with these events and is planning a special show focusing on "Rock Around the Clock".
POSTED: March 16, 2005
New book tells the story of Rock Around the Clock
On the heels of the official announcement of the Rock is Fifty! celebrations comes word that a new book on the history of "Rock Around the Clock" will be released in May.
Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution by Jim Dawson is scheduled for release on May 10, the same day Blackboard Jungle receives its long-awaited DVD release (see below). The result of extensive research and interviews, Dawson's 200-page book chronicles the making of this most important of rock and roll recordings.
The book is published by Backbeat Books and is currently available at Amazon (link good as of February 2011).
Update June 2005: Release of this book has been delayed until early July to coincide with the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock" topping the charts, although it is already available through Internet retailers such as Amazon (see link, above).
POSTED: March 16, 2005
Blackboard Jungle DVD announced
Warner Home Video has announced the long-awaited DVD release of Blackboard Jungle, the 1955 film starring Glenn Ford which is credited with sparking the rock and roll era by featuring Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" in the opening credits.
The film is being released in North America (Region 1) on May 10 (with release in other parts of the world expected to follow) as part of Warner's "Controversial Classics" series of reissues.
Warner has yet to confirm extras and special features that will be included on the DVD, however Peter Ford, son of Glenn Ford, has recorded some interviews for the release, along with several actors from the film including Jamie Farr and Paul Mazursky.
POSTED: August 26, 2004
Happy Days season one released on DVD
The first season of the American sitcom classic Happy Days has now been released in a controversial DVD package in North America.
For 10 seasons, the show chronicled the trails and tribulations of Ritchie Cunningham, The Fonz, and other memorable characters in a series that initially took place in the carefree 1950s, but eventually progressed through the years until it ended with the spectre of Vietnam around the corner.
For Bill Haley fans, the show is significant as "Rock Around the Clock" was used as the theme song for the first couple of years, until Pratt and McClain's "Happy Days" became a huge hit and replaced the venerable oldie. For this series, Bill Haley and His Comets actually re-recorded the song, along with a few other Decca classics. Personnel on this recording included Nick Nastos on lead guitar, Freddie Moore on drums, Ray Cawley on bass, and the ever-present Rudy Pompilli on sax. This recording has never been officially released, so for now the DVD is the only place to hear it, albeit in edited down form. Reportedly, the audio mix used for the DVD eliminates a number of distracting sound effects during the original opening credits. This rare recording of RATC has never sounded better. (Fortunately, the set does not include the alternate version of the credits used for syndicated reruns as Happy Days Again which made use of a terribly edited copy of Haley's 1954 Decca original.)
The set is taking a critical drubbing by fans upset that it contains no extra material, not even episode commentaries or a behind-the-scenes documentary. It is widely available in North America.
POSTED: June 30, 2004
Rock Around the Clock named 50th most important movie song
The American Film Institute bestowed a timely honor on the 50-year-old recording of "Rock Around the Clock" last week, naming it the 50th most important song in the history of American film.
AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Songs was the organization's most recent listing of superlatives in its ongoing celebration of both the millennium and the centennial of the American film industry. AFI members were given a ballot with 400 song titles and were asked to choose the 100 songs they felt were the most important. "Rock Around the Clock" was named for its use as the theme for the epochial 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, which many credit for kickstarting the Rock and Roll era.
The AFI's list was unveiled during a three-hour special on CBS Television in the USA. The "Clock" segment included comments by rocker and lifelong Haley fan Graham Nash and actor Keith Carradine (whose own song, "I'm Easy" from Nashville, ranked at No. 81), and received an affectionate introduction by the special's host, John Travolta, who acknowledged the song's 50th anniversary.
The only other 1950s rock classic to make the top 50 was Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," which scored at No. 21. The No. 1 song was "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.
POSTED: May 26, 2004; UPDATED: August 26, 2004
60-track Rock Around the Clock CD set planned
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the recording of "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets, Hydra Records of Germany is planning to release the largest collection of "Rock Around the Clock" versions ever attempted.
Hydra owner Klaus Kettner reports that Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 3: 50 Years of Rock Around the Clock will be a 2-CD set containing 30 different recordings of the song by Bill Haley and the Comets -- many of which have never before been released -- and another 30 recordings of the song by artists from around the world.
The CD is scheduled for release in June or July of this year, Kettner says. Update: release of this set has since been pushed back to sometime in August.
This is the third volume in Hydra's eclectic Bill Haley and Friends series of CDs combining rare Haley recordings with recordings related to Haley and his organization. The first CD, released in 1998, consisted of rare Christmas-themed country recordings. The second volume, released in 2003, spotlighted the recordings of the Cowboy label.
POSTED: May 22, 2004
Rare 1940s/1970s Haley recordings released
Two new privately-issued CD feature rare recordings from both the very beginning of Bill Haley's career, and from the very end.
"She Taught Me to Yodel" and "Following the Sun," the two earliest known recordings by Bill Haley, have been issued on Rusty Rogers Remembers the Downhomers, a CD compiled on behalf of Kenny Roberts by Ronnie Chase. Roberts was a member of the Downhomers, a popular East Coast country swing group which Bill Haley joined briefly in 1946 -- Rogers was also a member of this venerable group. Until about a year or so ago, it was thought that Haley had made no recordings with the group -- a pair of Vogue label singles long believed to feature him have now been disproven -- until a set of radio recordings from 1946 surfaced. "She Taught Me to Yodel" is a solo vocal by Haley, while "Following the Sun" features him as part of the ensemble.
Not long after these recordings were made, Haley struck out on his own, leading and recording with several groups over the next few years including the Four Aces of Western Swing and the Saddlemen, which later morphed into The Comets in 1952.
The 2-CD set features 35 tracks by the Downhomers and those who have heard it have called it an excellent collection of the band's work.
Ronnie Chase, who has worked as Kenny Roberts' piano player for many years, is offering the CD for US$19.95 plus postage via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by traditional mail from: Ronnie Chase, 731 Laconia Rd., Belmont, NH, USA 03220. Update November 2010: Please note this information was as of May 2004; ordering and availability information may no longer be current.
Meanwhile, Kenny Denton, who produced Bill Haley's final recording sessions in London and Alabama in 1979, will be releasing a collection of outtakes and rare recordings entitled The Journey to Fame in late June.
The CD features behind-the-scenes recordings made at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, as Haley and a group of session musicians (who became honorary Comets for the occasion) hammer out arrangements for several songs that would be included in his final Sonet Records release, Everyone Can Rock and Roll. Although no previously unreleased songs are included, the set includes Haley working out chords on "Tweedle Dee," chatting about the 1979 remake of his 1952 single, "Jukebox Cannonball" (which Haley refers to several times as the intended title track of the album), and recording overdubs on "Everyone Can Rock and Roll" and the autobiographical "God Bless Rock and Roll."
The album also includes the first CD release of the remixed versions of "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Rock Around the Clock" and "See You Later Alligator" which had been released on a Sonet EP in the late 1980s, along with two previously-unissued "swamp rock" remixes of "Shake Rattle and Roll." These unusual recordings made use of 1968 vocals by Haley which were stripped of their original backing and given a more contemporary (for the late 1980s) feel. Denton oversaw these remixes, which he said reflected Haley's never-realized plans to rerecord his old hits in a modern style. The previously unreleased "swamp rock" remixes have been particularly sought after by Haley collectors over the years.
A highlight of the CD is a 20-minute interview with Dave Miller, who was Haley's producer at Essex Records in the early 1950s and who became infamous for not allowing Haley to record "Rock Around the Clock" (though Miller, of course, tells a different story). Miller and Haley reportedly met for the first time in more than 25 years during the Everyone Can Rock and Roll sessions in London.
The Journey to Fame will be available through Kenny Denton's Web site at dentonmedia.net. Update November 2010: Please note this information was as of May 2004; ordering and availability information may no longer be current.
POSTED: April 6, 2004
Celebrations mark 50th Anniversary of Rock Around the Clock
April 12, 2004 marks the 50th anniversary of Bill Haley and the Comets' original recording of "Rock Around the Clock," and a number of celebrations are planned to mark the milestone.
Two branches of BBC Radio in Great Britain have scheduled major retrospectives on the history of the famous recording.
On April 12 itself, BBC Hereford and Worcester have scheduled a midday tribute to "Rock Around the Clock," featuring an interview with Haley historian Paul Bye, and the broadcaster is also launching a listeners' contest, with an autographed Original Comets photo as a prize.
Then, on April 17, BBC2 Radio will air a one-hour documentary hosted by Suzi Quatro dedicated to the history of the song. The feature includes interviews with members of the Comets, children of Bill Haley and RATC guitarist Danny Cedrone, as well as Peter Ford, the son of Glenn Ford and the man indirectly responsible for getting "Rock Around the Clock" chosen as the theme music for Blackboard Jungle.
Bill Turner, who was the Comets' guitarist in the mid-1970s, has recorded an interview for WDVR Radio in Sergeantsville, N.J., for broadcast in early-mid April.
Also this month, Now Dig This magazine has published a major tribute to Haley and "Rock Around the Clock" featuring an article on the song by Stuart Colman. Numerous newspapers are also planning to run articles on or around the date, including the Wall Street Journal, while an article on the anniversary and featuring a rare interview with longtime Haley Fan Club president Hugh McCallum reportedly appeared in an recent issue of Music Week.
Meanwhile, Haley's final hometown of Harlingen, Texas, will host its second Bill Haley Day on April 18. Although details were sketchy at press time, what we know is the event will be held in conjunction with the city's Riofest arts festival, will include a Bill Haley exhibit, and the guest of honor will be Haley's youngest son, Pedro.
This is the city's second Bill Haley Day; the first, on Oct. 11, 2003, saw the unveiling of a mural in his honor. Haley lived in Harlingen in the 1970s and died there on Feb. 9, 1981.
Lastly, I have revised my own "Rock Around the Clock" tribute Web page here at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The page, at www.rockabillyhall.com/RockClockTribute.html is an extensive look at the history of the recording.
POSTED: April 6, 2004
Original Comets release concert DVD
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock," Bill Haley's 1954-55 Comets have released a new DVD on the Hydra Records label.
The DVD, entitled The Fathers of Rock & Roll -- Live in Concert, features a complete concert by the band, filmed in Europe, an hour of interviews, and a photo gallery.
This is actually the second DVD release by the Original Band; in 2003 they released a limited edition DVD titled Bill Haley's Original Comets that included interviews, CD-ROM content including video of the band performing in Florida, and several audio tracks.
Klaus Kettner of Hydra Records says the new DVD, despite being a European release, is being made in NTSC format so that it can be viewed in North America, "but about 95 per cent of European DVD players can play that format, too," he says.
The show features performances of many of the Comets' best-known classics, as well as less familiar material such as "When You're Smiling" featuring sax man Joey Ambrose, and the Marshall Lytle ballad "You're the Greatest."
For more information, you can contact Hydra Records directly at RockItHydra@t-online.de. Watch for a review on this site soon.
POSTED: February 18, 2004
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame petition launched
Nearly two decades after Bill Haley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, efforts are now under way to see the same honor accorded to his famous band. An online petition has been launched to collect signatures in support of the idea of the Hall of Fame (which is not affiliated with the Rockabilly Hall of Fame) inducting The Comets. Although the honor is specifically aimed at the original members of the group, especially those who recorded "Rock Around the Clock" and the group's other classic hits a half-century ago, it would also reflect on the many other musicians who worked in the famous group over the years.
Originally, the Hall of Fame only honored individual artists or groups, but not backing groups. The rules changed some time ago, making the Comets eligible for a separate honor. An attempt to lobby the Hall to induct Danny Cedrone, the session guitarist who played the famous guitar riff on Haley's "Rock Around the Clock," was unsuccessful a few years ago.
Many Haley fans were upset when the Father of Rock and Roll was passed over in the first round of Hall of Fame nominations in 1985; he received the belated honor the next year.
The petition has been organized by Haley fan and collector Denise Gregoire, and can be accessed at this www.PetitionOnline.com Web Site. As of February 16, only a few days after being launched, the petition had already collected more than 160 signatures from fans around the world. Update November 2010: Please note URL was current as of February 2004 and may no longer be accessible.
POSTED: February 1, 2004
Hydra to release 1954-55 Comets DVD
Hydra Records of Germany has announced it will be releasing a special DVD featuring a complete concert by the 1954-55 Comets in time for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the recording of "Rock Around the Clock."
Hydra owner Klaus Kettner, who made the announcement to the Bill Haley e-mail discussion group, said the DVD, entitled The Fathers of Rock & Roll - Live in Concert will feature not only the live show, but also band member interviews and rare photos.
The DVD is set for release during the Original Band's upcoming European tour in March.
Kettner says the DVD will be viewable on both European PAL and North American NTSC video formats.
This is the second 1954-55 Comets DVD. In 2003, the group released a DVD/CD/CD-ROM hybrid featuring interviews in the DVD portion of the 2-disc set, video of two song performances on the CD-ROM, and recordings of 3 live tracks for the CD.
POSTED: February 1, 2004
Bill Haley Central relocates
A major Bill Haley Web site has survived a brush with cyber-squatters.
Bill Haley Central, created by longtime Haley historian Chris Gardner, was started several years ago as a portal linking together all the major Haley-related Web sites on the Internet, including Extra, billhaley.com, d4haley.com, and Gardner's own extensive online Haley database.
Originally located at billhaley-central.com, Gardner's ownership of the site temporarily (and unintentionally) lapsed before Christmas. When Gardner went to renew his ownership of the URL, he found that a "holding company" had laid claim to the Web site and was willing to sell it back to him ... for a fee.
Fortunately, all Gardner had to do was drop the hyphen in the URL, to www.billhaleycentral.com, register that name, and before long Bill Haley Central was back in business. Gardner is presently rebuilding the site, but most links to the world's major Bill Haley Web sites have been restored.
POSTED: November 1, 2003
1980s Comets featured on new DVD
A new DVD release features a pair of rare performances by one of the 1980s versions of Bill Haley's Comets.
Back in 1988, the John Lane/Al Rappa edition of Bill Haley's Comets appeared on the American music TV series Rock 'n' Roll Palace which was aired on the TNN network (then known as The Nashville Network). Recorded at a club called Little Darlin's, the series was hosted by the late Wolfman Jack, and featured an array of 1950s and 1960s stars performing their greatest hits. A number of episodes from this show have been released by the Quality Special Products label under the banner The Best of Rock 'n' Roll Palace.
Billed as simply The Comets, the version of the band featured on the show and DVD consisted of bassist Al Rappa, who worked with Haley off and on between 1959 and 1969, drummer John "Bam-Bam" Lane, who was with the Comets from 1965 to 1968, and an unidentifed bass guitar player/singer, saxophone player/singer, and lead guitarist. (I have been unable to identify these musicians for my Haley's Who's Who; any help would be appreciated). Both Lane and Rappa today tour the US with their own separate versions of Bill Haley's Comets, and a tug-of-war exists between their groups and the members of the 1954-55 Original Comets over the rights to the Comets name. At the time of this performance, however, the 1954-55 Comets had not yet resumed touring, and Lane and Rappa were in the midst of, or had recently resolved, a court battle against yet another group using the name Bill Haley's Comets, this one operated by Joey Rand.
The two songs performed by The Comets on the DVD are "Rock Around the Clock" and "See You Later Alligator." Most of the episode is devoted to guest star Freddy Cannon. A second episode, featuring The Diamonds and The Shirelles, rounds off the DVD.
The Best of Rock 'n' Roll Palace is a North American Region 1 release; the two Comets tracks from this series have reportedly been released on European CD, but I do not have any information about that.
POSTED: September 28, 2003
Texas city honors Haley
The city where Bill Haley lived during his last years has officially proclaimed October 11 "Bill Haley Day."
Harlingen, Texas, located close to the Mexican border, considers Bill Haley its most famous resident. Mayor Connie de la Garza announced the special day this past week, and the event will coincide with the unveiling of a mural by John Aretakis.
This is the first time Haley's memory has been celebrated with a civic day named in his honor.
Haley's youngest son, Pedro, will help unveil the 20-by-12-foot mural, which has been installed at the corner of Jackson and A streets.
Although Haley's primary residence was in Mexico from the 1960s onward, he maintained a home in Harlingen beginning in the 1970s. It was there that he was found dead on Feb. 9, 1981, of an apparent heart attack (his son, John Haley, contends that his death was related to a brain tumor).
At the moment, no members of the Comets are scheduled to attend due to the short notice of the event; the members of the 1954-55 Comets who recorded "Rock Around the Clock" with Haley in 1954 are scheduled to be touring Canada that week. However, the hope is that Bill Haley Day in Harlingen will become an annual celebration of the Father of Rock and Roll.
POSTED: September 28, 2003
CD pays tribute to Franny Beecher
Guitarist Andrew Norblin pays tribute to one of the most famous rock and roll guitarists of all time on a new CD.
The privately pressed CD, Andrew Norblin and Friends, features the talented guitarist burning up the frets with a number of big band, country swing, and rhythm and blues instrumentals, including a sizzling cover of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive and Wail," the instrumental classic "Sleepwalk," and "The Fred and Ginger Swing," a tribute to the movie dancing legends.
The album closes with a four-minute rendition of the classic Bill Haley and the Comets instrumental "Goofin' Around" which has been renamed "Goofin' Around 2001 (A Tribute to Franny)" for the occasion. The original version was recorded by the Comets in 1956 and was featured in the 1957 film Don't Knock the Rock; the Original 1954-55 Comets -- with Beecher -- still perform the song in concert and it was included in their recent album Still Rockin' Around the Clock.
Norblin's version stays true to the spirit of the original, while adding a number of flourishes that would do Beecher proud. (Franny has heard the tribute and was reportedly very pleased with Norblin's work.) As a final nod to the Haley guitarist, Norblin incorporates Beecher's famous solo from 1955's "The Saint's Rock and Roll" into the mix as well.
Several other songs on Norblin's album have Haley connections, with "Spanish Eyes," "Caravan," and "Malaguena" all having been recorded by the Comets at one point. "Jump, Jive and Wail" is also featured on a live album released last year by the John "Bam-Bam" Lane edition of Bill Haley's Comets.
The CD is available at d4haley.com. Update November 2010: Please note this was accurate as of September 2003; the CD may no longer be available from this source.
POSTED: June 23, 2003
Rare 1957 Australia radio recordings released
A pair of previously unissued radio recordings by Bill Haley and the Comets have been released.
Rock and Roll Radio Australia 1957 is a new release on the Rockstar label. The CD contains 30 live tracks featuring not only Bill Haley, but also Gene Vincent, Freddy Bell and the Bellboys, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, The Platters, and other classic rock n' rollers who travelled Down Under in the late 1950s.
The two Haley tracks -- "Razzle-Dazzle" and "Rock Around the Clock" -- were recorded during their first Australian tour, and the sequence also includes a brief interview with Haley. These recordings have been in the hands of private collectors for some time, but this is the first time they have been made available to the public.
Since the mid-1990s, Rockstar has released two other Haley-related CDs: Let's All Rock Together, which featured many previously unreleased recordings by The Jodimars as well as rare 1968 tracks by Haley, and The House is Rockin', a 1998 album by the 1954-55 Comets.
Release information for this new release was not immediately available, however Rockstar releases tend to show up in mainstream music stores, as well as businesses that specialize in rockabilly music such as Hepcat Records.
POSTED: June 23, 2003
New rockabilly column features Comets interviews
A new column at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame is featuring interviews with members of Bill Haley and the Comets.
"From the Keyboard" is written by Otto Fuchs, who hosts one of the many programs on Rock-It Radio out of Europe, and who often features Haley recordings on his show. Otto's new column so-far features in-depth interviews with two former members of Bill Haley and the COmets: Bill Turner (lead guitar 1974-76) and Joey Welz (piano, circa 1965), with more to come. Besides the interesting words, the column also features rare photos and other surprises.
Check it out at www.rockabillyhall.com/OttoFuchs.html. Update November 2010: URL is no longer active.
POSTED: June 5, 2003
New CD spotlights Haley country recordings
Hydra Records of Germany has released its second volume of recordings by and related to Bill Haley, long before he became a rock and roll star.
Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 2: The Legendary Cowboy Recordings has been in the works for nearly a year, and features a number of remasted recordings Haley made for the Cowboy label in the late 1940s, when he fronted the Four Aces of Western Swing and The Saddlemen.
Only a few of these recordings were ever actually released in the late 1940s; most remained hidden until they began to appear on vinyl in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the songs featured on this album are making their debut on CD.
Included in the Haley recordings are some real surprising changes of pace from the man best known as the father of Rock and Roll. One track is called "Yodel Your Blues Away" and showcases Haley's remarkable and underrated yodelling skills. Haley biographer John Swenson considered this recording to be every bit as good as Haley's later Decca classics. Both sides of Haley's first commercially-released single are also included in this package.
Also included are two rare sides Haley recorded that were released under the name Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos. Browne was a popular female cowboy of serials and TV at the time, and the record was released under her name even though he had nothing to do with it!
A number of other artists who recorded for Cowboy Records in the 1940s and 50s are also featured on the CD, including Ray Whitley, who provides versions of several songs later recorded by Haley himself.
The Haley songs featured on this issue are: Yodel Your Blues Away/Four Leaf Clover Blues/Too Many Parties Too Many Pals/The Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along/Behind the Eight Ball/My Palomino and I/My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada/Foolish Questions/Candy Kisses/Tennessee Border.
The first Bill Haley and Friends volume, released in 1998, featured rare Christmas-themed recordings by Haley and others.
Go here for a review of this unique release.
POSTED: June 5, 2003
1954-55 Comets release rockin' rollin' DVD
A project to preserve rare interviews featuring the original 1954-55 Comets has undergone some major changes -- resulting in the release of the band's first DVD.
Rock Around the Clock Live was originally planned as a single-disc enhanced CD, with live audio tracks and a CD-ROM component featuring video footage of the band being interviewed. Promotional copies of the CD were even circulated (and it was reviewed in this column). But the group, along with producer John Stamey, chose to hold off on the release of the project, and instead have retooled it into a 2-disc DVD/CD set.
Disc one features three audio tracks recorded in Gainesville -- but put the CD into your PC and you can also watch two music videos of the band in action. Disc two is a full-fledged DVD featuring more than an hour of rare and fascinating interviews with Johnny Grande, Dick Richards, Joey Ambrose, Marshall Lytle and Franny Beecher, recorded backstage after one of their American shows.
As I mentioned when I first announced this project last year, the interviews themselves are worth the price of admission, while the audio tracks feature Marshall Lytle on lead vocals. This release also corrects a 50-year-old oversight in that Lytle finally receives co-writing credit for the song "Crazy Man Crazy" (see the 50th anniversary tribute to the song, below, to learn why this is significant.)
(Update November 2010: The original version of this story included contact information for obtaining a copy of this release. The URL originally listed here is no longer functional, and to the best of my knowledge this release is no longer available commercially.)
Go here for my original review of Rock Around the Clock Live -- with some updates, of course!
POSTED: May 16, 2003
Comets guitarist Pruitt passes away
Paul Pruitt Sr., one of a number of guitarists who worked with Bill Haley during the 1970s, passed away earlier this month.
According to a newspaper obituary, Pruitt passed away peacefully at his home in Clayton, Del. on May 14 at the age of 60. The cause of death was not announced.
Pruitt joined Bill Haley and The Comets in September 1971, replacing Nick Nastos who had left Haley's group to pursue other musical opportunities. Pruitt's style of playing was more modern than that of his predecessors. The obituary claimed the was the youngest guitarist to ever work with Bill Haley, however this is incorrect.
Pruitt's tenure with The Comets lasted several months, and he left the group in January 1972. He never had the opportunity to record with Haley in the studio, but privately-owned live recordings from his time with the band are believed to exist.
POSTED: May 16, 2003
Rockit Radio profiles Turner, Welz
Two former members of The Comets are in the spotlight on European Web radio station Rock It Radio this month.
Otto Fuchs' Rocket 88 show, which often features Bill Haley material, features in-depth interviews with piano player Joey Welz and guitarist Bill Turner.
Welz was a member of The Comets for a time in the mid-1960s, though the exact dates are a matter of debate. A prolific solo recording artist, he continues to give his Comets tenure pride of place on his resume.
Bill Turner was Haley's lead guitar player from 1974 to 1976, replacing Nick Nastos. Turner, who has fronted his own group the Blue Smoke Band for 30 years, has worked for MTV and remains in contact with the original 1954-55 Comets. A little known fact about Turner is that in the mid-1970s, he worked with Comets saxophone legend Rudy Pompilli in a jazz group that performed while Pompilli and Turner were not touring with Bill Haley. The final known recordings of Rudy Pompilli prior to his 1976 death from cancer were taped privately at one of these shows.
The two Rocket 88 shows are available for listening online at Rock It Radio for the next couple of weeks (dated from May 16, 2003). Fuchs reports that the shows will also be broadcast over FM 99.3 in Ventura, Calif. and will be aired at a later date on Radio 100 Amsterdam. Transcripts from the interviews are tentatively scheduled to be published in the German music 'zine Rock & Roll, Fuchs adds.
POSTED: March 17, 2003
50th anniversary of 'Crazy Man Crazy'
"Then Haley came along with a rockin' song ..."
April 2003 marks another musical milestone in the history of Rock and Roll Music -- the 50th anniversary of the Bill Haley and the Comets classic, "Crazy Man Crazy."
With this recording on Essex Records, Haley and the Comets enjoyed their first major hit since changing their name from Bill Haley and the Saddlemen several months earlier. But unlike previous recordings such as "Rock the Joint" that were regional successes, "Crazy Man Crazy" would become the band's first national hit, making the American Billboard charts and as such becoming one of if not the first true Rock and Roll recording to become a national success.
"Crazy Man Crazy" was also notable because, for the first time, Haley was able to score a major hit with an original recording, rather than relying on rearrangements of rhythm and blues songs. The Essex label proudly showed Bill Haley as the sole author of the song. However, bass player Marshall Lytle of the Comets says that in fact he co-wrote the song. In a recent e-mail, Marshall recalled how "Crazy Man Crazy" came to be written:
"While promoting Rock the Joint at a local high school assembly, Bill and I were putting the insturments in his car and some of the high school kids gathered around and we asked them how they liked our music," Marshall recalled.
"One said, 'That's crazy, man, crazy!' Bill wrote 'crazy man' on his hand with a pen.
"We went to Bill's apartment and while his wife Cuppy was making us a sandwich, Bill grabbed his guitar, strummed a cord and said 'Crazy Man Crazy.' He and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in about 30 minutes."
The exact date for the recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" has been lost to history, but it was during April 1953 at the Coastal Studios in New York City that Haley and his band recorded the song. Participating in the session were the core Comets: Haley, steel guitarist Billy Williamson, piano player Johnny Grande and Marshall Lytle on bass. Haley's stage drummer (who at this time was either Charlie Higler or Dick Richards) was not used for the recording session; prolific session drummer Billy Gussak was used instead. Session guitar player Danny Cedrone was busy with his own group, The Esquire Boys, and was unavailable for the session; instead, Haley used noted jazz player Art Ryerson. Ryerson would go on to play on all of the Comets' 1953 recordings.
Even this powerhouse line-up wasn't enough when the time came for the raucous "GO! GO! GO! EVERYBODY!" chorus, which ended in a startling scream that was unlike anything heard on record -- certainly a county-swing record. To add to this effect, a number of people joined in, including Essex owner Dave Miller, and Jerry Blaine, a visiting Essex distributor who would later go on to become a legendary Doo-Wop producer.
Lytle has bittersweet memories of this recording session, during which he learned a hard lesson about the music business.
"In those days Bill and I were very close, but at the record session in NYC when Dave Miller of Essex Records asked Bill who the writers were on 'Crazy Man Crazy,' Bill said just Bill Haley," said Marshall. "I overheard him and said, hey, Bill you know that you and I wrote that song, and he said that he wanted credit by himself and that he would take care of me on some other song. I trusted him 100 percent. I suppose being only 19 years old and Bill being my mentor had something to do with that."
Haley and Lytle would later share co-writing credit on another Essex recording, "Fractured," but that song never reached the heights of popularity that "Crazy Man Crazy" enjoyed. After it was released, Haley found himself being covered by other artists. Most notably, the Ray Marterie Orchestra had their own hit recording of the song, featuring a solo by future Comets member Rudy Pompilli on saxophone.
Sales figures for "Crazy Man Crazy" are not known for certain. Haley once claimed it was his first million seller, but there are no hard numbers to back this up. The Comets never had another hit of this size while at Essex, but it certainly set the stage for their later successful move to Decca Records and the recording of "Rock Around the Clock" exactly one year later.
Although the song isn't as well remembered as Haley's other classics, there is no denying its impact. According to a number of biographies of Elvis Presley, "Crazy Man Crazy" was one of his favorite songs and may have contributed to his decision to get into music. There are also unconfirmed reports that Elvis included the tune during some of his Louisiana Hayride performances. And it was around the time "Crazy Man Crazy" became a hit that Max Freedman with Jimmy DeKnight wrote a little song for Haley called "Rock Around the Clock."
Haley himself re-recorded "Crazy Man Crazy" in 1960 and again in 1972, and a surprisingly few live versions exist as well, while the 1954-55 Comets continue to perform the song today and have recorded it in studio twice with vocalist Jacko Buddin. But the 1953 recording remains an all-time Rock and Roll classic, 50 years after it was recorded.
Label scan courtesy Denise Gregoire.
POSTED: February 16, 2003.
Comets launches humor Web page
Marshall Lytle, bass man for the 1954-55 Comets, has become famous (or should that be infamous) for his unique sense of humor.
Now, thanks to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Marshall has a venue in which share his humorous view of the world.
"A Crazy Lytle Page" features jokes, odd photos and other strangeness that Marshall has picked up in his travels around the world. As handy with a digital camera and a scanner as he is with a bass fiddle, Marshall?s discoveries are sure to give a chuckle - or a blush!
Check out A Crazy Lytle page at www.rockabillyhall.com/crazyl ytlepage.html. Please note that the page does contain some adult content from time to time. Update November 2010: This intriguing webpage is still active in 2010 and Marshall continues to update it on occasion.
POSTED: November 25, 2002
Comets celebrate 50 years of rock and roll
Fifty years ago this month, Bill Haley and His Comets appeared on the world music scene, and set the place a-rockin'.
In November 1952, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen were riding high on the first wave of what would become known as rock n' roll. Earlier in the year they had scored a regional hit with their version of Jimmy Preston's "Rock the Joint," and Haley and company were still experimenting with the melding of country music with rhythm and blues that had begun with their groundbreaking version of "Rocket '88" in 1951.
With Haley's music moving farther away from the country-western sound -- the flipside of "Rock the Joint," a ballad called "Icy Heart," would be one of Haley's last true country recordings until 1960 -- it was becoming obvious that the name "Saddlemen" simply didn't cut it anymore.
Exactly who was responsible for coming up with the name -- which was a rather obvious pun on Halley's Comet -- differs from source to source.
According to the first Comets bass player, Marshall Lytle, the credit belongs to Bob Johnson, program director for Haley's home radio station, WPWA. Lytle credits Johnson with making the famous comment, "You know, with a name like Haley, you should call your band The Comets!" (We'll ignore the fact that the proper way of saying Halley's Comet is "Hahh-lee" -- thanks to Bill Haley, it is said, a generation would learn to mispronounce the famous scientist's name!)
But biographer John Swenson in the 1982 book Bill Haley, suggests it was another WPWA disc jockey, Bix Reichner, who suggested the name soon after submitting a song called "Stop Beatin' Around the Mulberry Bush" to Haley for consideration as a new single.
To make matters even more confusing, John Haley and John von Hoelle's Haley biography Sound and Glory suggests a third candidate -- none other than Essex Records owner Dave Miller.
Regardless who came up with the name, it stuck. The cowboy gear was stored away, and out came the suits and tuxedos, and around Thanksgiving 1952, the Comets were born.
The original line-up of the group consisted of Haley, steel guitarist Billy Williamson, piano and accordion player Johnny Grande, and bass player Marshall Lytle (the above photograph was taken at one of their first gigs under the new name). "When we had our first (publicity) photos taken," Lytle recalled in an October 2002 interview for the Calgary Herald. "We couldn't find ties that match -- so we each had a different tie!" At first, the group was known as Bill Haley with Haley's Comets, which is how the band's first single under the new name -- Reichner's "Stop Beatin' Around the Mulberry Bush" -- was credited. By the time their next single was released, "Crazy Man, Crazy," the group had become Bill Haley and His Comets. "Crazy" would become the group's first hit under the new name, and propel the band into the national spotlight.
Incredible as it may seem today, the group didn't have a lead guitar player in those days -- Haley and Williamson would share duties on stage, while session musicians such as Art Ryerson and Danny Cedrone were used in the studio. They didn't have a drummer, either, though this was soon rectified with the hiring of teenager Charlie Higler, who was with the band only a few months before being replaced. The sax was introduced (via session musician Tony Lance) on a few 1953 recordings before Joey Ambrose was hired to play the instrument full-time.
Sheet music for the first single by Bill Haley and His Comets. Note the matching bow ties.
The Comets, over the years, became more than simply frontmen for Bill Haley. As with The Beatles a decade later, each member of the group attracted his own share of fans, many of whom remain devoted to this day. When Haley changed the line-up of the band, fans welcomed the new musicians into the fold -- an exception being a 1967 experiment in which Haley added a trumpet player to the line-up, to the chagrin of fans.
The best-known line-up of the Comets. Note the matching bow ties.
Left to right: Rudy Pompilli, Billy Williamson, Al Rex, Bill Haley,
Johnny Grande, Ralph Jones, Franny Beecher.
The group was also groundbreaking -- in an era when segregation was the order of the day, Haley often used black musicians in the recording studio (such as Panama Francis and Milt Hinton, to name only two), and in 1957 hired sax man Frankie Scott to tour with the band while Rudy Pompilli was sidelined by illness. Ultimately, more than 100 talented musicians would be credited as either full-fledged (touring) Comets, or as honorary Comets by participating in recording sessions. Even those who were only with the group a short time wear their association with the Comets like a badge of honor.
The line-up of the Comets continued to change over the years. By early 1966, the band featured (left to right):
John Lane, Al Rappa, Johnny Kay, Bill Haley, Rudy Pompilli and Mike Shay. Note the lack of bow ties.
The Comets was the first group of its kind whose members were recogized as having personalities of their own, and a Haley show would not be complete without several numbers performed by members of his band. As time went on, musicians came and went, and by the end of Haley's career, the Comets consisted of a group of young British musicians, including two former members of Sha Na Na.
After Haley's death in 1981, it appeared The Comets name would fade away. In fact, the opposite occurred, as a Comets reunion was organized within a year. Since then, no less than three different groups of Comets -- all considered official in their own way -- continue to tour the world and record. The 1954-55 "Original" Comets -- which includes Marshall Lytle and Johnny Grande who were there at the very start -- are currently touring Europe and Africa and have released two CDs this year alone. A second group, operated by 1965-68 drummer John 'Bam-Bam' Lane, recently released a CD of its own, and maintains an active touring schedule. A third contingent is run by 1959-69 bass player Al Rappa, and often plays casinos and county fairs in the US.
The Comets continue to be one of the most beloved of rock and roll bands, although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inexplicably did not honor them when Bill Haley was inducted in the 1980s. It will not be surprising to see some form of Comets groups celebrating its 100th anniversary as an institution in 2052.
Most of the photos in this story are courtesy Chris Gardner's Bill Haley Photo Gallery Web page.
POSTED: October 25, 2002. UPDATED: June 5, 2003
1954-55 Comets release interview CD
Just in time to mark the 50th anniversary of Bill Haley and His Comets, the 1954-1955 Comets have released a new CD that will give listeners a rare chance to learn about the birth of rock and roll from the guys who were there at the very beginning.
The new CD, titled Rock Around the Clock LIVE, was recorded backstage at a recent show in Gainesville. It features rare interviews with members of The Comets, including guitar maestro Franny Beecher.
The CD also includes, as a bonus, two live tracks recorded in Gainesville: "Rock Around the Clock" and "Rock the Joint." Although The Original Band have released a couple of versions of "Clock" over the last few years, this is the first released recording to feature bass man Marshall Lytle singing lead on the song.
UPDATE: June 2003. Since this news item was posted, the project has undergone some changes. Go here for the latest information.
POSTED: September 4, 2002, Updated October 25, 2002
Comets return to Madison Square Garden
Nearly 33 years to the day after Bill Haley received an 8 1/2-minute standing ovation at New York City's Madison Square Garden, his original Comets returned to take the famous venue by storm once again.
On Oct. 19, 2002, the 1954-55 Comets were part of a special Tribute to Alan Freed concert at "The Theater," which used to be known as the Felt Forum. The show was hosted by Richard Nader, the man who kicked off the Rock and Roll Revival craze in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bill Haley and the Comets toured with Nader's R'n'R Revival Shows for several years, and these were considered some the last great multi-artist package tours. On Oct. 18, 1969, Haley brought the house down at the Felt Forum and received a standing ovation that topped eight minutes.
The Rock and Roll Revival helped revitalize Haley's career in the U.S., as well as that of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and many other 1950s rock and rollers who had continued to sell records in Europe and Asia, but had long since been replaced by new heroes in America.
The 1954-55 Comets shared the stage with a number of other original 1950s-era groups, including Otis Williams and His Charms, the Cleftones, Darlene Love, the Olympics, and others. The Comets closed the show with their barnstorming versions of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Rock Around the Clock." Unfortunately, the show ran long so a planned finale featuring "Rock the Joint" (the song The Comets claim inspired Alan Freed to coin the phrase 'rock and roll') had to be cut. But those in attendence report that The Comets were the hit of the evening.
Next up for the world's most rockin' seniors: another European tour and an African cruise.
POSTED: September 4, 2002
John Lane Comets release CD
Another contingent of Bill Haley's Comets has entered the CD arena.
Bill Haley's Comets, featuring drummer John "Bam-Bam" Lane, recently released their first CD, Almost Live!.
Recorded at the Erie Days Festival in Erie, Penn., the CD features 14 tracks. Included are a number of renditions of Haley classics mixed in with some other famous rock and roll songs of the 1950s.
John Lane was Haley's drummer from 1965 to 1968. In 1982, he teamed with bass player Al Rappa to form a revived version of Bill Haley's Comets after Haley's death. He has been touring with his own edition of the group for more than 10 years. Lane's group is now one of three versions of The Comets actively touring; the other two are the 1954-55 Original Comets and Bill Haley's Comets featuring Al Rappa.
Almost Live! is available exclusively through the John Lane Comets official Web site. Update November 2010: This website is still up more than 8 years later, and the CD is still offered for sale, but I recommend inquiring first to make sure it is indeed still available.
POSTED: June 6, 2002
Music legend helps revive Haley documentary project
Plans for a long-delayed documentary on Bill Haley's career have been given the kiss of life by another rock legend.
Graham Nash, best known for his work with The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, has confirmed he is working with producer Rob Nagy to complete a project titled Rockin' the Joint.
Nash has made no secret of the fact he's been a lifelong Haley fan. In fact, he still carries a ticket in his wallet from Haley's 1957 show in Manchester.
Rockin' the Joint has been in the works for more than 10 years. Featuring interviews and rare film clips, work on the two-hour film was reported on a 1992 edition of Entertainment Tonight. It was seen as a tie-in with the publication of Sound and Glory, the Haley biography co-written by Haley's son Jack and John von Hoelle.
Nothing else has been heard of the project since then. In early May, however, press reports indicated Nash was involved in helping complete the project, and Nash confirmed this information on his official Web site.
No release date for this project has been suggested. Watch Extra! for more details as they become available.
POSTED: April 8, 2002 UPDATED: May 7, 2002
1958 concert recordings released on CD
A rare 1950s-era concert recording by Bill Haley and the Comets has been issued by Europe's Big Beat Records.
Vive la Rock and Roll is the latest in a series of Big Beat CDs featuring recordings made at the famous Paris Olympia concert hall. Previous issues have included The Everly Brothers and Vince Taylor. The Haley CD features recordings from two October 1958 shows.
Some of these recordings were issued several years ago on the CD The Greatest LIVE Show on Earth (see review) but that CD was withdrawn from circulation soon after release. No such problems are expected this time.
Besides previously-released tracks, the CD features six performances not heard since 1958, including rare Comets versions of "Tequila" and "Giddy Up Ding-Dong" -- neither of which were ever recorded by them in a studio -- as well as two versions of "Beecher Boogie-Woogie" featuring Franny Beecher on guitar. Also, Big Beat promises that several tracks that were truncated on the earlier release -- most notably "Rock Around the Clock" -- are complete in the new release.
Based on what I've heard so far, these 1958 recordings are among the best live Haley performances ever captured on tape, and will be something to treasure.
Vive la Rock and Roll is on Big Beat BBR 00073. Watch Big Beat's Web site for more information, or e-mail email@example.com. Update November 2010: URL and contact information was correct as of May 2002; this information may no longer be current.
Go here for my review of this fantastic CD.
POSTED: April 8, 2002
'Rock the Joint' marks 50th anniversary
This month marks the 50th anniversary of a song many claim inspired DJ Alan Freed to coin the phrase 'Rock & Roll.'
Although the exact date has been forgotten, "Rock the Joint" was recorded by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen in April 1952.
The song was not a Haley original, having been previously recorded by several rhythm and blues artists in the late 1940s, most notably Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians. But Haley and his group worked the same magic that a year earlier had transformed Jackie Brentson's "Rocket '88" from an R&B classic into one of the first rock and roll recordings (forget the propaganda -- Brentson's recording is NOT rock and roll in any way, but that's another story story for another day).
In many ways, it's easy to see Haley's "Rock the Joint" as a dry run for the later "Rock Around the Clock." The basic format of the song is similar (especially if you listen to the original arrangement of "Clock" as recorded by Sonny Dae and His Knights in 1954). The most obvious similarity is "Joint" includes an early version of Danny Cedrone's immortal guitar solo from "Clock." Pianist and Saddlemen/Comets founder Johnny Grande said in 1998 that Cedrone had a fondness for this solo, and often used it at recording sessions before April 12, 1954 when "Rock Around the Clock" was recorded for Decca Records.
There are other elements to Haley's arrangement that set the recording firmly in the world of rockabilly. Billy Williamson's steel guitar solo is a classic, but not many rock and roll groups to come would take advantage of its unique sound. Grande's high-end piano solo is also a highlight.
But what's most remarkable about this recording is what is missing -- drums! In early 1952, Bill Haley did not use a drummer. He had used a session drummer on an earlier country and western recording session for Atlantic Records -- ironically, the musician was none other than "Clock" co-writer James Myers (a.k.a. Jimmy DeKnight). But when it came time to record "Joint," it lay to bass player Marshall Lytle to provide percussion.
When "Rock the Joint" was first released on Essex (the scan on this page comes from a later reissue), label boss Dave Miller didn't actually think it was likely to become a hit. Haley was better known as a country singer, so the flipside, an echo-dominated C&W ballad called "Icy Heart," was initially promoted as the A-side. In a 1998 interview, Lytle said it wasn't long before radio stations started reporting back to Essex that they were promoting the wrong side.
(The recording of "Icy Heart" is an interesting story in and of itself. For years it was assumed it was recorded at the same time as "Rock the Joint," but it's now believed the song may date back quite a bit earlier, owing to differences in sound quality and arrangement.)
"Rock the Joint" failed to make any national charts, but it was a sizable regional hit. Most importantly, it might have inspired Alan Freed to coin the phrase Rock & Roll. Marshall Lytle says Freed was playing the song one night when a fan asked if he could play "that rock and roll song" one more time. The name stuck.
In the next few years, "Rock the Joint" was overshadowed by more popular Haley recordings such as "Crazy Man Crazy", "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and of course, "Rock Around the Clock." Haley re-recorded "Joint" in 1957 for Decca and in 1968 for Sonet, and it remained an important part of his live shows for the rest of his life, usually performed as an encore.
For Haley fans, the original 1952 recording remains an important stepping stone in not only his career, but also in the history of Rock and Roll music.
Label scan courtesy Lothar Mackenbach.
POSTED: March 9, 2002
New Original Comets CD released
The newest CD by the original 1954-55 Comets has been released at last!
Titled Aged to Perfection, the 15-track CD features a mixture of new and classic songs, all done in the style the Comets made famous in the 1950s. The CD coincides with the golden anniversary of the Comets.
The CD is available through a number of sources, including D4Haley International in North America, plus Hydra Records, Goofin', Spindrift and other distributors in Europe, and On The Hill Records in Japan. It can also be ordered direct from Rollin' Rock Records, along with the Comets' previous CD, Still Rockin' Around the Clock.Update November 2010: This contact information was current as of March 2002 and may no longer be accurate. Availability of the CD nearly 9 years later is also uncertain.
For a review of the new CD, go here.
POSTED: March 9, 2002
Haley Web site news
Bill Haley's Original 1954-55 Comets have launched their own Web site, one of several new Bill Haley-related developments on the Internet.
The site -- spearheaded by Cyber Comet (and original bass player) Marshall Lytle -- features a music video of their 1999 version of "Rock Around the Clock" that had previously been posted at billhaley.com. Mixing footage from TV's Milton Berle Show, the 1954 musical short Round-Up of Rhythm, The Ed Sullivan Show and assorted Comets concerts from the 1990s, it's a fun showcase of the band in action and demonstrates how little the guys have changed in nearly 50 years.
Update November 2010: At some point in the last few years the Original Comets domain was the victim of "cyber-squatting" and it now redirects to an unrelated website with adult content.
Speaking of billhaley.com, Rik Hull's Web site recently underwent a revamp that saw new features added, and improved navigation. More video and sound files are set to be added in the coming weeks, so it's worth bookmarking this site.
This spring marks the 50th anniversary of Bill Haley and the Saddlemen recording "Rock the Joint" for Essex Records, the song that became their first hit rock and roll record and, in the opinion of many, helped give the name to the music. A tribute to the song has been posted at Chris Gardner's Haley web portal Bill Haley Central. Some new Haley-related Web sites have been added in recent months.
POSTED: January 11, 2002
Comets on the radio; Viagra Rock a hit?
There's every indication Bill Haley's original 1954-55 Comets could have a hit record on their hands, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the naming of the band that started Rock and Roll.
"Viagra Rock," one of several new tunes on the band's upcoming CD, Aged to Perfection, has become a highly requested song on a number of radio stations in Florida, and more stations in the U.S. and elsewhere are being approached with promos of the topical rock song.
Comets bass player Marshall Lytle, who has been providing the promos himself, said he's having trouble keeping up with the demand.
"Viagra Rock" will receive national airplay on Jan. 15, when it's scheduled to be played during Our Next Guest, a radio show broadcast on the All-Star Radio Network over 120 radio stations in the U.S. Lytle will be interviewed for the program, which is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. EST (check with your local station for exact airtime).
Aged to Perfection, on Las Vegas-based Rollin' Rock Records, is scheduled for release this month, but an exact date is not yet available.
-- OLDER CD RELEASES REVIEWS --
Special thanks to Denise Gregoire for many of the cover scans in this section.
POSTED: June 28, 2004
The Journey to Fame(Denton Media - private release)
A new CD collection by Bill Haley's final record producer aims to shed new light on the final recording sessions attended by the Father of Rock & Roll.
I will say up front that The Journey to Fame is not likely to appeal to casual fans. Those who are just interested in the music may find the CD somewhat of a tedious listen, as much of it features behind-the-scenes chatter and rehearsals between Haley and his session musicians.
But for those with a serious interest in how Bill Haley worked behind the microphone, or -- perhaps even more importantly -- are seeking audio proof that Haley was still in control of his faculties at this late stage of the game -- this CD is a fascinating document.
Kenny Denton, who produced Haley's final recordings, took a portable tape recorder with him to most of the sessions that produced Haley's final album, Everyone Can Rock and Roll, in 1979. About 45 minutes' worth of these behind-the-scenes recordings are included on the CD. These recordings show Haley in good spirits as he works through chord changes for "Tweedle Dee" and records vocals for tracks such as "Jukebox Cannonball" and "God Bless Rock and Roll." If you listen closely to the tapes (headphones are recommended for these tracks and Denton himself says the tapes are valuable for their historical content more than for their sound quality) you can catch a few odds and ends of trivia. For example, Haley recommends "Jukebox Cannonball" for the title track and we hear that there were plans for Haley to re-record his 1951 groundbreaking single "Rocket '88" along with another song called "Mockingbird." Sadly, there's no evidence this ever happened.
We get to hear Haley recording vocals for "Everyone Can Rock and Roll" and you can tell that he's having fun with it, and indeed some of the alternate vocals would have made the final product even better if they'd been carried through.
To flesh out the CD to nearly a full 80 minutes, Denton includes three remixed versions of "Rock Around the Clock," "Shake Rattle and Roll," and "See You Later Alligator" from the late 1980s. As the story goes, Haley had expressed an interest in recording modernized versions of his hits. He died before this could be done, but Denton made some experiments using Haley's 1968 vocals overdubbed onto new backings, and released them on an EP for Sonet Records; this is their first CD release. The results are an acquired taste, but a noble experiment. Much better are the two so-called "Swamp Rock" remixes of "Shake Rattle and Roll" which were made later, and are being released publicly for the first time on this CD. One of these versions opens the CD and it is surprisingly effective.
Haley historians will also be interested to hear the CD's other major bonus: a rare 1980 interview with Dave Miller, Haley's producer at Essex Records and the man infamous for turning down "Rock Around the Clock" before Haley went to Decca Records and made history. Miller's attempt to deny this is as unconvincing as it is inaccurate, but it is interesting to hear a different angle on how the famous song came to be, as well as his version of how Haley came to record rock and roll in the first place. Recorded not long after John Lennon's murder, but before Haley's death only a couple of months later, we hear of unrealized plans for Haley to record a new album, and it is revealed that the semi-autobiographical "God Bless Rock and Roll" was scheduled for release as a single mere weeks before Haley died. Denton, who is also featured in this interview, makes ominous statements about Haley being in and out of clinics at this time.
Journey to Fame is not for everyone, but for those with a serious interest in Bill Haley's history, it is a worthwhile acquisition. The CD is available via Denton's Web site at dentonmedia.net. Update November 2010: Availability information was current as of June 2004 and may no longer be accurate.
Tracks: Shake Rattle and Roll (Swamp rock version), Dave Miller Interview, Rock Around the Clock (remix), Shake Rattle and Roll (remix), Tweedle Dee (rehearsals), Jukebox Cannonball (studio chatter), Everyone Can Rock and Roll (vocaltakes, false starts, studio chatter), Battle of New Orleans (vocal takes, studio chatter), God Bless Rock n' Roll (vocal takes), Shake Rattle and Roll (Shake Mix), See You Later Alligator (remix).
POSTED: June 28, 2004
The Fathers of Rock 'n Roll - Bill Haley's Original Comets(Hydra Records DVD BDVD72100)
They're still rockin' and they don't plan to stop anytime soon, and the newest DVD by the Original 1954-55 Comets is proof that they still can rock the joint with the best of them.
The Fathers of Rock 'n Roll was taped at a show in Germany in November 2003 and features an (almost) full set of songs from a very successful show. I say almost because their usual second encore, "Rock the Joint," is omitted. But maybe they didn't perform it that night.
This DVD, which is viewable on European and North American video systems, starts strong and stays strong, with good images and generally good sound (though Franny Beecher's guitar sometimes falls out of the mix for some reason). We get vocal solos from Marshall Lytle, and Joey Ambrose all but steals the show with his performances of "Buona Sera," "The House is Rockin'" and "What a Wonderful World." Jacko Buddin takes a little getting used to singing the Haley parts -- even for someone like myself who has heard him perform for years -- but he offers great spirit to the performance. And, of course, it is always a treat to see the "Old Maestro," Dick Richards, get up and sing his heart out on "Well Now Dig This." Richards survived a bout of throat cancer in the 1980s, and while his singing voice doesn't hit the notes it used to, no one really cares -- he does a great job!
In terms of songs, there is nothing really "new" here if you are familiar with the Original Comets' repertoire. Most of these songs were included on the two CDs the band recorded for Rollin' Rock Records a few years back. The only "new" song is the standard "When You're Smiling" which gets the Joey Ambrose treatment. Since Jacko Buddin doesn't tour with the Comets in North America anymore, many of the performances here will also be unfamiliar to those who have only seen the band in the US and Canada where Lytle sings the Haley vocals. The "two worlds" of Buddin and Lytle unite on "The Saint's Rock and Roll" which makes a strong finale to the concert.
This DVD is by far the best visual record of the reunited Original Comets that has been released to date, and I wholeheartedly recommend it based on the music alone.
But if the concert isn't enough, the DVD also includes casual, relaxed interviews with each of the Comets, a rare interview with Jacko Buddin, and footage from a Bill Haley and the Comets exhibit in Europe. Anyone lucky enough to have been able to sit down and chat with these fellows -- I've had the honor several times -- will find this section could well be their favorite part of the DVD.
The Fathers of Rock 'n Roll should be available through retailers that carry Hydra Records product. You can also order copies from D4Haley.com or you can contact Hydra Records directly at RockItHydra@t-online.de.
Tracks: Shake Rattle and Roll, Birth of the Boogie, Eat Your Heart Out Annie, Steel Guitar Rag, I Want You to Be My Baby, Crazy Man Crazy, Well Now Dig This, See You Later Alligator, When You're Smiling, Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie, Buona Sera, R-O-C-K, You're the Greatest, The House is Rockin', Mambo Rock, Wonderful World, Hand Clappin' (a.k.a. Joe's Rockin'), Rock Around the Clock, Saint's Rock and Roll.
POSTED: December 19, 2003
Bill Haley & Friends Vol. 2: The Legendary Cowboy Recordings - Various Artists(Hydra Records BCK 27120)
After decades of celebrating Bill Haley's contributions to rock and roll music, some of his earliest recordings in the country and western field are beginning to get their due attention.
The second volume of Hydra Records' innovative Bill Haley & Friends series of CDs turns the spotlight on to the Cowboy record label, which operated out of the Chester, Pennsylvania area in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bill Haley's first commercially released recordings were for this label, back when he led a group called the Four Aces of Western Swing.
This CD collects nearly 80 minutes of recordings from the Cowboy label, including the 10 recordings Haley made with the Four Aces in 1948-49, and an additional two from circa 1950 that were recorded with the Saddlemen -- the group that would morph into The Comets two years later.
Only six of the 10 Haley recordings here were actually released at the time; the other four remained unreleased until late in Haley's life. To the best of my knowledge, only one of the recordings -- the comical "Foolish Questions" -- has been released on CD before; the version of "Behind the Eight Ball" heard here appears to be a different take than the version that was released on CD.
The CD starts out on a pleasantly jarring note. It still surprises even lifelong fans that Bill Haley was an accomplished yodeller, and his "Yodel Your Blues Away" (one of the four songs that was not released at the time) is fast-moving traditional country hoedown material. Once you get past the novelty of Haley yodelling, you begin to marvel at his skill. Incidentally, a far superior recording of this song exists from possibly as late as 1950; I have heard it and it blows even this fine version out of the water. Hopefully someday it will be released.
Haley isn't heard on all the tracks that bear his name. Even early in his career, he generously yielded the microphone to his band members, in particular Bashful Barney Barnard, who sings harmony on "Behind the Eight Ball" and lead on "Tennessee Border," and Tex King, who offers an impassioned reading of the miniature morality tale "Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals" which is surprisingly blunt for the time about the dangers facing "wayward women."
Also included in the collection are two of the most unusual recordings in the Haley canon: "My Palomino and I" and "My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada," which were recorded by Haley, backed with his Saddlemen, but were released under the name Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos. As the CD's extensively detailed liner notes explain, Browne was a popular female western star of the time, and the record was commissioned as some sort of promotional tie in. Reno never sang a note on it, though the liner notes reveal the two songs were written specifically in her honor.
The remaining Haley tracks are entertaining and fast-moving, including the terrific "Four Leaf Clover Blues" (one side of Haley's first commercial single from 1948), and a great cover of George Morgan's "Candy Kisses" which Haley would later rerecord in 1960 for Warner Brothers. Many of these early recordings, though firmly in the C&W mould, nonetheless display some of the spirit and style that would later mark Haley's transition to rock and roll only a few years later. Heck, listen carefully to the epic "Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along" and you might even hear a little bass-slapping!
Like the first Bill Haley & Friends album, which focused on Christmas music, the remaining 19 tracks feature artists who were contemporaries of Haley on the Cowboy label. Many of the recordings were produced by Jack Howard, Haley's producer at the time, and some also bore the mark of James Myers, who would later co-write a moderately successful Haley song called "Rock Around the Clock."
Unlike the first Friends CD, which sometimes had to stretch to make the Haley connection, many of these non-Haley tracks do in fact have strong Haley ties. Haley or those in his company wrote a number of the songs heard here, and those familiar with Haley's pre-Essex recordings will recognize a number of titles here such as "Within This Broken Heart of Mine," "Ten Gallon Stetson" and "Why Do I Cry Over You?" all by Ray Whitley who seemed to make a bit of a career out of covering Haley recordings, including a rousing version of "Jukebox Cannonball," a song Haley would record himself in 1952 and 1979, though Whitney's version is actually better than either of Haley's (though the Kilroy reference at the end is probably lost on anyone under the age of 65). Other Haley-connected tracks include a great Franny Beecher-style guitar instrumental called "Red Wing" by Haley collaborator Rusty Keefer, a track by Jimmy Collett, who played fiddle for a Haley recording session, and two tracks featuring Shorty Long, who would go on to play piano for some Comets spin-off recording sessions, but earn his greatest fame for his session work on the Elvis Presley classics "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel."
The rest of the CD features a grab bag of top quality -- but sadly, all too obscure -- C&W and western swing recordings, including the atmospheric "Song of the Timberland" by the Broadway Buckaroos, and the surprisingly risque (in the right frame of mind) "I'm Gonna Straddle my Saddle" by Polly Jenkins who must be one of the first female yodellers I have ever come across.
A special nod goes out to Shaun Leaning and Vadim Selin, who put in many hours remastering these recordings. Although some of them do show their age, audio-wise, by and large these recordings sound crisper and clearer than they have sounded in years, with the Haley recordings coming off best.
If you only care for Bill Haley's rock and roll, this CD may not be for you, but if you're interested in the earliest roots of rock and roll and rockabilly, this CD is a fine investment and in every way superior to the first volume. And the best news is Hydra has plenty of excellent material to choose from if it ever decides to do a Volume 3, including a bunch more country recordings Haley made for labels like Keystone and Atlantic, dozens of unreleased recordings (including the beautiful country ballad "Rose of My Heart") -- and that doesn't even take into account the many recordings for Essex and Arcade (among other labels) by other artists covering Haley's compositions. Unlike the Elvis well, which is pretty much picked clean by now, there are still many Haley treasures waiting to be discovered by the general public.
Tracks: Yodel Your Blues Away (Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing), Four Leaf Clover Blues (Four Aces, featuring Barney Barnard), Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals (Four Aces featuring Tex King), Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along (Four Aces), Do You Think It's Fair (Pancake Pete Newman), Blue Ranger (Shorty Long and Pee Wee Miller), Jukebox Cannonball (Ray Whitley), That's What She Wrote (Jesse Rogers), Just Say So (Elmer Newman), Ten Gallon Stetson (Whitley), Within This Broken Heart of Mine (Whitley), I'm Gonna Straddle My Saddle (Polly Jenkins), You Can't Be a Millionaire (Willis Meyers), Behind the Eight Ball (Four Aces featuring Barney Barnard), My Palomino and I (Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos aka. Bill Haley and the Saddlemen), My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada (Browne/Saddlemen), Rose of the Alamo (Murray Sisters), Why Do I Cry Over You? (Whitley), Blue Tail Fly (Billy Wilson), Red Wing (Rusty Keefer), I'm Gonna Dry Up My Tears (Shorty Long and Jack Day), Jesse James (Whitey & Hogan), Mary the Prairie and I (Jimmy Collett), Ragtime Cowboy Joe (Larry Wayne), My Heart Says Giddy Up (Shorty Warren), Foolish Questions (Four Aces), Candy Kisses (Four Aces), Tennessee Border (Four Aces featuring Barney Barnard).
(Posted December 19, 2003)
Long Gone Daddy - Various Artists
(Collectables Records COL-5335)
Following the release of Bill Haley & Friends Vol. 2, which focuses on the early country western recordings of Bill Haley (see review), I thought it would be interesting to spotlight a rather obscure CD release that came out back in 1990 that featured several early recordings on which Bill Haley and His Saddlemen (pre-Comets) participated.
Long Gone Daddy features a number of country-western and rockabilly recordings of the early 1950s that were made for the Gotham label. Front and center are no less than six recordings by Lou Graham, a bass player who often appeared as a guest star at Bill Haley concerts. (Some sources suggest he played bass for Haley at one point, though this has not been confirmed). These recordings were backed by the Saddlemen, including possibly Haley himself on guitar. The liner notes for this CD actually fail to indicate that the first two recordings on the CD, "Two-Timin' Blues" and the CD's title track, are also Saddlemen-backed. A rare early photo of Haley (which also appears on the cover of Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 2) adorns the cover of this CD, though it is worth noting that Haley does not sing on any of Graham's recordings, and possibly may not have been directly involved in the recording sessions either, though most sources list him as playing rhythm guitar.
Graham had a pleasant enough country voice, and the recordings here are for the most part the same sort of country swing work that Bill Haley had by this point in time (circa 1950-51) made his stock in trade. In fact, the swinging "I'm Lonesome" sounds like it could have easily been a Bill Haley record.
Billy Williamson, Haley's faithful steel guitar player in the 1950s, gets quite a workout on these tracks, several times referencing musical lines which would return, slightly modified, in some of Haley's earliest rock and roll recordings.
It is interesting to compare Lou Graham's performances here with his later minor rock classic "Wee Willie Brown" from c.1957-58, which would reunite him with the Comets as session musicians (this recording has yet to be released on CD to my knowledge).
The liner notes for the CD seem to indicate that (at least as of 1990), several of the Graham tracks were previously unreleased. I believe this to be in error as I'm pretty certain all had been released on Gotham back in the 1950s, though this was undeniably their first appearance on CD. An unreleased track from these sessions entitled "Ball and Chain" reportedly does exist, however it is not included here.
The rest of the CD, much like Hydra's Friends series, is a grab bag of obscure C&W and first generation rockabilly acts. Tunes like "Be Bop Boogie" and the comedic "That Ain't in Any Catalog" by a duo called Mustard and Gravy and the rather morbid "I shot my wife" ballad "I'll Take Her from the Valley" by Bob Dean and His Hi-Way Wanderers, are among the standouts. Some of the band names (see track listing below) remind me of the country bands "featured" on the infamous Hee Haw episode of The Simpsons a few years ago!
For the Haley completist, or for fans of western swing/early rockabilly, this CD can be a challenge to find. It has been out of print for many years -- I got my copy from a collector -- however if you can track it down, it's worth having as a minor but entertaining musical historical document, not to mention a handy package of some rare Bill Haley-related recordings.
Tracks: Two-Timin' Blues (Lou Graham and the Saddlemen), Long Gone Daddy (Graham/Saddlemen), I Just Heard the News (Sammy Bland and His Carolina Radio Boys), Our Shotgun Wedding Day (Howington Brothers with the Tennessee Haymakers), Let's See You Smile (Curt Hinson), I'll Take Her from the Valley (Bob Dean and His Hi-Way Wanderers), Be Bop Boogie (Mustard and Gravy), Juke Box Baby (Smiley Wilson and His Range Partners), Roadside Rag (Sleepy McDaniel and His Radio Playboys), I'm Lonesome (Graham/Saddlemen), A Sweet Bunch of Roses (Graham/Saddlemen), Please Make Up Your Fickle Mind (Graham/Saddlemen), My Heart Tells Me (Graham/Saddlemen), This Ain't in Any Catalog (Mustard and Gravy).
POSTED: February 16, 2003. REVISED: February 18, 2004
Bill Haley's Original Comets (aka. Rock Around the Clock LIVE)(Eclicks.net EC1001)
Bill Haley's Original Comets could well be the most unusual -- and most interesting -- release ever put out related to Bill Haley and the Comets.
This unique 50th Anniversary release is a rare three-way hybrid of DVD, audio CD and CD-ROM. Originally issued under the title Rock Around the Clock LIVE (but only in very limited release) the DVD features an hour of interview footage of all five members of the Original Comets -- the talented musicians who worked with Bill Haley in the mid-1950s when it all started to come together.
The interviews show The Comets in great humor, enjoying the chance to tell a bit about their time with Haley, their love of music, and their philosophies about enjoying life. Each musician is featured in his own one-on-one segment, and these are interviews to treasure. From drummer Dick Richards' inspiring words on enjoying your senior years -- he started a new career as a movie actor when he was in his mid-50s -- to Franny Beecher telling what inspired him to first pick up a guitar, there is a book's worth of history to be had here.
The second disc is an enhanced audio CD featuring three performances from The Original Comets' Sept. 26, 2002 concert in Gainesville, Florida.
"Crazy Man Crazy," the obligatory "Rock Around the Clock" and "Rock the Joint" show the Comets in good form. Although The Comets have released two studio-remakes of "Clock" over the last few years (most recently on last year's Rollin' Rock CD release Aged to Perfection), this is the first released recording of both "Clock" and "Crazy" featuring bass man Marshall Lytle on lead vocals. I think considering the nature of this CD, though, "The Saint's Rock n' Roll" should have also been included, as that song features solos by each of the Comets. But this is a minor criticism. Marshall sounds a little raspier than usual on "Clock" but the band is clearly having fun. "Rock the Joint" absolutely tears up the place! And I was very happy to see Lytle finally receiving co-writer credit on "Crazy Man Crazy."
We're not done yet. For those with computers, the enhanced CD also includes two special music videos taken from the Gainesville show, each with its own "Pop-Up Video"-like historical tidbits. I found these interesting as a fan, though on "Rock the Joint" I did feel there was a bit too much text and not enough footage of the Comets. Why these videos aren't included on the DVD itself is a mystery to me, however.
I found it amusing to watch the Comets performing in what is clearly a school or community gymnasium. This must have brought back a lot of memories for the musicians, many of whom got their start playing in just these sorts of venues.
Rock Around the Clock Live is a private release via Bradley House Records. Current ordering information is not yet available, but it is expected to be available at 1954-55 Comets concerts and will likely be made available online. Update November 2010: This release is no longer in circulation.
Tracks: (Audio) Crazy Man Crazy, Rock Around the Clock, Rock the Joint. (Video) Interviews with Marshall Lytle, Joey Ambrose, Johnny Grande, Dick Richards and Franny Beecher. (Music videos) Rock Around the Clock, Rock the Joint.
POSTED: February 16, 2003
Almost Live! - Bill Haley's Comets featuring John 'Bam Bam' Lane(private release)
As many fans of Bill Haley and the Comets know, at present (2003) there are three different bands touring the world under the name Bill Haley's Comets. One of these bands recently issued a live CD.
Almost Live! was recorded by the contingent of Bill Haley's Comets led by drummer John "Bam Bam" Lane, who was with Haley from 1965 to 1968. Lane's drumming work with Haley was a highlight of a live album The Comets recorded in Sweden in 1968, and Lane was a popular member of the band during his tenure with Haley.
After Haley's death in 1981, Lane teamed up with Al Rappa to form a revived version of Bill Haley's Comets, which began to tour North America circa 1982-83. At some point in the late 1980s or early 90s, Lane and Rappa split up to run their own separate groups of Comets.
Recorded last year in Erie, Penn., Almost Live! is an energetic mixture of Haley classics and rock standards from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Featuring Lenny Longo on most vocals and the talented Dimitri Callis on lead guitar, it's a lively listen.
Most of the Haley songs come off pretty good, including the rarely performed "Dim Dim the Lights" and "Thirteen Women." I felt the vocal on "Rip it Up" was a little over-the-top however (maybe the singer was trying to emulate Little Richard), while "Rock Around the Clock" suffers from being interrupted mid-song by the band's audience thank you's, which is fair enough except for some reason the song has been programmed near the halfway point of the CD, rather than at the end where it would make more sense.
The non-Haley songs are a mixed bag. Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA" come off pretty well, along with The Champs' "Tequila" (though the version here can't hold a candle to the Comets' 1958 performance released by Big Beat Records last year). "Charlie Brown" sounds off-key -- possibly due to the sound mix, and the Loggins-Messina 1970s chestnut "Your Mama Don't Dance" didn't work for me.
The playing on this recording is pretty solid. Callis in particular deserves special recognition for his guitar work. Lane's drum solo on "Saint's Rock and Roll" wasn't quite as good as the one he delivered in the 1968 version, sadly. I did get a feeling that the drums were a bit overpowering in the sound mix, possibly due to the fact Lane's drum set is often placed towards the front of the stage, which may or may not have been the case here.
Almost Live! is a private release and is at present only available through the John Lane Comets' official Web site. Update November 2010: Nearly 8 years later, this release is still listed for sale at this webpage, but I recommend inquiring about availability before ordering.
Tracks: Back in the USA, Charlie Brown, Dim Dim the Lights, Peggy Sue, Rip it Up, Rock Around the Clock, Runaway, Saint's Rock n' Roll, See You Later Alligator, Shake Rattle and Roll, Skinny Minnie, Tequila, Thirteen Women, Your Mama Don't Dance.
POSTED: May 7, 2002
Vive la Rock and Roll(Big Beat Records BBR 00073)
I tried to think of some smart-Alex remark to lead off this review, but I can't think of anything except two words. Absolutely incredible.
Vive la Rock and Roll is easily one of the most impressive Bill Haley releases ever. It is one of those CDs that has the word "indispensible" stamped all over it.
The story behind this live 1958 recording is a convoluted one. Originally recorded for Europe 1 radio in October 1958, this recording was believed lost for close to 40 years. Then, around 1995, it was rediscovered and parts of it were broadcast. At some point afterwards, excerpts from the tape appeared on a CD release which was soon withdrawn.
For those of us who had had a chance to hear this performance, we thought one of the best Haley live recordings ever might disappear into limbo. Fortunately, France's Big Beat Records has come to the rescue by not only reissuing the recording, but greatly improving the sound, restoring previously truncated performances and adding never-before-heard tracks. The result is a beautiful package that showcases the Haley stage show like no other release to date.
Anyone who thinks Haley was not only washed up but no longer popular by the end of 1958 needs only hear a few minutes of this recording to be proven wrong. Haley was a rock god to the people of Paris, and you can hear this in the background. Big Beat gives us a taste of the atmosphere by including a number of minutes' worth of crowd chanting and noises. At one point, steel guitarist Billy Williamson spends several minutes trying to calm the audience down, at one point not only addressing them in French but in Italian! (Considering the chaos of the 1958 European tour, it's understandable if Billy momentarily forgets what country he's in!).
Musically, the performances are much different than what you may recall from the Decca recordings. For one thing, there is greater emphasis placed on Rudy Pompilli's sax work on songs like "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie" and "Razzle Dazzle" that hadn't been heard before, giving the songs a completely different atmosphere than the guitar sounds we're used to. Rudy truly takes the spotlight in the show stopping "Rudy's Rock" (even without being able to see Al Pompilli throwing his bass into the air or Rudy playing sax flat on his back, you can tell just by listening there's a hell of a floor show going on). On one of the recently discovered bonus tunes, Rudy -- with strong support from the rest of The Comets -- delivers the best version of "Tequila" ever recorded, bar none, and that includes The Champs' original.
Guitar master Franny Beecher isn't left out. We get to hear not one but two versions of his "Beecher Boogie Woogie" and his solos are a highlight of many of the tracks here.
Williamson -- when he isn't doing crowd control duties -- puts in a few of his best vocal performances ever, including a driving version of Big Joe Turner's "Feelin' Happy" (which for some reason has been mistitled "Jump Children" -- one of the CD's few missteps). Also involved in the show, though sadly not heard on this recording, is rhythm guitarist Joe Olivier, who passed away on Christmas Day 2001.
Bass man Al Pompilli -- either cousin or brother of Rudy depending on who you believe -- is a pleasant surprise, delivering a great version of "For You My Love" and an unexpected version of the Freddy Bell's "Giddy Up Ding-Dong" with new lyrics based on TV western shows! These are the only known recordings of the bass player singing with the Comets.
Haley, of course, is front-and-centre on a number of tracks, and his performances are excellent, if slightly rushed. There is also a bit of disappointment that he chooses to drop verses from a number of songs -- incredibly, including "Rock Around the Clock"! It has been suggested this was an attempt to get things over with before another riot broke out, which makes sense since this was around the time of the infamous Berlin riot that nearly brought Haley's tour to a premature close.
Still, as the saying goes, it's the quality that counts, and Bill Haley provides that in spades, particularly an unprecedented live recording of the Fats Waller classic "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" that leaves his Decca recording of the song in the dust.
So far, 2002 has been a great year for Haley-related releases. First the new Original Comets CD (see below), and now Vive la Rock and Roll. Let's hope the next Haley-related release even comes close to this "fantabulous" CD!
Vive la Rock and Roll is available via Big Beat's Web site, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Update November 2010: Contact and ordering information was current as of May 2002 and may no longer be accurate.
Tracks (songs only): The Saints Rock and Roll, Shake Rattle and Roll, Rudy's Rock, For You My Love (Al Pompilli vocal), Beecher Boogie Woogie, I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Feelin' Happy (aka Jump Children; Billy Williamson vocal), I'm in Love Again (Williamson vocal), Mambo Rock, See You Later Alligator, Rock Around the Clock, Beecher Boogie Woogie (second version), Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie, Razzle-Dazzle, Tequila, Giddy Up Ding-Dong (Al Pompilli vocal).
POSTED: March 9, 2002
Aged to Perfection - The Original Comets(Rollin' Rock CD-114)
As The Original Comets proudly proclaim on their newest CD, they ain't dead yet -- thank heavens!
And once again, rock and roll's founding fathers have provided ample proof that nothing is going to slow them down.
Aged to Perfection marks The Comets' 50th (yes, 50th) anniversary. It was recorded over several sessions in 1999, 2000 and 2001 at Ronny Weiser's Las Vegas studios, and features a mix of new and classic songs, all backed by The Comets' trademark driving beat.
British singer Jacko Buddin continues to improve as The Comets' lead vocalist. Although I still don't think he sounds anything like Haley, his vocals on remakes of the Haley classics "Happy Baby," "Dim, Dim the Lights," "Burn That Candle" and -- especially -- "Two Hound Dogs" are among the best recorded work he has done since joining the band in the early 1990s.
Also strongly featured on the CD is sax man Joey Ambrose, who is also a fine blues/RnB singer in his own right. His original composition "Don't Push Your Luck" showcases his gravelly delivery at its best, while "Buona Sera" and the fantastic "I Want You to Be My Baby" (easily one of the best songs on the CD, in my opinion) allow Ambrose to pay tribute to his old friend Louis Prima.
Bass player Marshall Lytle chimes in the most vocals, including what could be The Comets' first big hit in years, the hilarious "Viagra Rock" -- a song that in part grew out of running gags among the band (such as guitar player Franny Beecher's nickname, "The Viagra Kid"). The song was originally pitched as a jingle for the makers of the little pill, and has recently enjoyed plenty of airplay in Florida and even in Calgary, Canada.
Lytle also provides vocals on three more new songs -- the touching "Somewhere There's a Woman," the ballad "You're the Greatest," and the flipside of "Viagra Rock" called "We Ain't Dead Yet." He also gets to revisit the old Jodimars hit "Eat Your Heart Out Annie."
And once again, Franny proves his recent 80th birthday has only improved his skills as a guitarist, and he provides strong backing on all the tracks, and gets to solo on his original song, "Car Jam." Beecher's rendition of the late Danny Cedrone's famous guitar solo on "Rock Around the Clock 2002" is like no one else's.
Unlike the band's last CD -- 1999's Still Rockin' Around the Clock -- which mostly consisted of remakes of classic Essex, Decca and Jodimars material, there's a stronger emphasis on new and "unfamiliar" songs in this release. Even so, those of us who have all of the Original Comets' recent CDs on the European Hydra and Rockstar labels will recognize a number of tracks from earlier releases that are being revisited here. "I've Got Love for You Baby" was first recorded in 1993 for Hydra, while "Buona Sera" and "Car Jam" date back to 1997's The House is Rockin', a CD that suffered from shaky sound quality. "Rock Around the Clock" also gets a reprise, even though it was on the last Rollin' Rock CD, but hey -- the guys are entitled -- and no, none of these remakes come across as "carbon copies" of the earlier versions, much to the group's credit.
The only disappointment from a musical standpoint is the lack of a vocal by drummer Dick Richards for the first time since the reunited Comets began recording CDs in 1991. Maybe next time, Dick!
With so many classic groups retiring or, worse yet, turning into parodies of themselves, The Original Comets continue to excel. It's always a pleasure, gentlemen.
Aged to Perfection is available online from a number of sources, including D4Haley International, and Hydra Records, or direct from Rollin' Rock Records. Update November 2010: This information was accurate as of March 2002 but may no longer be current.
TRACKS: Happy Baby (Jacko Buddin vocal), Don't Push Your Luck (Joey Ambrose vocal), Viagra Rock (Marshall Lytle vocal), You're the Greatest (Lytle), Dim Dim the Lights (Buddin), Burn That Candle (Buddin), Two Hound Dogs (Buddin), We Ain't Dead Yet (Lytle), I've Got Love For You Baby (Lytle), I Want You to Be My Baby (Ambrose), Somewhere There's a Woman (Lytle), Eat Your Heart Out Annie (Lytle), Buona Sera (Ambrose), Car Jam (instrumental), Rock Around the Clock 2002 (Buddin).
POSTED: September 4, 2001
Live on Stage - Bill Haley and His Comets Revival(SEC Records SEC CD 01)
They say impersonation is the sincerest form of flattery. Certainly, the tribute band industry has been going strong for many years -- from Elvis Presley and the Beatles to KISS and Britney Spears, if you're popular, someone is going to pay tribute to you.
So far, Bill Haley and the Comets haven't been the subject of many tribute bands. Perhaps that's because, in one form or another, The Comets have never gone away even after Haley died in 1981.
The Bill Haley and His Comets Revival is an exception. Based in Germany, this six-piece group led by Jo "Bill" Clifton has been singing Haley's songs for several years now, packing in audiences and winning kudos from none other than the 1954-55 Comets themselves.
"We just want to give a real tribute to Haley's music," Clifton said in an e-mail. "We do not only perform his (or better their) music but also try to show up the history and the background of all songs we play for our audience."
The Revival band has all the trappings of the classic Comets -- plaid jackets, spit curl, and all the bass schtick the real Comets made famous back in the 1950s. No word whether Al Rex's infamous splitting pants gag is recreated, however.
Live on Stage is the band's second CD, featuring nine live tracks culled from the Haley canon. What I liked about the CD is it wasn't just a bunch of guys copying The Comets -- I mean, why bother when the original band is still a going concern? Instead, Clifton and company put their own individual mark on each song, from a bluesy take on "Skinny Minnie" to a drum-dominated "Rudy's Rock," featuring great sax work by Denis "Rudy" Teabone and a lengthy solo by drummer Hugh "Bam Bam" Cellarhope. Each musician gets a chance to shine on a blistering "Saint's Rock and Roll," as well, while guitarist Nobby Soulback tackles the famous Danny Cedrone guitar solo on "Rock Around the Clock" with aplomb. Rounding out the band on this set are Mani "Lytle" Lins on double bass and Bernie Malt on piano.
"The most wonderful thing is watching five or six year-old children (on daytime events) in front of the stage, dancing to Haley's music -- and in the night time, 70 year-old people doing the same," Clifton said.
Clifton interacts well with the audience, leading sing-a-longs on "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "See You Later Alligator," and telling jokes between songs albeit in German with smatterings of English tossed in for good measure.
Live on Stage is an enjoyable tribute to Haley and the Comets, and worth tracking down. It is not currently available in North America, so the easiest way to get ahold of a copy is through the band's Web site. Update November 2010: This website is still active and run by the group (now going by the name Bill Haley's New Comets). However, I recommend inquiring as to whether the CD is still available.
TRACKS: Razzle-Dazzle, Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie, Rudy's Rock, Rock Around the Clock, Skinny Minnie, The Saint's Rock and Roll, Shake Rattle and Roll, See You Later Alligator, Rip it Up.
(Posted June 25, 2001)
Rock 'n' Roll Show(Hydra Records BCK 27105)
It's amazing what a bit of spring cleaning might turn up.
In the case of Comets co-founder and keyboard player Johnny Grande, it led to a remarkable (re)discovery: a high-quality recording of a performance by Bill Haley and the Comets from the spring of 1955. April 17, 1955 to be exact, at the Masonic Temple in Cleveland, OH.
Many live recordings exist of Haley and the Comets, some of which have been released and others which remain in private hands. But with a few exceptions all these live tapes date from the 1960s and 1970s. When it comes to live performances from the 1950s, we've been pretty well restricted to snippets from TV and radio (samples of which can be found on the Hydra CD On Screen).
But the Cleveland tape is something really special because it captures Haley just prior to the fleeting superstardom that would be thrust his way when "Rock Around the Clock" finally hit No. 1 in the summer of 1955. The three Comets who would later defect to form the Jodimars are present, as are Comets founders Billy Williamson and Grande. Absent is a lead guitar player: Franny Beecher was only a session musician at this time, so rather than the familiar guitar riffs of "Crazy Man Crazy" and even "Rock Around the Clock," we are instead treated to fantastic steel guitar work by Williamson and even accordion (yes, accordion) backing by Grande. An exception is the performance of the infamous instrumental "Straight Jacket" on which either Williamson or Haley himself (accounts differ) plays a basic boogie-woogie lead guitar line. But I simply can't get used to hearing "Rock Around the Clock" without the famous guitar solo originated by the late Danny Cedrone.
Rock 'n' Roll Show includes a number of songs the Comets never recorded in the studio, including "That's What You're Doing to Me" featuring Marshall Lytle, "'Deed I Do" by Dick Richards and the humorous "Big Mamou" by Williamson. In Lytle and Richards' cases, this release may well be the only known recording in existance of them singing as members of the Comets. Sax man Joey Ambrose is featured strongly on the aforementioned "Straight Jacket" which is far, far superior to the monotonous Essex recording from 1954. Ambrose also gets to play a second original instrumental, "Huckleberry," which was never recorded in studio. Ambrose in many ways sets the groundwork for his successor, Rudy Pompilli, who would inherit many of his acrobatics and stage antics later in 1955.
One surprising track to find is "Let's All Rock Together," a tune best identified with the Jodimars. This version has different lyrics -- including a snippet of "Caldonia" years before Haley himself recorded it -- and likely may have graduated into a full-fledged Decca recording had Lytle and company not moved on to the Jodimars.
Haley's performance is, sadly, not 100 percent up to par since this recording was made right at the end of a bout of laryingitis. As a result his vocal work through two versions of "Clock" and other tracks like "Mambo Rock" and "Rock the Joint" isn't as strong as it could have been. But he gives his all.
The sound quality on this 46-year-old recording is nothing short of remarkable. I've heard 20 year old recordings that don't sound as good. I don't know if they had soundboards in 55, but if they did, the tape recorder must have been plugged straight in. Certainly the sound quality is far superior to live recordings being made of Elvis Presley around this time. The only slip is someone forgot to turn Haley's microphone on for the first number, "Birth of the Boogie," resulting in a version that would fit in well in a karaoke bar!
Rock 'n' Roll Show is highly recommended, not only for Haley fans, but also anyone interested in the history of rock and roll.
TRACKS: Birth of the Boogie, Huckleberry, That's What You're Doing to Me (vocal by Marshall Lytle), Let's All Rock Together (vocal by Lytle), Ol' Man River (vocal by Dick Richards), 'Deed I Do (vocal by Richards), Big Mamou (vocal by Billy Williamson), I've Told Every Little Star (vocal by the Comet Trio: Richards, Lytle and Williamson), Rock Around the Clock, Dim Dim the Lights, Shake Rattle and Roll, Mambo Rock, Rock the Joint, Straight Jacket, Crazy Man Crazy, Rock Around the Clock.
(Posted June 25, 2001)
The Decca Years and More(Bear Family Records BCD 15506)
If you're a fan of Bill Haley and the Comets, this is The Biggie.
Released in 1990, The Decca Years and More was a mammoth undertaking -- an attempt to gather together every commercially available recording made by Haley during his seminal years with Decca Records, remaster said tracks, and organize them into one big package. And, along the way, throw in enough goodies to keep completists happy.
By and large, Bear Family Records, with the assistance of executive producer Chris Gardner, succeeded, creating a five-CD set that is as valuable a document of the early history of rock and roll as previous box sets dedicated to Elvis, Chuck Berry and others.
Not everything Haley recorded between 1954 and 1959 turned to gold. But for the fan, there are many tracks here that await rediscovery -- and many underappreciated classics, too. This is one of the most valuable aspects of a having a box set. Every man and his poodle has copies of "Rock Around the Clock" -- but relatively few people have copies of "Where'd You Go Last Night?," "Corrine Corrina," "Calling All Comets" and other fantastic recordings getting their due in his collection.
There are a few shortcomings in the set: there are very few previously unreleased tracks to be heard here. Indeed the only unissued material in evidence are some alternate takes and alternate mixes. Two tracks from a 1958 movie with Catarina Valente and a couple of tongue-in-cheek demos -- all of which were previously available on vinyl -- are the only tracks that might not be familiar to the average Haley fan. The fifth CD in the set is a "fly on the wall" look inside a Haley recording session, with a number of alternate takes and arrangements. Unfortunately this novelty only represents a couple of Haley's later recording sessions circa 1959. It would have been nice to hear studio chatter at the recording session for "Shake Rattle and Roll," but no doubt these tapes no longer exist. It is funny listening to Haley and the Comets chasing an errant bee around the recording studio prior to a take of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," however.
In addition, while some tracks are stated as having no overdubs, other tracks have had their dubs removed unintentionally. None of this negatively affects the set that much, but it does leave a few songs like "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" and "Forty Cups of Coffee" sounding a bit empty.
As with its follow-up, The Warner Brothers Years and More, this set serves to collect all Haley's Decca work into one handy location, rather than fans having to spend major coin to track down rare singles, EPs and albums.
CD 1 covers the basics -- all the major hits from 1954 to 1956. Of course "Rock Around the Clock" leads off the disc, even though its flipside "Thirteen Women" was actually the first song Haley recorded at Decca. In a way it's sad that with the exception of a few tracks later on, the majority of Haley's major hits are exhausted by the end of this first CD.
CD 2 starts with the final 1956 sessions -- material such as "Rip it Up" and two examples of "Don't Knock the Rock," one with and one without overdubbing. The majority of the disc includes rock and roll versions of old pop tunes and standards, a gimmick Haley tried to tie together the 1957 album Rockin' the Oldies which was a moderate success. Buried amongst middle of the road tunes like "Carolina in the Morning" and "One Sweet Letter from You" are some underappreciated gems such as "Rock Lomond," a sequel of sorts to "Rockin' Thru the Rye," a wonderful take on "Ain't Misbehavin'," and a cool remake of Haley's 1952 hit "Rock the Joint."
CD 3 features a number of folk tunes done in rock and roll style, a reflection of Haley trying to find a new gimmick to beef up sagging record sales stateside in 1957-58. It wasn't a success, as head-scratchers such as "Me Rock-a-Hula" and "Rockin' Rollin' Schnitzelbank" attest. But tracks like "Rockin' Matilda," "Piccadilly Rock" and "Vive le Rock and Roll," along with the Billy Williamson-sung "Jamaica D.J." show the experiment wasn't a total loss. Things pick up in the second half with the classic "Skinny Minnie," its lesser-known sequel, "Lean Jean," and "Joey's Song."
CD 4 begins with one of Haley's best recordings ever, "Corrine, Corrina," a track that deserved to be a bigger success than it was. This CD also includes a second version of "Vive le Rock and Roll", this from the soundtrack of the 1958 film Hier Bin Ich, Hier Bleib Ich, featuring a duet vocal with Catarina Valente. A remake of Haley's 1956 hit "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy" follows, though a third track from the movie, "Whoa Mabel" is missed. Other treasures on this disc include "The Cat Walk" and "Shaky", two Franny Beecher guitar instrumentals, "Where Did You Go Last Night?", and "Caldonia." The last half of the CD features mostly instrumental work the Comets did in 1959 to round out their contract with Decca. That sounds almost dismissive, but in fact few earlier Decca recordings showcased the versatility of the Comets as these instrumentals did, particularly "Mack the Knife" and "Skokiaan," which became Haley's last new American hit in 1960. The 1964 single "Green Door"/"Yeah She's Evil" -- a one-shot return to Decca -- is included, as are two demos from around 1956. "Football Rock and Roll" is a gimmick song recorded for producer Milt Gabler, possibly as a joke, while "Six Year Olds Can Rock and Roll" is a charming piece of kiddie rock recorded as a present for child singing star Barry Gordon.
CD 5 features studio chatter and alternate takes from a couple of 1959 recording sessions. It is interesting to hear songs like "Dragon Rock" and "Where Did You Go Last Night" evolve, but none of the songs featured are of the same calibre as Haley's best-known classics. Oddly enough the best rehearsal takes I've heard from this session were for "Caldonia," but these tracks weren't released until the Warner Brothers Years and More box set came out nine years later.
The Decca Years is a worthwhile acquisition for serious Haley fans who feel the Decca years showcased Haley's finest work. There is no doubt Haley never attained the same heights of popularity as he did with Decca, and this box set is a valuable souvenir of those golden years.
CD 1: Rock Around the Clock, Thirteen Women, Shake Rattle and Roll, ABC Boogie, Happy Baby, Dim Dim the Lights, Birth of the Boogie, Mambo Rock, Two Hound Dogs, Razzle Dazzle, ROCK, Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie, The Saint's Rock and Roll, Burn That Candle, See You Later Alligator, The Paper Boy, Goofin' Around, Rudy's Rock, Hide and Seek (vocal by Billy Williamson), Hey Then There Now (vocal by the Comets Trio), Tonight's The Night (vocal by the Comets Trio), Hook Line and Sinker, Blue Comet Blues (aka. Blue Home Blues), Calling All Comets, Choo Choo Ch' Boogie, A Rockin' Little Tune, Hot Dog Buddy Buddy, Rockin' Thru the Rye.
CD 2: Don't Knock the Rock (without overdub), Teenager's Mother, Rip it Up, Don't Knock the Rock, Forty Cups of Coffee, Miss You, Billy Goat, Rockin' Rollin' Rover, Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone, You Can't Stop Me From Dreaming, I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Rock Lomond, Is it True What They Say About Dixie?, Carolina in the Morning, The Dipsy Doodle, Ain't Misbehavin', The Beak Speaks, Moon Over Miami, One Sweet Letter From You, In Apple Blossom Time, Somebody Else is Taking My Place, How Many?, Move it On Over, Rock the Joint, Rip it Up (without handclaps).
CD 3: Me Rock-a-Hula, Rockin' Rita, Jamaica DJ (vocal by Williamson), Piccadilly Rock, Pretty Alouette, Rockin' Rollin' Schnitzlebank, Rockin' Matilda, Vive le Rock and Roll, It's a Sin, Mary Mary Lou, El Rocko, Come Rock With Me, Oriental Rock, Wooden Shoe Rock, The Walkin' Beat, Skinny Minnie, Sway With Me, Lean Jean, Don't Nobody Move, Joey's Song (stereo), Chiquita Linda, Dinah, Ida Sweet as Apple Cider, Whoa Mabel!, Marie, Eloise, Corrine Corrina (without handclaps), Joey's Song (mono).
CD 4: Corrine Corrina, B.B. Betty (vocal by Williamson), Sweet Sue Just You, Charmaine, Vive le Rock and Roll (vocal by Bill Haley and Catarina Valente), Hot Dog Buddy Buddy, The Dragon Rock, ABC Rock (vocal by Williamson and Franny Beecher), The Catwalk, I Got a Woman, A Fool Such as I, Be By Me, Where Did You Go Last Night?, Caldonia, Shaky, Ooh Look-a There Ain't She Pretty?, Summer Souvenir, Puerto Rican Peddlar, Music Music Music, Skokiaan, Drowsy Waters, Two Shadows, In a Little Spanish Town, Strictly Instrumental, Mack the Knife, The Green Door, Yeah She's Evil, Football Rock and Roll, Six Year Olds Can Rock and Roll.
CD 5: Behind-the scenes studio recordings from 1959, featuring incomplete and alternate takes of : The Dragon Rock, ABC Rock (vocal by Williamson), The Catwalk, I Got a Woman, A Fool Such as I, Be By Me, Where Did You Go Last Night?
(Posted June 25, 2001; Updated May 8, 2002)
The Greatest LIVE Show on Earth:Live at the Paris Olympia '58-'66 -- Various Artists
(Europe Records GLS 1001)
I must confess that this can only be a partial review of this CD. That's because I have only heard the tracks featuring Bill Haley and the Comets. The remaining 14 tracks on the CD are by a range of famous 50s and 60s performers who, like Haley, are captured for the most part in their prime during visits to the famous Paris Olympia theatre.
This CD has also, apparently, been withdrawn from sale, with some debate over whether it is actually a bootleg.
This is unfortunate, because the 10 brief tracks recorded during Bill Haley and the Comets' 1958 European tour are among the most exciting ever made of the band.
From the beginning, when the crowd goes wild as Haley launches into "The Saint's Rock and Roll," you know you*re in for something special.
As with Rock 'n' Roll Show, the sound quality is fantastic. Even with a screaming crowd, most instruments and vocals are heard clearly. And the performances shine through.
This is Haley near the end of his Golden Era. The 1958 tour would be wrought with troubles financial, political and otherwise. The band would soon appear in a German movie with Catarina Valente, but they would only have one top-40 hit in the US this year: "Skinny Minnie."
Earlier in 1958, bass player Al Rex had resigned, and for the European tour, sax man Rudy Pompilli's cousin Al Pompilli would step into the other Al's shoes. For some reason Haley is heard introducing Al Pompilli as "Rudy's little brother" instead of cousin. This CD features the only known recording of Al Pompilli doing a vocal lead, on "For You My Love" and he does a terrific job making one wonder why he never got the chance to on a Decca recording session.
We also get the only release of a "Guitar Boogie"-inspired instrumental spotlighting Franny Beecher called "Beecher Boogie Woogie," which is a fine variation on Beecher's other guitar-driven showstoppers like "Goofin' Around."
But the highlight of Haley's portion of the CD -- and I'm willing to bet, of the whole CD itself -- is a barnstorming performance of "Rudy's Rock." You don't need to be able to see all the stage antics in order to get caught up in the electricity of the performance. Rudy Pompilli's performance of his signature tune likely never equalled what he was able to do with it in Paris on Oct. 15, 1958.
The origin of these recordings is a bit of a mystery. It's been suggested they were recorded off a radio program, while others say they were soundboard recordings. Unfortunately two songs are cut off midway through, implying the first scenario: "Feelin' Happy," a version of the Big Joe Turner classic featuring a fine vocal by steel guitar player Billy Williamson (and misidentified as "Jump Children" on the liner note), and -- most unfortunately -- "Rock Around the Clock," which is truly cut off in its prime. Haley also chose to sing a sinfully abbreviated version of "See You Later Alligator," leading to the only sour note on the recording.
Since Greatest LIVE Show on Earth has apparently been withdrawn from circulation, it could be difficult to locate, particularly in North America. But used or collectors shops may still have copies and it's a wonderful addition to your Haley collection. if you can find it.
Postscript May 2002: Big Beat Records has reissued these recordings, along with other performances not included on this CD. Go here for a review of this CD.
TRACKS (Bill Haley and the Comets only): The Saint's Rock and Roll, Shake Rattle and Roll, For You My Love (vocal by Al Pompilli), Beecher Boogie Woogie, I'm in Love Again (vocal by Billy Williamson), Mambo Rock, Feelin' Happy (aka. Jump Children) (vocal by Williamson; incomplete), Rudy's Rock, See You Later Alligator, Rock Around the Clock (incomplete).
Additional tracks (non Bill Haley) -- Roy Orbison: Crying, Dream Baby, Blue Bayou, Mean Woman Blues, Oh Pretty Woman. Cliff Richard and the Shadows: Apache, Do You Wanna Dance, Bachelor Boy, We Say Yeah. Jerry Lee Lewis: Your Cheatin' Heart, What'd I Say, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On. Johnny Burnette: Bony Maronie. Vince Taylor: Maybelline.
(Posted June 25 2001)
Crazy Man, Crazy(Hallmark 300242)
I wish I could give a rave review for this unusual collection of rare Bill Haley recordings, but I can't.
With the exception of one track, the sound quality is suprisingly poor on this release, affecting the enjoyment of many of the recordings, which cover a period from c.1948 to 1961. Considering a number of tracks are actually from Haley's pre-"Rocket 88" country western days, a bit of muted sound does little harm. But there's no excuse for the poor sound quality of the Essex-era recordings featured, which we know have been issued on CD with far superior sound on releases such as Rollercoaster Records/Schoolkids Records' Rock the Joint! collection.
Sound aside, this is an intriguing collection of songs. Along with relatively easy-to-obtain Essex sides such as the title track, which was Haley's first national hit in 1953, we also get rarer material such as "Tearstains on My Heart" from 1951, which was the flipside to Haley's groundbreaking version of "Rocket 88."
Worth the price of admission alone are several country-era tracks that, to my knowledge, had never been released on CD until this point. "Behind the Eight Ball" features a harmony vocal by Bashful Barney Barnard and dates back to Haley's days fronting the Four Aces of Western Swing, while "Foolish Questions" is a droll commentary on the stupid statements people sometimes make.
Rounding out the set -- seemingly out of nowhere -- we get the 1961 Warner Brothers single "Chick Safari" which shows Haley at the top of his form even if the song itself missed the charts. Many alternate takes of "Safari" exist and it appears this version may be different from the one included in the Warner Brothers Years and More box set.
A number of tracks date from the end of Haley's tenure with Essex Records in 1953-54, including "love 'em or hate 'em" songs such as "Straight Jacket," "Ten Little Indians" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
If you're looking for a quick survey of some of Haley's earliest work, and aren't picky about sound quality, the CD might be worth checking out. Serious collectors may wish to look elsewhere.
TRACKS: Crazy Man Crazy, Rockin' Chair on the Moon, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Sundown Boogie, Behind the Eight Ball, Live it Up, I'll be True, Jukebox Cannonball, Chick Safari, Ten Little Indians, Icy Heart, Straight Jacket, Tearstains on my Heart, Foolish Questions.
POSTED: March 11, 2001
On the Air(Hydra BCK 27112)
Listing to the latest Bill Haley and the Comets release from Hydra Records, you're forgiven if you think you've stumbled onto a Benny Goodman Orchestra recording instead.
That's because Hydra has released what might be some of the most unusual series of recordings ever made by the Fathers of Rock and Roll.
On the Air marks the first release of two radio programs Haley made for Armed Forces Radio (AFN) in August and September of 1962, during a hectic tour of German army bases. This was soon before Haley and the Comets took residence at the Star Club in Hamburg, where one of their opening acts was a little-known group called the Beatles.
These two programs showcase the diversity of musical ability in the individual Comets in a way no other recording yet released has ever done.
The first half of the CD is straightforward Rock and Roll, with the Comets performing laid back, enjoyable versions of "Rock Around the Clock" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." They also launch into several songs they never recorded in the studio -- guitarist Johnny Kay delivers a rockin' version of "Peppermint Twist" (remember at this time Latin Americans considered Haley the King of the Twist, not that Chubby Checker guy), and steel guitarist Billy Williamson gives us a fine rendition of Big Joe Turner's "Feelin' Happy."
Rounding out this first set are rare live versions of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," "Joey's Song," which was one of Haley's last hits for Decca, and a shamefully abbreviated "See You Later Alligator" which is cut off by the ending credits of the radio show.
An interesting trivia note is this first show, recorded in Frankfurt, was produced by Joey Welz, who would later briefly replace Johnny Grande as piano player for the Comets. These might well be the last recordings Grande ever made with Haley before ending his 13-year association with the band; fellow Comets founder Billy Williamson would give up playing rock music about six months later.
It is the second AFN show, recorded two weeks later, that is the true revelation on this CD.
It opens with a very relaxed performance of "Saint's Rock and Roll," featuring fine jazz-styled solos by Johnny Kay and sax legend Rudy Pompilli, as well as rare solos by Grande and drummer Dave Holly.
The remainder of the show is a somewhat convoluted attempt by Haley to explain the evolution of rock and roll, as well as showcase the fine musicianship of his Comets. If ever there was evidence that the Comets was (and still is) one of the best groups of musicians in the history of Rock and Roll, this is it.
Beginning with the Dixieland tune "Ja-Da," featuring a good vocal by bass and trumpet player Al Rappa, the Comets go through a checklist of different styles.
We get rhythm and blues via Williamson's interpretation of the Ray Charles classic "Hallelujah I Love Her So," and an incredible jazz clarinet blowing session by Rudy Pompilli on "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," and a remarkable medley of old-world tunes highlighted by Johnny Kay's flying-fingers work on "Malaguena."
Rounding out this collection: a country tune, "Wolverton Mountain," sung by a very twangy-sounding Johnny Kay, more jazz work by Rudy Pompilli, and a semi-rocking version of "Never on Sunday" featuring all the Comets. Haley's only singing vocal is on "Saints."
Perhaps the most fascinating parts of this CD are the interview snippets between each song. Whether it's the announcer comically trying to list all of Haley's German appearances in under a minute (anyone who thinks Haley was retired by this point is in for an education), or rare recordings of Rudy Pompilli and Billy Williamson discussing the finer points of music, these segments are almost worth the price of admission alone.
Chris Gardner's liner notes feature many fascinating tidbits of information and trivia that even I didn't know about, and there are some very funny stories to be told about this hectic and bizarre period of Haley's career. Hydra owner Klaus Kettner, by the way, is looking for any good-quality recordings that may exist of Haley and the Comets performing at the Star Club during this time (a low-fidelity private tape has circulated amongst fans for nearly 40 years). If you can help, drop him a line at email@example.com.
Be warned that the original source tape used for this CD*is far from pristine. As a result, the sound often drops out, or sounds a bit muted -- though this in a way adds to the atmosphere in simulating what the original broadcast must have sounded like. Hydra has done a good job cleaning up the sound as best they can. That, and maybe Kay's camp vocal on "Wolverton Mountain", are the only real negatives I could find with this CD, and that's pretty good.
On the Air is a German release, so you may need to turn to the Internet to find a copy. Once again, you can contact Kettner; the CD may also be available soon from other outlets such as Hepcat Records or D4Haley International.
I was amazed at the versatility of the material on this CD, though one can only wish what former Comets such as Franny Beecher and Joey Ambrose might have also contributed to this. But I'm not complaining -- there is remarkable work here by all concerned, and this qualifies as a "must-have" for any serious Haley fan, and I'd even go so far as to recommend this CD to casual or first-time fans as well.
TRACKS (only songs listed): Rock Around the Clock, Shake Rattle and Roll, The Peppermint Twist (vocal Johnny Kay), Honky Tonk (instrumental), Feelin' Happy (vocal Billy Williamson), Joey's Song (instrumental), See You Later Alligator (incomplete), Saint's Rock and Roll, Ja-Da (vocal Al Rappa), Hallelujah I Love Her So (vocal Williamson), The World is Waiting for the Sunrise (instrumental), Medley: Malaguena/Tales From the Vienna Wood/La Paloma/Hungarian*Rhapsody No.5 (instrumental), Wolverton Mountain (vocal Kay), Bernie's Tune (instrumental), Never on Sunday (ensemble vocal).
(POSTED: Sept. 1, 2000)
Twist Bill Haley(Orfeon/Dimsa CDN-13600)
In 1961, Bill Haley and the Comets went south and managed to reclaim much of the fame and glory that had been lost following the end of their contract with Decca Records.
Haley ended up going to Mexico in 1961, following the success in Latin America of the song "The Spanish Twist" which had been recorded for Gone Records. Haley travelled to Mexico, re-recorded the song in Spanish (as "Twist Espanol"), and also debuted a new song co-written by sax player Rudy Pompilli called "Florida Twist." Suddenly, Bill Haley and the Comets were topping the charts once again and found themselves proclaimed Kings of the Twist!
This CD recaptures the spirit of those early days in Mexico, and is a very strong collection of instrumentals and vocals. Originally released in 1961, Orfeon/Dimsa has reissued the first Twist Bill Haley album to CD.
Running a fraction over 22 minutes (divided into 10 songs), this album is shorter than some of today's CD EPs. Still, what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Until only a couple of years ago, most of the Orfeon label material I had heard came from the 1966 sessions that produced terrible remakes of "See You Later Alligator" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (example LP: Twenty Golden Pieces of Bill Haley on the Bulldog label). Some of the instrumental stuff from that period, as well as the remakes of Decca-era material such as "A.B.C. Boogie" and "How Many?" were actually quite good, as was the samba-influenced version of "Rock Around the Clock," but otherwise I wasn't very impressed. But the same does not apply to Haley's early Mexican recordings from 1961 and 1962. Clearly rejuvenated by their unexpected success south of the border, everyone tries hard to make these tracks a success -- and they work well because of the effort.
The CD features several bonifide Orfeon classics such as "Florida Twist" (at one point the biggest-selling single of all time in Mexico) and "Silbando Y Caminando," great instrumentals. "Tampico Twist" is one of the best Comets instrumentals of all time, featuring Franny Beecher doing some of his best guitar work since 1956. Another highlight is "Actopan," which is perhaps more familiar as "The Hucklebuck." Once you get past a somewhat annoying rattle that makes its presence felt every few bars, it's top notch Rudy Pompilli sax solo with an extended, unexpected, and very welcome piano solo by Johnny Grande (possibly one of the longest he ever recorded while with Haley). "Tren Nocturno" ("Night Train") is cool and fast-paced, possibly influenced by James Brown's trademark version.
"Twist Espanol" is far superior in both vocals and arrangement to the English-language version ("Spanish Twist"), with a better Pompilli sax solo. And "Caravana Twist" -- a version of the Duke Ellington classic, "Caravan," is one of the best Haley versions of that song I've heard, though I miss not having a five-minute long drum solo which John "Bam-Bam" Lane provided in the 1968 Sonet live version.
Does Haley sing on this record? Barely -- he only appears on three of the tracks. But he does well -- including a fun version of "Mas Twist" ie. "Let's Twist Again." And yes, he does sing in Spanish!
All told, Twist Bill Haley is a terrific introduction to the Haley's Mexican era, and a great party record, if a little short. It's a shame Orfeon didn't include some bonus tracks to pad its length out a bit, as there are a number of non-album tracks such as "Cerca Del Mar" that could have been included.
As a Mexican release, this CD might be a little tough to find away from perhaps Texas and southern California. One good source for the CD is Denise Gregoire's Web site.
TRACKS: Florida Twist, Silbando Y Caminando (Whistlin' and Walkin' Twist), Twist Espanol (Spanish Twist), Tampico Twist, La Paloma, Caravana Twist (Caravan), Negra Consentida, Tren Nocturno (Night Train), Actopan (The Hucklebuck), Mas Twist (Let's Twist Again).
Photo courtesy Chris Gardner
(POSTED: Sept. 1, 2000; revision of earlier posts from May 1999 and July 2000)
The Warner Brothers Years and More(Bear Family BCD-16157)
The Warner Brothers Years and More may well be the most complex release ever dedicated to Bill Haley -- or any other artist, for that matter.
In order to collect the 157 tracks in the set, spread out over six CDs, the German Bear Family label had to track down master tapes from many different small labels in the U.S. -- no easy feat. Yet the job was done, and while this set doesn't include everything Haley recorded in the U.S. during the period 1960-1969, it comes about as close as you can get.
The 1960s are very much an underappreciated time in Bill Haley's career. His chart-busting days at Decca were over, he had debts with both The Mob and the IRS (which one is worse is a matter for debate), his second marriage was failing, and he was finding it difficult to keep his musicians. But Haley never stopped working, whether to perform in clubs from New York to Hamburg, or to record tracks for a succession of small labels.
The Warner Brothers Years and More focuses on Haley's American work during this period, leaving his prolific recordings for the Mexican labels Orfeon and Dimsa (1961-1966) for a possible future box set. Likewise, the beginnings of Haley's tenure with the Swedish label Sonet in 1968 are also left out, once again with the possibility of inclusion in a future box set dedicated to the 1970s.
Some 30 unreleased tracks are included in the set. By comparison, Bear Family's previous box, The Decca Years and More was only five CDs in length, with only about 20 previously unreleased masters, most of which were false starts and alternate takes from one recording session in 1959.
Make no mistake -- Haley spent much of the decade desperate for a hit, and sometimes he tried too hard. As a result, it is fair to say that not every track on this set is a classic. A few are downright awful. But for fans of Bill Haley, it is a treasure trove of rare material, much of it of much higher quality than many of us might have expected.
If I had a major complaint to make about the set, it is that Bear Family chose not to present the tracks in chronological order. While all the Warners and Gone and Newtown tracks (for the most part) are grouped together, too often you'll be listening to something from 1961 and suddenly you're in 1964. The live tracks near the end of the set jump jarringly from 1969 to 1962 and then back to 1969.
Here's a quick CD-by-CD rundown of what's in store:
CD 1 covers most of Haley's tenure with Warner Brothers Records (and hence provides the rationale for the box set's title), with all tracks dating from 1960. When Haley moved to Warner's from Decca, he wanted a change of pace, and so his first single was a version of George Morgan's "Candy Kisses" (a song Haley previously recorded in 1948), and a Dixieland-style instrumental called "Tamiami." Although both songs were as far from Rock and Roll as you could get, they were both well done and nearly provided Haley with a hit. In fact, the performances on CD 1, a mixture of country standards and covers of rock and roll classics (including "Rock Around the Clock," display the versatility of Haley and his musicians in a way that was rarely repeated. I found a couple of the country weepies on the CD a little hard to sit through, but these moments were few and far between. Additional highlights: the bizarre "bunny hop" instrumental "Hot to Trot," an even more bizarre and previously unreleased instrumental with nonsense lyrics sung by Haley called "Happy Homer," a solid cover of Guy Mitchell's "Singin' the Blues" and the prophetic "One Has My Name, the Other Has My Heart" which would soon describe Haley's personal life as his marriage to Cuppy Haley collapsed.
CD 2 picks up still in 1960 at Warner Brothers and the excellent "Hawk," a song cut from the same mold as Peggy Lee's "Fever" -- and recorded a full month before Elvis Presley tackled that song. Haley puts aside his usual trappings for a simple backdrop of bass, drums and a backing chorus. The effect is amazing, though I must say an alternate take included later in the box is even better. Another underappreciated Haley classic, "Chick Safari" follows, as does the tremendous "Let the Good Times Roll, Creole." Why none of these scored hits is beyond me -- though apparently "Chick Safari" did hit the top of the charts in India! Also included are two bizarre tracks featuring Bob Hayes -- a business associate of Haley's -- singing lead vocal. Possibly recorded as a joke, or as a present to Hayes for services rendered, they do stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest. A final WB single from 1961 -- "Honky Tonk" and "Flip, Flop and Fly" -- leads us into the start of Haley's small label period. The two singles recorded for the Gone label in 1961 included "The Spanish Twist," which was not Haley's best work. An alternate take which did not make it into the set, and a Spanish version recorded in Mexico were much better performances, but you can tell that Haley badly wanted a hit from the song here (which he did get, albeit south of the border). The excellent instrumentals "Riviera" and "War Paint" are followed by a set of recordings I consider to be a low point in Haley's career.
In early 1964, Haley and the Comets gathered in Las Vegas to record an album's worth of material for Guest Star records. Originally these tracks were thought to have been recorded in 1962, but in recent months new information came forward to suggest they were actually taped in 1964. Aside from a fine remake of "See You Later Alligator," some nice instrumental moments in "Panic" and "Yakety Sax," and the very Decca-sounding "Don't Mess Around," there's not much to recommend here. We jump to 1963 and the Newtown sessions as the CD closes, for an example of Haley's Comets working as session musicians, backing Carrie Grant and the Grandeurs on a very Motown-sounding single "Mish-Mash."
Rudy Pompilli, left, and Johnny Kay in action. Photo courtesy Rik Hull.
CD 3 takes us to 1965 and Haley's bizarre sessions for APT records. I say bizarre because a major attempt to change the Haley style is made here, with the band adopting the "jerk" style of recording. It's only moderately successful. The CD opens with a song called "Stop, Look and Listen," which is entertaining but not Haley at his best. Its main claim to fame was that Elvis later covered the song for his movie Spinout. A remake of "Burn That Candle" from 1955 and a bizarre (and previously unissued) rearrangement of the 1954 hit "Dim, Dim the Lights" follow. Later in the year, Haley returned to APT to record more songs, but save for sax man Rudy Pompilli, only session musicians were used instead of the regular Comets. Among these pseudo-Comets were noted jazz guitarist Don Arnone and drummer Panama Francis, who had drummed on the original Decca "Shake, Rattle and Roll" single back in 1954. The results are astounding, with an excellent Dixieland instrumental called "Haley a Go-Go," a fine remake of Haley's 1960 tune "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder" and a strange David Seville pastiche called "Tongue-Tied Tony."
Arguably the best tracks in the entire box set are buried in the middle of CD 3. Dating from two Arizona recording sessions in 1967, "Rock on Baby" and "Jealous Heart" are wonderful discoveries. Never before issued, these were attempts by Haley to find a new sound -- and a new record deal. "Rock on Baby" paints Haley in the uncharacteristic role of contemporary rocker, backed not by the Comets, but a band called Superfine Dandelion. The second track, "Jealous Heart" features a Phoenix Mariachi band backing Haley on a terrific country weepie ballad that harks back to his days as a country singer. Some have called this one of the finest Haley recordings ever. I disagree -- I don't think it's that good, but it's still a wonderful performance. Also included on the CD are a set of tracks recorded for United Artists in 1968, including a terrific cover of Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Go to Memphis" (my vote for best Haley recording of the 1960s), a frantic remake of "Flip, Flop and Fly" and a couple of Decca-sounding Christmas tunes.
The remainder of CD 3 consists of the 1963 recording sessions for Newtown Records. These are a mixed bag, with the instrumental work far outweighing Haley's telephoned-in vocals. Although the very low-key "Up Goes My Love" has an interesting sound, and "Tenor Man" is enjoyable with strong work by Pompilli, Haley doesn't seem too interested in the chore this time around. Much better are the numerous instrumentals, many never issued before, such as the boogaloo "You're Too Much," and Pompilli's after hours sax ballad "One Phone Call." Also surprising is a very contemporary-sounding country song, "Cottonfields." According to the liner notes, the lead vocal on this track is supposed to be by Rudy Pompilli, however I am of the opinion it's actually guitarist Johnny Kay singing.
CD 4 jumps us to 1969 and a set of three live shows recorded at the Bitter End in New York. Selections from these shows originally appeared on the Kama Sutra/Buddah LP Bill Haley's Scrapbook back in 1970. The sound quality leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to Haley's live work for Sonet the previous year, but those familiar with Scrapbook will enjoy hearing alternate performances of songs like "Dance Around the Clock." A big surprise is an alternate performance of "See You Later Alligator," which features a sax solo by Pompilli that isn't in the version on the original Kama Sutra LP (which is also on the CD, so you can compare). Other highlights: "Night Train," Nick Nastos delivering a frantic "Guitar Boogie," and Bill Nolte drumming the hell out of "Wipe Out."
CD 5 concludes the 1969 Bitter End shows, featuring a fine version of "Honky Tonk" and a previously unreleased performance of the comedy song "Next Time" by Nick Nastos. I didn't much care for bass player Ray Cawley's performance of "Hey Momma," however -- but Bill Nolte delivers a surprisingly effective performance of the country ballad "Almost Persuaded," which I'm surprised wasn't included in the Sonet LP Rock Around the Country the next year. Midway through CD 5, listeners fall into a sudden time warp and find themselves back in 1962 at the famous Roundtable club in New York. Haley and the Comets recorded their first live LP there, titled Twistin' Knights at the Roundtable. These performances include some of the band's best-ever guitar work -- by Franny Beecher in his final recordings with Haley along with Johnny Kay. "Florida Twist," "Whistlin' and Walkin' Twist" and "Twist Marie" come off the best. You might scratch your head wondering what Haley was thinking when he launches into a twist waltz called "One-Two-Three Twist." One song that sounds MUCH better on CD than on original vinyl is Haley's reading of Joe Turner's "I Want a Little Girl." On the original LP, this track is terrible -- but on CD, even though Haley's vocals aren't as good as they should be, the backing by Beecher and the Comets is very good. The CD ends with a single track ("Rip it Up") from Haley's 1969 Madison Square Garden performance, which resulted in the famous 8 1/2-minute standing ovation. Sadly, the tape of the version of "Rock Around the Clock" from this date appears to have gone missing.
CD 6 contains the obligatory alternate takes collection. Unlike the Decca Years set, which included multiple alternate takes from a relatively few songs, this time Bear Family has collected an assortment of alternate takes from several sources. The first half of the CD consists of alternates from the Warner Brothers sessions. Sadly, as Chris Gardner mentions in his extensive Warner Brothers Years booklet, there really isn't a lot of difference between these alternates and the final versions -- with a few notable exceptions. "Detour," for example, is a much better performance and includes a guitar solo from Franny Beecher that wasn't used in the final version. We also get multiple attempts at "Chick Safari" by Haley (but an excellent alternate take featuring Billy Williamson on vocals was somehow missed), and there is also an excellent version of "Let the Good Times Roll, Creole," which is sabotaged by annoying backing vocals. The best track of the lot is an alternate version of "Hawk" that ditches the female chorus heard on the final single, leaving us a very sparse, soulful performance by Haley. Next up on the CD are a series of alternate takes from the Newtown sessions. I mentioned earlier how I felt Haley "phoned in" his vocals for these tracks -- this is evident here, as Haley is nowhere to be heard! At one point we hear discussion of writing lyrics for a song for Haley "on the fly," giving an interesting insight into how the band worked during the 60s. "Tenor Man" is featured in a series of interesting instrumental try-outs featuring Rudy Pompilli. It's clear the song is based on the Orfeon recording "Que Pachanga" ("What a Party") as on the first take you can hear people singing it in the background. A later take features Johnny Kay and what sounds like Billy Williamson duetting on a version of "What a Party"/"Tenor Man" that sounds nothing like what Haley later recorded!
The CD ends with a selection of worthwhile leftovers not included in The Decca Years and More: several demos and alternate takes from 1959. These include remarkable versions of "Caldonia" featuring Haley doing his best Louis Jordan impression (if you only know the final Decca recording, you're in for a surprise), and we get a very country-sounding Haley on the demo "Way Down in the Bottom of My Heart."
Whew! I told you it was a complex set! And for my money one of the most remarkable Haley releases ever! There are some noticable omissions in the set -- a Bitter End performance of "Malaguena" is missing-in-action, as is the 1969 Felt Forum performance of "Rock Around the Clock." Also, Bear Family was unable to uncover an estimated 25-30 unreleased live recordings from the Roundtable sessions, plus the set is missing a series of intriguing rehearsal recordings from 1960 -- not to mention an estimated two dozen alternate takes of "Chick Safari." But diehard Haley fans should have little to complain about. The booklet by Chris Gardner provides a treasure trove of information and a detailed discography and there are pictures galore.
The Warner Brothers Years and More is a German release, which may be available through speciality shops or through special order. You can also order it direct through Bear Family Records.
Tracks marked with an asterisk (*) are previously unreleased. Tracks marked with a plus sign (+) are to my knowledge making their first appearance on CD.
CD1 (Warner Brothers sessions)
1. *Happy Homer*; 2. Candy Kisses; 3. Tamiami (inst.); 4. I Almost Lost My Mind; 5. Love Letters in the Sand; 6. Blueberry Hill; 7. Kansas City; 8. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On; 9. Rock Around the Clock; 10. Stagger Lee; 11. Blue Suede Shoes; 12. +Hot to Trot+ (previously issued on the Arcade label under the name The Highlights) (inst.); 13. I'm in Love Again; 14. My Special Angel; 15. Crazy Man, Crazy; 16. Shake, Rattle and Roll; 17. Bouquet of Roses; 18. This is the Thanks I Get; 19. I Don't Hurt Anymore; 20. Anytime; 21. Singing the Blues; 22. Cold, Cold Heart; 23. Detour; 24. Afraid; 25. +One Has My Name, the Other Has My Heart+; 26. No Letter Today; 27. The Wild Side of Life; 28. There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder.
CD2 (Warner Brothers, Newtown, Gone sessions)
29. +Hawk+; 30. Chick Safari; 31. +So Right Tonight+; 32. Let the Good Times Roll, Creole; 33. *Jack in the Box* (Bob Hayes vocal); 34. *Pistol Packin' Mama* (Bob Hayes vocal); 35. +Honky Tonk+ (inst.); 36. +Flip, Flop and Fly+; 37. +Spanish Twist+; 38. +My Kind of Woman+; 39. Riviera (inst.); 40. War Paint (inst.); 41. See You Later, Alligator; 42. ABC Boogie; 43. Panic (inst.); 44. I've Got News for Hugh (inst.); 45. Don't Mess Around; 46. The Wobble; 47. This is Goodbye, Goodbye; 48. Train of Sin; 49. Altar of Love; 50. Helena (inst.); 51. +Yakety Sax+ (inst.); 52. +Mish Mash+ (vocal: Carrie Grant and the Grandeurs); 53. +Let the Girls Sing+ (vocal: Carrie Grant and the Grandeurs).
CD3 (APT, United Artists, Newtown sessions)
54. +Stop, Look and Listen+; 55. +Burn That Candle+; 56. *Dim, Dim the Lights*; 57. *There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder*; 58. *Pepito* (inst); 59.+Haley a Go Go+; 60. +Tongue Tied Tony+; 61. *Jealous Heart*; 62. *Rock on Baby*; 63. That's How I Got to Memphis; 64. Ain't Love Funny, Ha Ha Ha; 65. Jingle Bell Rock; 66. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree; 67. Flip, Flop and Fly; 68. +What Can I Say+; 69. +Tenor Man+; 70. +Tandy+; 71. *Caroline's Pony* (inst); 72. +Dance Around the Clock+; 73. +Up Goes My Love+; 74. +White Parakeet/Travelin' West+ (inst.); 75. +Midnight in Washington+ (inst.); 76. +You Call Everybody Darling+; 77. *One Phone Call* (inst.); 78. *You're Too Much* (inst.); 79. *Little Meanie Jeanie* (inst.); 80. *Cottonfields* (vocal by either Rudy Pompilli or Johnny Kay); 81. *Tally Ho Rock* (inst.); 82. *Double Mint Rock and Twist* (inst).
All tracks on this CD are from the Buddah/Kama Sutra Bitter End sessions recorded for the LP Bill Haley's Scrapbook in 1969.
83. *Shake, Rattle and Roll*; 84. Dance Around the Clock; 85. Rip it Up; 86. *Night Train* (inst.); 87. *Guitar Boogie* (inst.); 88. Razzle-Dazzle; 89. *You Are My Sunshine* (vocal by Ray Cawley); 90. Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie; 91. Skinny Minnie; 92. Johnny B. Goode (vocal by Nick Nastos); 93. Kansas City (vocal by Rudy Pompilli); 94. *Rock Around the Clock*; 95. The Saints' Rock and Roll; 96. Rudy's Rock; 97. Rock the Joint; 98. Fingers on Fire (inst.); 99. *See You Later Alligator*; 100. Wipe Out (inst.); 101. There Goes My Everything (vocal by Bill Nolte); 102. *Alabama Bound* (aka. Big Daddy's Alabamy Bound) (vocal by Rudy Pompilli); 103. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (vocal by Nick Nastos); 104. Rock Around the Clock.
More Bitter End recordings. "Lullaby of Birdland" begins a set of 1962 live recordings for Roulette (Twisting Knights of the Roundtable LP). The last track on the CD is from a 1969 concert at the Felt Forum in New York (original release on Buddah).
105. Shake, Rattle and Roll; 106. Honky Tonk (inst); 107. *Dance Around the Clock*; 108. *Hey Momma* (vocal by Ray Cawley); 109. *Almost Persuaded* (vocal by Bill Nolte); 110. Yakety Sax (inst.); 111. Framed (vocal by Nick Nastos); 112. *Next Time* (vocal by Nick Nastos); 113. Crazy Man, Crazy; 114. See You Later Alligator; 115. Lullaby of Birdland Twist (inst.); 116. Twist Marie; 117. One-Two-Three Twist; 118. Down by the Riverside Twist (vocal by Billy Williamson); 119. Queen of the Twisters; 120. Caravan Twist (inst.); 121. I Want a Little Girl; 122. Whistlin' and Walkin' Twist (aka. Silbando Y Caminando) (inst.); 123. Florida Twist; 124. Eight More Miles to Louisville (vocal by Johnny Kay and Billy Williamson); 125. Rip it Up.
Outtakes and alternate takes, all *unreleased* except "Trouble in Mind." "Way Down..." is a previously unreleased track from the late 1950s; "Caldonia" dates from 1959.
126. Happy Homer (take 1); 127. Love Letters in the Sand (take 1); 128. Hot to Trot (take 9) (inst.); 129. Hot to Trot (overdub take 1) (inst.); 130. Hot to Trot (overdub take 5) (inst); 131. Anytime (take 1); 132. Singing the Blues (take 1); 133. Detour (take 2); 134. One Has My Name, The Other Has My Heart (take 1); 135. No Letter Today (take 1); 136. Hawk (take 2); 137. Chick Safari (take 4); 138. Chick Safari (take 6); 139. Chick Safari (take 7); 140. Chick Safari (take 9); 141. So Right Tonight (take 1); 142. So Right Tonight (take 5); 143. Let the Good Times Roll, Creole (take 1); 144. Tenor Man (take 1) (inst.); 145. Tenor Man (take 3) (inst.); 146. Tenor Man (take 5) (vocal by Johnny Kay and Billy Williamson); 147. Tenor Man (take 6) (inst.); 148. Dance Around the Clock (take 1); 149. Midnight in Washington (alternate take) (inst.); 150. Midnight in Washington (alternate take) (inst.) 151. Tandy (take 1) (vocal by ???); 152. You're Too Much (take 2) (inst); 153. One Phone Call (take 1) (inst); 154. Way Down in the Bottom of My Heart/My Little Sweetheart; 155. +Trouble in Mind+; 156; Caldonia (take 1); 157. Caldonia (take 2).
POSTED: January 6, 2000 (slightly revised July 2000)
Still Rockin' Around the Clock - The Original Band(Rollin' Rock CD-103)
The original 1950s Comets are back - and they're giving Father Time a run for his money!
Still Rockin' Around the Clock is the first of two CD releases planned for the original 1954-1955 Comets on Ronny Weiser's Rollin' Rock label out of Las Vegas. A lifelong fan of Bill Haley and the Comets, Weiser fulfilled a dream last summer by getting the original band into his recording studio to lay down a bunch of classics. The result - a very strong, enjoyable album that shows age hasn't slowed the boys down one bit.
You might notice, however, that the name "Haley's Comets" is nowhere to be found on the CD. This is due to the fact that there are other individuals in the U.S. who lay claim to the name "Comets." The original 1954-55 Comets recorded a number of CDs through the 1990s, but these were all produced for German or British labels. This is actually the first completely American-produced Haley-related CD to be released since Bill Haley's Scrapbook back in 1970. Due to legal technicalities over the Comets, the billing has therefore had to be changed to "The Original Band."
But enough politics. The fact remains Still Rockin' Around the Clock is one of the most enjoyable CDs I've heard in a long time. For one thing, the sound quality is excellent. The Comets' previous British-recorded CD, The House is Rockin' (1998), boasted excellent performances. Sadly, the sound quality left something to be desired. In fact, several tracks from that CD have been rerecorded for Rollin' Rock, including the title track from the earlier album. The only exception to this is "Let's All Rock Together," which sounds a little muted compared to the rest of the CD.
It does take a little while to get used to another singer handling Bill Haley's original vocals. But Jacko Buddin -- a 10-year veteran of The Comets but still the "baby" of the group -- does some of his best work ever on this CD. To be honest, I didn't think he got a fair shake on the 1993 live CD "We're Gonna Party" (which was reportedly a last-minute affair), he didn't participate in the 1993 release You're Never Too Old to Rock, and he only appeared on a few tracks on The House is Rockin'. But this time he's front and center on the majority of the cuts, and he handles the job well. And while he still has a tendency to play around with the lyrics a bit, he usually gets back on track. He manages the daunting task of singing "Rock Around the Clock" in formidable fashion, and his fresh takes of "R-O-C-K" and "Crazy Man Crazy" are excellent.
Of course, for many the main point of entry on this CD will be to hear the classic members of Bill Haley's original Comets: Marshall Lytle (bass), Franny Beecher (lead guitar), Johnny Grande (piano), Joey Ambrose (sax - and flute!), and Dick Richards (drums). Max Daffner, who played drums for the Jodimars back in the '50s, reunites with his old bandmates for a couple of numbers as well.
It's been often said that the Comets are playing better now than they did 40 years ago. I'm willing to believe that. I was able to see the band perform live in Edmonton in 1998 -- that's where I took the photograph that adorns the cover of this CD -- and the feeling I got then is the same as the feeling I got this past week listening to tracks like "The Saint's Rock and Roll" and especially Franny's signature instrumental, "Goofin' Around." You can tell these are a bunch of guys making music for a pure pleasure of it - they have nothing to prove, except perhaps Marshall's favorite phase -- "You're never too old to rock!" The playing is smooth and clean throughout, proof positive that practise makes perfect!
Marshall and Dick do the vocals on a couple of numbers: Lytle does "Rock the Joint," which in concert serves as the band's encore. In the studio, the arrangement stays the same, complete with a reprise of "Rock Around the Clock" at the end. Dick, meanwhile, turns in a fun performance of "Let's All Rock Together," which was one of the Jodimar's biggest hits. With Daffner back on drums for this track, plus other former Jodimars Lytle and Ambrose, it's a veritable Jodimars reunion here.
Sax man Joey Ambrose provides some of the album's best moments, and some of the most surreal as well. An incredible impersonator, Joey sings "Hey Baba Reba" in the style of Lionel Hampton, and later gives a bang-on take of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." In a way I wish Joey had chosen to do these songs in his own style, instead of going the Rich Little route, but those tracks are still a lot of fun and demonstrate his versitility -- something that was never properly exploited (on record, at least) during his time with Haley or the Jodimars. The highlight of "Hey Baba Reba" comes when Joey introduces scat singing to the Comets' repertoire - and it works very well.
Joey's most interesting work comes on his sax instrumental, "Joe's Rockin'." Fans might also recognize this as "Hand Clappin'," which is the band's showpiece on concert. On CD you can't see Marshall throwing his bass into the air, or some of the band's other antics, but you do get some strong blowing by Joey. The song takes a weird turn half-way through - during a Dick Richards drum solo, Joey starts a duelling sax break (thanks to the miracle of overdubbing) that goes completely crazy. It had me thinking of the work of noise music artist John Zorn for a moment. It was an interesting change of pace.
Disappointments were few and far between on this CD. I would have liked to hear more vocals from Dick and Marshall, but all told this is an entertaining CD, with as I've shown, a few surprises thrown in. It's a welcome addition to any Bill Haley fan's CD collection.
The best news is this is only volume one. Another dozen or so songs are still in the can, awaiting release in late 2000. Marshall Lytle reports that the band is scheduled to go back into Ronny Weiser's studio later this month to record more tracks for the eventual release. I can't wait!
Still Rockin' Around the Clock is available through online sources such as Hepcat Records and Bear Family Records in Germany. Weiser says the first pressing of the CD is going to be limited to only 1,000 copies, and he expects them to sell out quickly.
The CD can be ordered direct from Rollin' Rock Records. The price for one CD is $13.98 (U.S.), plus $2 shipping and handling; foreign shipping costs are $4 shipping and handling. Weiser is also offering wholesale prices for any stores that wish to stock this CD; contact him for more details. Please note that these prices are as of January 2000 -- it's probably a good idea to contact Ronny to confirm prices and availability.
For more information, you can write Weiser at RockRonny@aol.com. Update November 2010: this information was accurate as of January 2000 and may not be current.
TRACKS (Vocals by Jacko Buddin unless noted): Rock Around the Clock, See You Later Alligator, Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie, Hey Baba Reba (vocal by Joey Ambrose), Shake Rattle and Roll, Mambo Rock, The House is Rockin' (vocal by Joey Ambrose and Marshall Lytle), Let's All Rock Together (vocal by Dick Richards), R-O-C-K, Birth of the Boogie, Joe's Rockin' (inst.), Crazy Man Crazy, Rock the Joint (vocal by Marshall Lytle), Goofin' Around (inst.), What a Wonderful World (vocal by Louis Armst...er...Joey Ambrose), The Saints Rock and Roll.
(Posted February 1999)
Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 1:(Hydra Records BCK 27109)
Merry Christmas - Various Artists
On this, the first of a promised series of Bill Haley and Friends CDs from Hydra Records of Germany, Haley only participates on a few of the 18 tracks. This intriguing compilation brings together a number of rare Haley and Haley-related sides with a holiday theme.
The term "Haley-related" is used rather loosely here, with most of the performers having been either labelmates or business associates of Haley at one point or another. Most were connected with Jack Howard's Arcade label, with which Haley was associated at one point, along with Cowboy, the label Haley recorded for with the Four Aces of Western Swing and the Saddlemen.
For many Haley fans, the main reason for buying this album will be to obtain two of the rarest Bill Haley and the Saddlemen sides in existance. "I Don't Want to be Alone for Christmas" and "A Year Ago this Christmas" were recorded for Dave Miller's Holiday Records in 1951, not long after the Saddlemen did their version of the groundbreaking "Rocket '88." Don't expect the same clean sound heard on other Holiday/Essex recordings made available to CD. Due to their rarity, the best Hydra could come up with is a VERY scratchy 78, rendering the two tracks difficult to listen to.
As for the songs themselves, "Don't Want to be Alone" is a standard Xmas weepie in the spirit of "I'll be Home for Christmas," while "A Year Ago" -- written by Haley -- has Bill moaning about the loss of his girlfriend and wondering what he ever did to Santa to deserve this mess!
Seeing as the original 78 if ever found in good condition would probably cost upwards of $1,000 U.S., Hydra is letting us fans have copies of these songs at a bargain price. Until a cleaner 78 or acetate is located and released, these scratchy, faded recordings will have to do.
Two previously available Haley holiday tracks from 1968 -- "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" show Haley in top form and the transfer to CD from the original United Artists master tapes is very clean indeed. These tracks are also available as part of a Bill Haley bonus section of the Rockstar Records Jodimars collection Let's All Rock Together.
For me, the real highlight of the CD -- musically at any rate -- has to be the two performances by Bill Haley's original 1954-55 Comets, recorded in Austria in 1997. "Blue Christmas" features vocals by German rockabilly star Schurli Weiss backed by strong, rockin' performances by Marshall Lytle (bass), Dick Richards (drums), Franny Beecher (guitar), Joey d'Ambrosio (sax) and Johnny Grande (piano).
This is followed up by a brilliant instrumental performance of the European standard "Ring a Chime," which the Comets interpret in a near jazz style. In fact, this is probably the closest I've heard the Comets come to playing straight jazz on record. This track alone is worth the price of admission.
The rest of the CD, once the original Haley and Haley's Comets tracks fade out, is very much a mixed bag. British Haley fan Ian Fenn -- who otherwise has no direct Bill Haley connection -- delivers a very Haleyesque performance of his original composition "Rockin' Rollin' Christmas" which I found to be a lot of fun. We also get to hear Haley's onetime manager Jack Howard give Christmas greetings from a rare promotional record recorded in 1971.
As for the remainder of the tracks, don't expect much by way of rockabilly. Performances by Rusty Wellington, Rex Zario, Dick Thomas and Jimmy Collett (Collett once played fiddle for a Saddlemen recording session) are straight country Christmas tunes. Haley afficionados will note that Rusty Keefer -- co-writer of many of Haley's Decca recordings -- is credited as songwriter several times on these tracks.
Zario -- a longtime friend of Haley's who later managed much of Bill's business and music publishing affairs -- delivers a bizarre rendition of "Here Comes Santa Claus" complete with an instrumental break that sounds like two off-key fiddles playing different melodies! There's probably good reason why this track has remained unreleased until now.
The weakest tracks in the collection belong to Joey Welz. Welz played piano for the Comets in the mid-1960s and participated in a Comets reunion in the early 1980s. The two previously unissued 1996 recordings of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Winter Wonderland" (mistitled "Sleigh Ride" on the CD label) are painful to listen to. Again, there's probably good reason why they are marked "unissued" in the liner notes.
I file this CD in with an earlier Hydra release, titled On Screen, (reviewed below) as another example of a disc geared for the Haley fan who has almost everything. The CD booklet contains fascinating background info, including a fascinating look at letters sent to the official Bill Haley fan club in 1956 by Haley and his manager, Lord Jim Ferguson.
But shame on Hydra for not indicating more clearly on the CD case that Haley and the Comets are only involved on a few tracks. Someone going in blind hoping for a CD full of previously unheard Comets recordings might be in for a disappointment.
More Bill Haley and Friends CDs are expected in the future. While this raises the possibility of more rare tracks being unearthed, I'm hoping a stronger selection of tracks is made next time around.
My wish list includes the Esquire Boys' original recording of Haley's "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie" (featuring Danny Cedrone), another rare set of Holiday recordings that paired Haley with Loretta Glendenning, Ralph Marterie's recording of "Crazy Man Crazy" featuring future Comet Rudy Pompilli on sax, and the first-ever recording of "Rock Around the Clock" as done by Sonny Dae and His Knights for the Arcade label.
Like all Hydra CDs, Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 1: Merry Christmas is a German release, but is available through Hepcat Records and probably other dealers, as well as direct from Hydra.
TRACKS: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Bill Haley and the Comets), Jingle Bell Rock (Haley/Comets), Blue Christmas (Bill Haley's Comets), Ring a Chime (Comets) (inst.), Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Joey Welz), Winter Wonderland (mislabeled Sleigh Ride) (Welz), Rockin' Rollin' Christmas (Ian Fenn), I Don't Want to be Alone for Christmas (Bill Haley and the Saddlemen), A Year Ago This Christmas (Haley/Saddlemen), Christmas Message (Jack Howard), Christmas in the Country (Dick Thomas), Christmas in the Country - demo (Thomas), All I Want for Christmas (Rusty Wellington), Christmas Would Come Twice a Year (Wellington), Dear Santa (Wellington), Here Comes Santa Claus (Rex Zario), I Remember Christmas (Jimmy Collett), I Don't Want to be Alone for Christmas (Collett).
(Posted August 1998)
On Screen(Hydra Records BCK 27107)
When I was a kid, I remember watching a battered print of the film Rock Around the Clock on late night TV. It was my first time seeing Bill Haley and the Comets perform on film, and one of my favorite memory of that night was watching sax great Rudy Pompilli and bass-playing acrobat Al Rex steal the show with the blockbusting instrumental "Rudy's Rock."
For years, I tried to find a recording of the film version of that track. The Decca version, released for the first time on the classic Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show LP in 1956, bears little resemblance to what I saw and heard in the film.
With the release of On Screen from Hydra Records of Germany, I finally have the original "Rudy's Rock" -- along with many other fascinating and previously unissued tracks. On Screen is a grab bag of songs collected from film and TV appearances Haley made between 1954 and 1958. And if there's a single reason for recommending this CD, it is for the presence of three live tracks recorded for an obscure 1954 short titled Round Up of Rhythm.
The tracks: versions of "Crazy Man Crazy," "Straight Jacket!" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll," feature Haley and the Comets at their prime, nearly a year before "Rock Around the Clock" opened the rock 'n' roll floodgates. The first thing one notices is the lack of a regular lead guitar player. At this time, Franny Beecher was not yet a full-time Comet, and Danny Cedrone -- who rarely if ever performed with Haley anyway -- had died soon after the Decca recording session that produced "Shake, Rattle and Roll."
Still the great energy of these tracks is infectious, with "Straight Jacket!" a standout. Joey d'Ambrosio's sax playing is unbelievable and also remarkable is a rare glimpse of Haley playing an electric guitar melody line -- he usually didn't do lead guitar duties. This is much better than the monotonous version recorded for Essex Records earlier in the year. As for "Shake, Rattle and Roll," recorded here only weeks after it was first put on wax, Haley and the guys deliver a performance that nearly tops the Decca original.
The album continues with three "Ed Sullivan Show" tracks (previously released on TVT Records' The Sullivan Years -- Rock n Roll Pioneers), and two tracks performed on the Roy Bolger Show.
One of the Bolger tracks is Joey d'Ambrosio's instrumental "Huckleberry," which was often performed as a sort of companionpiece to "Straight Jacket!" But by the time the Ray Bolger Show rolled around, Joey had quit with bass player Marshall Lytle and drummer Dick Richards to form The Jodimars. So newly recruited Comet Rudy Pompilli gets to play one of Joey's signature tunes! In doing so, you can hear him introduce many elements that would be part of the later "Rudy's Rock."
In 1956 Haley barnstormed Alan Freed's radio show, and all five excellent performances are here for I believe the first time on CD. "The Saint's Rock 'n' Roll" in particular is a killer performance.
The remainder of the CD is an illustration of the philosophy "better to have some than none," featuring a number of incomplete performances culled from film and TV archives. The first, "Goofin' Around," is the film version from the 1957 film Don't Knock the Rock. Beecher's soloing is superior to the Decca release, and I was very disappointed Hydra didn't dig up a complete take of the track, instead of using the film version, which fades out halfway though, leaving the listener in a state of musical coitus interruptus.
Haley's infamous 1958 German tour, which was marked by riots by teenagers and ulcers for promoters, is commemorated with extracts from several performances, including a complete "Saint's Rock and Roll" and partial versions of "Razzle-Dazzle" and "Corrine Corrina," the latter being an excellent version cut off in its prime after a Pompilli solo that should have been included on the Decca original, but wasn't. These cuts were filmed for TV and I guess the crews only taped excerpts for use later, which is why they're so abbreviated.
Haley's career was in trouble at this point in his career -- money troubles dogged him throughout his 1958 European tour -- and riots didn't help matters any. Despite these pressures, as these snippets show, Haley was still able to deliver some great performances. For more examples of Haley and the Comets at work during this troubled period, check out the compilation The Greatest LIVE Show on Earth (Europe Records GLS 1001). Apparently no longer available (though it may be reissued soon), this CD, which also features performances by Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richard, Johnny Burnett and Vince Taylor, features excerpts from a terrific show Haley gave at the Paris Olympia on Oct. 15, 1958.
If you have the Bill Haley Rarities LP on Ambassador Records, you'll recognize the two closing tracks from the 1958 German film Hier Bin Ich, Hier Bleib Ich (Here I Am, Here I Stay): "Vive la Rock n Roll" and "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy." The studio versions recorded for the film are included in Bear Family's Decca Years and More box set. But on this CD we get the actual film soundtrack versions, with the playing often drowned out by German dialogue. Better to have borrowed the master tapes from Bear Family, if you ask me. A third song, "Whoa Mabel!" was also recorded for the movie, but this was missed by Hydra.
If you're a casual Haley fan for whom "Rock Around the Clock" and "See You Later Alligator" are all you know, you're in for an education with the great Round Up of Rhythm and Alan Freed performances on this CD. If you, like me, are a dedicated Comets fan always looking for previously unreleased material, On Screen is a true goldmine.
TRACKS: Crazy Man Crazy (Round Up of Rhythm, 1954), Straight Jacket (RUofR, 1954) (inst.), Shake Rattle and Roll (RUofR, 1954), Rock Around the Clock (Ed Sullivan Show, 1955), Huckleberry (Ray Bolger Show, 1956) (inst.), Rock Around the Clock (Bolger, 1956), Rudy's Rock (Rock Around the Clock film, 1956) (inst.), Hot Dog Buddy Buddy (Alan Freed radio show, 1956), The Saints Rock and Roll (Freed), Rock Around the Clock (Freed), Rip it Up (Freed), Goofin' Around (Don't Knock the Rock film, 1956; incomplete) (inst.), Forty Cups of Coffee (Sullivan, 1957), Rudy's Rock (Sullivan, 1957) (inst.), The Saints Rock and Roll (live, 1958), Razzle-Dazzle (live, 1958; incomplete), Corrine Corrina (live, 1958; incomplete), Vive la Rock and Roll (Hier Bin Ich, Hier Bleib Ich film, 1958), Hot Dog Buddy Buddy (film, 1958; incomplete).
(Posted August 1998)
The House is Rockin' - The Comets(Rockstar Records RSRCD 013)
Practise makes perfect -- just ask Bill Haley's original Comets. Nearly 45 years after "Rock Around the Clock" set the musical world on its ear, these great musicians have released their third new CD in six years.
The House is Rockin', recorded at Chigwell School in Essex in October 1997, will not disappoint those lucky enough to see these guys perform in concert in recent years. (For more of my gushing about The Comets in performance, see my review of their July 1998 Edmonton, Canada concert.)
The reasoning behind choosing Chigwell school hall to record this CD is a bit complicated, but as an entertaining interview segment tacked on the end of the CD indicates, it was a subject of coincidence and happenstance. For example, Essex was the home of William Penn, after whom Pennsylvania is named. The Comets' first major record contract was with Essex Records, based in Pennsylvania.
OK, it's a bit of a stretch, but The Comets seem to enjoy explaining the coincidences around the recording. The hall was also chosen because it is supposedly acoustically similar to the Pythian Temple in New York, where "Rock Around the Clock" and most of Bill Haley and the Comets' Decca sides were recorded.
The album starts out strong with the title track, a house rockin' George Thorogood number featuring sax man Joey d'Ambrosio's great bluesman voice and a jaw dropping guitar solo by 76-year-old Franny Beecher. If you haven't seen him perform live lately, this album proves Franny still has the fingers for the job. And Joey's sax playing proves he still has the chops.
Many other strong performances on the CD are provided by Marshall Lytle on bass, who adds his distinctive voice to tracks like "Lili Mae," "Be My Love Tonight" and the remarkable "Cafe a la Rock" that honest to God sounds like a lost Jodimars track from 1956 -- even down to the funny rocking-on-the-planet-Mars lyrics.
Joey's blues singing and sax playing is brought to the fore again in the blues "Hey Mr. Dollar," and the Louis Prima standard "Buena Sera," a longtime staple of Comets concerts.
Meanwhile, drummer Dick Richards gets a chance to work his tough guy voice around a couple of tracks, including a version of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" that the more I listen to the more I like, and a remake of the Jodimars track "Later," providing a quiet "Cool, Daddy-o!" performance that leaves the original in the dust. Joey and Franny show what great jazz musicians they are with letter-perfect soloing on this song.
"Walking Slow Behind You," again featuring Joey, ranks as the most sinister track the Comets have ever recorded. I ain't messin' with any of Joey's women after listening to that song!
Afterwards, Marshall attacks a terrific remake of an obscure Jodimars song called "Shoo Sue" before taking a left turn with a rockin' version of the spiritual "Up Above My Head."
Franny Beecher's guitar playing is brought into focus throughout the album, but he gets a chance to really shine with two instrumentals, "Car Jam" and "Franny's Medley." In the latter, he mixes up nursery rhymes with snippets of a melody that sounds like the mutated stepson of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." It works tremendously.
The album ends with a trio of Haley classics, featuring vocalist Jacko Buddin. "Birth of the Boogie," "Razzle-Dazzle" and "Crazy Man Crazy" sound terrific, and come off a lot better then their live counterparts on the Comets' 1992 live album, We're Gonna Party.
The only complaint I have with the album is the generally below-average sound quality, coming off quite muddy in places, especially in comparison with their 1993 CD for Hydra Records, You're Never to Old to Rock.
Nonetheless, The House is Rockin' comes off like an excellent collection of lost Bill Haley and Jodimars material from the 1950s -- which is proof positive that The Comets still have the touch.
TRACKS: The House is Rockin' (vocal by Joey d'Ambrosio and Marshall Lytle), Lili Mae (vocal by Marshall Lytle), Hey Mister Dollar (vocal by d'Ambrosio), Shadow of Your Smile (inst.), Cafe a la Rock (vocal by Lytle), Buena Sera (vocal by d'Ambrosio), Car Jam (inst.), Sixty Minute Man (vocal by Lytle), Walking Slow Behind You (vocal by d'Ambrosio), Shoo Sue (vocal by Lytle), Later (vocal by Dick Richards), Up Above My Head (vocal by Lytle with backing by Helen Shadow of the Queen B's), Franny's Medley (inst.), Bad Bad Leroy Brown (vocal by Richards), Be My Love Tonight (vocal by Lytle), Night Train (inst.), Memories Are Sweeter (vocal by Lytle), Razzle-Dazzle (vocal by Jacko Buddin), Birth of the Boogie (vocal by Buddin), Crazy Man Crazy (vocal by Buddin), Interview With the Comets.
(Originally posted September 13, 1998; editorial notes added July 2000; small update May 2001)
Bill Haley 1972 Interview
Here is a rare treat for all Bill Haley fans.
Back in 1972, about two weeks after his famous performance at Wembley Stadium (seen in the film London Rock and Roll Show, Bill Haley and the Comets were on the road again, playing a cross-Canada tour.
One of their stops was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan -- my home town. It was Haley's first performance in Saskatoon since the 1950s, and despite the venue being less than stellar -- a rundown hockey arena -- from all indications Haley was a hit, playing several performances in this city of, at the time, 130,000 population.
The morning after one successful concert, Bill Haley agreed to give a telephone interview to radio station CFQC. The late announcer Denny Carr got the chance to interview the rock legend.
I was able to get a tape of the interview thanks to some quick thinking on the part of my grandfather, the late Leonard E. Ball. The day Bill Haley's death was announced in February 1981, CFQC Radio and Denny Carr put together a quick tribute to Bill, featuring several Decca singles, reminisences by Carr and others, as well as a rebroadcast of the 1972 interview.
Carr dug up a few interesting items of trivia for Haley fans as part of his broadcast, such as the fact Bill Haley claimed to have steered the producers of American Bandstand in the direction of new host Dick Clark.
I have compiled a transcript of the interview Bill Haley gave to the late Denny Carr of radio station CFQC in late August-early September 1972. I added a few editorial notes in July 2000.
DENNY CARR: Bill, you were first associated with country music before you got into Rock and Roll. How did the transition evolve?
BILL HALEY: Well, Denny, it was really quite by accident. When I was a young man I loved country and western music -- Hank Williams was my idol -- and so when I started to play professionally, we started as a country and western group. But I also liked rhythm and blues music, and we saw no reason why a country and western group couldn't sing rhythm and blues songs, so we started to do that. We were doing this locally around Philadelphia, Penn. A record company heard the group on the radio and decided to record us -- they decided that was unusual. And there was the birth of Rock and Roll Music. It was just that simple.
DC: Now your first Rock and Roll song. What was that?
BH: My very first Rock and Roll song?
BH: Well, the first one was a song called "Rocket '88." It was the old Oldsmobile they used to have years ago and a young man who was a friend of ours wrote a song about the car, Rocket '88, and that was the first record we made in the style of today's Rock and Roll, you see.
DC: Now the one that made it all happen for you ...
BH: Well, there were many. The first one that started to make it happen was a song called "We're Gonna Rock This Joint Tonight" [ed.: aka. "Rock the Joint"]; now that was in 1952. Well, "Rocket '88" was 1951. 1953 was the first million-seller, that I wrote, it was called "Crazy, Man, Crazy." It was our first No. 1 record. Of course 1954, and I think from then on you're probably familiar with "Rock Around the Clock," "See You Later, Alligator," "Shake, Rattle and Roll"; 1955 -- "Dim, Dim the Lights" and so on and so forth right up the line. But really the first big one was "Crazy, Man, Crazy," the first million-seller.
DC: And what was your reaction?
BH: [Chuckles] A scared kid to be quite honest! Very happy. We were just amazed, and of course every young group dreams of one hit record, or maybe two. We had something like 37 in a row and we really didn't know what to do! But I'm kinda glad it all happened now, you know.
DC: Bill, have you got any of the same personnel with you?
BH: The original three are still together, Denny: Rudy Pompilli, tenor saxophone, Ray Cawley, bass fiddle, and myself. This is our 19th professional year now as a group.
[ed.: Haley made this puzzling statement a number of times in the early 70s. In fact, Cawley had only been a Comet for three years at this point, and Pompilli technically wasn't an original member, either, having joined in 1955.]
DC: You know, I think that's got to be quite amazing. You must really get along well together.
BH: Well, yes, we're very good friends, Denny - you have to be in this business. There's always the clash of personalities and what have you. But we're very good friends. I think that's the key to it, you know.
DC: Now, Bill, do your fellas still go through those gyrations on stage, or are they getting too old for that?
BH: No, we still go through them every night! [Chuckles] Besides, we finished the last one at five o'clock this morning and we have a three o'clock matinee today. On days like this, sometimes I think we are getting a little old for it; but not really, we enjoy it, Denny, you know. It's really a lot easier than it looks. It looks very hard, but possibly because we've done it for so long. it's not too hard to do. But we still do them.
DC: Bill, what do you think when people come up to you, after entertaining young audiences for all of your life -- and now that there is a Rock and Roll Revival taking place -- what do you think of these older people coming up to you and saying, 'Gosh, I remember I was that high and really dug your music?'
BH: Well let's see how I'll answer that, Denny. I think it's kind of nice, because I remember back ... oh, let's see ... 15, 16 years ago when they were claiming that Bill Haley was destroying the world and causing juvenile delinquency, and the music was going to destroy everything. Here today I have priests and lawyers and state senators -- these were the juvenile delinquents that they were talking about years ago and it makes me kind of proud to see them, you know.
DC: Bill, you were very popular in Canada, and I remember the long line ups to see your show Rock Around the Clock, and of course I think a lot of kids went to see Blackboard Jungle just to hear you play behind the credits. Then you came to the Vancouver Forum. Do you remember that?
BH: Uh, yes, I do. Very clearly, Denny, yup.
DC: And I think that caused a great deal of emotional outbursts from the adults of the community because up until that time, kids weren't allowed to dance at concerts. Do you remember that?
BH: Yeah, uh-huh.
DC: What kind of reaction did you get to that 'poor adult press,' shall we say, in those days?
BH: Well, let's see now, Denny, you're asking me to go out awfully far this morning to give you my [garbled word] reaction. I think my reaction, if I recall it now, was that I was a little mad with them, because at that time we had made music for the young people, for them to dance to and I didn't, personally, see any harm in them dancing because there wasn't any harm done at any of our concerts. They were just enjoying themselves. I think there was a lot of apprehension that maybe they were going to tear the seats up or something. But, I don't know, I kinda think my reaction at that time was just a little bit angry. You know, I saw one and just let them enjoy themselves. Then of course they disagreed with me. But it all turned out pretty well I think now.
DC: Bill, did you get any of your rhythm and blues music from people like Chuck Berry and people like that that really haven't been recognized, I suppose, for their talents maybe up until now in fact?
BH: Well, you see Denny in those days Chuck Berry hadn't started yet, or Fats Domino. We were pre-period you see. I would say to answer that, no I was never influenced by Chuck Berry, because Chuck came along in 19 ... let's see if I remember correctly now ... 1956, I think it was about that time. This was about five years after we started. Chuck was on a show with us. We became very good friends, we've very good friends today. I just did a show in London, England with Chuck two weeks ago. I think I was more influenced my people like Big Joe Turner, the Boss of the Blues, who is, was, and still is a very good friend of mine. Let's see, maybe Count Basie. But mostly the rhythm and blues influence came from really old records I'd heard. Old Dixieland blues records. But since that time ... well, really, Denny, I don't think anybody influenced me too much because we always, somehow thank goodness, had our own style.
[ed.: Haley and Turner were indeed close friends. They toured Australia together in 1957, and in 1966 Haley helped revive Turner's career by giving Big Joe the Comets to use as a session group for an Orfeon recording session.]
DC: Where's music going today, you think?
BH: Well, now that's a tough one. I haven't the slightest idea. If I did I'd [chuckles] ...
DC: You'd get in on it ...
BH: ... I'd have another "Rock Around the Clock" real quick! I think it has to find it's ... cycle, let's put it that way. That's why we have the Revival now. There are many, many great young groups around and recording artists, and they're all looking for that which way it's going same as I am. I think though we're gonna stick with the basic things that are happening now, the Rock Revival things, perhaps another year or so. And I think with the youngsters coming up, another Bill Haley is going to come along now, or another Beatles or another Elvis Presley, or another Chuck Berry. You know, someone's going to get that idea. Just exactly what it is I don't know. In fact I hope I might even get it myself, Denny, you know.
DC: Bill, you live in El Paso, Texas, when you're not touring. Is that right?
BH: Yes it is, sir.
DC: What are your hobbies? What do you like to do when you're not playing?
BH: Well, let's see now. I love baseball, I love to watch it, naturally. Gardening and fishing -- I love [garbled word] fishing. And that just about takes up what little time I have when I'm off, you know.
DC: Bill, I want to say all the best of luck to you. I know you made my younger days a lot happier because of your music and I know I can say that for many of our audience and we want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
BH: Denny, it's been my pleasure. Congratulations on your [radio station's] 50th anniversary there, OK?
BH: OK, thank you, Denny.
Bill Haley and the Comets would continue to tour and perform for the next eight years. A few months after this interview was taped, he recorded the album Just Rock and Roll Music in Nashville for Sonet Records, and at about this time, the Comets appeared in the films Let the Good Times Roll, and London Rock n' Roll Show -- the latter filmed at the concert Haley referred to in the interview above.
UPDATE: May 2001. A soundbite taken from this interview can now be downloaded from the Bill Haley Central webpage (Real Player required).
Bill Haley Central: Indexed cross-reference of the best Bill Haley-related Web sites on the 'Net. Also home to the new Bill Haley Top 10 Poll.
ROCKIN' LINKS(All links checked November 2010; dead links have been removed)
http://www.d4haley.com> Bill Haley Online: Denise Gregoire's Haley museum and marketplace.
Chris Gardner's Bill Haley Database, Discography and Photo Archives.
Rik Hull's extensive Bill Haley site - photos, rare sound and video files and more.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame's Bill Haley Tribute page.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame's tribute to The Comets.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame's Jodimars Tribute page.
Comet/Jodimars founder Marshall Lytle's page at the RaBHoF.
My review of a July 1998 performance by Bill Haley's Comets in Canada.
Page dedicated to James Myers (aka. Jimmy DeKnight), co-writer of Rock Around the Clock.
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Go to "PAGE TWO" for A BILL HALEY WHO'S WHO
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