It is impossible to recount the respective careers of the Jodimars or Bill Haley without mentioning both of them. The Jodimars were rock'n'roll's first spin-off group: it is well known by now that the nucleus of the band - Joey Ambrose, Dick Richards and Marshall Lytle - were originally members of Bill Haley's Comets.
We therefore begin this biography back in the Autumn of 1951, when an up'n'coming country and western quartet based in Chester, Pennsylvania, Bill Haley & The Saddlemen, experiences its first personnel change. Bass player Al Rex, dissatisfied with being the only salaried member of the group, leaves to pursue a solo career, eventually taking over Bill's chores at radio station WPWA. Recruited to take Al's place was seventeen year old Marshall Lytle, a long-time friend of the Haley-family.
Marshall was introduced to country music back in 1947 by Tex King, a member of Bill Haley's Four Aces of Western Swing. Tex was a boarder in the Lytle home in Upland, Pennsylvania, and spent his afternoons in the parlour singing and playing guitar. Young Marshall became entranced by this music and persuaded Tex to teach him a few chords on the family guitar. Marshall soon began singing on his own at local amateur contests, high school assemblies and at cousin Lee's Radio Park in Booth Corner, which at the time was run by Bill Haley. Marshall made it all the way to the nationally televised Paul Whitman Talent Show, where he came in second singing the Jimmy Dickens tune 'I'm A Plain Old Country Boy'. The TV appearance earned Marshall his own fifteen minute Saturday afternoon radio show on WPWA's competitor, radio station WVCH in Chester. It was at the radio station that the North Carolina native was offered the Saddleman post."I was surprised to see Bill there, since he worked at the other station. After I finished my show he told me that he needed a bass player and asked me to come and work for him. I didn't want to do it because I didn't own a bass and never played one. Bill said that wasn't a problem - he knew where I could buy one for not much money and he'd teach me to play it, which he did".
Marshall soon became known for his 'clicking' slap bass technique. "Bill taught me that - he told me 'This is how I want you to play', and showed me how to do it. Many country bands liked that style because it gave them extra rhythm to make up for the lack of drums. But in order to play that way you had to go through the physical torture of developing callouses on your fingers. When you pull the strings constantly like that and you don't have callouses built up, it'll tear a blister on your hand. I suffered constantly until I got callouses, but once I got them my fingers got so tough you could almost drive a nail in them!"
While Marshall did not invent the slap technique, he was one of the first to perfect it in conjunction with the drums. "When I met Billy Gussak (Essex label session drummer) for our first session, we sat down together for about an hour playing all different ways to get a tight-knit sound between us for the records, and it sure paid off".
Fans of Bill Haley are well aware that even in his heyday he usually handled only a portion of the vocal chores on the Comets shows. This pattern began with the Saddlemen. "We were doing five 45 minute shows each night, six or seven days a week, and Bill couldn't do all the singing himself. He also liked to give the audience a variety show. So in a typical set Bill would sing the first two songs, then I'd do two, then Johnny Grande would do a couple of instrumentals, Billy Williamson would sing two - then we'd repeat the cycle. We all did country standards - the top twenty hits, whatever was popular locally. I'd usually do the Hank Williams or Jimmy Dickens numbers".
We now jump ahead a couple of years to the spring of 1953. Prompted by the success of 'Rock The Joint' the previous year, Bill Haley decided the time had come to abandon the traditional Western music he had played since his childhood in favour of the new 'jive' style that had caught the public's attention. In short order the Western gear was traded in for suits and ties and the Saddlemen became the Comets. One more move was needed in order to further the transition - the addition of a drummer to the group. Bill began using a session drummer on his third 'Essex' release, 'Real Rock Drive'/ 'Stop Beating Round The Mulberry Bush' and, satisfied with the sound, auditioned a fellow named Earl Famous to join the band full-time. Earl did not work out, so Bill proceeded to make the rounds of the local clubs in search of a drummer. His search led him to a small nightspot on the outskirts of Philadelphia called the Broomall Club, to hear a piano-and-drums duo named Richards & Lee.
"We alternated sets with Bill & The Comets", Dick recalls. "They did 40 minutes and we did 20. After our first set Bill introduced himself and told me he was about to put out a record called 'Crazy ManCrazy' and needed to take on a drummer. He asked me to sit in with the Comets on their next set, we went over very well. Bill offered me the job on the spot - and I turned him down! I still thought of his group as basically a glorified hillbilly outfit and that music was totally foreign to me".
The son of a blind concert singer, Luigi Boccelli (billed as 'The Blind Caruso'), Dick was first exposed only to 'serious music'. He discovered big band jazz as a teenager, but initially had no interest in playing music, preferring to spend his after-school time on the playing field or baseball diamond. His older brother was the musician in the family, playing drums until he was drafted into the army in World War II. Dick then decided to try his hand on his brother's drum kit, and after studying for a few months became proficient enough to sit in with some local combos, intent on pursuing a career as a physical education teacher and football coach. However, the elder Boccelli persuaded his son to continue his musical studies, so Dick played drums in the college band and studied voice, earning him the nickname of 'the mimimi guy' among his teammates because of his habit of working on his vocal exercises during football practice. After graduation Dick worked for his father, who ran a booking agency for blind performers, and worked nightly gigs as a vocalist in the local clubs. Dick was usually backed by the 'house' band, which on several occasions consisted of local legends "Little Ernie's Four Horsemen', featuring Comets-to-be Rudy Pompilli and Ralph Jones.
In 1952 Dick put together a lounge act with a pianist named Stan Lee. A full drum kit wasn't appropriate for their act so Dick got himself a set of 'cocktail drums' - snare, cymbals, and brushes. It was this duo that Bill Haley heard at the Broomall Club in 1953. Given Dick's jazz/pop background, it's not surprising that he was reluctant to join Bill Haley's outfit, whose principal solo instruments were still the steel guitar and accordion.
Fortunately for Dick he got a second chance to join the Haley ranks in the summer of 1953, when the two crossed paths again in Wildwood, New Jersey. By this time 'Crazy Man Crazy' had become a huge hit and the Comets were doing phenomenal business at the Hofbrau. Richards and Lee were booked to work the afternoon lounge for the summer, while Bill and the Comets played evenings in the main room. Bill's shows were MC'd by one Al Antonio, a comic billed as "The One Man Riot'. Bill soon tired of this fellows routine, so Dick was hired to take over the MC chores in addition to his own afternoon gig.
As the summer ended the Comets had a falling out with their young drummer Charlie Higgler, whom they had hired out of Eddystone High School after Dick had turned down Bill's offer. Charlie, egged on by his father, unwisely decided to insist that he be made a full partner, earning himself a quick exit from the band. Once again, Dick was asked to join. "By then, I realized Bill was doing a lot better than I was as far as music was concerned, and I took the job. I figured he might not get around to asking me again. So I became a Comet on Labor Day, 1953".
A few months later Bill decided it was time to add a sixth member to his band. The Comets had begun to take on a new direction on their recordings with the addition of a baritone sax, played by Tony Lance. 'Farewell, So Long, Goodbye' was making some noise in Philly, but the group found it difficult to promote the record at their shows without a sax player. In these early days before the Decca megahits, the group spent a good portion of their time promoting releases by doing unpaid gigs at local DJ record hops. It was at once such promotion, at a dance hall on North Broad Street in Philly, that Bill asked the proprietor if he knew of a sax player who'd be interested in joining his band. Bill wanted a tenor sax man as he felt the sound of the baritone sax didn't blend well with the rest of the group. He was given the name of a local teenager, Joey Ambrose, who had played the dance hall the night before with his own band.
Joey D'Ambrosio was born and raised in North Philadelphia, and took up the saxophone at an early age, studying alto and tenor with local legends Carmine 'Spags' Spangola and Mike Guera, Benny Goodman's clarinet teacher. He took a keen interest in jazz music, wishing to emulate his idol Charlie Parker. However he was soon won over by the meaty sound of the great R&B tenor honkers such as Red Prysock and Tiny Bradshaw, whose music was very popular in the big cities of the North East in the early 1950s. Joey formed a combo of his own in 1952 and soon found regular work at teenage dances, as well as bars and strip joints where he would walk the bar following strippers with endless choruses of 'Night Train'.
"The owner of this ballroom told me Bill was looking for a sax player", Joe recalls. "I got in touch with Lord Jim (Ferguson, Bill's manager) and he set up an audition for me at Dick's house. They hired me on a try-out basis for $56 a week and I started as a Comet on stage that same night, in November 1953. No rehearsals - I just started playing! A couple of weeks later we went down to do a record promotion for Buddy Deane, a DJ in Baltimore. We did these almost every Sunday afternoon. The kids were really getting into it, so then I went into this wild stuff - 'house rocking music', we used to call it. I went into the audience, jumping around, playing on my knees - the kids went wild!"
JODIMARS, left to right:
Bob Simpson, Marshall Lytle, Jim Buffington, Joey Ambrose, Dick Richards, Charlie Hess
Marshall picks up the story: "I said to Johnny (Grande) - he was playing right next to me - I'm gonna do some antics with my bass'. So I laid down and turned it upside down, put it against by feet, and played like that. The guys all turned towards me and urged me on. So then I got up and laid it across the floor and played it like that and the kids started cheering and clapping. Then I picked the thing up over my head and played it there. It all just happened - we didn't plan any of it - and we tore the place up!" Joey's try-out ended that night and the Comet's trademark routine was born.
The addition of Joey Ambrose on tenor sax completed the transition of the group from hillbilly band to rock'n'roll combo, as displayed in their final Essex label recording, 'Straightjacket', a sax and guitar jam session. The first Decca recording session was scheduled for April 12th 1954, and a few days before they were to leave for New york Bill Haley assembled the Comets at his house to rehearse 'Rock Around The Clock' and 'Thirteen Women'.
Joey Ambrose has a vivid recollection of the rehearsals: "All of the Comets were there, plus Danny Cedrone, who would be our lead guitarist. Danny was an accomplished musician and we all looked to him for advise. First we listened to Sonny Dae's recording (of 'Rock Around The clock'), then we decided the record would have more 'bounce' if we added staccato riffs throughout the song. The voicing on the riffs was three parts - saxophone, lead guitar and steel. Danny, Billy and I worked it out on the spot and it sounded great. Marshall suggested that Danny use as his guitar solo the terrific break from 'Rock The Joint'. The second solo was supposed to be a sax break, but the song was building to a point where I thought we'd get more excitement out of it by doing something the whole band could join in on. That's what rhythm and blues combos would often do. So we came up with the second riff. All of this was worked out before we went to New York to do the session". The rest as they say, is history.
Within a year, Bill Haley and his Comets were the number one band in the land, with the hottest hitrecord on the charts, but the salaried members of the group felt that they were not sharing sufficiently in the band's explosive success. In fact, in one sense Bill Haley's increasing success had cost them money, because Bill was doing well enough by this time to take a week or two off every so often, and salaries were only paid on the weeks the Comets worked. In retrospect, the two-tiered system of payment was bound to cause dissension in the ranks.
In recognition of his years service with the band Marshall Lytle was given the title Junior Partner, but again, no more money. In June 1955, at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago on the last leg of a successful tour, Joey, Dick and Marshall requested a $50 a week raise. Bill Haley consulted with his manager Lord Jim Ferguson, who in his wisdom counselled Bill to turn them down, assuring Bill that the guys wouldn't think of leaving at this time.
Back at the hotel Joey, Dick and Marshall expressed their discontent to Peggy King, a singer who was one of the supporting acts on the show and apparently no friend of Bill's. Peggy encouraged them to form their own group and Joey and Dick immediately decided to take her advice. Marshall agreed soon after. The first order of business was to agree on a name for their new band. They wanted to somehow incorporate their own names into the group, so they picked around various permutations and settled on the Jodimars as the best sounding name. They then approached their friend Frank Pingatore, a member of the Haley entourage, and asked him to become their manager. Frank, an aspiring songwriter/arranger who had seen two of his compositions, 'Happy Baby' and 'Two Hound Dogs' waxed by Bill in the last year, was reluctant to leave Haley's ranks, but he agreed to supply material for the group to record and set them up with a veteran show-biz manager from New York, Larry Taylor.
During a brief hiatus in the Comets' schedule following the June 1955 Chicago gig, the Jodimars quickly recruited three Philadelphia area musicians to complete their group: pianist Bob Simpson, drummer Jim Buffington and lead guitarist Charlie 'Fingers' Hess. All were familiar with the Haley sound and Charlie had even performed briefly with Bill Haley back in 1949 as a member of the All-Western Sextet, a group Bill sang with just before forming the Saddlemen. The Jodimars rehearsed for a few days in the basement of Luigi Boccelli's home in Upper Darby, PA., then motored to a recording studio in Camden, New Jersey to cut a two-sided demo acetate which opens this CD; the Joe Turner standard 'Flip Flop Fly', sung by Dick. Larry Taylor took the acetate to New York in search of a record label and returned with a contract from the giant Capitol Records.
On Labor Day 1955, they decided it was time to break the news to Bill Haley and give their notice. The Comets were in Wildwood, New jersey, having just completed a very successful engagement at Hunt's Pier. "Bill was absolutely stunned", Dick recalls. "He had no idea it was coming. He tried to talk us out of it and offered us a raise on the spot, plus a $1000 bonus each if we'd stay. But we already had our own recording contract and several weeks of bookings. We saw the kind of money there was to be made on our own, and we'd never do that well on salary".
A week or so after playing their last gig with Bill Haley at the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, Joey, Dick and Marhsall drove to New York to begin their career as the Jodimars. The first order of business was a recording session at Capitol's studios on West 46th Street in Manhattan, where the group waxed their first and most famous release, 'Well Now Dig This', backed with 'Let's All Rock Together', both inked by Frank Pingatore.
This and all future Capitol sessions were produced by Andy Wiswell, a British emigre whose dubious claim to fame was the development of Muzak, the deliberately unmemorable instrumental music heard in lifts and dental surgeries. Despite this apparent handicap, Wiswell was quick to adapt to rock'n'roll. In an effort to duplicate the now-familiar Haley style Wiswell hired session drummer Billy Gussak as well as famed guitarist Tony Mottola for the 'fast finger'solos on these numbers. He also recruited a seaman from Brooklyn Navy Yard to toot the bosun's whistle on 'Well Now Dig This' the clarion call that kicks off what has since become a rock'n'roll classic.
The disc received considerable airplay and became a moderate regional hit, selling well enough to pay back Capitol's advance and earning the group modest royalty checks. However, the record failed to make a dent in the national charts. it was the Jodimars' misfortune to record for Capitol at the height of the label's success in the pop field. 'Well Now Dig This' was Capitol's sixth best seller in November 1955, but the other five - 'Sixteen Tons', 'Love And marriage', Memories Are made Of This', 'Lisbon Antigua' and 'Wake The Town And Tell The People' - were absolute chart bluckbusters. It was not surprising that the Jodimars came out on the short end of Capitol's promotional budget.
Following their opening gig at the Palace Theatre in New York, the Jodimars began an extensive tour of the Eastern U.S. and Canada. The stops included Washington DC., Pittsburgh, PA., Toronto and London, Ontario. They then headed west for a thirty day string of one-nighters, starting in Denver, Colorado, working their way south and back up North all the way to Lowell, Massachusetts. It was at this point that the Jodimars realized they had made a mistake in their choice of managers. It seems that Larry Taylor was an old-timer who didn't know the first thing about booking a rock'n'roll act (this was still in 1955, remember). He used his regular booker, Matty Rosen, an old vaudevillian, as a result of which the Jodimars found themselves sharing the bill at many venues with such non-rockers as Tex Beneke and Tony Martin. The Jodimars found out later that at this time they had been eagerly sought by Joe Glaser of Associated Booking Co., the premier rock'n'roll booking agent, who booked Bill Haley & his Comets for jolly Joyce Glaser had wanted to book the Jodimars for all the dates Bill Haley was turning down, a brilliant idea that would have given a big boost to the group's career. Larry Taylor, however, wasn't interested and the Jodimars lost perhaps their best opportunity to achieve super-stardom. A change in management was clearly in order, so 1956 saw the reigns handed over to Frank Pingatore, who found himself decidedly unwelcome in the Haley entourage once his Jodimars connection became known.
At about the same time, Bob Simpson and Jim Buffington quite the group, tiring of the touring grind. The band decided to continue without a pianist and recruited as its new drummer Max Daffner, a flamboyant showman with a unique double bass drum kit, who specialized in extravagant solos. With Frank Pingatore at the helm the band was now booked into the major rock'n'roll venues, the highlight of which was the Alan Freed 'Easter Jubilee Of Stars' at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre in April 1956. The show ran for ten days and broke all box office records, which wasn't surprising considering the line-up: The Platters, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, The Jodimars, The Flamingos, The Cleftones, The Valentines, The Willows, Ruth McPhadden, The Rover Boys, Cindy & Lindy and Dori Anne Gray, backed by the Alan Freed Orchestra featuring Sam 'The Man' Taylor and Big Al Sears. Not bad for two dollars !
While Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and The Platters were the obvious star attractions, The Jodimars' wild stage routine made them a tough act to follow: "In those days we used two sets of drums on our shows", Dick recalls. "When I wasn't singing I'd play alongside Max and we'd get a real powerhouse effect. On the Freed shows we ended our sets with 'Straightjacket'. We worked out a thing with Alan Freed's band - which also had two drummers - where they'd all join in at the end - what a sound!"
In fact, the 'Straightjacket' closer whipped up the fans to such a frenzy that after the first few shows the Jodimars were requested to tone down their act. It seems the New York Police were concerned about reports of rioting at similar shows and were determined to keep the audience in control, patrolling the aisles and whisking away potential 'troublemakers'. Billboard magazine referred to the police presence at this Freed show as creating an Alcatraz-like atmosphere in the audience, compared to the riotous proceedings on stage.
The Jodimars' success at this show earned them an appearance on Alan Freed's syndicated TV show in May 1956, as well as a spot on the coast-to-coast Kate Smith Show. Chart success, however, was another story. 'Dance The Bop' (or 'Dancing' The Bop' as Capitol called it originally) was released in March 1956 and once again, while doing moderately well in some regions, it did not break nationwide. Dick Richards feels it was simply a matter of Capitol not backing the group with the promotional effort it gave to its pop stalwarts, which at the time included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Nat 'King' Cole, Stan Freberg and Nelson Riddle. The group also had its difference with Andy Wiswell, who was in charge of their sessions.
Wiswell flatly rejected their suggestion that they record rock'n'roll cover versions of R&B hits, a regular part of their stage act. The rock'n'roll world could have been spared from Pat Boone had Wiswell had the marketing savvy of Randy Wood of Dot Records. Wiswell did spend quite a lot of time with the Jodimars in the studio. Capitol session logs reveal that it took an exhausting 37 takes to get 'Bayou Baby' to his liking but for all that work the tune ended up replacing 'Natural Ditty' as the b-side to 'Dance The Bop'.
Record releases continued in 1956 - 'Rattle My Bones'/Rattle Shakin' Daddy' in September and 'Clara-Belle'/'Midnight in December - without success. The Jodimars continued to maintain their hectic touring schedule, but without a hit record it would become difficult to maintain the interest of the rock'n'roll public. It was at this time that the Jodimars adjusted their sights and headed west in search of gold - which they found in the casino lounges of Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.
They began their transition from rock'n'roll combo to show band with an extended engagement at the Hacienda Lounge in Las Vegas in the fall of 1956. "We were one of the first rock'n'roll acts to invade Las Vegas," Marshall recalls, "along with Freddy Bell & The Bellboys, The Treniers, and a few others. Las Vegas was really behind the times - in those days they didn't even allow Blacks in the casinos, Billy Ward & The Dominoes played at our hotel - Jackie Wilson was their lead singer then - and they had to use the service entrance and go through the kitchen to get on stage".
The Jodimars began as pure rock'n'roll, but because the casino owners felt that the loudness and the excitement of this new music distracted the customers from the gaming tables, the group became a show band. Their act consisted of a combination of original material, cover versions of current hits, and comedy routines. Casino management likes to keep their high rollers entertained, so the Jodimars gradually added to their act such gimmicks as strobe lights (for Max Daffner's drum solos) and novelty costumes. Dick: "We went to a costume shop, looking for something wild to work into a routine, and found these three white gorilla suits - cost us $2,100. We put together a 'Jungle Boy' routine with Joey in a Tarzan get-up and Charlie dressed as Dr. Livingstone. The audience loved it and it became our trademark - we were the band with the gorilla routine!"
When the Las Vegas engagement ended in December 1956, the band drove back east for some club dates, to begin in Pittsburgh, PA. Charlie Hess however never made it back. "Charlie stopped off at his hometown, Reading, PA, and stayed up all night with some girl. He was good at that, staying up all night with girls. He drove out to meet us in Pittsburgh the next day and fell asleep at the wheel. We were waiting for him at the club and he doesn't show up, doesn't call or anything. We had no idea what happened to him. We waited as long as we could and then went on without him. It was our worst night ever - we were terrible without a guitar. We couldn't do a thing. We found out later he had smashed up his car and was in the hospital, all busted up. He recovered after a while but we didn't take him back. We didn't want to take a chance on something like that happening again".
Chuck Hess was replaced on the guitar by Vince James, a show-biz veteran who also had his own comedy routine. While back east, Marshall and Dick decided to have some fun with their agent at MCA Artists Ltd., in New York. "We took one of the gorilla suits with us in the car, and just before we got to New york I put the thing on; so Dick's driving on the Jersey Turnpike with a white gorilla in the passenger seat! We drive this way through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan. We park the car in a lot a few blocks from our agent's office and I say to Dick, 'You better hold my hand like you're my trainer or something, or we're gonna get arrested'. So Dick takes my hand and I walk the two blocks with him like a darn gorilla - people are getting off the sidewalk and running to the other side of the street - we created all kinds of havoc with the thing! "We get to the MA building and go up the elevator to our agent's floor. As soon as the elevator door opens I run out and jump on the receptionist's desk. She had a fit and ran screaming down the hallway, so I started chasing her and making gorilla noises. Then I ran into our agent's office. Just as I came in Harry Belafonte was opening the door to leave. He looked at me and I tell you the man turned as white as a sheet!"
1957 saw the Jodimars last Capitol release, 'Cloud 99'/'Later'. Their contract with Capitol was not renewed ("they told us rock'n'roll was finished") and 'So Lonely, 'Cra-Z' and 'Natural Ditty' were left in-the-can until this release. Undaunted, the group headed back west to resume their career as a show band, this time in Harold's Club in Reno, Nevada, the town's largest and best known casino. Their act took the town by storm - what began as a four week engagement in the spring of 1957 was extended through the summer and into October, breaking all attendance records for the club. They became the biggest act in town. Such was their success that the club owner, Harold Smith, changed the marquee to 'Harold's Club - Home Of The Jodimars'. However a few months later the tightly-knit unit began to unravel. First, the glitz and glamour of the casino life began to take its toll on drummer Max Daffner, who fell victim to the allure of the gaming tables and began missing rehearsals with increasing frequency.
ABOVE: This rare, never-before-published photo shows the only time that The Jodimars ever appeared with Bill Haley. It was at the Rock & Roll Wax Museum in London, 1989 AD.
The Jodimars thought they would be better off with local musicians who were Nevada lounge veterans, so they hired drummer Bobby Morris and trombone player Jimmy 'Little Red' Blount, both of whom were working with Louis Prima's band at the time. "We thought we would be improving our organization by hiring Louis Prima's sidemen, who were considered to be the best in the business", Marshall recalls. "The problem was, we were trying to fix something that wasn't broken. We already had a great outfit and we should have left things alone". The personnel change turned out to be the biggest mistake of the Jodimars' career, a move that ultimately resulted in the break-up of the band. "They were terrific musicians but real prima donnas" Dick recalls. "A guy like Louis Prima could keep them in line, but we couldn't handle them. Nothing but bickering all the time". Guitarist Vince James got so disgusted that he quite the group. Little Red was fired and the Jodimars were temporarily disbanded.
While the group was on hiatus in early 1958, Marshall received an offer for the Jodimars to do a session 'on spec' for Lew Chudd's Imperial label in Los Angeles. Joey and Dick were back east, so although the tracks were officially credited to 'Marshall Lytle and the Jodimars', Marshall was actually backed by Imperial's 'house' band, featuring the legendary Joe Maphis on lead guitar. Three of these tracks were later recorded by other Imperial artists: 'Be My Love Tonight'/Hip Shakin' Baby' by Roy Brown, and Bring Along Your Lovin' by Bob Luman - but Marshall's versions, together with 'Honey Baby', make their debut appearance on this CD. Why they were not released in 1958 is unknown, but Marshall believes they were shelved by Lew Chudd at the behest of Ozzie Nelson, father of Imperial's rising star Ricky Nelson.
In early 1958 the Jodimars reformed, taking on Mike Pedicin's pianist Buddy LaPata as well as comic Al Antonio (the very same 'one man riot' guy who MC'd Bill Haley's shows in Wildwood, N.J. in 1953) and his wife Audrey. The new line-up opened in Reno in March 1958 and were once again a big success. Harold Smith, the owner of Harold's Club in Reno, gave the Jodimars a three year contract in the spring of 1958, but a few months later the group had broken up and this time for good.
Dick "We had it made, but we all got star-conscious. Bobby Morris started it. Each of us thought we were the star of the show and got jealous of the other guys. No group can stay together with that kind of attitude". The final straw came when Dick Richards suffered a back injury during the gorilla routine and was hospitalized. Dick's absence touched off a round of bickering over money. "We started arguing over whether I should be paid while I was laid up. It was silly because we were all making good money - there was plenty to go round. But we all got greedy as hell and kept arguing over the money. All of a sudden it became dog eat dog. It got so bad that by the time I was ready to come back we couldn't work together any more".
Joey and Dick returned east and put together a new group, continuing to use the Jodimars name. Marshall and Buddy LaPata formed their own outfit called 'The Buddy Mars' and continued to work the Nevada lounges. By the summer of 1959 Dick decided to retire from show business work and took a job as a physical education teacher and football coach at a junior high school in Springfield, PA. At the same time Joey and Marshall began talking about reuniting the Jodimars. They secured a six week engagement at their old mainstay, Harold's Club in Reno, beginning on Labor Day weekend in 1959. Dick was already committed to his teaching job but agreed to fly out to Reno to rejoin his former partners for the first week in September, before the start of the school year. That Labor Day weekend of 1959 marked the last time the trio performed together in the U.S. as the Jodimars.
"LET'S ALL ROCK TOGETHER," 21 cuts of the Jodimars (including the 12 great sides they recorded for Capitol) and 7 other tracks feauring Bill Haley. Rockstar Records RSRCD 007. CD issued in 1994, UK.
Over the next few years and into the 1960's, Joey, Dick and Marshall gradually drifted out of the music business. Joey became a blackjack dealer at a casino in Las Vegas; Dick dabbled in teaching and real estate and owned some lounges in Philadelphia, including the famous 'Under-ground', the centre for the 'Philly Soul' acts of the 1960's; Marshall also went into real estate in California, after changing his name to Tommy Page. They could never totally give up their desire to perform in front of an audience: Joey sat in with the Vegas lounge bands; Dick turned to acting, appearing in dozens of movies and TV shows; Marshall became a lecturer at real estate investment seminars.
At long last the Jodimars performed once again at a festival in the U.K. during November 1989, when Joey, Dick and Marshall reunited for an intended one-time-only show as an extra attraction to their appearance with fellow Comets Franny Beecher and Johnny Grande. Their Jodimars show created such a stir that it nearly eclipsed the main event, and now every Comets show includes at least a couple of Jodimars numbers.
Bill Haley's story is of course much more extensively documented than that of the Jodimars. At about the time the Jodimars were introducing rock'n'roll to Las Vegas, Bill Haley was touring England, and the interview with Monty Lister in Liverpool (on February 20th 1957) captures him at the height of the frenzy which built-up during this historic tour. Over a decade later, long after his popularity had waned in the States, Bill found himself at the forefront of a rock'n'roll revival in the U.K., and the May 3, 1968 interview (again with Month Lister) in Warrington, captures the excitement of what we now take for granted; authentic rock'n'roll music being appreciated and accepted without the derision and self righteous criticism that plagued its arrival the first time around.
Bill's triumphs in the U.K. and Europe in 1968 caught the attention of United Artists Records in the USA, who signed Bill to do his first major U.S. session since the early 1960's the results of which are included on this CD. Despite his success as a rock'n'roller, Bill seemed to feel the most comfortable in the studio singing country music, with which he began his career. Bill gives one of his best performances on 'That's How I got to Memphis', a Tom T. Hall number produced by Henry Jerome and arranged by Hutch Davis, which was coupled with 'Ain't Love Funny' for the eventual U.A. release.
As was later recounted in Bill's fan club magazine; 'Haley News', the session was supposed to be limited to these two songs, but because the recording went quicker than expected it was decided to cut some additional tracks: 'Jingle Bell Rock' and 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' for an anticipated Christmas 1968 release and 'Flip Flop & Fly', which Bill had recorded a few months earlier in Sweden for the Sonet label. Alas, the label apparently decided there was not sufficient time for distribution of the Christmas recordings, and they remained in-the-can for decades, surfacing in late 1992 on EMI's 'Legends Of Christmas Past' compilation CD. 'Flip, Flop & Fly' has never before seen the light day.
'That's How I Got To Memphis' was issued by 'United Artists' in January 1969 and did decent business in the U.S. and Canadian country markets. However, U.A. chose not to put their full promotional muscle behind it in the States, and as a result Bill Haley declined to renew his option for further U.A. releases. Just a few months later the rock'n'roll revival reached the USA and Bill found himself busier than ever on the concert circuit in the States as well as overseas.
David Hirschberg (June 1994)
Many thanks to the following for their help in the preparation of the above notes: John von Hoelle, John W. Haley, Chris Gardner, Hugh McCallum, Trevor Cajiao & John Stafford.
JODIMARS RELATED HALL OF FAME LINKS...
The JOMINARS - - Well Now Dig This!
Marshall Lyle - Visit Marshall's own site on the Hall of Fame
BILL HALEY - - On-site Rockabilly HOF web page
The COMETS - - On-site Rockabilly HOF web page