Bill Haley & His Comets: Rock Around the Clock (CD)
On 12 April 1954. Bill Haley and his Comets crowned their first session in New York for Decca Records with a recording of Rock Around The Clock, a novelty song co-written by Haley's manager Dave Myers (under his pseudonym Jimmy Denight) and Tin Pan Alley veteran Max Freedman. It had been recorded without success by Sunny Dae in 1952, but Haley's version benefitted considerably from Decca A & R man Milt Gabler's previous association with Jump Jive star Louis Jordan, and Gabler brought in a sharper sound featuring boldly arranged rim shots from drummer Billy Guesack and a memorable guitar break by Danny Cedrone. Nevertheless it was the follow-up, a cleaned-up version of Big Joe Turner's lascivious Shake, Rattle And Roll, which eclipsed the song initially and its Top Ten impact forced the re-release of Rock Around The Clock. Strongly promoted in the controversial teenage delinquency movie The Blackboard Jungle - on which Myers acted as technical advisor - it went to No.1 worldwide, was adopted as an instant youth anthem and eventually sold over 22 million copies. Haley. though apparently lacking the good looks and charisma of a genuine teen idol, became a star overnight, together with his trademark kiss-curl.
Born near Detroit, Michigan in 1925. Bill Haley grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania where his parents bought a farm. In the early 1940s he started out as a hillbilly act inspired by Elton Britt, trying to launch himself with a yodelling cowboy image. and he played guitar for two years with Cousin Lee's band before joining Shorty Cook's Downhomers in 1944. He made his first solo record Candy Kisses in 1945 and toured the Midwest up to the late 40s: "The style we played way back in 1947, 1948. 1949." he reflected later" was a combination of country and western, Dixieland and the old-style rhythm and blues." He returned to Chester worked as a DJ on the new local radio station WPWA, and formed his own band The Four Aces Of Western Swing to continue playing in conventional Northern country-boogie showband style. By 1949 Haley was looking for different directions. and had noticed the success of local bandleader Jimmy Preston whose Rock The Joint was a national hit in the same year. White dance hands like Haley's generally drew somewhat staid audience reaction but Preston, in common with the R& B-influenced bands led by Lionel "Flying Home" Hampton and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, often elicited wildly enthusiastic crowd responses, encouraged by extrovert soloists playing their instruments lying on their backs or climbing up pianos. Haley began his progression towards this more full-on entertainment by forming the Saddlemen. who added a stronger rhythm, a slap bass and a distinctive jive-talking vocabulary, and came to be billed as The Cowboy Jive Band.
Most significantly, the Saddlemen covered Jackie Brenston's explosive Rocket 88 in 1951, a thrilling chart-topper often cited as the first real Rock & Roll record. Haley's powerful rockabilly treatment only sold 10.000 copies however, and it was his next record, a convincing cover of Rock The Joint, which really started to kick in on sales, reaching over 75,000. In 1953 Haley took a further leap forward by changing his band's name to the Comets and recording Crazy Man Crazy, his first national Top Twenty hit with a forceful sound, hip lyrics and the clearest yet forerunner of the dynamism just around the corner Haley then made Rock Around The Clock, of course. starring bassist Al Rex from the original Comets reinforced by two crucial additions in the shape of hot soloists Frank Beecher on guitar and Rudy Pompilli on saxophone. Both contributed instrumental expertise and the vital element of athletic showmanship on stage, which cemented the acfs appeal. The eponymous movie provoked notoriety through teenage riots and Don't Knock The Rock, another musical vehicle which starred Little Richard and seminal DJ Alan Freed. was an attempt to play down alleged delinquency by equating youthful enthusiasm with previous dance crazes for the Charleston and the Jitterbug.
Bill Haley became the biggest attraction in the pre-Presley world of 1955, particularly popular in the UK where he had no competition and where every record he released on Brunswick up to March 1957 reached the Top Twenty His British tour of that year presented him just as he was - married, slightly overweight and rather sedate, in complete contrast to the young Elvis - and therefore cut short his reign as inspirational youth leader despite always retaining his musical integrity. This album surveys the period in his career from 1948 to 1954, opening up with the great Rock & Roll records which will forever be remembered; it also takes in the transitional era with the Saddlemen and delves right back to his raw country roots with the Four Aces Of Western Swing.
Neil Kellas 2005
Article properties: Bill Haley & His Comets: Rock Around the Clock (CD)
|Haley, Bill & His Comets - Rock Around the Clock (CD) CD 1|
|01||Rock Around The Clock|
|03||Shake Rattle And Roll|
|04||Crazy Man Crazy|
|06||Chattanooga Choo Choo|
|07||Dim The Lights|
|08||Birth Of The Boogie|
|10||Rock The Joint|
|11||Life Of The Party|
|13||Green Tree Boogie|
|15||Rose Of My Heart|
|16||Within This Broken Heart Of Mine|
|17||Cotton Haired Girl|
|18||Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along|
|19||Wreck On The Highway|
|20||My Mom Heard Me Crying|
|22||Candy And Women|
|25||Yodel Your Blues Away|
The hoopla surrounding the purported fiftieth anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll 2004 didn't quite ring true. Bill Haley might have lobbied for 2001...fifty years after he'd covered Rocket '88'; or 2002…fifty years after he'd recorded Rock The Joint; or 2003...fifty years after he broke into the pop charts with Crazy, Man, Crazy, a record that fit every criterion of rock 'n' roll. But, of course, Bill Haley said not a word; he had died neglected and alone on the Mexican border in 1981, and even at the time of his death he was wondering why he'd been written out of the story.
True, the Pennsylvania polka bars and union halls where Bill Haley stumbled upon his music didn't have the eye candy appeal of Memphis after dark, and true, kids didn't want to be Bill Haley as they wanted to be Elvis Presley, but he was absolutely, definitively first.
Perhaps the only ingredient of rock 'n' roll (as we would come know it) that's missing from these recordings is the music's democratic ideal. You could buy a guitar and with a little aptitude and a few weeks' patient study you could pick out a Duane Eddy tune or an Elvis solo, but you would not be able to play much of the music on this collection.
The basic truth about rock 'n' roll
The basic truth about rock 'n' roll has been reiterated in thousands of books, documentaries, and articles. It was the fusion of R&B, country, and pop, but while Elvis talked about seeing the very primitive Arthur Crudup, Bill Haley's idea of R&B was the tightly marshaled swing of Louis Jordan and the showmanship of the Treniers. While Elvis thought of Hank Williams and Bill Monroe as country, Bill Haley thought of the Sons of the Pioneers. It was a difference that resolved itself to age and geography.
Elvis was ten years younger than Bill Haley, and he came from the South, while Haley grew up on the east coast. Make no mistake, though, Bill Haley paved the way for Elvis. When RCA Victor in New York signed Elvis away from Sun Records, they were hoping they'd signed someone who could reach the market that Haley had opened up: a market that no one knew existed before Haley.
The full story of Bill Haley
The full story of Bill Haley's early years is told in Chris Gardner's extended biography. Included with our definitive collection of early Bill Haley, 'The Real Birth Of Rock 'n' Roll' (BCD 16509). Briefly, William John Clifton Haley was born on July 6, 1925 in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park.
His father, Bill Sr., was a transplanted Kentuckian and his mother, Maude, was British. Bill Sr. moved the family to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania during the Depression and kept his head above water by working in the shipyards. He played the banjo and Maude played light classics on the piano. Bill Jr.'s desire to play music was inhibited only by the shyness that probably stemmed from self consciousness over his one blind eye.
Before the end of the Second World War, though, Bill Haley was trying to carve out a career in music. He was very much in the thrall of pre-War faux cowboy music. He wore the hat, sang the songs of an idealized west, and yodeled. In fact, he told Canadian dee-jay Red Robinson that he was an Indiana state yodeling champion, although no one has ever been able to confirm (or deny) that claim. There were rumors that he'd made his first recordings with the Downhomers in 1945, but that seems unlikely. By the end of 1947, Haley was back in eastern Pennsylvania after stints throughout the northeast, and made what were probably his first recordings for Jack Howard's Arcade Records with his group, the Four Aces of Western Swing.
Billy Williamson and Johnny Grande
He had a spot on WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania, and formed a partnership with two future Comets, steel guitarist Billy Williamson and accordionist Johnny Grande. He'd also signed away parts of his income, apparently in perpetuity, thereby setting the stage for the financial problems that would dog him to the grave…and beyond. In 1948, though, a percentage of Haley's income didn't amount to much. "I was working until 2:00am in the clubs and opening the station [WPWA] at 6:00am," he recalled to the 'Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin'. "Seven days a week!"
In 1949, Haley changed the name of his group to the Saddlemen (to avoid conflict with another popular local group, the Four Aces) and moved them through a number of brief label affiliations, including a fling with Atlantic Records via a lease deal. In 1951, Haley signed with Dave Miller, an engaging if morally ambiguous man. Who at least knew how to get records distributed outside eastern Pennsylvania. (one of his labels, Palda, issued records by the other Four Aces). Miller later found his niche as one of the godfathers of the budget record business. At one time, was responsible for more records cluttering up thrift stores and charity shops than anyone else—even Andy Williams.
Dave Miller met Bill Haley at the Twin Bars in Gloucester, New Jersey, where the Saddlemen had a regular gig. Miller had just taken a sales trip down South and returned with a copy of Jackie Brenston's Rocket '88', then atop the R&B charts. The practice of covering R&B songs for the country market was gathering steam, and Miller saw potential for Rocket '88' in the country market. "I played the record for Bill," Miller said in an interview quoted in 'The Real Birth Of Rock 'n' Roll,' "and he was quite reluctant to record it as it wasn't his 'bag' – he being a country artist. But Billy Williamson and a few of the other fellows in the band said Bill, we have nothing to lose, so Bill did make the cover of 'Rocket '88', which sold very well locally. If Haley was truly reluctant, he nevertheless brought a distinctly black feel to his recording. It was the first intimation of greatness. The other side, Green Tree Boogie, was more firmly in the country boogie mold. (ie. with the emphasis firmly, if engagingly, on country)
Now we fast-forward to 1952.
R&B bandleader Jimmy Preston, who was from Haley's adopted hometown, Chester, cut the frantic Rock The Joint as a Good Rockin' Tonight spinoff in 1949. An R&B dee-jay in Chester used Preston's record as his themesong, so Haley undoubtedly knew it well. "Out on the job one night, just kidding the band," Haley told 'TV Radio Mirror' in 1957, "I went into 'Rock The Joint.' Billy (Williamson) and Johnny (Grande) started to laugh and joined in. Al Rex hit it on the bass. We really got a kick out of it ourselves. Then I looked around -and, so help me- people were dancing. I turned to the guys and said, 'What on earth did I do?" The guitar solo was by Danny Cedrone, leader of another local group, the Esquire Boys.
It doesn't take a degree in musicology to figure out that it's the same solo that Cedrone would replicate almost note-for-note on Rock Around The Clock two years later. It was a fiendishly difficult solo, and the first great rock 'n' roll guitar setpiece. Haley, incidentally, wrote Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie for Cedrone's Esquire Boys. Parenthetically, it's worth noting that Haley's record wasn't the first white cover version of Rock The Joint; that honor goes to the sadly neglected Jimmy Cavallo, who, in 1951, cut a version modeled closely on Preston's. Haley seemed reluctant to commit himself to this new music. Preferring the economic certainties of the east coast country music dances. But he slowly began to realize that he'd seen the future…and it rocked.
The Saddlemen became the Comets
At the suggestion of Bix Reichner (who hosted a jazz show on WPWA and later wrote songs for Haley), the Saddlemen became the Comets, and the first single under the new name was Real Rock Drive. Although credited as the composer, Haley had in fact rewritten Tani Allen and Buck Turner's Bullet recording of Tennessee Jive. Bullet's publishing company, Volunteer Music, sued right away, despite Turner's advice that they should wait to see if Haley's disc became a hit. Essex stopped working Haley's record, and promptly issued Crazy Man Crazy.Haley's new manager, 'Lord' Jim Ferguson, persuaded Haley to quit the beer joints in favour of high school gigs. Despite the fact that it meant a drop in earnings. It proved the smartest thing we ever tried, wrote Haley's accordionist, Johnny Grande, in 1957. The kids taught us.
We tried our experiments on them.
When their shoulders started moving and their feet started tapping and their hands clapping. We knew that a certain tune was worth keeping in the act....Bill noticed that their favorite expression was 'Crazy!'. He took their word and their football chant, 'Go! Go! Go!' and gave it back to them in a song". Crazy Man Crazy entered the Pop Top 10 and the die was cast. Everyone around Haley began to sense that they were onto something – even if no-one knew quite what. Grande described the painstaking process by which Haley had evolved his sound: We rehearsed in the studio every day for two years. One of the engineers gave us a big assist by putting our trial runs on tape. And playing them back so that we could study them.
When we were broke he would sort of delay putting it on the bill. Always we were looking for something. We'd take a standard like 'Ida' and we'd play it every way we could think of; - fast, slow, loud, soft, hillbilly, waltz, dixie, progressive. 'Haley was like a scientist putting one thing after another into a test tube,' Billy (Williamson) says. 'And he'd be so happy when one experiment turned out right'. One of the most important experiments happened one day when we were studying some Count Basie records. Since we didn't have brasses, we fooled around with the strings, trying to get the same effect, trying to build volume. Haley with the bass discovered that when he plucked the strings in the accepted way, it came out rrom-pahhh. If he back slapped them, it changed the accent to rrom-pahhh. That's how the heavy back beat became the basic form in our rock & roll."
Crazy Man Crazy
The follow-ups to Crazy Man Crazy showed that Haley still hadn't truly grasped what was happening. At two of the sessions after Crazy Man Crazy, though, he presented a song called Rock Around The Clock. But Dave Miller refused to cut it because of an ongoing dispute with the music publisher and co-writer, James Myers. The song had been written in 1953 by Max C. Freedman, a Philadelphia songwriter, already 60 years old. He'd written Sioux City Sue in 1945, and had worked stints as an announcer and radio personality.
He would later put lyrics to operettas. After Miller refused to cut Rock Around The Clock, Myers placed it with veteran country artist Sonny Dae. The song made its inauspicious debut on Jack Howard's Arcade label! Bill Haley Bill Haley - Bill Rocks
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This product will be released at 4 October 2019