Two For Tuesday: Bill Haley and His Comets

Rock & Roll is a combination of a number of different types of music, primarily Country and Rhythm & Blues. One of the pioneers who gave life to this genre was Bill Haley, whose song “Rock Around The Clock” in 1954 is considered the opening shot, so to speak, of the rock and roll revolution. It’s appropriate for us to start with him.

“Rocket 88” is credited to Jackie Brenston and was originally recorded by Jackie and His Delta Kings (in reality Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm). It was released in 1951 and reached #1 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart. Later in 1951, country singer Bill Haley recorded it, backed by his band The Saddlemen, and it became a regional hit in the Northeastern US. Haley’s recording is considered by many to be the first Rock & Roll record.

By late 1952, after much success with his new sound, Bill Haley renamed his band The Comets. In 1954, Bill and His Comets recorded “Rock Around The Clock” as the flip side to “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man).” The song failed to chart on its own

Bill’s popularity began to fade after the followup to “Rock Around The Clock,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” reached #7 in the US and #4 in the UK. His last Top Ten hit in the US was “See You Later, Alligator” in 1956, but he continued to have chart success in the UK, with a half dozen Top Ten songs there through 1957. By the Sixties, they were considered an “oldies” act.

“Rock Around The Clock” was used as the theme song for the 1973 movie American Graffiti (and later for the TV show Happy Days), and it was re-released in 1974; it reached #34 in the US and #12 in the UK. Haley died in 1981, and a number of bands calling themselves The Comets, which include members of Haley’s bands through the years, have continued the name and the sound of the original group.

Bill Haley and His Comets, your Two for Tuesday, January 16, 2018.

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Two For Tuesday: Johnnie Ray (Baby Boom Years)

The last of the pre-rock & roll artists I’ll feature in this series is Johnnie Ray. He was popular for most of the 1950’s and is considered a precursor to the rock & roll era (Tony Bennett called him “The father of rock & roll”). He and Dorothy Kilgallen had a lengthy affair after he made an appearance on What’s My Line? and remained close until Ms. Kilgallen’s death in 1965, even though he was known to be gay. He was deaf in one ear from an accident at Boy Scout camp when he was younger, and lost the hearing in both ears after surery in 1958, although he was able to hear with hearing aids.

Johnnie’s first and only #1 song was 1951’s “Cry,” which he recorded with the Four Lads. It was on the Okeh label, the R&B subsidiary of Columbia Records. When it proved to be a hit, Columbia A&R man Mitch Miller moved him over to the main Columbia label. In addition to the Billboard chart (this was before the Hot 100), it also was a #1 on the R&B chart and on the Cash Box chart.

His other biggest hit was 1956’s “Walkin’ In The Rain.” The song was written by two inmates of the Tennessee State Prison, Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. Bragg and his group, the Prisonaires, had a #1 with it in 1953, and initially Johnnie was reluctant to sing it but was convinced to do it by Miller. It reached #2 on the Billboard chart, #3 on the Cash Box chart, and was a #1 hit for him in the UK, and earned him a gold record. The male voices of the Ray Conniff Singers and a whistler accompany him on this.

Johnnie was an alcoholic through most of his peak years, but gave up drinking after a bout with tuberculosis in 1960. In 1969, his doctor told him that he had recovered sufficiently from his alcoholism that he could have an occasional glass of wine. He lapsed back into alcoholism and his health declined until his death in 1990 at the age of 63.

Johnnie Ray, your Two for Tuesday, January 9, 2018.

Two For Tuesday: Kay Starr (The Baby Boom Years)

I still have a couple more singers from the pre-rock & roll portion of the Baby Boom years, so let’s get started on them, shall we?

Billie Holiday said that Kay Starr was the only white woman who could sing the blues. Considering Ms. Holiday was maybe the best female blues and jazz singer in history, I’d say that was pretty high praise. Fact was, whether she was singing pop, jazz, or country, Kay Starr sold a lot of records in the Forties and Fifties.

She’s best known for two songs she sang during the Fifties that ended up as #1 hits. The first is 1952’s “Wheel of Fortune,” which spent eleven weeks at the top of the charts and earned Ms. Starr a gold record. It was featured prominently in the movie L. A. Confidential.

Her second #1 was 1955’s “Rock and Roll Waltz.” It spent six weeks at #1 in early 1956 and was also a #1 hit in the UK for one week that year. She earned her second gold record with this one. It was covered in the early Sixties by Ann-Margret and Annette Funicello.

Ms. Starr died in 2016 at the age of 94 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Kay Starr, your Two for Tuesday, January 2, 2018.

Two for Tuesday: Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (Baby Boom Years)

This is a repost from New Year’s Day, 2013. A lot of things have changed since then, and I figured I should update it for style and dates. I know I’m a little early, but Guy was on the list and by the time we get to next Tuesday it’ll already be 2018…

Happy New Year, everyone! A few days early, I know, but I thought honoring Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians was appropriate. He and his orchestra were a fixture of New Year’s Eve from 1928 until 1976, a few months before he died of a heart attack.

Gaetano Alberto “Guy” Lombardo was born in London, Ontario to Italian immigrants Gaetano Sr. and Lena Lombardo in 1902. His father was a tailor and a baritone singer who encouraged Guy and brothers Carmen, Lebert, and Victor to learn musical instruments so that they could accompany him. The band rehearsed in the back of Dad’s tailor shop. They began their prolific recording career in 1926. (Louis Armstrong was a big fan.) They started playing New Year’s Eve at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1928. Generally, their New Year’s Eve broadcasts (both radio and TV beginning in 1956) were carried on the CBS network, though they were syndicated in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

The first song is “On a Slow Boat to China,” featuring a vocal by Kenny Gardner.

“Auld Lang Syne,” the tune for which they are best known, is the second; the tradition is that it’s the song that plays at Times Square at midnight.

I wish you success, happiness, love, and fulfillment in 2018. That’s your Two for Tuesday, December 26, 2017.

Two For Tuesday: Les Paul & Mary Ford (Baby Boom Years)

Guitarist, inventor, and technical genius Les Paul (who lent his name to a fairly popular guitar) was introduced to singer Mary Ford by Gene Autry in 1946. They were married in 1949 and divorced in 1964, ending their collaboration. In between, they had 16 top ten hits, beginning in 1950. They also starred in an interstitial (a short TV program that plays between longer ones) in 1954-1955 called “Les Paul and Mary Ford At Home.” Our local religious broadcaster, who plays a lot of old TV programs most evenings, has a collection of them, and they’re pretty enjoyable. A couple of examples here.

Here Les plays and Mary sings “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise,” which reached #2 in 1951. A collection of their hits, The World Is Still Waiting For The Sunrise, was released in 1974, and I understand a lot of rockers went out and bought it, and were disappointed that there was no rock & roll on it…

Later in 1951, Les and Mary released “How High The Moon,” which found itself at the top of the charts. Mary’s vocal is multitracked. Les was one of the first people to experiment with eight-track recording, and they recorded this in their garage, where he had set up a studio. They didn’t call him “The Wizard Of Waukesha” for nothing…

There are a lot of the TV shows on YouTube as well as other film clips of them performing together, where you can see that Mary was no slouch on the guitar herself.

Les Paul and Mary Ford, your Two for Tuesday, December 19, 2017.