Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Don't You Rock Me Daddio...

The history of Skiffle music is clouded by myth and the facts are obscure and hazy but if you think on back to the town of New Orleans as the 20th century began you may very well see the start of this story.

Pick a Bale O’ Cotton.
New Orleans was a city bursting with music,  different styles all mixed together and out of these came new forms of music, Jazz  mixed with the Blues and Negro folk now also added folk, roots and Country music and Skiffle music was born.
Skiffle was originally a slang name for a Rent Party but it also became the name of this new music. More traditional instruments were often used; a  fiddle, an acoustic guitar or a banjo but the basic sound of Skiffle and the poor life of the black folks who performed it meant homemade instruments were often used too;  jugs, a tea chest bass, cigar box, musical saw, washboard and a comb ‘n’ paper kazoo.
In 1925 the term Skiffle was first heard used as the name of a band, on record by  Jimmy O’Bryant and his Chicago Skifflers. Often Skiffle was used to describe Country Blues music but Ma Rainy kicked the ball back into play by using the term Skiffle to describe her songs to a rural audience. The roots of Skiffle lay in Blues and Jazz, many musicians  contributed to these roots as this style of music progressed. One fellow helped to form these roots,  his lyrical delivery was obviously the Blues  but it could also just  as easily be called true  Folk music too this fella was Huddie Leadbelly.
Huddie Leadbelly sang Blues based Gospel and Folk songs, songs about racism, women, liquor, prison, work songs, cattle herding songs, dancing songs and even cowboy songs. Rock Island Line, Pick a Bail Of Cotton, House Of The Rising Sun, Bring Me Li’l Water Silvy, Good Morning Blues, Take This Hammer and Midnight Special.
By the 1940s the term Skiffle was all but gone from the music of America but if you headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain in 1954 you would have heard  Ken Colyer’s new band start the whole fantastical thing over again....

Fans of Traditional Jazz naturally dug Skiffle but it also coincided with the dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the 2 became unquestionably linked in Britain. Every kid seemed to play washboard and every youth club had it’s own Skiffle group. Big names in the revival of this music took the stage; from Tennessee Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys and from Britain, Chas McDevitt, Bob Cort, The Coffee Bar Skifflers, The Hallelujah Skiffle Group,    Nancy Whiskey,  Cranes Skiffle Group, The City Ramblers Skiffle Group, Dickie Bishop And His Sidekicks, The Vipers Skiffle Group and the king of Skiffle Lonnie Donegan .....

Cumberland Gap.....Cumberland Gap....

The Vipers Skiffle Group  were the most successful Skiffle outfit, after Lonnie Donegan,  and they hit the charts a number of times as a Skiffle group from 1956 till 1957. Their enthusiasm and raw delivery of song made them the Punks of the British Skiffle movement.

In London Town in the spring months of 1956, a trio of vocalists and guitarists named Wolly Whyton, Johnny Martyn and Jean Van den Bosch got together. Tony Tolhurst on bass and John Pilgrim on washboard joined in the summer months. The famous 2I’s Coffee Bar down Old Compton Street secured gigs for this band and the first British Rock ‘n’ Roll star Tommy Steele was at the 2I’s too, to perform and  sit in. In September of 1956 and The Vipers Skiffle Group auditioned at Abbey Road studios for George Martin of Parlophone Records and they were signed up.
Come October of 1956 the first record from the Vipers Skiffle Group was released, called Ain’t You Glad , along with a Leadbelly song called Pick a Bail of Cotton but it was their 2nd release that made waves. Early in 1957 Don’t Rock Me Daddio hit number 10 on the UK Single Charts.  Rivalry raised its head between the great Lonnie Donegan and this band of Skiffle misfits as  Don’t You Rock Me Daddio and the Vipers Skiffle Group’s follow up, Cumberland Gap were also released by Lonnie. The Vipers Skiffle Group’s last chart entry was Streamline Train also in 1957, they carried on recording and for a while they were a big name attraction. By 1958 the Skiffle craze had run it’s course and the fans of Trad Jazz went back to just digging Trad Jazz but the second coming of Skiffle had been a success.
The Vipers Skiffle Group  now known as just the Vipers  with Jet Harris, Tony Meehan and Hank Marvin passing through the line-up and then going on to form Cliff Richard’s original band called Drifters. The Vipers headed off into the realms of Rock ‘n’ Roll with the release of a cover of Eddie Cochran’s Summer Times Blues in 1959. Wally Wyton kept the Vipers going until 1960  but then these Skiffle Punks went their separate ways.
The Vipers had a crude image, skilful and alive but still unpolished.

Musical wildness is sometimes measured in loudness or how fast it goes but the down-to-earth content  of Skiffle was wild and free......free as a bird on high.....

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Bill Haley Cowboy Jive..

Bill Haley and his Comets produced basic but truly gripping  music, a form of Rock ‘n’ Roll that transcended life itself.
Bill Haley is best remembered for this one song, Rock Around The Clock which is stated as the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll but Bill was recording  Rock ‘n’ Roll back in 1951......


Yodel Your Blues Away...

William John Clifton Haley was born in Michigan in July of 1925. His was a musical family with his daddy playing banjo and his mom playing clasically taught  piano. The young  William Haley made himself a cardboard guitar but his parents soon replaced it with a real one.

Years passed and the family relocated to Boothwyn near  Chester in Pennsylvania. In 1938 local kids would put on shows to raise money for good causes and the shy William John would sing some and strum on his guitar. He was shy and self conscious because he’d been blind in his left eye since infancy,  the young William was intensely self conscious about his appearance. As a teenager Bill performed at local amusement parks and in 1943 he  joined up with Cousin Lee’s Band who had a radio show on which he yodelled and played his guitar on.

America had entered the 2nd World War but Bill was not called up because of his eye. Instead  he joined groups like the Range Riders and sang and yodelled with the Downhomers with  talk of combining Hillbilly and Pop music even at this early stage. Aged 22 he left the Downhomers and returned to Chester to host a radio show on the WPWA station. He married his childhood sweetheart Dorothy Crow who was a beautiful part Indian girl and they had 2 children. He also took up with The Four Aces of Western Swing who featured Al Constantine on accordion, Barney Barnard on stand up bass and Tex King on guitar .Music was changing and Bill was aware of the coming of this change.  The Four Aces of Western Swing  disbanded in mid 1949 and a new group was soon put together called The Saddlemen.

Cowboy Jive....

Billy Williamson on steel guitar, John Grande on piano and accordian,  Al Rex on bass and Bill Haley playing rythm guitar and singing, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen. This was a fundemental step in the story of Rock ‘n’ Roll, for a white outfit to sometimes perform in a Rock ‘n’ Roll style. A heavy bass sound combined with an accordion, excellent steel guitar and the easy going vocal style of Bill Haley.A new form of music had been forming for years in many ways and the sound the Saddlmen produced was noticeably this new form of music.....Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Recordings show that the Saddlemen created pure Hillbilly like Ten Gallon Stetson but they also started adding Rhythm ‘n’ Blues to their western swing origins which produced an early form of Rock ‘n’ Roll which can be seen so clearly in recordings such as Rocket 88 laid down in 1951. A session guitarist by the name of Danny Cedrone played lead guitar on this recording and he would work with Bill and the boys a lot. Rocket 88 was originally an R&B song recorded by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats that same year. Also in 1951 bass player Al Rex left the band to be replaced by the 17 year old Marshall Lytle. Signed to the Holiday Record Company in 1951 Rocket 88 was released and in 1952 Rock The Joint was released on its sister record company Essex. These were hybrid recordings a mixture that produced Rock and Roll music.

The name of the Saddlemen no longer fitted the music this band produced. So, during Labor Day weekend 1952 the Saddlemen became the Comets. A name taken from Halley’s Comet. The magical name of Bill Haley and his Comets.

Crazy Man Crazy..

The historical name of the Comets was adopted in the fall of 52’ and the line up at this time was Bill Haley on vocals and rhythm guitar, John Grande on piano for recording but he still adding brilliantly to the sound of the band at gigs on accordion, Bill Williamson on steel guitar, Marshall Lytle on bass and very soon a drummer joined the Comets, Charlie Higher who was quickly replaced by Dick Richards.

 In 1953 Crazy Man Crazy was released and it was their first national hit and it shows how phrases used  by teenagers were being used in the Comets songs.M-a-n..that’s crazy man, crazy!  All that was needed was the addition of Gospel music and this would have been mid-fifties Rock ‘n’ Roll but the sound of this early line up of the Comets stood out loudly as a form of the Big Beat anyway. The vital sounding recording of Crazy Man Crazy hit number 20 on the Billboard charts and is said to have sold a million copies. It gained national recognition when used as the soundtrack in a CBS television series called Glory in the Flower which starred James Dean also in 1953. Superb recordings followed; Sundown Boogie, Dance With a Dolly, Rockin’ Chair On The Moon, Stop Beatin’ Round The Mulberry Bush, Real Rock Drive, What’cha Gonna Do, Pat-A-Cake, Fractured, Farewell So Long Goodbye. The band toured relentlessly and an all action stage act grew and now the Comets swayed all in time and the double bass was spun round and around as this band all stood dressed in sharp plaid tux’s but the tremendous pressure on Bill lead to him divorcing the beautiful Dorothy and quickly marrying a pretty young blond gal called Barbara Joan Cuppy.

Music is always on the move and the Comets sound and line up naturally changed.

The Comets sound was added to so much with the addition of saxophone firstly by Joey d’Ambrosio through 1954 and 1955. The great guitarist Franny Beecher began working as a session musician in 1954 and first recorded with Bill Haley on Dim Dim The Lights but it wasn’t until 1955 that Franny joined the group full time. But this story needs backing up, some! 1954.....54...

A sunny day in April of 1954 on West 80th Street in New York, the place Pythian Temple Studio and an historical record was about to be waxed. It wasn’t the first Rock ‘n’ Roll recording because that mixture had actually been forming for years but this recording was j-u-s-t right for the place and time! The musicians were right and everything was set up! Open the flood gates cos we’re gonna Rock Around The Clock! The excitement of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the feeling, the emotion and just hearing the drive and sureness of such a recording for the very first time, but it was a relatively unsuccessful record and only stayed in the charts for a week. The fact that this B side got any place at all is amazing and at the time the Comets just shrugged their shoulders and went on to record a cover of Big Joe Turners Shake Rattle and Roll which hit number 1 on the Billboard R&b charts.

 A manic infestation was about to hit the earth as Rock Around The Clock was used in the opening credits of the 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle.  This movie’s theme was the story of delinquent youths at school and a teacher called Mister Dadier attempts to engage his students in learning but there seems no hope but this was the 1950s and everything ends well. Life on this earth would never be the same again!  Teenagers across the whole, wide world rebelled into fits of riotous hooliganism! In Australia Bodgies and Widgies rebelled and in the Elephant and Castle area of London Town Teddy-Boys tore up cinema seats, outrage and delinquency! This earth shattering recording reached number 1 on the Billboard charts and Rock ‘n’ Roll, once an underground music was now the talk of everyone across the globe!

But turmoil took hold of the Comets as Joey d’Ambrosio, Dick  Richards and Marshall Lytle left the band and formed the Jodimars in 1955 but also in that same year top sax man Rudy Pompilli joined the Comets! One door shuts and another opens!

Bill Haley and His Comets are truly unforgettable and important as hell in the story of Rock ‘n’ Roll, so help me....