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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Rockin' The Room!

Side 1:
01. Ha Ha Ha Blues - Jimmy Cavallo And His House Rockers
02. Little Rock Special - Pat The Cat And His Kittens
03. Yes, Indeed! - Bill Haley And Haley's Comets
04. Poison Ivy - Boyd Bennett And His Rockets
05. My Baby Loves Me - Charlie Gracie And The Wildcats
06. Hound Dog - Freddie Bell And The Bellboys
07. Shake A Hand - The Mike Pedicin Quintet
08. Boogie At Midnight - Boyd Bennett And His Rockets

Side 2:
01. Wildwood Boogie - Charlie Gracie And The Wildcats
02. Ooh Baby Ooh - Dave Appell And The Applejacks
03. Dim Dim The Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere) - Bill Haley And His Comets
04. Move Me Baby - Freddie Bell And The Bellboys
05. Disc Jockey's Boogie - The Mike Pedicin Quintet
06. Head Home Honey - Charlie Gracie And The Wildcats
07. The Most - Boyd Bennett And His Rockets
08. Giddy Up A Ding Dong - Freddie Bell And The Bellboys

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In recent posts I mentioned in passing that The Treniers were an acknowledged influence on early rock and roll bands who played a style of music which Charlie Gillett in his ground breaking book "The Sound Of The City " labelled "northern band rock 'n' roll." The sax driven bands which played this music mostly hailed from the Philadelphia area, but we start off our home made comp of this early form of rock 'n' roll with two bands whose roots lay further north, in upstate New York.

Jimmy Cavallo was featured in a previous post, "Rock The Joint" in which I looked at the development of early rock 'n' roll from rockin' R&B via the history of the song "Rock The Joint" which was originally recorded by the jump band of Jimmy Preston in Philadelphia in 1949. A Philadelphia based cowboy band, Bill Haley and The Saddlemen, recorded a countrified version in 1952, but the honour of being the first white artist to cover Preston's wild recording probably goes to Jimmy Cavallo who had been playing R&B in the clubs and dance halls of the North Carolina beach resorts in 1948 and 1949. A move back to his hometown of Syracuse, New York State, and subsequent gigs at the Oneida Lake resort of Sylvan Beach saw his brand of R&B gain an enthusiastic new audience and the chance to record for the tiny BSD label of Auburn, NY in 1951 or thereabouts, the precise dates of his recordings being somewhat in doubt.

Our comp features his first record for BSD, "Ha Ha Ha Blues," an adaptation of "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" which was the B Side of an Atlantic disc by Joe Morris, "Jump Everybody Jump." The Morris record was released in March 1951, so a date sometime later in the same year for the Cavallo version is perfectly feasible.

Another upstate New York group to feature on BSD was Pat The Cat and His Kittens. Tenor saxman Pat "The Cat" Monforte and his drummer brother Tony came from Binghampton, NY. Again, the precise year of his recording of "Little Rock Special" is in doubt. Tony Monforte posited 1952, but some websites give the year as late as 1956. Whatever the reality, it's a rousing piece of rock'n'roll with a vocal by Vic Fontaine. Apologies for the sound quality on this track which I ripped from a bootleg LP.

Most of the remaining acts on this comp are Philadelphia bands, with the exception of Southerner Boyd Bennett. Of course the best known band is that of Bill Haley, about whom there have been several posts on the blog. "Destination Rock and Roll" (and here) traces the development of his sound from country to R&B and rock and roll through his recordings for small Philadelphia labels Holiday and Essex from 1951 to 1953. For this comp I've chosen an Essex recording from 1953, "Yes, Indeed!" which remained unreleased until 1957 when it was used as the B Side of a London UK issue of "Rock The Joint." I've also added a Decca recording from September 1954, "Dim Dim The Lights" which hasn't featured on any of the previous Bill Haley posts.

Freddie Bell And The Bellboys had the rather surreal distinction of failing to chart in the U.S. while reaching number 4 in the British top ten with "Giddy Up A Ding Dong" in September 1956. Freddie and the boys (reinforced by Mickey "Guitar" Baker) had recorded the track for Mercury in New York City in February 1956. Almost exactly a year before that The Bellboys recorded some sides in their hometown of Philadelphia for the small Teen label. Among the sides were covers of Ruth Brown's "5-10-15 Hours" and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog." In April 1956 Elvis saw The Bellboys performing the latter number in Vegas and borrowed their arrangement for his own hit version.

In the early 1950s Philadelphia's top R&B independent label was Gotham. Mike Pedicin and Charlie Gracie both recorded for the Gotham subsidiary 20th Century. Native Philadelphian Charlie Gracie was a blues influenced guitarist and singer who recorded some sides for the NYC based Cadillac label in the early 1950s, including a track called "Rockin' and Rollin'." In 1955 he recorded 2 singles for 20th Century - "My Baby Loves Me" / "Head Home Honey" and "Honey Honey" / "Wildwood Boogie." Charlie went on to greater popularity on the Cameo label in 1957 with "Butterfly" and "Fabulous." Both of these discs were also hits in the UK along with "I Love You So Much It Hurts," "Wanderin' Eyes" and "Cool Baby."

"Wildwood Boogie" was a tribute to the New Jersey resort which hosted many Philly holidaymakers and where many of the bands on this comp had regular seasonal residencies. When saxman Mike Pedicin covered Fay Adam's R&B hit "Shake A Hand" b/w "Disc Jockey's Boogie" on 20th Century in 1954, he was already a music business veteran who had been organising small swing bands to play Philly and New Jersey venues since the early 1940s. In 1955 he signed up with major label RCA Victor for whom he recorded until 1957 but was unable to see any chart action. In 1958 his re-recording of "Shake A Hand" for Cameo did have a brush with the lower reaches of the charts (number 71) but that was that as far as the hit parade was concerned. However Mike Pedicin continued to record and feature as a live act for decades.

Dave Appell was a member of one of Mike Pedicin's early bands, playing rhythm guitar in The Four Sharpes. After leaving the Pedicin outfit he worked as a big band arranger and then formed his own group The Dave Appell Trio. The group recorded for London in 1950 and then as Dave Appell and The Applejacks for Decca in 1954. "Ooh Baby Ooh!" was recorded for the small President label in New York in August 1955. The Applejacks made it to Vegas but soon headed back to Philly where they inked a pact with Cameo for whom they produced a string of releases in 1957-59. Dave Appell moved to arranging and producing side of the business, providing backing on Cameo discs by Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell.

Boyd Bennett was a son of the South, born in Alabama and raised in Tennessee. His band was originally called The Southlanders and they started recording under that name for King in 1952. Bennett played as a drummer on some King R&B sides and started moving his band from country to a more R&B based sound at the beginning of 1955, changing the band's name to The Rockets which was more in keeping with the new rock and roll craze.

At a session in early January 1955 Boyd and his band recorded their biggest hit "Seventeen" (number 5 in July 1955) which was squarely aimed at the teenage market. Of more interest to blog followers are the R&B cover versions which Bennett recorded at the same session. I've included two of them - Willie Mabon's "Poison Ivy" and Roy Brown's "Boogie At Midnight." Also recorded at the same session but not included here was a cover of B.B. King's "You Upset Me Baby." Also on this comp is a track from an October 1955 session - "The Most" - a more mainstream rock and roll record which features a vocal by "Big Moe" Joe Muzey.

Recommended listening:

"Rare Rock'N'Roll Rampage" (Properbox 146). Jimmy Cavallo, Boyd Bennett, Freddie Bell, Eddie Fontaine, Dave Appell, The Treniers, Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones, and others. 4CD set of band rock 'n' roll, ranging from genuinely hip to kinda square.

"Have Yourself A Ball" a compilation of  rock 'n' roll sides from Gotham subsidiary 20th Century. Appeared as an LP on Krazy Kat in the UK in the 1980s and has reappeared in various guises as a CD. Mike Pedicin, Charlie Gracie, Don Haven and The Hi-Fi's, The Playboys, The Nu-Tones, Bobby Boyd's Jazz Bombers.

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