Thursday, August 6, 2015

Act 2 - Episode 2 - Rock and Roll Turns Ten

Image result for Bill Haley and the Comets 1955
The Long Cool Summer of '65 – Act 2 Episode 2

Rock and Roll Turns Ten

Bill Haley and the Comets - Dick Richards Bocelli on Drums, Joey Ambrose on Sax 

It's hard to say where the idea came from at first, probably the radio ad exec Dave Herman over at WMGM FM in nearby Northfield, the sister station to WOND the AM station that featured the Budweiser Beachcomber Show and Michael Sherman the news man.

Somebody realized that rock and roll would turn ten years old that summer of '65, and that the first decade of the revolutionary music should be celebrated – memorialized with a party, even though there was a party going on every night of the week to celebrate something – Monday was Talent Nite – the open mic Karaoke of its day, while Tuesday was Twist Night (later Taco Tuesday at Gregory's), Wednesday was Kamikaze night at the Anchorage, and Thursday night was Limbo Night at Tony Marts.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of - the first rock and roll song to make Number One on the Pop Charts - Bill Haley's “Rock Around the Clock,” Tony booked Bill Haley and the Comets for a one night stand.

Tony knew Haley for over a decade, from the early 1950s when Haley came to Tony Marts with his band the Saddlemen, playing what they called Country Western and Western Swing music that was all over the AM radio dial.

Tony gave them a Monday night audition, listened to them play a set, didn't give them the hook or pull the plug, but quietly gagged the audience reaction, and politely declined to book them, advising Bill to try Wildwood, Cow Town or Tennessee, where they might be better appreciated.

Then Haley came back in 1954 with a new sound and a different band – the Comets, one that blended the Country Western Sound with Race Music Soul.. Black bands like Joe Turner were playing rock and roll at the Kentucky Avenue clubs in Atlantic City for years now, but they called it “race music,” and Haley tried to blend that sound into a package that he could sell to middle class white people, his target audience.

Haley and his Comets played the winter of 1954 at Jack's Twin Bar in Gloucester City, NJ on the Delaware river, in the shadow of the Walt Whitman bridge, and that summer he came back to Somers Point and played Tony Marts, opening his act saying: “All you Hillbillies can go home now cause we're gonna play a little cowboy-jive, so cut loose and let the Cool Cats in, cause we're gonna rock this joint tonight!”

And that they did, bringing the word rock into the musical vocabulary, and playing songs like “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Rock Around the Clock,” though it just didn't catch on, at least right away.

To show you how the movies are tied to the music, “Rock Around the Clock” is a good example, as Bill Haley and the Comets recorded and released the song as a single 45 rpm that year, but after a spate of slow sales, it dropped off the chart and was pretty much forgotten, except by the teenage son of Hollywood movie star Glenn Ford, who was picked to play the lead role as a teacher in the Blackboard Jungle, a film about the so-called “youth rebellion.”

While the director of the movie visited Ford at his Hollywood home to go over the script, his son played the song over and over on his little turntable in his bedroom, and got the director's attention. Borrowing the record, he made “Rock Around the Clock” a part of the soundtrack as the opening lead song into the movie's credits, and when the movie was released in the theaters around the country, including the Strand on the Ocean City boardwalk, and the song quickly ran up the pop charts to become the first rock and roll song to make Number One, and it stayed there for the entire eight weeks of the summer of '55.

Image result for Blackboard jungle

Bill Haley and the Comets were playing the Hoffbrau in Wildwood at the time, not anticipating what was to happen, but suddenly they were a national sensation, and were no longer a nightclub act, but were being booked into larger concert halls, the first being the Ocean City Convention Hall, a large tin building at Sixth Street off the boardwalk. They then went on the Dick Clark and Ed Sullivan TV shows.

But it was while Haley was being interviewed by Cleveland DJ Donald Freed when the term “rock and roll” was first coined, and why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, even though Bill Haley and many of the early rock and roll bands came out of the Jersey Shore musical milieu, where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really belongs – where the music was made.

By 1965 however, the kids who made “Rock Around the Clock” a hit were now ten years down the road, and were among the “older crowd” who patronized Steel's Ship Bar, DiOrios, Your Father's Mustache and Somers Point's five 5-star restaurants – the Crab Trap, Macs, Harry's Inn, Daniels and Chi Chi's, and fell out of place with the college kids and hippies who took over Bay Shores and now dominated Tony Marts.

With Bill Haley and the Comets booked for a one night stand at Tony Marts, the manager next door at Steels Ship bar – at the suggestion of Mike Pedicin, Sr., booked the JoDiMars, who were later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the Original Comets, but were relatively unknown at the time.

Bill Haley had a big ego and his manager had a bigger one, made evident after their sudden success when they hit the Big Time and with the flush of money that came in, bought identical pink Cadillac convertibles for themselves, while giving each of the band members a fifty dollar a week raise.

“Fifty Bucks!?” Was their first reaction, and quitting the band was their second, and rather than negotiate with them Haley let them go and replaced them with some scab garage band of kids just out of school.

So Joey Ambrose the sax man, Dick Richards Boccelli – who lived in Ocean City, and stand up bass player Marshall Lytel formed a new band – the JoDiMars, taking the first few letters of their names, and they got a few gigs in Somers Point and then found some success in Vegas, but made their mark in Europe where the German and British fans recognized them as the original Comets. One British fan took their song, “Now Dig This” as the name of his music magazine – the Rolling Stone of UK, while a young, up and coming band out of Liverpool covered their song “Clarabella” in their first early sets.

But the JoDiMars stayed pretty much off the radar in America, until they went head to head with Bill Haley and the Comets on Bay Avenue in Somers Point in the summer of '65.

So with Haley and the Comets coming into Tony Marts for Rock and Roll's Tenth Anniversary, and the JoDiMars Original Comets playing next door at Steels Ship Bar, Bay Shores just had to get into the act so Tito Mambo decided to change the name of his band from the Upsetters to the Messiahs of Soul, exclaiming to everyone he met that “I'm here to save rock and roll!”

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, who at the time had the Number One hit song in the nation in “Wooly Bully,” were playing the Steel Pier that week, and while their contract prevented them from appearing anywhere else in the area before they played the Pier, when they were done that night they were hired to make an appearance at Bay Shores – in full Pharaoh regalia – with Tido Mambo and the Messiahs of Soul, - making for an unforgettable collision of musical theater and the absurd.

When a local radio ad man, Dave Herman, heard about Haley and the Comets playing next door to the JoDiMars, and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs colliding with the Tito the Messiah of Soul – he took over the FM side of the two sister radio stations, which was run out of the second floor room of a house on Shore Road in Northfield, in a small room next to the busy AM station where all the money was made.

WMGM FM had an elevator music format that would put you to sleep and sometimes played Schmaltz music on weekends, and Herman sold ads on a commission basis, so he didn't make a lot of money, and he had failed to convince the station owner and program manager to let him change the FM format to feature the rock and roll music on the stereo station, but they refused. But since they were both on a deep sea fishing trip to the canyon that weekend, and out of communication with the station, Herman took over. The FM station didn't even have a DJ, but repeatedly played the same reel to reel tapes over and over again. So Herman made up his own tape – one with “Rock Around the Clock” and “Wooly Bully” playing over and over again, and and turned it on and locked the door as he left. It was unnecessary to lock the door since no one actually listened to the elevator music and nobody complained about the same two songs being played over and over, at least not until the entire weekend was out. And Herman didn't get fired until the following Monday morning when the owner and station manager returned and found out what happened.

With Bill Haley and the Comets and the JoDiMars briefly taking the Somers Point spot light's focus off of Conway Twitty and Levon and the Hawks, the Bay Shores acts stole some of the college crowd, the hippies and the publicity by promoting their own “Rock and Roll Around the Clock,” beginning at Bay Shores at 8pm and then moving the show at 2am to the Dunes, where they would keep the music going until 8am – playing solid rock and roll for a continuous twelve hours - around the clock, which is what they did every night all summer anyway.

And when they came out of the Dunes at 8 am that morning, the bright sun light rising over Margate made them squint from the garish sun, as they retreated to the Ocean City as the beaches were now open and they could sleep for a few hours before taking a dip in the breakers and then going to work
and repeat the Ground Hog Day as just another day in the best summer they ever had, before or since.

routine, that was the best summ\

Image result for Bill Haley and the Comets 1955

This poster of the Comets is hanging on the wall at the back door of the Historic World Famous Anchorage Tavern in Somers Point, NJ, autographed by the Comets from when they were there after performing a reunion concert at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, NJ.

Tomorrow - Look for Act 2 - Episode 2 - Still a work in progress 

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