Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly get all of the accolades, but Bill Haley certainly was one of the major gents that put “rock and roll” on the map. Haley was around before most of these guys, and as this 2 disc set indicates, was a major foundation for mixing R&B with country and swing to create the style of music that is still on everyone’s iphone. This collection of A and B sides shows his early days, rise to fame and his riding of the tsunami that took place during that seismic cultural change from Ike to JFK
He’s most known for his mega hit “Rock Around the Clock” and for appearing in the “first Rock and Roll movie” Blackboard Jungle (which still resonates today). His earliest material is vintage Western Swing, and he could easily sit in with Vince Gill on material such as “Sweet Little Girl From Nevada.” He gets a bit more into the R&B scene with “Rocket 88” and starts honing his skills for the then-untapped resource of teenage listeners with the catchy RATC prototype “Rock the Joint” although the band is still called the Saddlemen at this juncture. The guitar, piano and slide guitar solos at this juncture are a sublime mix of Western and Kansas City toe tapping bliss.
Finally leading his Comets, he gooses up swing pieces like “Chatanooga Choo Choo” before hitting gold on “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” with the classic guitar solo by Franny Becher and relentless tenor sax riff provided by Joey Ambrose. From there, you get polished material akin to vintage Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner with “Shake, Rattle and Roll” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” “Corrina Corrina” “Caldonia” and “See You Later, Alligator” arguably Haley’s best and most rocking piece. What stands out most in retrospect is that this band knew how to swing, and swing hard, making “black” R&B accessible to adolescent white ears, and the combination worked like peanut butter and jelly. Even though he was considered a “has been” by the last recordings, the material here shows that the problem was with the audience and not the artist, as Haley delivers some pulsating instrumentals that in retrospect are ahead of their time. Today’s artists and listeners have a lot to learn from this man, and the music (with excellent liner notes) has much to offer the current generation that forgot how to play music to make people want to get up and dance, or at least tap their feet.