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Monday, October 31, 2011

Bill Haley: Rock-A-Round The Clock King


1) See You Later Alligator; 2) ABC Boogie; 3) Panic; 4) I've Got News For Hugh; 5) Don't Mess Around; 6) The Wobble; 7) This Is Goodbye, Goodbye; 8) Train Of Sin; 9) Altar Of Love; 10) Helena; 11*) Yakety Sax.

Okay... apparently, in 1964 Haley's career still mostly revolved around Mexico and the Orfeon la­bel, for which he was churning out new records faster than the Mexican government could im­port vinyl. Some of them might be good, too, judging by the high quality of the Round Table album; however, these days it is easier to have access to this lonely session that Bill and the boys cut in January '64 (in Las Vegas?) for the US Guest Star record label.

With Johnny Kay on lead guitar and the rest of the band still sweating it out like they did in the old days, this ten-song record, extracted from the depths of the large Bear Family 5-CD set (and I am taking the liberty of augmenting it with an enthusiastic run through 'Yakety Sax', taken from the same session), shows that, yes indeed, in 1964 the Comets still sounded swell, even if they were utterly and hopelessly irrelevant. Not entirely behind the times, though: the production is fuller and richer than usual, and Kay was clearly a guitar player of the next generation, not as in­ventive or aggressive as Beecher, but in full control of new, fuller tones. Listen to the solo on 'See You Later, Alligator': it is not as sharp as the original, but it is definitely power-poppier. That there guitar is just smiling at you, with a rich, juicy tone.

The record is not all just re-recordings of older standards, either: after the couple of obligatory opening «reminders» of why we were all into Haley in the first place, the band goes on to play various dance numbers that may have all been minor hits in their day, but most of which I do not recognize at all. That is not the problem, though; the problem is, the album is way too slow — too many mid-tempo shuffles, not enough boogie. (Odd enough, one of the most boogie-oriented num­bers here is the gospel-tinged 'Train Of Sin'!).

Decent listen, but no, no lost gems here or anything. And as for 'Yakety Sax', well, they really shouldn't have covered it — apparently, not every sax player can play the yakety-sax, and Rudy Pompilli, well, he's one of the best, but on this version at least, he does not give it his best, and any performance of 'Yakety Sax' that is not absolutely top-yakety will sound just stupid. The same applies to most of the other songs here. Still, Johnny Kay was a decent guitarist, and fans of early Sixties electric pop guitar might need to look into this.

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