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Monday, November 7, 2011

Bill Haley: Scrapbook/Live In New York


1) Shake, Rattle & Roll; 2) Dance Around The Clock; 3) Rip It Up; 4) Night Train; 5) Guitar Boogie; 6) Razzle Dazzle; 7) You Are My Sunshine; 8) Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie; 9) Skinnie Minnie; 10) Johnny B Goode; 11) Kansas City; 12) Rock Around The Clock; 13) When The Saints Go Marching In; 14) Rudy's Rock; 15) Rock The Joint; 16) Fingers On Fire; 17) See You Later Alligator; 18) Wipe Out; 19) There Goes My Everything; 20) Alabama Bound; 21) Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On; 22) Rock Around The Clock.

Haley's mid- to late-1960s recordings still remain a mish-mash of hard-to-find stuff, mostly on Mexican labels or semi-important American ones that preferred to release occasional compila­tions of older stuff than take any new sessions from Bill — understandably so, because even the new sessions would mostly consist of re-recordings of the old stuff.

Consequently, I do not think that we are missing much if there still has not been made a meticu­lous attempt to scoop all the results of those sessions in one comprehensive package. By 1965-66, the Comets were a fixed «oldies act» – in fact, they could have easily become one three years ear­lier, if not for Bill's brilliant decision to occupy the vacant throne of the Mexican King of Twist ­– and the only thing that could have rejuvenated that act would be to get Jimmy Page to play lead guitar in the band. Instead, they settled on a Nick Masters, who was okay, but lacked the fresh­ness of Franny Beecher anyway.

One well-illustrative slice of this late-period version of the Comets can be scraped off of the al­ready mentioned 6-CD Bear Family set — a full recording of the band's live performance in 1969 at the Bitter End in New York, following up on the heels of their performance at MSG, organized by promoter Richard Nader as part of his «Rock'n'Roll Revival» program. Part of the show was originally released in 1970 (on the Kama Sutra label, I believe) as Bill Haley's Scrapbook; other parts were subsequently released under various titles, including Live In New York in the early 1980s, but, as far as I can tell, this CD edition is the first one to properly arrange and reproduce the entire show, including announcements, stage banter, and an encore performance of 'Rock Around The Clock', done twice over the course of the show.

It's a fairly decent and enjoyable concert – even if most of Haley's banter is of a decidedly nostal­gic character, so much so that you can easily sense the genuine sadness behind the invoked chee­riness: even though Haley himself was only 44 at the time, it is clear that the people in the audi­ence were looking at the man as a curious relic, and the eight-minute standing ovation, described in the liner notes, that he was «honored with» at the MSG show, only proves that – whoever heard of an eight-minute standing ovation for Jimi Hendrix, for instance?

Nevertheless, the performances themselves are anything but nostalgic. There is no attempt to re­create any «genuine Fifties atmosphere»: the sound is full, the amplification quite modern, the guitar tones thick and solid. The setlist is not solely composed of golden Haley classics (although most of the major hits are played), but intersperses them with a good helping of classics by other early rock masters ('Johnny B Goode', 'Kansas City', 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On', all wisely sung by Nick Masters because the style is unsuitable for Haley's voice); a few excursions in good old country-western; and some solo showcases for individual band members – including a brief, economic drum solo on 'Wipe Out', Masters' flashy jazz guitar runs on 'Fingers On Fire', and, of course, 'Rudy's Rock' – Rudy Pompilli, at the time, was the only original Comet besides Bill him­self, and accordingly gets the second biggest applause from all present.

Although there are no particular standouts here, and no real reason for anybody (except for really kind-hearted people) to hunt for this performance, it is still a thumbs up. The «Rock'n'Roll Revi­val» franchise itself was an event of some historical significance – one of the first intentional at­tempts to somehow «enshrine» the living history of rock'n'roll – and Haley managed to supply just the right vibe for it: nostalgic, slightly elegiac, but dignified and entertaining enough to show the somewhat illiterate youngsters that the forefathers of rock'n'roll did not earn their bread, and their accolades, for nothing.

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