Bill Haley Jr Steam's Bill Pascali bluesman Larry McCray


Book reveals the Father of Rock n Roll had a dark side none of us knew about

Bill Haley was the man who brought rock ‘n’ roll into the mainstream, starting with “Crazy Man, Crazy” that became the first rock ‘n’ roll song to break the Billboard Top 20 in 1953. His success made him an idol not only in the US but throughout the world, from Canada to the UK, Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and beyond. Culled from interviews with insiders (from ex-wives to the Comets), recorded conversations, official documents, diaries, and more, this book not only charts the happenings of Haley’s career but gives insight into the Haley behind the curtain and some of the other trials he faced, from the dark side of the music business to ties with the Mafia.

Bill Haley Jr. is the son of rock ’n’ roll pioneer Bill Haley. His memoir chronicles how the singer became an overnight sensation with his 1954 recording “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” only to endure a turbulent life that ended with his death in 1981 at age 55 of natural causes. Haley Jr. spoke to me about why he chose to tell all, what his last conversation with the star was like, and why he’s now determined to keep his father’s musical legacy alive. Check out our zoom interview here.

Bill Haley Jr and The Comets keep Bill Haley's musical legacy alive

Bill Haley Jr admits to conflicting feelings about his father

If Blues is your thing, check out Larry McCray

If contemporary blues has a long-term future in the 21st century, it’s very likely that guitarist Larry McCray will continue to play a recurring role in its ongoing development. Beginning with this 1990 debut album, Ambition, and continuing into the new millennium, McCray has signalled both a strong commitment to the tradition and the vision to usher the genre in exciting new directions. McCray’s first influence on guitar was none other than his sister, who toured regionally around Arkansas with her own combo, the Rockets. Clara never got to record her Freddie King-styled blues for posterity — but her little brother has at least partially made up for that omission. Larry followed Clara up to Saginaw, Michigan in 1972. She turned him on to the joys of the three Kings (B.B., Freddie, and Albert), Albert Collins, and Magic Sam, and Larry added superheated rock licks (à la Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers) to his arsenal as he began playing the local circuit with his brothers Carl on bass and Steve on drums.

Working on General Motors’ assembly line occupied a great deal of Larry McCray’s time after he finished high school. But he eventually found enough free hours to put together Ambition for Point Blank in a Detroit friend’s basement studio. The stunning debut set was a convincing hybrid of blues, rock, and soul, McCray combining the interrelated idioms in sizzling fashion. Suddenly, the stocky young guitarist was touring with labelmate Albert Collins. His 1993 Point Blank encore, Delta Hurricane, was a slicker affair produced by veteran British blues maven Mike Vernon that McCray much preferred to his homemade debut. He followed Delta Hurricane with Meet Me at the Lake in 1996 and Born to Play the Blues in 1998. The bluesman has remained active in the 2000s with albums including 2001’s Believe It and Blues Is My Business, 2006’s Live on Interstate 75 (his first live outing, recorded in Detroit), and the eponymous Larry McCray in 2007.

Enjoy my chat with Larry here

Considering that they only charted one hit record and that they scarcely even existed, the background of the group Steam is amazingly complex. Their story actually begins in Bridgeport, CT, in 1960-1961, with a group called the Chateaus, who cut a handful of unsuccessful records for Coral and Warner Bros. before breaking up. Cut to the end of the 1960s: Paul Leka, their pianist, by then was a producer and songwriter, co-authoring “Falling Sugar” by the Palace Guard in 1966, producing “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers in 1968, and also producing sides by the Left Banke, and was working for Mercury Records in 1969. His former Chateaus bandmate Gary DeCarlo arranged to cut four solo sides for Mercury with Leka producing, but DeCarlo’s songs so impressed the label that it wanted to issue all four as A-sides, which meant that they needed an additional B-side in a hurry for the first single.

It happened that the night they were cutting what was supposed to be a throwaway, their fellow Chateaus member Dale Frashuer was present and he suggested they cut a song they’d performed eight years previously called “Kiss Him Goodbye,” which the three of them had written in 1961. It was Leka’s idea to put a chorus into the number, which, at the piano, in the absence of a lyric, became “na na na na, na na na na.” Then fate really took a hand when the management at Mercury Records heard the throwaway side and determined that it should be the single. The three musicians, especially DeCarlo, were outraged and they refused to put their names on the record, though they did claim the songwriting credit, which proved to be a shrewd move. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” released late in 1969, rose to number one on the charts that December and sold more than a million copies in America alone. In place of their names, the trio okayed it going out under the name Steam. Suddenly, with a number one single to its credit, however, there were demands for Steam to perform, make appearances on television, and do all the other things that were usually done by groups to support a hit record — except that there was no group. Leka put together a band, consisting of Jay Babina and Tom Zuke on guitar, Mike Daniels on bass, Hank Schorz at the keyboards, Ray Corriea on drums, and Bill Steer (no, not the same one who was in Napalm Death) handling the lead vocals. All came from Leka’s hometown of Bridgeport, CT, and toured behind the single during 1970. A self-titled Steam album was cut at Mercury and a handful of follow-up singles appeared, only one of which (“I’ve Gotta Make You Love Me”) ever charted, just missing the Top 40 in 1970.

Meanwhile, Gary DeCarlo’s preferred songs, issued credited to Garrett Scott, were all duly issued and vanished without a trace. Paul Leka went on to work with Jimmy Spheeris, Harry Chapin, Gloria Gaynor, and REO Speedwagon as a producer, and played on records by Lori Lieberman, among many others. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” never did disappear — quite the contrary, it rode the charts for a big chunk of 1970 and then got put into every and any hits anthology that Mercury could release or license, and was quickly accepted as into oldies collections (it qualified as a ’60s hit, after all, and offended no one). The song lingered as a favorite of both decades’ popular music activities, and then, in the 1980s, became a hit all over again in the hands of megastar British girl group Bananarama, who also featured it on their Top Ten LP Deep Sea Skiving. According to performing rights organization BMI, the song is in the elite company of pop/rock compositions that have had at least three million airings on radio. The song has also been the (ex officio) anthem for the Chicago White Sox and is one of those ’70s hits that listeners never seem to tire of.

The Ghost of Rock n Roll - my interview with Steam lead singer, Bill Pascali

This week at the movies - TRUE THINGS- highly recommend!

British psychological thriller, “True things” manages to weave a compelling narrative through British working-class life and deliver a refreshing take on age-old themes. Set in an unnamed and dull seaside town, Kate, played masterfully by Ruth Wilson is bored and trapped at the prospect of her life and future. Those around her including her parents and friends have reconciled the mundane reality they’ve been assigned yet Kate is miserable and searching for more.

Enter, Blond, played by Tom Burke, a cheeky bad-boy with some swagger and an endearing rogue charm and Kate thinks she might just have found her man and the answer to her existential angst. The pair share sex but little chemistry and Blond turns out to be classically vainglorious and self-seeking. He treats Kate poorly and her self-esteem crisis deepens, what would usually be portrayed as romance turns out to be an emotional dead end.

Kate hits rock bottom before finding herself, she manages to continue to reject the banal aspirations of those around her, stand up to Blond and develop some inner strength while asserting her independence. Her narrative arc is predictable but thanks to some good acting, believable and engaging. Her struggle is intense and absorbing, it is also, at least at some level, universal.

“True Things” is based on the acclaimed 2011 novel, “True Things about me” by Kay Davies. The hero is woman who comes to reject the act of finding a man as her way to salvation.  We learn that you have to find yourself inside yourself and not in others or outside things. It’s a strong message and given the feminist zeitgeist, likely to find strong support. We’re likely to see a many more movies along this theme in the next few years

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