For this Comet, the rockin’ clock just doesn’t stop as Johnny Kay, lead guitarist for Bill Haley & The Comets, has just released a new CD of brand new songs in the great style of the 50s and 60s... "The Rite Mix".
“Rock ‘n Roll is still with the today, grander and more varied than ever,” said Johnny Kay. “I remember 1953 when there was no such thing. Then in 1954, I heard ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ by Bill Haley & The Comets. What’s that sound I asked myself? That’s when I decided to learn guitar and I’m still rockin’ today!”
At the age of 14, Kay took up the guitar and by 16 formed a band call “The Sensational Youngsters”. They played in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware where they would sneak in some of that new rock ‘n roll to the delight of teens and dismay of parents. In 1959 the band 's manager changed the name to “Johnny Kay’s Rockets” and opportunity came knocking.
“I got a call from a man claiming to be Bob Hayes, manger of Bill Haley,” remembers Kay. “Hayes said Haley wanted to catch our group. I didn’t think it would happen but it did at the VFW post on a Saturday evening. However, when Haley left after only two numbers I thought that was the end. It was only the beginning. In May of 1960 I auditioned and by the age of 20, I was playing guitar with Bill Haley & The Comets and traveling the world. It must have been fate!"
Today this rocker is still rockin’ with a new CD called, "THE RITE MIX"- in the great style of early rock. His 1st CD "Songs from the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll' was just entered into the GRAMMIES for best new artist & CD.
An anthology of Johnny Kay's work as a Comet called "Tale of a Comet", on Hydra Records has broken the top 20 chart as reported by "NOW DIG THIS" magazine in England.
You can view the 1972 London Rock 'N' Roll Concert performance with Bill Haley & the Comets on U-Tube.
Johnny Kay - Vocals, Bass, Guitar, Synth
Stan Kay - Drums, Percussion & Vocals
Joe Mauro - Bass, Guitar & Vocals
"The Rite Mix" RELEASED 10/4/10
"Songs From The Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll"
On - itunes, Amazon, Napster, CD Baby, RadioIndy
"Tale of a Comet" Hydra Records Germany
Made the top 20 sales list in "Now Dig This Magazine" ENGLAND (2/2010)
Johnny Kay's Anthology CD Makes Top 20 Sales in England
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Johnny Kay's Hydra CD "Tale of a Comet" made the TOP 20 in CD sales in Great Britain according to th...Johnny Kay's Hydra CD "Tale of a Comet" made the TOP 20 in CD sales in Great Britain according to the the "BIM BAM" Top 20" list. This was in the latest edition of Now Dig This Magazine.
Rock’s roots? Begin with Chester
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There’s no question in Johnny Kay’s mind where rock ’n’ roll really began. “I’ve heard people saying...There’s no question in Johnny Kay’s mind where rock ’n’ roll really began. “I’ve heard people saying Elvis Presley started rock ’n’ roll, that the Beatles started rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
“Chuck Berry and Little Richard said for years that they started it. But I’m tired of everyone rewriting history.”
(See Slide show and a listen to Johnny Kay's 'Too Muich Rock 'n' Roll in 'Em Bones' at the end of the story)
Where it began, Kay said, was right here in Delaware County, in a little city called Chester.
“This is the place rock ’n’ roll started,” he said. “This is where rock ’n’ roll went worldwide. And this is the area that’s being overlooked.”
And that’s why Kay titled his latest album “Songs from the Cradle of Rock ’N’ Roll: Chester, PA.” The album, on which Kay sings and plays lead guitar for his band JK Rockets, was released this month.
Kay, the former lead guitarist for the Chester-based band Bill Haley and the Comets, said that it was one of Haley’s signature songs, “Rock-A Beatin’ Boogie,” that first used the term “rock ’n’ roll,” making the city the birthplace of the term.
“Bill Haley and the Comets — we were all local Chester guys,” he said. “That’s why Chester is the cradle of rock ’n’ roll.”
As a tribute to the city’s signature sound, Kay and the JK Rockets — which includes fellow Chester natives Bill Rapp on rhythm guitar and Stan Kay on drums — have recorded 12 songs in styles ranging from rockabilly to Chicago-style blues to what Kay calls “folksy country.”
“For each song, what we did was try to take elements from the kind of music we liked in the ’50s and ’60s and give it a modern flair,” Kay said.
The title song, Kay said, is inevitably the favorite of everyone who listens to the album. Other fan favorites include the ballad “Brand New Me” and the Johnny Cash-esque “Good Good Thing.”
Kay’s personal favorites are the songs that closely mirror his own experiences as a longtime musician.
“My favorite, ‘Too Much Rock ’N’ Roll in ’Em Bones,’ is about a guy who just feels too good because he’s full of rock ’n’ roll,” Kay said. “And ‘Never 2 Late 2 Rock,’ which was going to be the title of the album until we recorded ‘Cradle,’ is about coming full circle, the way I went from being a rock ’n’ roller to a businessman and back to a rock ’n’ roller. When I was younger, I thought I’d be done with rock ’n’ roll by the time I was 40, but look at all the older guys that are still playing – the Eagles, Aerosmith. They’re still drawing great clouds, so maybe you are never too old to rock.”
Kay’s own career started in his teens, when he formed a band that eventually became known as Johnny Kay and the Rockets.
“One night, we were playing at the VFW post in West Chester, and Bill Haley’s manager came in to listen to us,” he said. “The next Saturday, I got a phone call asking if I’d like to audition for the Comets. I thought it was a joke, and even when I went to Bill Haley’s office in Chester, I thought one of my friends was going to be there to say ‘Gotcha!’”
The call was true, though, and after playing “Johnny B. Goode” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” for Haley, he was asked to learn the guitar solo for “Rock Around the Clock” by the end of the next week.
Kay spent the next eight years playing lead guitar for Bill Haley and the Comets, traveling around the world as a member of the band.
After leaving the Comets, Kay opened a video production business, which he operated for 30 years before selling it last year.
Two years ago, Bill Rapp, who had moved to Montana, came back to the area for a visit — and made a fateful phone call to Kay.
“Bill had always been a very talented songwriter, and I said to him, ‘Why don’t you write a few songs, and we’ll have fun singing them?’” Kay said. “Then, my brother (Stan) got involved and said, ‘Why don’t we record them?’ He set us up in his studio in Glen Mills, and for two years, we worked on putting together an album, with Bill recording in Montana and digitally sending us his recordings, and Stan and me working in his studio.”
The album was released last month, and is available through the JK Rockets Web site, www.jkrockets.com. It will also be available on iTunes later this month.
“We’ve been getting great reactions from all over the country, and it’s even getting some interest in Europe,” Kay said.
And, though he was hesitant to talk about his time with the Comets for many years, Kay said the album’s had the added benefit of helping him re-live the good times.
“For a long time, I thought that part of my life was over, but then one day you realize that music is in your soul, and you can never shake it. You’ve got to have that music fix all the time. You’ve got to play.”
For Kay, that also means playing where it all began.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time in the right city. I think that’s why this album is happening now — so that we could come full circle.”
For more information on JK Rockets, or to hear a preview of “Songs from the Cradle of Rock ’N’ Roll,” visit www.jkrockets.com.
Wilmington's Johnny Kay on his days with Bill Haley...and The Beatles...and Mick Jagger
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Wilmington's Johnny Kay on his days with Bill Haley...and The Beatles...and Mick Jagger Above: Joh...Wilmington's Johnny Kay on his days with Bill Haley...and The Beatles...and Mick Jagger
Above: Johnny Kay in the music room of his home near Wilmington.
When it comes to the early days of rock 'n' roll, Wilmington's Johnny Kay had a birds-eye view as a member of Bill Haley's backing band, the Comets.
He was there in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962, meeting with The Beatles after their show in front of a crowd of screaming girls, even getting a preview of their unreleased single "Love Me Do."
He was there in England in 1966, when the elevator he was riding with Bill Haley and Little Richard got stuck between floors. He watched as Richard dropped to the floor crying, "Oh Lord, we're gonna die!," and laughed along with Haley at Richard's overreaction.
And he was there in 1972, backstage at Wembley Stadium, in London, talking to the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger. After watching a show featuring aging early rock stars, Jagger told him, "I'll never tour when I'm 50." (At 65, Jagger still tours with The Rolling Stones and shows no sign of stopping.)
Being a member of one of the most important groups in rock history has its privileges.
For a dozen years, Kay, now 68, traveled the world with Haley, nicknamed the Godfather of Rock 'n' Roll for his role in kick-starting the rock era with "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955.
Nearly 50 years after joining the Comets, Kay has just released a new album as a member of JK Rockets, "Songs From the Cradle of Rock 'n' Roll," returning to his roots of early rock mixed with blues, country and swing.
The album, available on iTunes and Amazon, has led Kay to reflect on his younger days, starting at a time when rock music didn't even exist, to being side by side with one of its originators and performing on national television shows like "American Bandstand" and "The Mike Douglas Show."
A fateful performance
Kay decided to pick up a guitar for the first time at the age of 14, when, while laid up with bronchitis, he heard Haley singing "Rock the Joint" on a local radio station.
"I learned on my own, and two years later I had my own band and we were gigging in the area, playing six nights a week while still going to high school," he says. "At one of the jobs we played in Chester, Haley's manager came in and saw me play just when Haley's guitar player Franny Beecher was leaving."
After the show, the manager called Kay, and soon Kay was performing "Rock Around the Clock" in front of Haley, his rock idol, and got the job at the age of 19.
He immediately went on the road with the band in 1960, sticking with the band until 1968 and returning on and off through 1972.
Above: Johnny Kay (center) performing with Bill Haley (right) and the Comets.
Haley, who died in 1981 at 55, grew up in Booth's Corner, Pa., and began performing in the Brandywine Valley area with plenty of early rock shows held right here in Delaware.
"This area is where it started and that's kind of been forgotten," Kay says. "This area actually is the cradle of rock 'n' roll. It was right there in Chester, Pa. This is where it started and it doesn't get enough credit.
"The music was formed here. It was tested here. It was experimented with here. And it was perfected here."
In addition to the iconic "Rock Around the Clock," Haley and his Comets scored big hits with songs like "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and "See You Later, Alligator."
Over time, Haley -- his song "Crazy Man, Crazy" was the first rock song on the Billboard charts in 1953 -- has been somewhat forgotten, overshadowed by splashier performers from the early rock era, like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley and Little Richard.
"Bill was the guy who made rock 'n' roll famous with 'Rock Around the Clock.' He is acknowledged more in Europe than here as being the creator," Kay says. "I was watching a series on MTV about rock and they left Bill out. I got kind of p.o.'d. They started with Elvis Presley. So Elvis created rock? Bill was playing rock three years before Elvis. Then I heard another person say The Beatles started rock 'n' roll. There is some revision of history going on."
Unlike The Beatles, Haley and the Comets didn't have girls throwing themselves at them.
"Bill didn't have the sex appeal. It was more the music. People came for the music. There were very little drugs in those days and no one in the band really drank. We were kind of the oddballs," says Kay, who, with Haley, toured overseas with acts like Manfred Mann and The Dave Clark Five and sat in with legends like Bo Diddley and Big Joe Turner.
"[The Beatles] had any woman they wanted. They brought them backstage. There were some nice women back there."
Speaking of The Beatles, Kay distinctly remembers hearing "Love Me Do" for the first time, with George Harrison playing it on a turntable backstage at the Star Club in Hamburg in 1962.
"He asked, 'What do you think,' and I said, 'That's good,'" says Kay, who still has a super-sized photo with the faded autographs of all four Beatles from a 1964 meeting. "He then gave [the single] to Bill and Bill liked it. So he brought it back to [the] Decca [music label] and played it for Bill's producer, Milt Gabler. I was there, and Gabler said, 'They sound like The Everly Brothers. They'll never make it.' Those were his exact words. Decca could have had The Beatles."
Above: Johnny Kay's autographed poster of The Beatles given to him by the group in 1964 in Manchester, England. The signatures have faded, but if you click on the photo, you can see them better.
Like The Beatles, many of those break-out English rock bands would come to see Haley play, and their infatuation with early American rock was evident.
"They would ask all sorts of questions: 'What was it like before rock 'n' roll? What were your influences? Did you ever see Joe Turner play?'" Kay remembers.
There was more of that kind of talk with The Rolling Stones' Jagger in 1972 at the Wembley Stadium rock revival show called "London Rock and Roll Show" -- a night of music with Haley, Berry, Richard, Diddley and others, which was filmed and later released as a concert film. It was directed by Peter Clifton, who had previously directed the Led Zeppelin concert film, "The Song Remains the Same."
It was the first concert put on at the stadium. And from Kay's perspective in front of a towering stack of Marshall amplifiers, that wasn't a surprise to him.
"I played the fist note and I thought my teeth were going to blow out," he says, laughing. "It was so loud. I could only hear me. I watched the drummer's backbeat and Bill's lips to be in time."
After ending his time with Haley in 1972, Kay returned home and continued to teach guitar and began performing with Wilmington saxophonist Al Santoro, who has been playing in the area for more than 50 years. (You can see Santoro and Kay perform at the Hideaway Lounge in Brandywine Hundred at 8 p.m. Friday.)
Santoro has performed with the understated Kay for 37 years and says he usually has to drag stories out of Kay about his days on tour with Haley.
"He's a very nonchalant guy," Santoro says. "He doesn't like to boast about anything."
On the new album, Kay is teamed up with his drummer brother, Stan, and old friend and songwriter Bill Rapp. The album, with rollicking highlights like "Sudden Soul Full of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Cradle of Ol' Rock 'n' Roll," coincides with a Europe-only anthology of Kay's career, "A Tale of a Comet," due later this spring, covering his time the Comets, his previous band, Johnny Kay's Rockets, and his latest songs. The album will include album cuts, demos and live recordings.
Looking back, Kay is in awe of the position he was in at such a young age, watching the emergence and evolution of rock 'n' roll.
"Not many people got a chance to be part of that experience," he says. "I'm grateful for it. I was in the right place at the right time. And I got to see the birth of something and not many people can say that."
Things we like
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Songs from the Cradle of Rock ’n’ Roll JK Rockets (SCJ Corp.) Inspired by his illustrious past as...Songs from the Cradle of Rock ’n’ Roll
JK Rockets (SCJ Corp.)
Inspired by his illustrious past as the lead guitarist for rock ’n’ roll pioneer Bill Haley and the Comets, Chester County’s Johnny Kay sat down with fellow “Rockets” Bill Rapp and Stan Kay last November to rekindle those glory days. Fun, lively and full of heart, Songs from the Cradle of Rock ’n’ Roll is a worthy blast from the past.
Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll
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"Songs From the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll" by the trio known as Jk Rockets takes listeners on a euphor..."Songs From the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll" by the trio known as Jk Rockets takes listeners on a euphoric trip back to the classic era of rockabilly. The flagships of this CD - superior instrumentation, authentic vocal performances, and top-notch production - meld to create a collection that is nostalgically irresistible and delightfully energetic. The light-hearted and groovy "Text Me Baby" highlights the highly refined musicianship and cleverly composed lyrics displayed on this record. "Brand New Me" slows down the pace a bit, seducing listeners with a contagious blues vibe. Furthermore, the anthem like "Never 2 Late 2 Rock" reinforces the theme of this work, while delivering a powerhouse rock performance filled with brilliant guitar leads and solos. Fans of roots rock, blues, and country marked by relentless energy and excitement will discover a new era of musical euphoria with "Songs From the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll."
Songs from the Cradle of Rock 'n' Roll - JK Rockets
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From 1960 to 1967 (and off and on into the 1970s), Johnny Kay rocked the house as Bill Haley's lead ...From 1960 to 1967 (and off and on into the 1970s), Johnny Kay rocked the house as Bill Haley's lead guitarist.
When he was hired to replace the immortal Franny Beecher in 1960, I bet he must have felt the way George Lazenby felt when he took over from Sean Connery. But before long the firey guitarist established himself, holding his own during a brief period when both he and Beecher shared lead duties, and he became a major presence in the many recordings Haley made for Orfeon during the mid-60s. Kay helped the band appeal to younger audiences, and when Haley began incorporating Beatles songs into his sets, it was Kay who was often given the job of singing them. He also took lead vocal duties on a number of Comets recordings, including "Mohair Sam" and "The Seventh Son" for Orfeon, not to mention an alternate take of "Tenor Man" and another song called "Cottonfields", both of which were unearthed by Bear Family records in the 1990s for the Warner Brothers Years and More box set.
After leaving the Comets, Kay became a guitar teacher and later got into video production. This past year saw Johnny Kay fire up his own group, JK Rockets -- the name comes from Johnny Kay's Rockets, a band he fronted in the 1950s -- and record two CDs of new recordings, one for Hydra Records in Germany, and a new American release, Songs from the Cradle of Rock 'n' Roll. While the first CD consisted mainly of new versions of Haley classics, this new CD contains all-original songs composed either by Kay or award-winning songwriter Bill Rapp.
The key to this record is that the three musicians featured - Johnny Kay, Stan Kay (making this a family affair), and Rapp, are based around Chester, Pennsylvania. This was Haley's headquarters in the 1950s, and it was here that "Rock Around the Clock" was truly born, making this the true "cradle" of the music.
Cradle is an interesting album in that it combines old-school rock and roll/rockabilly with more modern sounds. I always found Kay's guitar playing to be somewhat harder-edged than Beecher's on the Orfeon recordings, and so it takes on a very modern sound here, too. And the songs themselves include surprises such as "Text Me Baby", which leads one to wonder how an artist in the 1950s might have handled the latest communication crazes ("Rockin' Robin" might have sounded a lot differently with "Twitter-Twitter-dee..." at the beginning!).
Other highlights include the title track, which pays tribute to Haley, and several defiant "never too old to rock"-style tracks, including "Never 2 Late 2 Rock" which makes a nice companionpiece to the Comets' "We Ain't Dead Yet" track of a few years back, and the nostalgic "Cradle of Ol' Rock 'n' Roll."
Top-to-bottom this is a great-sounding set, covering old-style blues ("Ol' Man Blues" is fun), to "Sudden Soul Full of Rock 'n' Roll" which is something KISS might have recorded had they worked for Decca back in the 60s, and Bill Rapp channels Johnny Cash on "Good Good Thing". Johnny Kay sounds like he's back in the 60s with Haley on the closing track, "Too Much Rock 'n' Roll in 'em Bones". There are also a couple of good 50s-style ballads, including the standout, "Brand New Me."
Worth checking out for fans of old-school Pennsylvania-style rock and roll
The CD is available through the CD Baby website here.
Tracks: 1. Text Me Baby; 2. Brand New Me; 3. You Don't Know You Love Me Yet; 4. I Miss Those Rock 'n' Roll Nites; 5. Ol' Man Blues; 6. Rain Rain; 7. Sudden Soul Full of Rock 'n' Roll; 8. Good Good Thing; 9. Never 2 Late 2 Rock; 10. Cradle of Ol' Rock 'n' Roll; 11. I'll Be There for You; 13. Too Much Rock 'n' Roll in 'em Bones.
Local musician teams up with rock legend to record album
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Longtime Great Falls musician Bill Rapagnani has teamed up with former Bill Haley guitarist Johnny K...Longtime Great Falls musician Bill Rapagnani has teamed up with former Bill Haley guitarist Johnny Kay to record an album that revisits the roots of rock and roll.
Under the band name JK Rockets, the group recorded "Songs from the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll" over the past two years. The effort contains original music written by Kay and Rapagnani. Kay's brother, drummer and vocalist Stan Kay, also was a principal player and engineer on the project. Tom Gliko and Sarah Gliko, Tom's daughter, provided backup vocals.
"It's really a potpourri of different musical styles," Johnny explained, "basically the kind of music that evolved into rock and roll."
The album incorporates jazz, country, blues, pop and swing, because these styles precluded rock and roll, Johnny noted. "What we're trying to do is re-ignite that flame about this music," he said, "to take people back to what the important influences were."
Johnny pointed out that the three principal musicians on the album each provided distinct stylistic expertise. Johnny obviously offered the white rock and roll perspective. Stan drew from extensive experience in the black R&B Philadelphia sound of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Rapagnani offered a solid background in country as well as other popular styles. Johnny said he considers the trio "re-innovators" on the project.
"We're in it more as artists than performers," Johnny emphasized. "We're here to bring this music back into the fold and show it has some value to it."
Johnny and Rapagnani's relationship dates back to the 1950s when they were best friends in high school in Chester, Pa. Johnny was already playing guitar in established bands in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, but Rapagnani had yet to take up guitar. In 1960 at age 20, Johnny auditioned for Bill Haley and the Comets and landed a job in the legend's band. He played with the group full time from 1960 to 1968 and then worked with the band for major shows until 1972, when he returned to the Philadelphia area to play locally and teach music.
Meanwhile, Rapagnani joined the Air Force in 1959 and landed at Malmstrom AFB in 1960. He married into the Gliko family and by the late 1960s was playing guitar in Boone and the Buckskins. Rapagnani went on to work extended stints in Listen and later Shade Tree until the mid-1990s. He moved out of state in 2001 but returned to Great Falls in 2006.
Johnny and Rapagnani kept in touch over the years, and three years ago a German record producer approached Johnny about recording an album of obscure Bill Haley material. About the same time, Rapagnani showed up back in Chester and touched base with Johnny. The genesis of "Cradle" took root by pure happenstance.
"It was almost kinda spooky," Rapagnani chuckled.
Johnny is quick to acknowledge Rapagnani's role in the project. "Bill was the one who really got this started," Johnny noted. "After that, it almost had a life of its own."
Purchase "Songs from the Cradle of Rock 'N' Roll" at www.jkrockets.com.I
Varies - from ALBUMS & original Bill Haley ROCKABILLY
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