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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Richie Havens born 21 January 1941

Richard Pierce "Richie" Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. His music encompassed elements of folk, soul, and rhythm and blues. He is best known for his intense and rhythmic guitar style (often in open tunings), soulful covers of pop and folk songs, and his opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of nine children, Havens formed street corner doo-wop groups with his friends, and sang with the McCrea Gospel Singers at the age of 16. Although he had already visited the artistic hotbed Greenwich Village, to read poetry, he was 20 before he moved there to live, soon learning to play the guitar and performing in the Village's folk venues, where this 6ft 6in tall African American stood out in the largely white clubs.
His distinctive guitar playing and soulful, gruff singing style quickly marked him out as a performer to watch, and after a couple of albums on the Douglas label, Havens was signed up by Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, who secured a record deal with Verve Records.

For Havens, there were no boundaries: his albums could equally be filed under folk, soul, blues, pop, jazz and rock, and he was an early adopter of Indianinstruments in raga-rock experiments such as the title-track of his 1968 Something Else Again album. By the following year's double-album Richard P. Havens, 1983, the instrumentation included sitar, tamboura, celeste, harp, flute, steel guitar, clavinet and ondioline.

Havens is best known for his opening performance at the historic 1969 Woodstock festival. He had been scheduled to go on fifth, but major traffic snarl-ups delayed many of the performers, so he was put on first and told to perform a lengthy set. He entranced the audience for three hours, being called back time and again for encores. With his repertoire exhausted, he improvised a song based on the spiritual Motherless Child. This became Freedom, his best known song and an anthem for a generation. His inclusion on the subsequent film of the festival – where he can be seen strutting around the stage, pouring every ounce of emotion into the song – further enhanced his reputation. 

His Woodstock success encouraged Havens to found his own record label, Stormy Forest, and although the first album, Stonehenge (1970), was more subdued than his Woodstock audience expected, his next record, Alarm Clock (1971), indeed became a wake-up call: it was his highest charting album, and a single of George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun made the US top 20. 
Havens went on to release several more albums through the mid-1970s, although it was his live performances that earned the greatest praise. In the same year as Woodstock, he appeared at the Isle of Wight festival, and the studio audience for his appearance on The Johnny Carson Show in the US was so enthusiastic that Carson invited him back the following evening – only the second time this had ever happened. 

During the 1970s, Havens diversified into acting. He starred in the original stage performance of the Who's Tommy in 1972 and took the lead role in Catch My Soul, the 1974 film based on Othello. He co-starred with Richard Pryor in the 1977 film Greased Lightning. Into the 1980s, Havens continued to tour and record, although he never improved on his previous chart success.  

His 1993 retrospective album, Resume: The Best of Richie Havens, did much to remind a new audience of his back catalogue. In the year it was released, he appeared alongside Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie at the Troubadours of Folk festival in Los Angeles. A capacity audience would not let him leave the stage at the end of his concert. He later described it as a "Greenwich Village class reunion". 

Havens sang at Bill Clinton's 1993 presidential inauguration and also performed several times for the Dalai Lama. He appeared at the 30th and 40th Woodstock anniversary celebrations and at Dylan's 30th anniversary concert in 1992, where he sang Just Like a Woman. His autobiography, They Can't Hide Us Anymore, was published in 1999; the title refers to his thoughts during his helicopter ride over the Woodstock crowds in 1969. His last album was Nobody Left to Crown (2008). 

In 2010, Havens had kidney surgery but did not recover fully enough to perform as he had before. On March 20, 2012, he announced on his Facebook page that he would stop touring after 45 years due to health concerns. On April 22, 2013, Havens died of a heart attack at home in Jersey City, New Jersey at the age of 72 

Pursuant to Havens's request, his remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered from the air over the original site of the Woodstock Festival, in a ceremony held on August 18, 2013, the 44th anniversary of the last day of the festival.  (Compiled and edited from Wikipedia and mainly from an article by Derek Schofield  for The Guardian)

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Ray Anthony born 20 January 1922

Ray Anthony (born Raymond Antonini, January 20, 1922, in Bentleyville, Pennsylvania) is an American bandleader, trumpeter, songwriter and actor.

A popular swing-era trumpeter, Ray Anthony built upon his success with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the '40s, transitioning into his role as a bandleader and actor in Hollywood during the '50s. Blessed with a big, warm tone and supple, swinging style, Anthony drew favourable comparisons to trumpet icon Harry James and enjoyed decades of success on tour and in the studio. Many of Anthony's post-Miller albums were of the commercial variety and spawned a bevy of hits for the trumpeter. 
Anthony grew up in a large musical family in Cleveland, Ohio. Introduced to the trumpet by his bandleader father at age five, he progressed quickly and soon joined his family's Antonini Orchestra. By his teens, he was leading his own group and making his professional debut playing with the Al Donahue Orchestra. It was during this period that he caught the attention of trombonist and bandleader Glenn Miller, who hired him as his first-chair trumpeter.  

From 1940 to 1941, Anthony toured and recorded with Miller, during which time he appeared as a member of the band in the musical film Sun Valley Serenade. He also spent several months with Jimmy Dorsey's big band before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. Stationed in the Pacific, he was assigned to a service band that he led for the duration. 

After his discharge in 1946, he formed his own Ray Anthony Orchestra and toured across the United States. In the early '50s, he signed with Capitol Records and achieved almost immediate success with recordings like "The Hokey Pokey" and his most famous song, "The Bunny Hop," which kicked off a dance craze. More hits followed, including a 1952 take on Glenn Miller's "At Last" (from I Remember Glenn Miller) and his hugely popular 1953 version of the Dragnet TV show theme song. 

Throughout the '50s, Anthony toured often and issued a slew of well-received albums for Capitol. With his popularity came other film and television work, including accepting the musical director position for the TV show Top Tunes and hosting his own short-lived variety show. He also began acting, showing up first as himself in several films, and then taking on character roles such as playing Jimmy Dorsey in The Five Pennies and appearing with his then-wife, actress and legendary sex symbol Mamie Van Doren, in 1958's High School Confidential and 1959's Girls Town. 

Anthony and Van Doren divorced in 1961, and Anthony's brief film career ended at about the same time. as the market for big bands dropped off. He still remained a popular trumpeter, working regularly on the Las Vegas circuit and releasing a steady stream of mood music albums like Dream Dancing Medley. He also formed the pop-oriented Ray Anthony & His Bookend Revue, which featured the trumpeter flanked by two female singers. During this period he released a handful of pop and rock covers albums, including The Twist, Swim, Swim, C'mon Let's Swim, and the country & western Worried Mind. He kept active throughout the '70s, playing live and releasing yet more albums like Direction '71: My Sweet Lord, which featured an instrumental cover of the George Harrison song. 

Ray with The Bookends (Diane Hall & Anita Ray)
Anthony toured the lounge circuit with a sextet and a female vocal duo called the Bookends. His popularity continued and he was eventually able to add to his group, ending up with ten musicians and six female singers.  

In the '80s, Anthony was a major proponent of the big-band resurgence, touring alongside other swing icons like Buddy Rich, Les Brown, and Harry James. He also formed an organization that supplied big-band charts to school band programs. Since then, he has remained active, continuing to make live appearances and release albums on his own Aero Space Records label, including 2004's Dream Dancing, Vol. 6: The Sinatra Songbook and 2005's Dream Dancing, Vol. 7: The Harry James Songbook. A longtime friend of the late Hugh Hefner, he regularly performed on New Year's Eve at the Playboy Mansion, and appeared on the E! reality series The Girls Next Door. 

Anthony, who has been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, continues to be active as a bandleader and musician. (info edited mainly from Matt Collar @ All Music)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Bobby Edwards born 18 January 1926

Bobby Edwards (born Robert Edward Moncrief  (January 18, 1926 – July 31, 2012) was an American country music singer who recorded between 1958 and 1968. At the beginning of his career he performed and recorded under the name Bobby Moncrief. Then, having completed his service in the US Navy, he started recording as Bobby Edwards. 

Born the son of a preacher in Anniston, Alabama, Edwards first recorded for Pappy Daily at 'D' Records in 1958, under the name Bobby Moncrief. In 1959 he revived Tex Ritter's "Jealous Heart" on Bluebonnet ; the record was reissued on the Manco label in 1962. Then Edwards went out west, working shows on his own in southern California before song- writer Terry Fell placed him on Crest Records, and helped produce and arrange "You're the Reason". Though Bobby wrote all of the song, his manager (Fred Henley), his financier and Terry Fell all got a quarter share. Cover versions by Joe South and Hank Locklin hurt Edwards' sales a little. 

On "You're the Reason", Edwards is backed by the Four Young Men, a vocal group that recorded a series of non-hits for Crest, Dore and Delta between 1961 and 1963. Eddie Cochran is alleged to play guitar on some of their Crest sides.  On the heels of that breakthrough hit he had Groovy b/w Tomorrow released on the United Artists subsidiary Ascot 2104 in January 1962 (and also on United Artists 402), to no avail, even as his first release at Capitol, a cover of the Fats Domino 1957 hit What's The Reason I'm Not Pleasing You? topping out at # 71 Hot 100 as simply What's The Reason? on Capitol 4674 b/w Walk Away Slowly. 

That was followed by three straight failed 1962 singles - Singing The Blues/What''ll I Do Without You? (Capitol 4726 in April); Someone New/Here's My Heart (Capitol 4789 in July); and Remember Who Brought You Here/The Way I Am (Capitol 4874 in November) - before scoring his third and final national hit with the September 1963 # 23 Country -  Don't Pretend b/w Help Me on Capitol 5006.

Edwards had high hopes when Capitol signed him. He swears that Capitol bought him a house in the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, and tried to make him the kingpin of their eastern roster. He appeared on the Grand Old Opry and toured often with Cowboy Copas. Also, he returned to the song that had been his debut on 'D' Records, "Here's My Heart"; the Capitol version has just been reissued on "The Drugstore's Rockin' , Vol. 3" (Bear Family BCD 16608).  

At the end of the Capitol deal he would have sporadic singles come out from 1964 to 1970 for Musicor, Polaris and Chart without success. He stayed in the Nashville area, then returned home to Alabama as a gospel singer. He retired from singing towards the end of the 1960s before moving to the Nashville suburb of Smyrna in 2000 where he lived until his death. He died on July 31, 2012, at the Middle Tennessee Medical Centre in Murfreesboro. He was 86.

(Info compiled & edited from various sources including Black Cat Rockabilly & Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Harry Reser born 17 January 1896

Harry F. Reser (January 17, 1896 – September 27, 1965) was an American banjo player and bandleader. Born in Piqua, Ohio, Reser was best known as the leader of The Clicquot Club Eskimos. He was regarded by some as the best banjoist of the 1920s. 

Harrison Franklin Reser was born in Piqua, Ohio. When he was 2 years of age, his father moved the family to Dayton, Ohio. His musical talents became apparent, and it was also here that it was discovered that the young Reser possessed perfect pitch. His parents realized they had a child prodigy. A special guitar was made for him suited to his extremely small size, and this was his first instrument. 

By the age of 8 he was entertaining. About this time he began learning piano and also started a systematic study of music which was to form the basis for his natural genius and extensive knowledge of music theory. At the age of nine his parents, now realizing his potential and the benefits to be gained, sent him to Luis Hein and Albert Fischer of Dayton, where he continued study of the piano in addition to the violin and cello. He remained with the two until the age of fourteen. Reser attended Steele High School in Dayton, and it was during these years that he decided what his vocation would be. On April 8, 1916 when he was just over twenty, he married Grace Tharp of Dayton in Newport, Kentucky. 

The banjo was making its presence felt more strongly with dance bands and therefore he felt he should learn how to play it as quickly as possible. He practiced until he was able to play to a high enough standard to supplement his piano playing, thus increasing his chances of earning a reasonable living. In the summer of 1920 he played in a Dayton dance band under the leadership of Paul Goss. By this time he was playing the banjo regularly. He soon moved to Buffalo, New York to appear at the Hippodrome, playing primarily violin, though continuing to work on his banjo technique as well. 

After Christmas of 1920 he moved to New York City. He sought out engagements and soon found himself in demand. Some of the early bands he was involved with included those of Ben Selvin, Benny Krueger, Sam Lanin, Nathan Glantz, and Mike Markel (for whom he played saxophone). 

By 1922, he had recorded a half dozen pieces, including "Crazy Jo" and Zez Confrey's "Kitten on the Keys". In early autumn of the same year, he considered starting his own band. Soon a contract was drawn up with Okeh Records and his first band, the Okeh Syncopators, came into being during September or October 1922. Shortly after the start of this new endeavour he was approached by Paul Whiteman to sit in for Whiteman's regular banjoist, Mike Pingitore, during a UK tour of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
In 1925, he found fame as the director for NBC's Clicquot Club Eskimo Orchestra, continuing with that weekly half-hour until 1935. At the same time, he also led other bands using pseudonyms. Harry Reser and His Six Jumping Jacks", with vocals by Tom Stacks, were the zany forerunners to comedy bands like Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Reser and his band were the first to record "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in 1934. 


Throughout his career he was an endorsed artist, playing instruments from several well-known makers. During the 1920s he mainly played a variety of William L. Lange's Paramount tenor and plectrum banjos, and Lange presented him with a Super Paramount Artists Supreme, as he also did to Mike Pingitore, another Paramount musician. Later Reser would play Gibson and Vegavox banjos. 

Harry Reser played "Tiger Rag" and "You Hit the Spot" in the
Vitaphone musical short Harry Reser and His Eskimos (1936). 

Reser remained active in music for the rest of his life, leading TV studio orchestras and playing with Broadway theatre orchestras. In 1960 he appeared with Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, and Buster Keaton in "A 70th Birthday Salute to Paul Whiteman" on TV's The Revlon Revue. He wrote several instructional books for the banjo, guitar, and ukulele.

In 1965 Reser died of a heart attack in the orchestra pit of Manhattan's Imperial Theatre while warming up for a Broadway stage version of Fiddler on the Roof. He was inducted into the National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame, a museum in Oklahoma, in 1999.       (Info edited from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Mac Curtis born 16 January 1939


Wesley Erwin "Mac" Curtis, Jr. (January 16, 1939 – September 16, 2013) was an American rockabilly musician.
Rockabilly legend Mac Curtis was born in Fort Worth, TX, on January 16, 1939. He grew up with his grandparents and started playing the guitar in 1951 at the age of 12. A neighbouring farmer taught him how to use it, and soon he was entering local talent contests. After winning 15 dollars in a contest, he realized that he not only got the price of the guitar back but also made five extra dollars. He then knew he could make a living off his talents, and after moving to Weatherford, TX, in 1954, he decided to play music with his schoolmates Jim Galbraith and Ken Galbraith. 
They were enamoured with artists like Big Joe Turner, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, wanting to create a similar sound in their group. The band began playing for their peers, even causing a minor controversy when they were pulled from a stage for lewd and suggestive gyrations. The student council intervened and the band began to play around for money. In 1955, they signed a contract with King Records, and in 1956 recorded their first single, "If I Had Me a Woman."
Successive singles caught the attention of New York DJ Alan Freed, who booked Mac and his band on his 1956 Christmas show, giving them an exposure they had never experienced before. Curtis moved back to Weatherford by 1957 to finish high school. He became a radio DJ in his spare time, until he joined the military at the end of the year. The lion's share of Mac's military duty was spent with American Forces Radio in Seoul, Korea. He was assigned the position of DJ and Network Country Music Director. And, in the evenings he sang with a GI Country band on the military club circuit. The band went on to win second place in the recorded division of the 1959 All-Army Talent Contests. 

Upon return to civilian life in Texas in 1960 Mac found that the market for his style of music was no longer in vogue. The rapidly changing American music scene was not king to the artists such as Mac who had laid the cornerstone for Rock and Roll. It would be several years before his Rockabilly sound would be re-discovered and appreciated by fans in other parts of the World.

Throughout the 1960's, Mac's broadcast career took centre state. He became a nationally known and respected figure in the Country Radio Industry. He served at stations in Dallas, Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles. Simultaneously, he performed and recorded Country music. Stints with Epic Records and the GRT label produced a string of chart - placing singles and two albums. Along the way he developed his talent for song writing and succeeded in placing tunes with several other artists including his friend Bob Luman, Lynn Anderson and George Morgan. In 1970, Mac Curtis had two hits on Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, "Early In The Morning" (#35) and "Honey, Don't" (#43). 

By 1971 Mac was on the air in Los Angeles where a major milestone came about. Ronny Weiser approached Mac for an interview with his magazine. From these interview sessions Mac learned firsthand of the popularity of his early Rockabilly recordings among a growing number of fans in Europe and the United Kingdom. He started recording songs with Ray Campi, who shared his passion for country and rockabilly. The new Rollin Rock label started in Europe, sparking a rockabilly revival that included albums by both Campi and Curtis. This success allowed the artists to form a new, successful career overseas where their brand of music was more appreciated.  

Mac went on to release albums with several companies including: Sunshine Records ("Golden Gospel Favourites"), Radar Records ("Rockin' Mother"), Rebel ("Texas Rockabilly Legend", "Top Cat on Rockabilly Track"), Hightone Records ("Rockabilly Uprising"), and Vinyl Japan Records ("Rockabilly Ready"). Curtis continued to work this scene through the '80s and '90s, enlisted record companies to re-release his older singles, and managed to become a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. His last album titled "Songs I Wish I Wrote" was released in 2011 by Bluelight Records.

He died in Weatherford, Texas, on September 16, 2013 at age 74, following injuries received in a car accident a month earlier, after which he had undergone rehabilitation at a nursing home.
(Compiled & edited from various sources mainly Bradley Torreano @ All Music)

Classic video clip of the Rockabilly artist Mac Curtis performing live in Munich at the 5th International Rock'n'Roll/ Rockabilly festival 1989. Songs are "Ducktail / That Ain't Nothin' But Right" and "Goosebumps". Backing band were The Okie Dokies from Switzerland.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Thelma Carpenter born 15 January 1920

Thelma Carpenter (January 15, 1922 – May 14, 1997) was a jazz singer and actress, best known as "Miss One", the Good Witch of the North in the movie The Wiz.

As a child, the Harlem-born Thelma sang in the streets for coins, and appeared on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, a hugely popular radio series that also gave Frank Sinatra his first break. At 15 she entered another amateur contest, at the Apollo Theatre in New York, where her singing of "Stormy Weather" won her a week's booking.

In 1939 the superb pianist Teddy Wilson, shortly after leaving Benny Goodman, formed his own big band, and invited Carpenter to provide the vocals. Boasting such musicians as Ben Webster, J.C. Heard and Doc Cheatham, the band set an awesome standard of musicianship, but lasted only a year. Wilson next made a magnificent series of small-group recordings, featuring, among others, Carpenter and her friend Billie Holiday.  
She joined Coleman Hawkins' orchestra in 1940, with whom she made the RCA Bluebird Records classic "He's Funny That Way". She followed Helen Humes as Count Basie's vocalist in 1943, remaining with the band for two years, recording the Columbia Records hit "I Didn't Know About You" as well as many popular V-disc sides including "Do Nothing till You Hear from Me", "More Than You Know", "I Dream of You", "Tess's Torch Song" and "My Ideal". She also made a V-disc version of Frank Loesser's "The Last Thing I Want Is Your Pity". 

She replaced Dinah Shore as vocalist on Eddie Cantor's radio show for the 1945-46 season, marking the first time that a black artist had become a permanent member of an all-white show without playing a character. 

She was a top nightclub attraction for most of her career, performing regularly at such chic clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Spivy's Roof, the Bon Soir, the St. Regis Maisonette, and Michael's Pub, as well as Chez Bricktop in Paris and Rome.

Her cabaret success led to a role in the Broadway musical Memphis Bound (1945), which starred Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. A re-setting of HMS Pinafore on a Mississippi showboat, it was scuttled after 36 performances. Far more successful (it ran a year) was the Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz revue Inside USA (1948), which co-starred Beatrice Lillie and Jack Haley. An ill-advised revival of the 1921 show Shuffle Along (1952) lasted only four performances, but the rowdy musical Ankles Aweigh (1955) managed 22 weeks.

She was a top nightclub attraction for most of her career, performing regularly at such chic clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Spivy's Roof, the Bon Soir, the St. Regis Maisonette, and Michael's Pub, as well as Chez Bricktop in Paris and RomeShe headlined major theatres including the Capitol Theatre, Loew's State Theatre (New York City), the Strand, and the Palace Theatre on Broadway and sang with Duke Ellington in concerts and on television. As a solo artist, she recorded for Majestic Records, Musicraft Records, Columbia Records, RCA Victor Records, and Coral Records. 

By 1967 Hello, Dolly! had been running on Broadway for three years, and was playing to ever-diminishing audiences. David Merrick, the show's producer, decided to present an all-black version, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, with Carpenter hired as Bailey's standby. Suddenly, Dolly! was a hit all over again, but, as Bailey tended to miss a great many performances, Carpenter played the role of Dolly Levi more than 100 times.

The long-running Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976) was her favourite show, as it commemorated a place and time she knew well: Harlem between the First and Second World Wars. At the age of 58 Carpenter finally made her motion picture debut in The Wiz (1978), the all-black remake of The Wizard of Oz, based on the hit Broadway show.

She also appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's film The Cotton Club (1984), and on television in The Ed Sullivan Show, The Cosby Show and The Love Boat. She played the meddling mother-in-law in Barefoot in the Park (1970- 71), an all-black situation comedy based on Neil Simon's play. She also toured in the musical Pippin. 

Her last major singing performance was on the 1993 all-star NBC special, "Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame."
Carpenter suffered cardiac arrest and died in New York on May 14, 1997.  (Info compiled and edited from an article by Dick Vosburgh for The Independent & Wikipedia)
Here's a clip from 1964, NYC, Carnegie Hall, "Salute to Eddie Condon".for WABC-TV, 65/3/27; Wingy Manone (t,v) Billy Butterfield (t) Wild Bill Davison (c) Edmond Hall (cl) Vic Dickenson, Cutty Cutshall (tb) Willie "the Lion" Smith, Hank Duncan (p) Al Hall (b) George Wettling (d) Thelma Carpenter (v)

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Johnny Grande born 14 January 1930

John A. "Johnny" Grande (January 14, 1930 – June 3, 2006) was a founder member of Bill Haley and the Comets, playing piano on a string of singles that, if they were not actually the first rock'n'roll records ever made, arguably did more to codify and popularise the genre than any others. 

Grande was born of Italian parentage in South Philadelphia, and initially pursued non-musical careers driving coal wagons and as a detective agency clerk. In his spare time, he played the accordion with whatever country or polka bands happened to be performing at Pennsylvania's Sleepy Hollow Ranch. Among those he sat in with was Bill Haley, then a yodelling country artist. 
At Haley's behest, Grande joined his backing band, the Four Aces of Western Swing: their first single, Candy Kisses, was released in 1948. Within a year, they had changed their name to the Saddlemen and ditched their straight country image. They stopped wearing stetsons onstage, Grande switched from accordion to piano, and in 1951, against Haley's wishes, they recorded a cover of black artist Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88: the original version of the song is widely credited as the first rock'n'roll record ever released. 

Subsequent releases under their new name of the Comets, Rock the Joint, and the US top 20 hit, Crazy Man Crazy, further reflected the encroaching influence of black rhythm and blues on their sound. In 1954, they signed to Decca and recorded the bizarre Thirteen Women..The B-side of the disc was Rock Around the Clock. 
Intended as a virtual parody of R&B conventions, the song's potential was spotted by DJs, but initially proved only a modest success. However, its follow-up, Shake, Rattle and Roll, sold more than a million copies in the US and, when Rock Around the Clock was included on the soundtrack of the film drama Blackboard Jungle (1955), it was re-released, becoming a transatlantic No 1 and eventually selling 25m copies. 

Although primarily a piano player, Grande performed on accordion during most live shows as it was easier to transport than a piano, plus the hand-held instrument allowed him to participate more directly in the band's acrobatic instrumentals, such as "Rudy's Rock". 

Over the next year, Haley and the Comets became the first bona fide rock'n'roll stars, releasing a string of hit singles and featuring in two movies, Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock. By the end of 1956, however, Haley had been eclipsed by the arrival of Elvis Presley. While other members of the Comets came and went - usually departing as a result of disputes over money with their parsimonious leader - Grande remained loyal until 1962: he was a shareholder in the Comets and received a cut of the profits rather than the miserly wages Haley doled out to the rest of the band. 

Nevertheless, Haley and the Comets' diminishing commercial standing and punishing work schedule - the latter exacerbated by financial mismanagement that left Haley with a six-figure tax debt - eventually led to his departure. Ironically, Haley went on to further success after Grande left to teach music, and later become a restaurateur. 

In the late 1960s and early 70s, Grande was a beneficiary of a burgeoning rock'n'roll revival: Rock Around the Clock became a hit again on both sides of the Atlantic in 1974, after it was used as the theme tune to the comedy series, Happy Days.  

It seemed symptomatic of the low regard in which the Comets were held that they were overlooked when Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987. The snub roused Grande to reform the band, and begin touring and recording once more.

Franny Beacher, Johnny Grande, Joey Ambrosio, Marshall Lytle and Dick Richards
In the spring of 2006 the onset of ill health forced Grande to temporarily take a hiatus from the Comets, who at the time were engaged in a long-term gig at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theatre in Branson, Missouri. He died in his sleep in Clarksville, Tennessee of cancer-related causes a few weeks later. 

(Compiled and edited mainly from an article by Alexis Petridis for The Guardian)