Bill Haley's Comets: Al Rappa, Band Leader

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Band Leader, Al Rappa

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Al Rappa:
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Al Rappa makes headlines

The Morning Journal
Sunday, Sept. 26

Al Rappa, "The Original Walking Bass Man," who has been with Bill Haley's Comets since 1956, rocks the crowd last night for the "50 Years of Rock'n'Roll" at the Lorain Palace Civic Center. Danny and the Juniors also performed.

Bill Haley's Comets revive Rock 'n Roll
Tom Loftus
2010 Western Courier

KEWANEE - Dr. Matthew Warnock - Matt, to enrollees of his Music in the Rock Era Music 196 course at Western Illinois University - takes his students through a chronological tour of the origins of rock and roll, covering the last five decades of the twentieth century, from the Crickets to the Pumpkins, from tuxedos and polite applause to flannel shirts and body surfing.

Already, by the time the three-day Labor Day weekend had arrived, Matt's class had learned about Chuck Berry's duck walk, Buddy Holly's "hiccup singing," the payola scandal that ruined deejay Allan Freed's career, and The Day The Music Died.

And, of course, Bill Haley and the Comets - "one of Buddy Holly's earliest heroes," as Dr. Warnock told his class back on August 26 - and Haley's landmark hit, "Rock Around the Clock."

In checking the website this past Saturday, a serendipitous coincidence revealed itself: Bill Haley's Comets were appearing at the Kewanee Hog Days Festival that evening, a mere 85 miles north of Macomb. A rare chance to catch rock history in person, and a learning opportunity that might provide insights that You Tube could not match.

The crowd ... formed a wide semicircle in front of the smallish stage, with a "People's Bank of Kewanee" sign painted on the side of an ancient brick building, almost as large as the stage itself, serving as the backdrop. Two small American flags on each side served as the stage's only adornments, adjacent to a tiny stack of Peavey amplifiers. There was ample room for a large mosh pit, wide open before the first row of seats.

There would be no body slamming tonight, however.

This was the music of Grandma and Grandpa's time, and the audience seemed to be dominated by music lovers who would have been teenagers, or perhaps toddlers, back in the 1950s. Gray hair, walkers, wheelchairs, American Legion baseball caps and lawn chairs with American flags draped over them were the rule of the day. ...

The band on stage, "Bill Haley's Comets," represented a faint whisper of a memory of the original group that helped establish rock and roll as a musical force back in the 1950s.

Bill Haley himself - lead singer and songwriter for "Rock Around the Clock", which was released as a B-side of the now-forgotten nuclear war-themed single "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town) in 1954, but then went on to sell 25 million copies, still No.1 all-time for vinyl singles - died of a heart back in 1981.


So, who were these "Comets" that ... took the stage in Kewanee?

The group was fronted by 83-year-old bassist and trumpeter Al Rappa, who played with the Comets off and on between 1959 and 1969. The band - like Rappa, clad in silk windbreakers and black pants - also included two guitarists (one of who also played sax and handled most vocal chores) and a drummer. But it was clearly Rappa's show.

As teens shuffled nearby on the carnival midway, stopping to try their hand at "Corkgun Fun," "Gone Fishin" ("Win a goldfish!"), or "Duck Pond" ("Square deal: Prize every time!"), or huddle in small groups, laughing and talking, Rappa and his musicians did their best to evoke nostalgic memories in the silver-haired audience. At one point, Rappa played his giant, oversized white bass sideways, as if it were a Fender Stratocaster ...

There was a medley of Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog," another combining Richie Valens' "Donna" with "Good Night Sweetheart," a spirited rendition of "Tequila," a lively version of "When the Saints Go Marching In," with Rappa on trumpet and, in a nod to "modern" rock, a decent take of "Move It On Over," a big hit for George Thorogood and the Destroyers a mere 32 years ago.


Finally, it was time for the song. But first…

"I'd like you to stand up now," Rappa half-ordered, half-pleaded with the audience. Then, before half of them had begun to comply, the Comets launched into a mournful version of "God Bless America", and by the time Rappa had finished singing, "… with the light from above," the lawn chairs were empty, and many hands were covering many hearts.

The Comets then segued into "Rock Around the Clock," interestingly, some in the crowd sat down, while one couple did "the twist," and another man twirled his wife around in spirited circles. Up on stage, Rappa made big circular gestures, representing the face of a big, rock-and-roll clock.


It was at festivals such as this one that rock and roll first got its footing, some 55 years hence, at county fairs, barn dances, and high school gyms, on quiet summer nights that were enlivened by the newfangled sounds of electric guitars and snare drums, and the energy of wild-eyed youths.

For one more night, in a small rural town in the American Midwest, rock and roll was still too young to die.

Comets bring back rockin’ Peninsula memories
Aug. 1, 2007, Door County Advocate, Fish Creek, Wisc.
By Joe Knaapen, assistant editor

After Bill Haley’s Comets intoned their anthem — “1-2-3 o’clock, 4 o’clock rock” — enough people danced in the aisles of Door Community Auditorium to sell out the next segment in the 2007 summer version of the roots of Rock ‘n Roll.

The Comets, founded in the 1950s by the late Haley, put on a solid show of ’50s hits July 25 at DCA.

The folks who may have had the most fun listening to Bill Haley’s Comets, other than the band, may have been the couples who took up the invitation from bandleader Al Rappa to dance.

Arnie and Pam Bischoff of Franklin took to the aisle with the steps, the moves. The only things missing were Pam’s white blouse with a cursive letter P, a gray flannel skirt with an embossed poodle and patent leather shoes.

Don Rubin and Barb Winer, a couple who share their time between Fish Creek and Highland Park, Ill., had the moves, too, and went through their arm-twisting gyrations in the opposite aisle.

Asking Rubin what he thought of the band brought the standard American Bandstand answer: “I’m Donnie, and I’d give it a 10; it had a good beat and you could dance to it.”

A few more folks got into the spirit, dancing in the balcony as The Comets rang out the hits of another era.

The founding father, Haley, died in 1981, but his legacy is carried on by Rappa, the bass player with an inimitable style who started touring with the band in 1956.

Rappa acquired the rights to the name and continues to play the hits that made Haley — and his contemporaries from Elvis to Little Richard — great. Rappa is celebrating his 52nd year touring as many as five nights a week across the U.S.

While Rappa is the man with the credentials that make him a grandfather of rock, his sidemen make the music come to life.

From “Rock Around the Clock” to “See You Later, Alligator” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” the band got in its licks. They nailed “Mumbo Rock” and left some of us waiting for a version of Teresa Brewer’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Waltz.”

John Melinchock does more than yeoman work as lead guitarist — looked like he borrowed licks from everybody; Les Paul to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Pianist Gabe Graham really rattles the ivories, and drummer Joey Kay walked his sticks around the trap set and into the audience in a classic “Wipe Out” solo.

Check out the band’s Web site at for details.

Rockin' around the town
July 15, 2007, St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn.
By Frank Lee

They've been rocking around the clock for more than a half-century.

Now they're coming Wednesday to the Paramount Theatre.

Bill Haley's Comets - or Bill Haley & His Comets, as they were known when the group began - took the world by storm back in the mid-1950s with "Rock Around the Clock."

"When they went to Europe for a big tour in England, all the big names in England wanted to work with Bill Haley. Bill Haley was their idol," John Melinchock said.

The 60-year-old from Philadelphia joined the band in 1990 as a guitar player and singer, and still plays gigs with the touring group when he's not working for Allstate Insurance.

Al Rappa has recorded and toured with Bill Haley's Comets since 1956. He has appeared with the band in movies and on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand."

"John Lennon was one of Al's best friends from the day they toured, when The Beatles opened up for them for a few dates," said Melinchock, a founding member of Midnight Circus.

Lennon gave Rappa - who is Bill Haley's original bass and trumpet player - an amplifier and two guitar straps. According to Melinchock, Lennon and Rappa kept in touch for years.

"My first recollection of Bill Haley was his hit 'ABC Boogie.' It was my first recollection of any song on 'American Bandstand,' and when I look back on it, I still can't believe it," Melinchock said.

The group earned a place in The Guinness Book of World Records for selling 43 million copies of its greatest hit, "Rock Around The Clock." The song was also popular as the opening credits theme song for Henry Winkler-Ron Howard hit TV show, "Happy Days."
After Haley's death in 1981, the 82-year-old Rappa has scaled back on the group's touring commitments, basically working only weekends and during the summer.
"A friend of mine, a professional wrestler by the name of Moondog, had contacted me, said that he heard I played 50s rock 'n' roll, and he wanted to put a band together to tour with the circus," Melinchock said about how he became a guitar player for Rappa.

"Later, he said he met this guy named Al Rappa, and that they were looking for a guitar player, and they play a lot of '50s stuff, so when I got there the next night, there were the Coasters, and we got on a bus, and we toured for three months, so it was a 'trial by fire.'"

Bill Haley's Comets' other hits include "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Skinny Minnie" and "See You Later, Alligator."

"I have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm playing with the world's first and greatest rock 'n' roll band, and that means something to me as musician," Melinchock said.

Del-Vikings No Show, Haley's Comets Rock the Joint

By Reesa Marchetti, Correspondent

8/21/04 Largo Cultural Center, Florida — It’s too bad the Del-Vikings had to cancel at the last minute. But on the evening the hit ‘50s group was slated to appear with Bill Haley’s Comets here, one of the original Comets made up for the shortage — in true rock and roll style.

Al Rappa, leader of the Comets, not only agreed to fill the slot left vacant by the Del-Vikings on Aug. 21, he also thoroughly rocked the house at the Largo Cultural Center. Rappa, who first joined Bill Haley’s chart-topping band in 1956, took the stage with the Comets to thunderous applause from the overflow crowd.

“You’re in for the real deal,” he shouted to the audience. “Bill Haley's Comets, playing the music that started rock n' roll.”

Rappa had agreed to the Center’s eleventh-hour request to perform an additional set to fill in for the absent Del-Vikings. Center management apparently was relieved, but put up a sign offering refunds in case any ticket holders were dissatisfied.

“About five minutes before we went on, we were informed no one had asked for their money back,” said John Melinchock, the Comets guitarist. “The show was not only sold out, but they had to put in side seating and were selling standing-room-only tickets.”

Rappa was thrilled, and he let the audience know it. The Comets entertained for more than an hour. As they played their hits such as “Rock Around the Clock,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Rock This Joint “and “See Ya Later, Alligator,” the audience responded. People danced to every song — some in the aisles and some in front of the stage. Most sang along throughout the show.

When the musicians took their bows after the first set, Melinchock found the applause “almost deafening.”

“Al was grinning from ear to ear. He gave a heartfelt thank you to the audience when the applause finally subsided,” Melinchock said. “And none of us were tired at the end. Don't forget, we're not 21 anymore,” he added jokingly.

The Largo Cultural Center is a big theater offering plush, red-cushioned seats, a more than ample stage with great sound — both on and off stage — and best of all on a hot Florida night: great air conditioning. Seeming refreshed by the intermission in this beautiful venue, Rappa started the second show alone on the stage.

As he sang with only his bass for accompaniment, audience members stood and swayed to the music. Rappa covered a medley of songs, from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett to standards such as “Danny Boy” and “The Green, Green Grass of Home.” The crowd rewarded him with a long, standing ovation.

The entire band then joined in to rock’n’roll again. Many audience members left their seats, moved up to the front of the stage and danced to the familiar Bill Haley hits.

“It was obvious that it was certainly a crowd of true rock and rollers who had spent many hours listening to Bill Haley and His Comets,” Melinchock recalled. “What a night!”



Al Rappa shown with Bill Haley on "Bandstand" in the 1960s


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