Birthplace of Rock and Roll - Wildwood, New Jersey, Stakes Its Claim

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Where did Bill Haley learn to rock? Where did he first perform his groundbreaking hit "Rock Around the Clock" for audiences a half-century ago? It was the southern New Jersey beach resort of Wildwood By-the-Sea. Wildwood will celebrate its little-known role in the birth of rock with a concert dedicated to Haley and the 50th anniversary of Â?Rock Around the Clock,Â? on Saturday, October 16, 2004, at the Wildwoods Convention Center.

Summer, 1950. The leader of a little-known country-and-western swing band strolls across the street from his hotel into a nightclub, the Riptide. Booked for the summer is the now-legendary rhythm and blues band, The Treniers. Excited by their raucous stage show, the white, 25-year-old singer decides to take his country music career in a new direction. A few weeks later, he returns to offer the Treniers a song he’d written—“Rock-a-Beatin’ Boogie.”

The song goes nowhere. But in the same town four summers later, with a few modest hits under his belt, Bill Haley and his new group, The Comets, introduce a rollicking new tune that fuses elements of country music, Western swing, and black R&B. Recorded April 12, 1954, the song, “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” is a hit with nightclub audiences. The song would become the first Rock and Roll song to hit Number One on the Billboard charts, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. More important, it propelled “rock and roll” as we know it onto the national scene, and inspired generations of rock musicians.

Where did Bill Haley learn to rock? Where did he first perform his groundbreaking hit for audiences a half-century ago? It wasn’t Cleveland, the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of Rock and Roll.” It wasn’t New York City. Nope, not Memphis. It was the southern New Jersey beach resort of Wildwood By-the-Sea.

Wildwood will celebrate its little-known role in the birth of rock with a concert dedicated to Haley and the 50th anniversary of “Rock Around the Clock,” on Saturday, October 16, 2004, at the Wildwoods Convention Center, on the Boardwalk. The Original Comets, five musicians who performed with Haley in the summer of 1954, will return to the resort for the concert. (Haley died of an apparent heart attack in 1981). It is the first time since 1955 that the Original Comets (sax player Joey “Ambrose” d’Ambrosio, guitarist Franny Beecher, pianist Johnny Grande, bass player Marshall Lytle and drummer Dick “Richards” Boccelli) have played together in Wildwood.

The concert is the centerpiece of a weekend celebration of the 1950s and Wildwood’s rock and roll heritage. The first Wildwoods Fabulous Fifties Weekend, October 15-17, 2004, at the Wildwoods Convention Center will be a musical celebration of the island’s role in the birth of Rock and Roll, and the 50th anniversary of “Rock Around the Clock.”

“Bill Haley is the man, and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ is the song, that launched rock and roll into the world’s consciousness,” said Andrew Cripps, spokesman for the Wildwoods DooWop Preservation League, sponsors of the event. “It is the first number one hit to combine the influences that make up rock and roll. It might never have happened without the musical melting pot of Wildwood. Everything that followed built upon what Bill Haley brought together here. Whether Cleveland likes it or not, rock and roll as we know it was born in Wildwood.”

American Bandstand host Dick Clark called “Rock Around the Clock” “The national anthem of Rock and Roll.” John Lennon of the Beatles said in a Playboy interview: “I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until rock and roll hit me.” Interviewer: “Do you recall what specifically hit you?” Lennon: “It was “Rock Around The Clock.”

Event sponsors plan to unveil and erect a permanent historical marker on the site of the HofBrau Club, at Cedar and Atlantic Avenues in Wildwood, where Haley performed each summer from 1950-55, and where he and the Comets first performed “Rock Around the Clock.”

Other highlights include a Friday night record hop with the “Geator” Jerry Blavat; a street fair with live music by 1950s guitar virtuoso Charlie Gracie (who had a #1 hit in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in 1957 with “Butterfly”), the Rip Chords (who had a million-seller with “Hey Little Cobra”) and others, along with contests and food vendors on the boardwalk; a gala in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Swanson TV dinner; DooWop architecture tours; a display of ’50s and ’60s cars; and more. More information is available by phone at 609-729-4000 and online at http://www.fabfifties.com.

The Wildwoods Fabulous ‘50s weekend is partially funded by the New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism - http://www.visitnj.com - and the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.

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