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Lest We Forget

Posted on June 3, 2006

Johnny Grande

Original member of Bill Haley and His Comets

1930-2006

Johnny Grande, one of the original members of “Billy Haley and His Comets”, passed away on Saturday, June 3, 2006. He was 76 years old. Grande was born January 14, 1930 to parents of Italian heritage. He was raised in the South Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania and originally pursued non-musical careers like driving coal wagons and working 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 yodeling country artist. At Haley’s request, 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 “Bill Haley and the Saddlemen”. They ditched their straight country image, stopped wearing Stetson hats onstage. One other change, Johnny Grande switched from accordion to piano. Under the name “The Saddlemen” they released “Rock the Joint”. (The guitar solo on “Rock The Joint” is virtually identical to the one featured in a better-known song from 1954.) Another name change for the group came as they released the US top 20 hit, “Crazy Man Crazy”. Then came the 1954 45 rpm “Thirteen Women” b/w “Rock Around The Clock”, which went virtually nowhere on the charts. However, in 1955 the movie “Blackboard Jungle” featured “Rock Around The Clock” over the closing credits, and the rest, as they say, is history. The song became the first “Rock and Roll” song to go #1. Over the next year, Haley and the Comets became the first bona fide rock ‘n’ roll stars, releasing a string of hit singles like “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “See Ya Later Alligator”. They were even featured in two movies, “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock the Rock”.”The Comets” went through a number of lineup changes, usually over arguments about money. However Grande remained with the group until 1962. Grande eventually went on to teach music and became restaurateur. However in 2002 he reformed one incarnation of “The Comets”, touring as “The World’s Oldest Rock And Roll Band”. They even recorded an album that same year. The CD, “Aged to Perfection”, featured tracks like “We Ain’t Dead Yet” and “Viagra Rock”.

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