Halley's comet passes the Earth only every 76 years, and though their schedule is less infrequent, an appearance by the Original Comets — Bill Haley's first backup band — is still pretty rare. This weekend you can check out one of the earliest and most earnest practitioners of greasy '50s rock 'n' roll, as the band shares the stage with SoCal's greatest western swing band, Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys, and local rockabilly ravers the Stillmen.
The Comets were a crack group of ex-hicks who got the rhythm and blues bug just as postwar R&B was hitting its frenzied peak. In 1951, several years before Elvis even imagined wiggling his skinny little hips on TV, Bill Haley cut a version of Jackie Brenston's “Rocket 88” that followed the original up the charts. Many folks consider it to be the first rock song recorded by a white band; next came Haley's “Rock the Joint,” “Crazy, Man, Crazy,” and, of course, “Rock Around the Clock,” the original rebellious teen anthem.
When they first started rocking, though, the Comets were called the Saddlemen, and still wore big cowboy hats — Haley was a country singer for nearly a decade before he hit the national spotlight as a rock god. The Stetsons and hillbilly moniker weren't the only things that changed over the years. When the big bucks started rolling in, Bill and the Comets got into a tiff over salaries. Haley stiffed the band, and the members walked out, leaving him to replace them with another set of eager, young musicians. This process continued numerous times, until the oldies circuit became cluttered with different gradations of “original” Comets.
That said, these five guys are the real deal (and they have a court order to prove it). Old coots they may be, but with over 50 years of show-biz savvy under their belts, they also still know how to slap the bass, rock the joint, and burn the house down.