My mother was a classical musician. A pianist I should say. I heard her playing around the house ever since I can remember and we had a piano. It was only natural that I would reach my little hands up there to the piano and start picking out some notes. I remember I was five years old when I picked out my first song and it was called "Dancing With Angels". I just picked out notes at the top part of the keys. Interesting story about my early formal piano lessons which only lasted two weeks. My mother took me. I was in parochial school and the nuns of course were the teachers there. They had me in for piano lessons and after two weeks the nun called my mother in to talk about my progress. The Sister said to my mother, whose name was Melba, "Melba, we can't do anything with Joseph." My mother said "well my goodness, why not? He loves to play the piano." The Sister said "yes, but he loves to play the piano his own way. When I give him notes to read, he puts in a couple of extra notes. When I call him about it he says 'but Sister, it sounds better way that way.' Also he has this habit of thumping his foot when he's playing the song. I ask him why does that and he says 'Sister, it has to have a beat.' I think it's better that Joseph go his own way." I got kicked out of piano school after two weeks and I went my own way. I played piano on probably 500 records and have written over 1,000 songs.
What did your mom think?
Well, I guess she got the message. She never bothered me about lessons after that and let me go my own way. The own way that I went was listening to early rhythm and blues records and playing the piano along with them when I was between eight and 12 years old. The music of that era was doo wop and rhythm and blues. One of my early influences was Fats Domino and another one was Smiley Lewis. I used to get their records and put them on and play the exact piano parts with the music playing. Just accompany them on the piano. That's how I started and I became really proficient. By 10 or 12 years old, I was playing all kinds of boogie woogie riffs. The early boogie woogie riffs that I played later became different parts of the arrangement of the records that I heard. The boogie woogie is really the predecessor of rock and roll and rock and roll comes from the boogie woogie riffs.
You had a couple of bands. The Jay Rockers and The Rock-A-Billies.
Yes, I started out with The Jay Rockers in 1955. It was the first rock and roll band in Baltimore, my home town. That's how I met Bill Haley. I engineered it for my group to be the opening act for Bill Haley when he came to town. When I first heard Bill Haley's music I went apeshit over it and I said this is for me. I met Bill Haley first at Carlin's Park before the Jay Rockers when I was 13 and I hung out with The Comets and talked to Bill and told him I thought his music was great. Then whenever they came to Baltimore I would show up. In 1954 I would show up a couple of times and help carry the instruments in. In those days the term was band boy. Later the term became roadie as you know. Then in 1955 I put together my Bill Haley type Comets band of my own and there I was. I opened for Bill Haley at a place called The Dixie Ballroom in Gywnn Oak Park and that's when Bill really first heard me play and Rudy Pompilli and Al Rappa the walking bass man drew attention to Bill and said look at that little curly headed guy playing the piano and Bill said "yeah, but he's too young." I think they first got the idea that I was a good piano player and then when I was in the army, I was with the Armed Forces Radio Network in Berlin, Germany. I put together on my leave an opportunity for Bill who was touring the service clubs to come in and record a couple of shows at AFN. I was co-engineer and the co-producer of that. That's when I joined up with them on my two week leave for the first time. The original keyboard player was Johnny Grande, a terrific player who inspired me a lot. He was as I understand it getting ready to leave so after that time in 1962 when I got out of the army, that's when I got my chance to become the featured pianist. Bill used a lot of other guitar players and a lot of other musicians throughout the years but I was the only other pianist that he used. Johnny Grande was there at the beginning and then I took his place. We still do some shows with Bill Haley's Comets and I still play with Al Rappa once in a while so 50 years of rock and roll.
How long did Bill's career run?
Well, he played until he died really. The last tour he did was in 1979 or 1980 and I believe it was with the English Comets. He had an English band and as I understand toured South Africa. He started out in the late '40s as a country singer and a yodeler. He was called the "Yodeling Cowboy". He played with The Down Homers back in the late '40s. I don't know too much about that era and then he came to Chester, PA and put together a group called The Saddlemen with Johnny Grande, the pianist that I mentioned and Billy Williamson who was a steel guitar player. They later hired Marshall Lytle so they were The Saddlemen making rockabilly music songs like "Rocket 88" and "Rock The Joint". Then they made the song "Crazy Land Crazy" which they changed their name in 1953 to The Comets. This is all before I was with them. That's the history of how long Bill's been doing it. The name Comets came in 1953 with Bill Haley And The Comets and Bill died in '81. When Bill died, I called The Comets together, the ones that I could find. We went to New York and did a musical eulogy for Tom Snider on NBC on a show called The Tomorrow Show. I was able to have the honor as the youngest Comet singing Bill's songs in honor of him and celebrating his life and his music. Then right after that in '81 the phones lit up from all over the country. Club owners were calling in and asking if we would come and play their clubs. We did a terrific tour with The Comets in '81 which consisted of Franny Beecher the guitarist and Al Rappa the bass player, Dave Howie the drummer from the '60s, myself, and of course Rudy Pompilli our sax player had passed on so we had Jim Robertson on sax. And myself Joey Welz on piano and vocals. I was singing the songs along with Ray Parsons, another Comet who was the rhythm guitar player. We did that until 1982 and then I dropped out and became president of Caprice International Records and started producing records and Al Rappa kept the group alive and he's still playing today with The Comets. Every once in a while I join them. We just get together once in a while for some of the bigger shows but we're still rocking around the clock in 2005 which for me is a 50 year anniversary. It's hard for me to believe that I'm 65 but I can't relate to that number and I can't relate to how I'm supposed to be at 65 because I'm still the way I was in 1955. I'm creating music. I'm excited about new music. Excited about keeping current. Of course I still make my old time rock and roll and write some new songs and the old arrangements that people like from my early days but I also have a side of me called The Comet MC where I'm producing hip hop and alternative rock and working with a lot of young artists as well. It never gets old for me and I guess I was meant to be a music man and I guess that's the way I'll stay. I hope when I leave, that I leave standing up playing the piano. I never sat down playing the piano either. I hope I leave them standing when I go too.
Rockabilly was the precursor to today's country music wasn't it?
Yes and also believe it or not to some of the alternative music as well. Rockabilly is actually rhythm and blues and rock and roll done in a southern style. The usual instruments are bass, drums, piano, and guitar. Screaming guitar solos. I was a very big fan of rockabilly. I know a lot of rockabilly artists. Carl Perkins was a friend of mine. Johnny Cash and of course Jerry Lee Lewis who was a very close friend of mine. I had an opportunity to make an album at Sun Records in Memphis myself and Jerry Lee Lewis' musicians that recorded "Great Balls Of Fire" and "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" were the ones that backed me on my album there at Sun Records. I have an album called Sun Sessions featuring James Van Eaton on drums, Rolland Janes on guitar, Malcolm Yelvington on rhythm guitar and vocals, Billy Riley on harmonica and vocals, and James Lott on bass which is the essential rockabilly band for Sun Records. I'm very proud of that album.
You knew Johnny Cash?
Yes, I did. He was a friend of mine. He was always kind enough to take my new albums when I saw him and told me he listened to my music as well. The real people in our business are the ones that are kind enough to acknowledge you. I'll never forget. For the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame grand opening, they had the HBO special. Of course Bill Haley was dead but I was able to be there to represent The Comets and I only had one song on the special which was at the end of the show. I met Bruce Springsteen for the first time. I was getting ready to tell Bruce how great he was and see, these guys turn the tables on me. They say "wow Joey, you are the legend." I didn't even get a chance to tell Bruce how great I thought he was. He was turning the tables on me. That's the stature of a real, true artist who appreciates what other people are doing. I'll never forget the end of the show. While the credits were rolling, I was singing "Rock And Roll Music" and Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen were backing me up on that. They were actually unison singing. Everybody who was on the show came out with us singing "Rock And Roll Music". Chuck Berry duck walked back to me and stuck his big red cherry guitar in my face and said "rock on son". It was like he passed the torch of rock and roll and asked me to carry on. I was saying "Chuck, I'm a piano player." He said "I know but rock on." It's just a tradition that's handed down. I think once a rock and roll musician, always a rock and roll musician.
It's so cool. I like my parents music and the stuff I grew up on. I also like a lot of the stuff that's out now. I tend towards heavier music like metal.
I can relate to that. I've made a couple of heavy metal albums myself in the '80s. I had a hit single called "Heavy Metal Kids" and another heavy metal single called "Rocking In America" and I worked with a group called The Great Train Robbery. During that time I played with Steppenwolf and Rare Earth. I just sat in with them but I was very happy to keep vibrant with that music. During that era in the '80s I was making heavy metal records myself. I did my own version of one of my albums in "Born To Be Wild" and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" by Grand Funk Railroad. Stuff like that. I think if heavy metal's done properly, it's very powerful and moving music.
It really is. A lot of messages in that. Did you ever get to meet Elvis Presley?
No. How that happened, I don't know. I missed Elvis. I'm sure that we would have liked each other. I knew that he liked The Comets. Our paths never happened to cross and that's a mystery to me because we were all over the place and so was he but I never ran into him. Bill did and had a picture taken with him back in the early days before I was with the group. I know most anybody else you could ask me that are really good friends of me like Fats Domino, Little Richard. My home here is a five room museum of all my friends. I'm looking around here while I'm talking to you in my little office and there are pictures of me and Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Bo Diddley, Lou Christie, Chubby Checker, Kenny Rogers, Pat Boone, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, and Link Wray and Roy Buchanan. By the way I have to tell you, Link Wray and Roy Buchanan were absolutely so far ahead of their time and great guitarists and I had the honor of working with both of them. With Link Ray I worked on some of the Raymen records. I was the pianist on some of his records and he and I wrote an album which is still considered to be a masterpiece. It wasn't a commercial success but it was an album called Listen To The Voices That Want To Be Free. That's one of my favorite albums I did with Link Wray. Then with Roy Buchanan I did an album called Revival Fires where I sang all the '50s songs and we rocked them up a little bit. Both of those artists were deep friends of mine and great inspirations. I'm proud to have recorded with them.
Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker were just amazing.
They're still rocking. Jerry Lee Lewis is still doing a few shows. Little Richard is out there. Fats Domino does limited shows. Link Wray is over in Copenhagen still rocking and rolling. If I keep going, we'll be the only few left that people can buy, right? I have a lyric in one of my songs. Something about The Rolling Stones and me and if we keep rolling along, we'll be the only ones left that you can see. Their career has lasted so long. I don't know how Keith Richards can still stand up much less play the guitar.
It's been decided that because he has done so many drugs, that man will never die. He is just a walking corpse.
His body is immune to it I guess.
Have you ever met The Rolling Stones?
No, that's another group I haven't met. I never met The Rolling Stones. I never met The Who and I never met Elvis Presley. When I meet these people, I not only meet them but they become friends.
How about The Beatles?
Yes, in 1962 they were the opening act for Bill Haley's Comets at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. The Comets being a little older than I am didn't really see much in common with this new mop head group from England that was just giving us back our American rock and roll with an English accent but I thought they were cool. Needless to say, I'm the same age as The Beatles as you can tell. We hung out for a week and I got to know them. I remember John Lennon says "Joey, we want to come to America. What do you think of our name?" At that time they were called The Silver Beatles and I said "John, I've never seen a silver beetle. They're gold and they're brown and they got some green in them but they're not silver. You're thinking of water bugs." He said "Joey, I'm not talking about bugs. The name is Beatles. B-E-A-T-L-E-S. " I said "John, if you drop the silver and keep the beat in there, you'll be all right." Next year they came to America as The Beatles.
At one time they were The Beat Brothers with Tony Sheridan.
Well, Tony Sheridan was singing lead with The Beatles. That's where that came from. They were know as The Silver Beatles and I don't know if what I had to say was what influenced them but they did drop the silver and kept the beat in there. The rest is history. During that time they asked me if I would sit in with them on their opening set so I played piano with them at the Star Club. It wasn't a formal recording session. I didn't even know it was being recorded but 60 years later an album comes out called The Beatles At The Star Club: The Hamburg Tapes and faintly I could hear my piano there and I didn't realize it but they must have had a little microphone hanging from the ceiling. What I was doing with them was recorded so I can actually say I recorded with The Beatles.
I finally had the opportunity to see Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band. He's one of my favorite drummers.
Yeah, Ringo is a good friend of mine. I have pictures with Ringo and I hanging up in my office. He's a down to earth guy and he was the one of all The Beatles that I became closest with. I'd like to tell you about some of the artists I'm excited about including UFO Jim and how all that came about.
Yeah, how did you get into producing?
The founder of Caprice Records was Gerry Granahan in the early '60s and our label started with the hits of The Angels. We also had a record called "I've Got My Mind Set On You" by James Ray, one of the original artists on that. As you know, George Harrison covered that record. James Ray, Gerry Granahan, The Angels, and Janie Grant and The Fireflies were the beginning of Caprice Records. I was on a label called Canadian American Records which I joined after I got out of the Army because Steve Lawrence and I wrote a song called "Hey Little Moonbeam" and Steve Lawrence's brother was the president and general manager of the label back in the mid '60s so when I got out of the Army I went up and got signed and met Gerry Granahan. We became friends and I hadn't heard from him in years. In the early '80s I went to see him perform and we were talking about the old days and Caprice Records had laid dormant for 20 years. He had not done anything with Caprice so he gave me permission to start recording new groups and use the label with my own money of course. Then the new era of Caprice started in 1982 and the first record I did was a heavy metal version of "Rock Around The Clock". Everything that was done on Caprice had international so it was Caprice International so it wouldn't be confused with the old Caprice that Gerry Granahan owned. Through the years I've found some wonderfully talented people and of course I've talked a little bit about UFO Jim because I do believe the things that I have said and endorsed him. His approach and his vision is not only original. There's no other word to use but far out. Especially since we're talking about his affinity with UFOs. He is a far out guy and he's a down to earth guy and very talented. We're doing very well at least getting airplay and people knowing about his album with Caprice International. UFO Jim. I look for people like that. I don't like to make records with artists that don't have anything new to bring to the table. I look for unique groups. One of our groups on Caprice International and now Canadian American Records is Noble Gas. We just got last year a song that is getting a lot of airplay called "Telstar" which is a remake of the '60s hit by The Chernados and we just finished this week the new follow up single which is going to be "Outer Limits". Remember that show? We just brought that up to date so they are a very unique talent. Noble Gas. I work with a couple of talented country artists. One of them is Bobby B. The other one is Robyn Wolf. I have some talented songwriters that provide great music. We signed a publishing deal with Charlie Jade who gave us a couple of great country songs and my releases are still there. I do three albums a year. One of them is usually country. One of them is old rock and roll. The other one is hip hop. My new album is called Hip Hop Love and I have a country album called Americana Legend. Then I have a rock and roll album called Rock And Roll Survivor. One of the reasons I like being president of a record company is now I have a way to release my music too.
Talking about record labels, back in the '50s, '60s, and '70s there were all these major record labels. Then they all started either folding up or buying each other up.
Or getting gobbled up by the majors and then the creativity process comes to a screeching halt. The independent labels have been known to fuel the industry because they are not limited to having to make what people think is current commercial music. The independents were always the leaders who came up with new ideas. I'm proud to have two of America's original independent labels at my fingertips. Especially now Canadian American Records which gave the world "Sleep Walk" by Santo And Johnny in '58 which was our first record and Linda Scott and some other talented million sellers. We reactivated that label now and we're making music for the 21st century so I'm very proud of that.
Now you have maybe one or two major labels and you have all these indie labels.
I think that the whole process is when you talk about the makers and the conglomerates and them uniting, itís all about the big bucks. Believe it or not people like myself and UFO Jim and Link Wray and a lot of us, itís not about the money. We do music because we have to do it. We do it not only for the entertainment that it gives us but also because weíre creators and weíre frontiers men. Weíre defining what music will be in the years to come and the major labels want to sell millions of copies of X1Z43 and itís just made exactly to the formula of whatever they think the teenagers are buying today. Thatís what has happened with the major industry. Theyíve lost their creativity and their insight to making music of the future. Theyíre leaning on trends. How many songs in the hip hop era and the current alternative rock era are going to be big hits 20 years from now and redone? Not very many because the song value isnít there. Look at the Ď50s and Ď60s songs. How many they redo and remake. Itís because the song value is there and the memories are laced with that music. Iím all for being independent.
It started in the Ď60s and Ď70s where bands would get together and basically have a lifelong career off of making albums. Back in the Ď50s it seemed like you had these artists who would make one or two singles and that would be it. Why was that?
One of the reasons why is just that a lot of the entrepreneurs that had the independent labels took the money and ran. They might have made a big killing off of an artist that had one or two hits and then the label ceased to be. Or the label got bought up by the majors and the majors dropped the older artists. Thatís the only reason I can think of. Iím a one hit wonder myself. Iíve only had a couple of records in my whole life that were big national top records. Most of my records do well in the independent charts but I never see them on Billboardís. The independent labels like myself, we donít have $150,000 or $200,000 to push every song we put out to radio. The majors have all the money to promote so one of the things thatís helped us is the Internet coming into play where weíre distributed worldwide. People can buy our music anywhere in the world. Thatís a good thing.
When it comes to spending large amounts of money on pushing stuff, when you want to get your music played on the radio you have to spend a lot of money to get that done. I remember watching something about Alan Freed and the payola scandal.
Alan Freed was the first disc jockey to break rock and roll and he was a good dude. He took the rap for a lot of people. Everybody was paying off disc jockeys back then. Dick Clark managed to steer clear of all of that just by the skin of his teeth but Iím sure there was a lot of payola going on. Now itís legalized because itís corporate payola and I think the major labels are buying time to the major market space in the radio stations and because of that, the big city stations are all only playing the major releases. We donít spend money on promotion but we have a history that when something is out on Caprice International or Canadian American Records, weíve had hundreds and hundreds of releases make the charts on the independent charts for years. We were the independent label in Ď96 and people in the radio business, the smaller stations, liked the labels and when we put new music out, they listened to it and picked something out and they play it regardless of whether thereís promotion money. I think thatís the real deal. I think thatís what disc jockeys should be doing. Listening to the music that comes in and making their choices of what they want to play. Not based on promotion and how much money someone is spending, but if they think their audience would benefit from the artist.
It all comes down to the music I think. Music plays such a large role in peopleís lives and sometimes music defines generations.
I would like to mention, back to the current things we are doing and looking ahead to the future, Iím involved with my staff and Iíd like to give a quick overview of a few people Iím working with. First of all, Iíve had an A&R director by the name of Gabriel Maciocia. Heís really known as Gabriel in the business. Heís done productions for Pamela, The Four Tops, and for Gloria Gaynor. He and I have been working and developing new artists since 1982. Gabriel is a big help to me. He runs the office up in the New York and New England states. I have an engineer thatís an out of sight audio guy by the name of Ken Randisi. Heís responsible for building our sites and for mastering and doing all the audio things. Then I have a vice-president of Canadian American by the name of Doctor Phil Schwartz whoís been a collector of records since he was a kid and my other vice-president is Danny Berden and they both collected Canadian American records before I became owner and president years ago. Weíre putting together another release on Canadian American of all of our greatest hits, volume 2. We had a success a few years ago with Canadian American's Greatest Hits, Volume 1. So now weíre putting the oldies out so that people can hear the original music. Danny Berden and I are working on the Caprice story which will have The Angels and Gerry Granahan and all the original records he was producer of all back in the early Ď60s. Weíre not only working our catalogue and making it available for people to hear what we did years ago, but also forging ahead with inside from Gabriel and myself that are looking for new artists and I mentioned some of them. There are a lot more. Weíre doing hip hop. Actually Gabriel and I produced a song by The Four Tops thatís in a movie now called Swimming Upstream. I donít want you to think of us as just being an oldies label because I reactivated Canadian American to build our future on what we did in the past which is finding great songs, great melodies, and creative original artists. That formula is what weíre carrying on with in our new policy of putting out new music. Weíre happy to have UFO Jim as one of them.
You did a CD where you recorded at Sun Studio where Elvis recorded.
Yeah, thatís the Sun album that I was telling you about. Itís called Sun Sessions.
You actually used the same equipment that Elvis used?
Right. It was done old school and we just bared our souls and played our music acoustically in the room. It was recorded that way and the Sun album is one of my favorite albums. As I told you, I was blessed to have some of Jerry Lee Lewisí original musicians backing me.
Producing records has become so technologically advanced that you can produce records on your laptop.
We donít do that. Everything that youíll hear on our label, I play if Iím the musician or our musicians play.
Do you think that production techniques have improved or do you think that thereís something to the old school way?
Yes, itís gotten better as far as cleanliness of sound. In my estimation, the sacrifice is not worth it. Cleanliness of sound, it doesnít have to be exactly that clean if itís rock and roll anyway. I prefer musicians coming into the studio and playing their instruments and recording them on analog tape. Then mixing it down, transferring the analog to a DAT or a digital CD and putting it out that way. At least making records. We have a 16-track one inch tape recorder and I put the musicians on all the tracks and sit there with earphones and mix them together and make a record. Thatís the way I prefer to do it. We donít use a computer. However the computer is good for mastering. Thatís where Ken Randisi comes in. Then he puts it on the computer and cleans it up and makes it sound really good. The creative process of recording, I prefer the old school.
A lot of artists put out original CDs a while back and now theyíre into remastering. Iím a huge KISS fan and I have all the CDs they put out before they remastered them. I was asked a few years ago if I was going to buy the remasters and I was like why? They said well they sound better.
They sounded good as far as you were concerned when they first did them.
Exactly. It was that raw sound and energy that got my attention to begin with. How do you feel about remastering?
Iím not against mastering or remastering or cleaning things up. Iím against making them on computers and digitally. As I told you, I like to make the music with musicians playing on tape and mixing it. Thatís the way we do it.
How did you get to meet Jerry Lee Lewis?
Iíve known Jerry Lee Lewis since Ď58. I met him at the Buddy Dean show. I was on there with The Jay Rockers when he came. He had ďGreat Balls Of FireĒ. Weíve known each other ever since. He always reminds me, ďJoey youíre pretty good son but Iím number one and youíre number two.Ē I placed in the polls with him and Elton John and Billy Joel for seven years in the Keyboard magazine polls as one of rockís top players and Iím just proud to be there. Especially since I didnít have the major labels behind me. I did it the independent way. We just lost our brother Ray Charles who I also knew and was an inspiration to me. Thereís Jerry Lee Lewis, myself, Fats Domino, and Little Richard are the only four living recording rock and roll piano players that I know. We lost Floyd Kramer who was a pop pianist. We lost Joey Rich who was a pianist who made his records but as far as that Ď50s rock and roll piano playing, can you name any other ones? I donít think I forgot anybody.
Tell me your Ray Charles story. That guy was a legend. The world lost a valuable treasure when that guy died.
I was just fortunate enough in Baltimore to go to one of his early concerts and I told him that I was a piano player. Unfortunately I didnít get to really hang out and know the man as well as Fats and Jerry Lee but he was kind to me. Gave me a little bit of advice and through the years he was aware that I was making records as a pianist. Ray was all about music. I havenít seen the movie yet but I understand that Jamie Fox nailed him cold and everybody says that itís a great movie and itís very close to being authentic. Iím looking forward to seeing the Ray Charles story called Ray. While youíre about it, there are two movies that I was involved in with the music. One of them was Swimming Upstream that has the record that I produced with Gabriel and The Four Tops called ďSexy LadyĒ in it. The other one Iím acting in. Itís called Angel Made Of Glass. Itís a story of Bandstand and the days of Dick Clark and all that. I have the role of playing myself. Joey the Comet. I wrote two songs for the soundtrack. One of them is called ďForever MoreĒ and the other one is called ďAngel Made Of GlassĒ. I also did a hip hop version of ďRock Around The ClockĒ that I wrote with the original writer, Jimmy Myers, just before he passed away.
Did you know Dick Clark really well?
I know him. I was on his shows. I played with him in Baltimore on the Prime Time tour and we all used to get on the bus and did these different shows in different towns. I worked with Tommy James And The Shondells, Bill Black Combo, Gene Pitney, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs. I saw Dick in Ď83 and of course he remembered me. We talked about my record ďHey Little MoonbeamĒ which was one of my biggest pop records and it was on Canadian American in 1964. I have pictures of me and Dick Clark up here on the wall.
That guy always amazed me. He must be 195 and looks like heís 30.
Heís showing his age finally but heís still the philosopher of rock and roll and very knowledgeable about all the stories and doesnít seem to ever forget anybody that was on his shows. It made me feel good that he remembered me. Although he never did that much to really help me because Iíve been making independent records through the years. I even wrote a song about Bandstand called ďThe Girls Of The Ď50sĒ and we sent it to him. It was all about Bandstand but he never replied so I donít know whatís going on.
He had a chain of restaurants and we had one here in Dallas.
There was one in Philadelphia and I played that restaurant.
I wonder what happened because it closed down.
Yeah, a lot of them did. I should mention that ďThe Girls Of The Ď50sĒ was written with a Philadelphia songwriter by the named of Jerry Korn and itís a really great song. Itís another one kind of tucked away on one of my albums but itís a great song and I was disappointed that Dick didnít use it. I think there was a movie that he was doing that had something in it with Bandstand. Never heard back from him.
Were you ever on the Ed Sullivan Show?
The Comets were but I wasnít old enough to be on there. That was back in í55 and í56. I saw it. Iím known as the second generation Comet. I came in in the í60s. Although I was very close with them in the í50s but you have to remember I was just a kid. I have the distinction of being one of the only other piano players Bill ever used and also the distinction of being one of the youngest of the originals. At 65 I can go around for another 20 years the good lord willing and sing ďRock Around The ClockĒ with Al Rappa who is still doing it. The original walking bass man. The original Comets are still out there too as they should be. Theyíre called The Original Comets and they were the guys who left Bill in í55 but they were the original musicians on ďRock Around The ClockĒ. Thereís enough there for everybody and I am happy to be a part of that history. Iíve done so much more than just Bill Haleyís Comets fame. I wish that it would catch up with me. A lot of the independent music that Iíve made. Iíve made over 75 45ís, 60 albums vinyl, and I have over 40 albums in my catalogue that are CD. Iím one of the only artists left that I can think of that has recorded new music every year since 1955.
Speaking of music formats, it started out with vinyl. Then they went to eight track tapes all the way to cassettes and CDs.
Itís changing still. They have i-pods coming out in the future and one of the things that makes it hard for the independents is every time they change, I have to spend money in the studio. They get the new formats. We were doing a lot of cassette duplication in the í70s and í80s. I have 30 beautiful cassette players here in my studio and I havenít duplicated a cassette in over two years.
As media formats change, do you think itís for the better or do you think there were things about vinyl that were a lot better?
I think that if youíre a record collector, the only way to collect a record is to have the original release from the original label. Of course, there was some noise. As the records got played, they became scratchy. I think for clarity, CDs are great and theyíre much easier to carry around and much easier to punch up a song and play it immediately. They donít transcend into the collecting arena because of the fact that the original record on the original label is what all collectors want. For instance, my original music was made on Bat Records back in the middle and late Ď50s. The Bat label. Those records are worth $400 and $500 a piece if somebody can find one. Thereís a company in Greece that offered to make my Ď50s music on vinyl again that I met when I was in France. I tour there. Two times out of the year, I go to Europe and tour with the Eddie Cooper band who is a French artist thatís also on our label as an artist. Weíre a rockabilly band and I met this record entrepreneur from Greece. Heís the president of Fone and he offered to take my original í50s tapes and make vinyl records of them again and put my pictures of how I looked in the í50s on the cover. It never ceases to amaze me how things continue to come about. I just signed with Extreme Music in Las Vegas to endorse t-shirts and hats and all that. The Boogie Woogie King of Rock And Roll: Joey Welz the Rocking Comet. Theyíre going use my logo for that. People seem as years go by to be more interested in me as a relic and a piece of history rather than what Iím doing with my new music. That kind of bothers me but then again, my mother always said itís better to be a living legend than a dead pop star. If Iím a legend, Iím glad that our lord saw fit for me to be here for a few years to enjoy that status. Most types, you arenít a legend until youíre dead. I love helping new artists make music. I saw that UFO Jim mentioned me in his article. The truth is, yes Iím honest and yes Iím ethical about treating artists right because Iím an artist myself. Iíve been through it where theyíve screwed me as well.
I always hear stories from bands where they signed contracts and they got screwed out of money. It seems like one of those pitfalls that you can never avoid when you start out.
If you do what people like myself who are real music people and real musicians do, you have a better chance of having an honest relationship. Too many people are in the business just for the sake of the money and donít know a thing about the music. A lot of the big labels and major conglomerates are run by lawyers and attorneys and theyíre not real music men. When I came up and went to New York, I used to meet people like Sid Feller and people that were really music men. Theyíre all gone.
Iíve had people tell me that the reason you have to sell 100,000,000 records is because you only get paid a few cents per record.
The major labels take all the money back that they spend on promoting a record and making a record. With us, our artists own the record. Like UFO Jim did a record but he owns it. We give him all the money back except for 25 percent that we keep for shipping. Unfortunately the independent thing, although itís better and people know about our artists, the sales arenít there yet as Jim was saying. We are still trying to figure out ways to promote our product. People can buy his record and any of our records anywhere in the world but the next step is to let people know that they exist. Thatís where the money crunch comes in.
Sometimes you have to be rather creative in promoting yourself. Youíve been recording since 1955.
Right, every year Iíve had two or three singles and one album or two albums a year. Iím still doing that. Iím one of the only artists alive in the world that has made new music and released it and recorded new music every year since Ď55 for 50 years. Unless you know anybody else. A lot of them would qualify but unfortunately they passed on. Sinatra, Elvis, all those people. The Beatles didnít start until the í60s. Now hereís a guy, Joey Welz, that started in í55. My first record was ďThe Jitterbug RockĒ with The Jay Rockers. My new record out right now coming up 2005 is called ďOne Peaceful WorldĒ. In between those two songs, both of which I wrote, is 50 years.
What has kept you so energized all this time?
I havenít been lucky at love. Iíd love to have a woman be able to share my passion but itís really very rare to find a woman thatís going to be that involved in music that I could be a soulmate with.
Surely there have been a few.
Yes, thank God. A couple that got away that I still think of and love although I donít know where they are. I still hear from my high school sweetheart. We talk about once a month.
Youíre in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
Iím in the Hall Of Fame as one of The Comets. Unfortunately they havenít listed our names. Itís just Bill Haley And The Comets. Iím happy to be a part of that. Iíve been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame by name.
Youíre also in a Hard Rock Cafe.
Back in the í70s I lived in El Paso for a bit and we had a lot of country stations. For some reason that stuff was listenable but the country music today is horrid.
I make country music too but mine is more Americana and has more rock and roll in it. I donít sing about beer halls and love done me wrong songs. Youíd probably enjoy my country music. Itís actually Americana. Thereís an album there called Americana Legend that you should listen to.
Any other thoughts or comments?
I think itís great to find that thereís people and young people like yourself that care about our history of music and how rock and roll came to be. Donít write us off as yesterdayís news. Thank God for Angela.
If it werenít for boogie woogie and all that we wouldnít have rock music today.
People seem to forget that. They throw away our rock and roll as yesterdayís news but in Europe more people know Joey Welz and come to see me than they do in America.
Itís kind of funny how I discovered one of my favorite drummers. Iím a huge KISS fan and Peter Criss used to take drum lessons from Gene Krupa. He always talks about how Gene Krupa was this excellent drummer. I went out and got some of his CDs and fell in love with the guy.
A little footnote to my career. I was in Baltimore at a show and Gene Krupa invited me up to play boogie woogie with him. I played boogie woogie piano with the Gene Krupa band with Gene playing drums. One of those memorable things. Jerry Lee Lewis invited me up once at his show in Memphis and we both played the piano together. Both of us on the same piano.
Canadian American Records