Once upon a time during the '60s and '70s, a young Johnny Kay found himself immersed in a fairytale, in which the fresh new sound of rock ‘n’ roll served as the soundtrack.
On this colorful adventure, Kay would meet a slew of unique characters including the man with the golden voice (Dick Clark), the man with iron lungs (Louis Armstrong) and a group of guys who swore they were insects (The Beatles). During those years, Kay spent most of his time as a guitarist with Bill Haley & the Comets, alongside the most prominent character throughout this escapade, who he considers the creator of rock ‘n’ roll (Bill Haley).
Sadly, many of these great characters have since passed away. But Kay, who dropped his new album, “Just Playin… The Blues,” in March, hopes they'll live on through his many stories — while accompanied by his band the JK Rockets — during his dinner concert, which includes a full buffet, at New Candlelight Theatre on Saturday, June 16.
When Kay performs tunes from “Just Playin” Saturday, he’ll provide context behind each tune, unveiling his connection to the song, as well as informing the audience of his numerous encounters with entertainers as a member of Bill Haley & the Comets — a band that introduced one of the most significant songs in rock ‘n’ roll history with “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954. Not to mention, the group was one of the first rock ‘n’ roll bands.
“I recently decided to do my own thing and tell the stories of rock ‘n’ roll and groups I met around the world,” said Kay, 72, of Wilmington, who played with The Comets from 1960 to 1972. “This is not really like a traditional play-and-leave.”
Locked away in Kay’s mental attic is a barrage of priceless stories waiting to be told, like the time he met The Beatles after their show in Germany in 1964, in which they praised Haley — who was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 — for birthing rock ‘n’ roll.
“They said, ‘Bill, without you, nothing would’ve happened,'” said Kay, adding The Beatles were explaining how Haley’s invention of rock ‘n’ roll prevented them from being held hostage as merely another house band overseas.
And while Kay says “The Beatles are my favorite, if not my favorite group,” he has a bursting desire to inform crowds that The Beatles aren’t the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll, despite popular opinion.
“Their music is great because you can play it in jazz, classical and you can play it as elevator music,” he said. “But they did not create rock ‘n’ roll. What they did was revive it.”
Page 2 of 2 - Kay added, “In ‘62 and ‘63 [American] music became a little schmaltzy, it became stagnant. But The Beatles came in with their sound, and the Rolling Stones, The Animals and the [American] kids liked it because it was that garage-band sound; and then it went on from there.”
Origins of rock ‘n’ roll
According to Kay, the genesis of rock ‘n’ roll began when Haley released the song “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” in 1953. In the song, he chanted the phrase, ‘Rock, rock, rock everybody! Roll, roll, roll everybody!’”
WJW disk jockey Albert James “Alan” Freed — who’s also known as the father of rock ‘n’ roll — then coined the expression “rock ‘n’ roll” after playing “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” on the station, in which he’d frequently pound on his desk in unison with the tune’s drums, chanting “rock ‘n’ roll,” Kay recalled.
Looking back, Kay is proud of the stories he’s been able to accumulate over the years, thanks to the gift of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
“I feel very privileged to be of the age when I remember there was no rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “To be there firsthand and to be, really, in the first rock ‘n’ roll band — not many people can say that.”