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Warner Brother Years
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  • Recorded between 1960 and 1969.
  • The rating of this six-CD set is no joke -- yes, Bill Haley was supposed to be an irrelevant artist during the 1960s, but he did, in fact, generate well over 100 good and far-better-than-decent sides that are contained in this set. No, there's nothing remotely as earth-shattering or important as his best work for Decca from 1954-1955, and even most hardcore fans of that material may find the cost of this set difficult to justify; but take it from someone who shelled out for this box, it's worth a LOT more than you'd ever guess without hearing it -- Haley and his band still knew how to work a song, as demonstrated several dozen times on this set. The title is actually a bit misleading, since the sides that Haley recorded for Warner Bros. Records amount to less than a third of the contents of this box. Disc one is given over to the principal contents of Haley's two Warner albums and their accompanying singles, which include his versions of a brace of rock & roll oldies (among them recuttings of "Rock Around the Clock" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll," as well as hits identified with Jerry Lee Lewis, et al.) and some excellent country standards. Disc two wraps up the Warner Bros. sides (apart from a series of outtakes that appear on disc six) in surprisingly strong form, including a good version of "Let the Good Times Roll, Creole," and unearths a pair of mysterious recordings -- "Jack in the Box" and "Pistol Packin' Mama" -- by Haley and his band with an unidentified baritone singer; it also offers four songs that he recorded for Gone Records in the early '60s, and an album's worth of tracks (including a hot version of "Yakety Sax") that Haley and company recorded for the Guest Star label in 1962. None of this is bad stuff -- it's often a good deal better than, say, the songs that Elvis Presley was doing in his movies of the era, and it shows that Haley was still a solid, viable performer and musician a good decade after his breakthrough, and six years beyond the point where most pop historians have usually written him off. Franny Beecher was with him until the Roulette sides were done -- and Johnny Kay was a good substitute on the Guest Star sides -- and Rudy Pompilli was there all the way, honking away in generally fine style. Disc three is largely devoted to Haley's sides for the Newtown and Nicetown labels from 1963, and his dance recordings for the Apt Records label in 1965, and his abortive liaison with United Artists Records in 1968; some of the Newtown/Nicetown numbers are embellished with the sound of keyboards and backing vocals, but the core of Haley's music is there, and he's in much finer form even on those tracks than he was on many of the late Decca sides; only the novelty tunes like "Tongued-Tied Tony" and "Tenor Man" fall flat to varying degrees, but his rippling version of "Flip, Flop & Fly" is more than adequate compensation for such lapses. Finally, disc four brings us up to 1969 and Haley's participation in Richard Nader's Rock 'N' Roll Revival shows, and the concerts -- best known for their partial release on various Buddah and Kama Sutra albums, but included here in their entirety -- that he played at New York's Bitter End. Discs five and six, together in a narrow double-pack, are comprised of outtakes, demos, the live sides recorded for Gone Records at the Roundtable, and various tracks of indeterminate date and origin. The box comes with Bear Family's usual thoroughly annotated booklet and complete session information, and it's certain to delight and amaze even serious Bill Haley fans, as well as anyone else who ever wondered about the later work of this lost hero of rock & roll. ~ Bruce Eder
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