Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The roots of rock & roll are mainly found in rhythm and blues music. Many early record companies had found  a more convenient name for their blues releases, "race" music, Through by the late 40's this expression became embarrassing and more alternatives included "ebony" and "sepia." Finally in June 1949, Billboard Magazine changed its terminology to "Rhythm and Blues."

The end of the Second World War brought Syracusan Jimmy Cavallo to North Carolina where he continued his musical career. The deep south at this time was still segregated, but whites like Cavallo still ventured into many black clubs to listen to the black man play the blues. What he heard were songs by Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Ruth Brown and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams. Within the next few months Jiimmy participated in a number of jam session with many of the South's rhythm & blues greats, In 1949, Cavallo returned to Syracuse  and discovered the city offered colored floor shows featuring "Sax" Hunter at Frankie & Johnny's and dancing to the big band of Eddie Williamson and others playing old-style hotel room jazz. So Jimmy Cavallo formed his own quartet, and they played`their first job at Sorrentos. This was Syracuse's first taste of "Rhythm & Blues," unheard of up until this time. What was this new music? Cavallo the innovator described it as "blues with a shuffle and back beat that featured a honking style saxophone and was great to dance to." Jimmy played music totally new to Syracuse ears like "Good Rockin' Tonight", "Red Top", "Fanny Brown", "Honky Tonk", "Drinkin' Wine Spodee-O-Dee", and "Night Train".

Cavallo and his rhythmic honking horn literally captured Syracuse's younger generation. The band included "Diz" Utley who had followed Jimmy from North Carolina and played tenor sax. This dual sax sound became most prevalent in the rock scene of the 1950s. The others members included Sam Barone (bass), Al Antinallo (drums) and Mike Palusa (piano). Club owners literally fought to have Cavallo's band play in their clubs. Overflowing crowds followed the band where ever they played, whether it be at Sorentos, P.L.A.V. , Clover Club, Memory Lane, Andre's Tic Toc Club or DeCastros at Sylvan Beach. His popularity spread to Syracuse, Colgate and Cornell Universities. Everyone was dancing the Jitterbug and forming endless circles while Jimmy played his horn on top of bars and on tables.

Cavallo and his band, now known as the House Rockers released two 45 rpm singles recording's for Auburn's BSD Record label in 1951. The first being "I Got Eyes For You" and the second the old R&B standard "Rock The Joint," Jimmy's travels led him to Wildwood, New Jersey where county singer Bill Haley head his arrangement of "Rock The Joint." Haley took the Cavallo style and recorded his own version of the song with his band the Saddlemen (later changed to The Comets). The word of this new sound spread quickly and the House Rockers were in constant demand.  Even teens tried storming into adult clubs to hear the sound with the new beat.

Local police in Endicott, NY had to close a club as 12 & 13 year olds  flocked to hear Jimmy sing "Don't Let Your Ding Dong Drag In The Dirt." As the House Rockers toured the state Alan Freed was hired by New York City radio station WINS for $25,000 to play his new Rock & Roll music nightly. Young people followed Alan Freed and his new sound as he continued to air the original black recordings as opposed to the white cover versions played by the coconservative rival stations. His impact was dynamic, within a short period even juke-box operators began programing these so called Rock n" Roll records everywhere.

No year of our time to date opened with a more musically momentous event than 1955. Alan Frred staged his first Rock & Roll dance at New York's St. Nicholas Arena. A sold out crowd heard The Clovers, Drifters, Fat Domino, Harptones, Moonglows and other. This first great rock concert out-grossed any jazz concert ever staged in New York. New York teens in the Big Apple found they could also harmmomize and put feeling to their music and came to Alan Frred looking for instant stardom.

During an engagement in Kingston, NY, Jimmy Cavallo and his House Rockets (now consisting of George Horton, Pete Procopio, Tony Leonardi & Dave D'Imperio) jumped at the chance to audition for Freed's right hand man Jack Hooke. Following that audition the band was rushed to meet Freed and with his influence signed a recording contract with Coral Records. Coral released five Cavello singles (note the name change from Cavallo) they include- "Soda Shoppe Rock", Ooh, Wee", "Cherry Pie", "Yo Yo Baby" and the theme for Alan Freed's second rock move (but third released) "Rock, Rock, Rock." Jimmy Cavello & the House Rockers performed as well as appeared as actors in the film. Following the films release the House Rockers became one of the first white bands to play New York's famed Apollo Theater (Cavello claimed even before Buddy Holly). Jimmy also appeared on Alan Freed's daily television show and was added to Freed's 2nd Anniversary live stage show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. He shared the stage with such rock greats as Fat Domino, Chuck Berry, The Moonglows, Frankie Lymon & Teenagers, Everly Brothers and The Flamingos to name a few. Then it was off to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Washington, D.C. and finally to Philadelphia for an appearance on American Bandstand with ex-Syracusan Dick Clark.

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