BEST BETS: Haleyz Cometz soars with music history

Haleyz Cometz, led by Bill Haley’s Comets guitarist and singer John Melinchock, left, will play Dover’s Modern Maturity Center Feb. 10. (Submitted photo)

As a kid watching “American Bandstand” with his sister and her friends in upstate Pennsylvania, little did John Melinchock know that years later, he would be playing in some of those same bands he grew up idolizing.

Mr. Melinchock, a guitar player since he picked up the instrument after he saw what Elvis Presley could do with it, got the chance of a lifetime in 1988 when he was 40 years old, playing lead guitar and being a vocalist for the renowned Bill Haley’s Comets.

“I knew this wrestler from England who played bass guitar. He wanted to put a band together and tour with the circus. He had seen me perform, playing rock ’n’ roll in Philadelphia and doing stuff like Buddy Holly, Elvis, Eddie Cochran,” Mr. Melinchock, now 70, recalls.

“Next thing I know he tells me about this guy Al Rappa, who needs a guitar player for a 50s band. I called Al for an audition and he said come back tomorrow at 7 p.m. I do and there’s a bus there and I get on and I see The Coasters there and some other people. Al says we are heading out on tour for the summer. I called my family and told them I was leaving town with just the clothes on my back and the money in my pocket.”

Unbeknown to Mr. Melinchock at the time, Mr. Rappa was the original bass player for Bill Haley and The Comets and together the two bands were off to see the country.

“My first job with them was in a football arena in Mississippi and the local TV station was carrying it live,” Mr. Melinchock said.

“I backed up The Coasters and played with Al. They gave me the sheet music and every song was familiar. At one point or another, I had played them or listened to them 100 times. It was a real trial by fire. I don’t normally sweat that stuff but I did that night.”

Mr. Melinchock stayed with The Comets until 2010.

His current band, which salutes music from the 1940s up until today, Haleyz Cometz, plays Dover’s Modern Maturity Center Feb. 10. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. with the show at 7:30.

Haleyz Cometz is an 11-member group: six horn players, guitar, bass, drums and two female singers led by Mr. Melinchock.

Founded in 1952, Bill Haley & His Comets continued until Mr. Haley’s death in 1981. It also became known as Bill Haley and the Comets and Bill Haley’s Comets.

From late 1954 to late 1956, the group placed nine singles in the Top 20.

In 1954, the group recorded its biggest hit and one of the most important songs in rock history, “Rock Around the Clock.”

Other hits include “Shake Rattle and Roll” and “See You Later Alligator.”

Always an Elvis fan, Mr. Melinchock began to realize the importance of Mr. Haley as he toured over the years with Mr. Rappa.

“Bill was not a quiet guy. He grew up tough,” Mr. Melinchock said of Mr. Haley, who grew up in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania and died in 1981 before Mr. Melinchock joined the band.

“He started off in a country band and had a hard time there. He moved to rock ’n’ roll and the rest is history.

“Elvis was the king of rock ’n’ roll but this guy was a god before Elvis came along. He’s sometimes known as the father of rock ’n’ roll but I find that condescending. The man started it and had so many firsts.”

A B-side to “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town),” “Rock Around the Clock” helped usher in the rock era, selling upwards of 25 million copies. Bill Haley and the Comets were also the first rock act to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in August of 1955.

Despite what he means to music history, Mr. Melinchock bemoans the fact that Mr. Haley is often forgotten.

“A newspaper around here did a story once about famous musicians born in the Philadelphia area. I called them up and said they forgot Bill Haley. The guy I talked to didn’t even know who he was. I thought that was a real shame,” he said.

Mr. Melinchock left The Comets when Mr. Rappa went into semi-retirement down in Florida. He said Mr. Rappa, now in his 90s, still performs a few times a year.

Haleyz Cometz pays tribute to not only songs of the early rock era but also big bands and beyond.

“I have a six horns in the band we can’t have them doing rock ’n’ roll so we do stuff like ‘In the Mood’ and ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000.’ Music made famous by Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey,” he said.

“We have two women in the band with whom we do music from The Supremes and The Orlons and we’ll throw in some newer music as well. So it’s something for everyone.”

Tickets are $45 per person for dinner and the show.

Proceeds benefit programs for older adults in Kent County. Tickets can be purchased from MMC Member Services, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or call 302-734-1200 Ext. 167.

The Modern Maturity Center is at 1121 Forrest Ave.

Biggs trio

The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover will open three provocative exhibitions today, starting with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

The leading exhibition in the trio is the museum’s first one-woman show of the artist Aina Nergaard-Nammack. The exhibition, entitled “My Countries, My Composers,” explores the artist’s interpretation of musical scores of key classical music composers of the three countries where she has lived: first Spain, then Norway and now the United States.

The artist creates large abstract paintings influenced by the sounds and rhythms of her musical selections. Some of the composers she channels within this body of work include: Aaron Copland, Isaac Al-beniz, Enrique Granados and Edward Grieg. This exhibition will be on view until March 25.

Adjacent to that show, the museum will present its first group exhibition of works created by African American artists of Greater Dover and Kent County.

Adjacent to that show, the museum will present its first group exhibition of works created by African American artists of Greater Dover and Kent County.

Entitled “African American History Live,” the exhibition is a focal point of the Dover Citywide Black History Celebration taking place in several locations throughout the city during the month of February. This celebration is presented by the Delaware State News, with partners from throughout the county. A “meet the artists” reception will be held Thursday, Feb. 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The show will feature approximately two dozen artists in a wide variety of media including: painting, video, photography, fiber, sculpture and works on paper. The artists also represent a diversity of professional backgrounds ranging from Delaware State University faculty to students, and from craft artists to second-career painters. This exhibition will be on view until at least March 4.

The third exhibition will take place on the museum’s third floor until April 22 and is entitled “Performances: the Brandywine Photo Collective”.

The exhibit will showcase artist interpretations of the same photographic images.

In “Performances,” nine artist members of the Brandywine Photo Collective (BPC) will interpret four photographic images through digital manipulation, post processing and creative printing. The exhibition then compares each artist’s evolution of the members’ source imagery.

“The Biggs Museum has a long tradition of cultivating the talents of individual artists and artist groups throughout the region,” said museum curator Ryan Grover. “We partner with hundreds of artists a year to showcase the most talented and diverse perspectives of the region.”

The Biggs Museum is at 406 Federal St.

Quilt exhibit

On the topic of exhibits, the Delaware Agricultural Museum will host the Stitch-in-Time Dover Quilt Guild exhibit Saturday through April 20 in the Gallery at the Agricultural Museum, 866 N. DuPont Highway in Dover.

This year’s theme is “Hope for the Future Starts with the Past.”

An opening reception will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Selected quilts will be available for sale throughout the duration of the exhibit. Admission to the reception and/or quilt exhibit is free for museum members; non-members pay regular museum admission fee ($3 to $7). All admission fees, as well as a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each quilt, benefit the museum.

For more information about the Delaware Agricultural Museum, visit www.agriculturalmuseum.org.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is the suspense-thriller “Winchester.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “A Bad Moms Christmas,” the firefighting film “Only the Brave,” Matt Damon in “Suburbicon” and Woody Harrelson in “LBJ.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.