Check Out Paisley Fogg But Avoid Bill Haley's Comets

by Gary Johnson

We had a fun time at the Wenonah Park Friendship Shell in Bay City, Sunday night, watching a great area band called the Paisley Fogg. The 'Fogg' plays an interesting mix of guitar-based rock covers featuring the Beatles, Byrds, Hollies, and many other artists that are generally ignored by the typical "oldies" bands. When is the last time you've heard a group play "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan or "Lies" by the Knickerbockers? Or how about relatively obscure album cuts like the Buffalo Springfield's "Pretty Girl Why" and the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone"?


The band is comprised of guitar aces Tom and Keith Birchler switching off on lead and brother Dave on rhythm. In addition, the Birchler brothers' vocals provide a natural harmony that immediately grabs your attention. Harmony vocals are almost a lost art in today's Rock and Roll, but that vocal blend is a key ingredient in the songs of the mid-to-late 60's that the 'Fogg' specialize in. The Paisley Fogg's rock-solid bottom is anchored by bassist Ron Graham and drummer Tommy Anderson who also provide additional backing and lead vocals respectively. The band has put out two cool CDs, "Cover Your Mind" and "Deux" that you can find on their website.


Unfortunately, the headliner for the evening was a shabby excuse for 50's Rock and Roll called Bill Haley's Comets. Bill Haley would have turned over in his grave if he would have heard this outfit desecrate his musical legacy. The group that "performed" in Wenonah Park is led by bassist Al Rippa who joined Bill Haley's band after they had lost all of the original members, and Haley had already begun his downward spiral of alcoholism, debt, and eventually dementia. Rippa, who could not carry a tune in a casket, is probably the worst frontman I've ever seen. Rippa and the band's show was a pitiful display of wrong lyrics, missed cues, and general chaos. The stink was greater than anything Monitor Sugar could produce in its wildest nightmares.


I had the pleasure of seeing the real architects of the classic Bill Haley sound in 2005 at the Rockin' 50's Fest in Green Bay, WI. Joey D'Ambrose (sax), Johnny Grande (piano), Marshall Lytle (bass), Dick Richards (drums), and Frank Beecher (guitar) performed as the "Original Comets", and they were. All five played with Haley during the glory years of 1954 and 1955, when Bill Haley And His Comets were the biggest Rock and Roll band in the country and sometimes featured a relative unknown by the name of Elvis Presley as an opening act. The Original Comets were all in their late 70's and early 80's when I saw them play and they were magnificent! Their energy and commitment to holding up the musical heritage of one of Rock and Roll's pioneers makes the existence of music butchers like Al Rippa's band of fake Comets all the more disgusting.