JIMMY CAVALLO (aka JIMMY CAVELLO)
Born James Cavallo, 1927, Syracuse, New York
Singer / saxophonist Jimmy Cavallo was one of the first white rock 'n' rollers, several years before the term rock 'n' roll had even been coined. During his high school days in Syracuse he played in a swing band, playing harmony on alto sax. Influenced by Louis Jordan and Paul "Hucklebuck" Wiilliams, he switched to tenor sax and formed his own combo, the Jimmy Cavallo Quartet in 1947. It was a white R&B band that sounded black and held residence in North Carolina, where Jimmy served in the Navy. Cavallo claims to have invented the shag dance movement, which is still quite popular in the Carolinas.
Upon his discharge, Cavallo returned to Syracuse in late 1949, where he formed a new quartet with local musicians. They packed the clubs in 1950 and 1951, playing Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and Paul Williams tunes as well as originals, and were a phenomenal success locally. In 1951, the band cut two singles for the tiny BSD label, in the basement of the home of the label owner, Angelo Pergolito. BSD 1004 was "Ha Ha Ha Blues"/"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!", but more interesting was BSD 1005, which had a cover of Jimmy Preston's "Rock the Joint" on the A-side (one year before Bill Haley's version) and Jimmy's own "Leave Married Women Alone" (co-written with Diz Utley, who had played in his North Carolina band) on the flip. Both were done in the germinal rock and roll style, which practically no other white band on the East Coast was playing at the time. An exception must perhaps be made for Charlie Gracie, whose "Wildwood Boogie" (1954) was probably inspired by seeing Cavallo play in a club in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Jimmy went on an extended tour of Canada in 1953-54, during which he organized a band called the House Rockers, made up of musicians from Niagara Falls and Canada. Then followed what Jimmy calls his "Alan Freed years". In mid-1956 Cavallo and the House Rockers auditioned for Alan Freed, then the most powerful deejay in the USA. The group began to appear at Alan Freed Shows and Freed signed them to Coral Records, where Jimmy's name was consistently misspelled as Cavello. ("Alan Freed could not pronounce my name properly", says Jimmy.) They appeared with Freed in the 1956 movie "Rock, Rock, Rock", in which they played the title song (a Cavallo original, not to be confused with the Amos Milburn and Peppermint Harris tunes by that name) and another tune called "The Big Beat", both excellent rockers. (Also released in the UK on Coral Q 72226.) The white group also appeared with all-black artists at the Apollo Theatre in New York to promote the movie's release.
For Coral they cut a total of 12 sides, many of them originals, and well worth collecting for R&R fans. They toured with Fats Domino, did a summer-long residence in Wildwood (1957), played Las Vegas, performed in another Alan Freed movie, "Go Johnny Go" (1959), and waxed some more recordings for the Sunnyside, Hand, Darcy and Romar labels (1959-65). The group disbanded soon after the Romar single came out.
Cavallo moved to Florida, where he is still living, but continued to perform regularly, singing and playing his saxophone. He played his first ever UK gig in 2002 (The Rhythm Riot), returning to the British Isles in 2004 (Hemsby) and 2005 (Americana International, see the current issue of Now Dig This, page 4).
In 2001 and 2002, he put out two new CD's, a live album ("Live At The Persian Terrace") and the very authentic-sounding "The Houserocker!", on which he is backed by his guitarist Ron Spencer and the group Jumpstart (Blue Wave Records). His earlier recordings have been collected, also on Blue Wave, on the 2004 CD "Rock the Joint! The Jimmy Cavallo Collection, 1951-1973 (29 tracks).
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