Born 24 October 1917, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Local bands working the bars and clubs of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the late forties and early fifties developed a hybrid musical style that incorporated elements of swing, R&B and country music and had a direct bearing on the commercial genesis of early rock 'n' roll. In his book "The Sound of the City" (still the best publication on the rise of R&R), Charlie Gillett calls this style "Northern band rock 'n ' roll" and mentions Bill Haley and his Comets and Freddie Bell & the Bellboys as the major exponents of this genre. Other examples are Jimmy Cavallo and the Mike Pedicin Quintet.
Born in 1917, Mike Pedicin was probably one of the oldest white men ever to play rock 'n' roll. The son of a barber, Pedicin took up the alto saxophone by age ten. By the time he was in his mid-teens, swing music was starting to make itself felt and Pedicin played in that idiom for about a decade. Around 1940 he had organized his first band, the Four Sharps, which included Dave Appell on rhythm guitar. The quartet became a fixture on the local bar scene in Philadelphia and had plenty of work, managing to survive into the early '50s, well past the end of swing music's dominance. The group had added drums to their lineup by then and were known variously as the Mike Pedicin Quartet (or sometimes the Mike Pedicin Quintet) or the Four Men of Rhythm. Their development paralleled that of a similarly configured outfit out of rural Pennsylvania, called Bill Haley and his Saddlemen.
After several unsuccessful sides for the local Gotham label, Pedicin and company were signed to a major label, RCA Victor, in early 1955, months before anybody at RCA was familiar with Elvis Presley. At the time, the label was hoping to find an outfit akin to Haley's band, or the white equivalent to the Treniers, who could do rocking dance music that sold. At this point the band consisted of Mike Pedicin (alto sax), Buddy La Plata (piano), Sam Cocchia (guitar), Lou De Francis (bass) and Al Mauro on vocals and drums. In the studio they were sometimes augmented by Dominic Arnone (guitar), Robert Sentenari (drums) and Sam "the Man" Taylor (sax). On their first session, they recorded "Mambo Rock", one month after Haley had done it. Pedicin was busy at RCA for the first ten months of his two-year contract, through November of 1955, but after that he only had one session in the spring of 1956. It was clear by then that rock 'n' roll was going through a change, passing into the hands of younger performers and evolving into a more personal and charisma-driven form embodied by the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry et al. The Mike Pedicin Quintet scored only one chart entry at RCA and that was for exactly one week, in March 1956 ("The Large Large House", # 79), but they were huge in Philadelphia and played some of the best venues in New Jersey.
In 1958, the band recorded a single for Cameo Records, which returned them to the charts (aided by an appearance on American Bandstand), this time for two weeks, peaking at # 71. It was "Shake A Hand" (Cameo 125), the old Faye Adams hit. They also cut sides through the 1960s for Federal, ABC-Paramount and Apollo Records, among other imprints. Pedicin was still making music into the 1980s and beyond and in 1994 he saw his RCA recordings compiled on a Bear Family CD. This set is rounded out with (according to Bear Family) perhaps the first live rock 'n' roll recording from Detroit in 1955. If you like Bill Haley, you'll probably also like Mike Pedicin. As far as I'm aware, he is still alive.
Acknowledgements : Bruce Eder, All Music Guide.
CD: The Mike Pedicin Quintet, Jive Medicin (Bear Family BCD 15738). 32 tracks, 23 from RCA (five originally unissued) and 9 live tracks.
60-second excerpts from all 32 tracks can be heard at Amazon:
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