Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dick Boccelli, who performed under the name Dick Richards as a member of one of the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll bands, died at 95 Friday morning in Ocean City, according to his oldest daughter, Beverly Walker.
Boccelli, who had lived in Ocean City since the 1960s, was the drummer for Bill Haley and His Comets when they recorded Haley’s most famous singles, “Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
“He just enjoyed everything he did with gutso,” Walker said. “Dad was lot of fun. He was really a great guy. ... Dad had the most amazing spirit.”
Boccelli helped make musical history during Memorial Day weekend in 1954 when “Rock Around the Clock” was played for the first time live at the now defunct Hotel Hofbrau in Wildwood.
For Dick Boccelli, the drummer for Bill Haley and His Comets, the group’s Memorial Day weeke…
“We knew what to do, just lay the beat down. That’s all. We didn’t do anything else but give the people what they want,” said Boccelli during an interview with The Press two months ago. “They (the girls) really got into it.”
Besides playing the song live during gigs, Boccelli sang background vocals during the recording session. The tune’s success was fueled by its inclusion in the Glenn Ford movie “The Blackboard Jungle,” which opened in March 1955.
Boccelli joined the Comets in 1953 and left the group at the end of 1955 with bassist Marshall Lytle and saxophonist Joey Ambrose to start their own band, the Jodimars, which lasted from 1955 to 1958.
During Boccelli’s time in the Comets, he appeared in the Universal Pictures 1954 short black-and-white film “Round Up of Rhythm,” which marked the first appearance by a rock band on film.
With the group, Boccelli appeared on “The Sammy Kaye Show,” “The Milton Berle Show” and, most importantly, “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The Comets did the first live rock ‘n’ roll performance on a major TV show when they appeared on Sullivan’s program live from Connecticut.
The Comets were also known for being the first American rock ‘n’ roll band to play in Europe and for having the first million-selling rock ‘n’ roll single with their cover of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” according to bassist Walter “Wally” Bucks, who played with Boccelli in his last band, the Ready Rockers.
Boccelli wasn’t just a rock drummer. He also acted. He did local theater, including with the Ocean City Players during the 1960s. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was on Broadway, appearing in “The Ritz” with Rita Moreno and F. Murray Abraham.
Boccelli appeared on the now-defunct soap opera “The Edge of Night” in 1980, the movie “Shakedown” with Peter Weller and Sam Elliott in 1988, “My Blue Heaven” with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis in 1990 and the now-defunct HBO TV series “Oz” during the 1998-99 season.
The original members of the Comets who played with Haley reunited in 1989 and played until 2014. They entertained at the Ocean City Music Pier, the Wildwoods Convention Center, the now-defunct Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
Besides the Comets, Boccelli formed his own rock ‘n’ roll trio known as the Ready Rockers with Bucks, 56, of Linwood, and guitarist Tom Gargan, 61, of Ocean City. The trio played at the Ocean City Free Public Library and other places in Cape May and Atlantic counties from 2013 until September.
Besides the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2012, Boccelli also was honored with a mural of Haley and the Comets in 2014 on a building at Oak and Pacific avenues in Wildwood. There is also a plaque commemorating “Rock Around the Clock” where the Hofbrau once stood.
Bucks said Boccelli told him one day playing drums and music kept him alive.
“He was a classy person with a great outlook and a positive attitude. He was always laughing. He was a true gentleman,” Bucks said. “Music was truly his life. It was his inspiration.”