Three Aces and a Joker

Posted December 26, 2007 -
Courtesy David Burger -

You might not have heard them, but "Sleigh Bell Rock" and its B-side, "Booze Party," are in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. One historian calls them "as close to a true specimen of rock 'n' roll source material as you can get." Another describes "Sleigh Bell Rock" as one of the best Christmas rock songs ever written. Did they come from New York? Memphis? Tupelo?

Nope. Those songs are rooted in Ogden, Utah and the creator is still playing regularly in a club near you this Christmas season. Hal "Holiday" Schneider, 69, the singer and mastermind of the short-lived but long-remembered 1960s rockabilly band Three Aces and a Joker, is performing today in unassuming Ogden clubs.

"You must have been way ahead of your time, Hal," Three Aces guitarist Jimmy Blevins, 73, told Schneider when the two reunited recently at the The Salt Lake Tribune's photo studio.

"I'm just thrilled that someone likes the songs," Schneider said. Three Aces and a Joker was a northern Utah band that recorded only two songs in its lifetime. The two-sided single was recorded in late 1959 and released in 1960, only five years after Elvis Presley arguably created rock 'n' roll with "That's All Right." The Three Aces' A-side was "Sleigh Bell Rock," and the B-side was "Booze Party."

"I wanted to make a song for Christmas and New Year's," Schneider said.

Rockabilly historian Kim Simpson, who now lives in Texas but grew up in Salt Lake City, said "Sleigh Bell Rock" was "able to muster up a smattering of local airplay upon its release." "Booze Party," on the other hand, was ignored by radio stations because of its subject matter.

"We sold [the entire pressing of] about 600 copies, and I thought that was the end of it," Schneider said. It wasn't.

"Sleigh Bell Rock" found new life in the 1980s on a Rhino Records compilation called "Rockin' Christmas: The 1950s." Although the compilation is now out of print, Rhino's vice president of A&R, James Austin, can passionately talk at length about the record after being cold-called about "Sleigh Bell Rock."

"It's a great rave-up song," Austin said. "It's at the top of the list" of rock-infused Christmas songs. The great thing about the record is that it contains a stellar song on each side. In fact, the A-side has been surpassed in popularity by its flip side, "Booze Party." "Booze Party" has been covered more than a dozen times. Three versions are for sale in the iTunes library, including one by famous rockabilly revivalists Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys.

"Booze Party" is "over-the-top, and that's part of its charm," Austin said. Like any respectable rock 'n' roll or rockabilly song, "it flew in the face of public morals. . . . You gotta love it." The band made the record and put it out there without caring about the career consequences, Austin said, which is different from the "homogenized" bands of the 1960s and later.

Simpson has written extensively about the single on the Web site "When I hear 'Sleigh Bell Rock'/'Booze Party,' I'm not just hearing a record that's dripping with spontaneity, sass and fun, but I'm hearing music the way it's supposed to sound," Simpson said in an e-mail interview. "These guys had the approach and attitude down pat and were also able to capture it in the studio."

Schneider and Blevins - the latter was an Ace and the former was the Joker - said they've never received a dime from all the cover versions over the years, but they don't seem too bothered.

"I'm a country picker," Blevins said. "I don't even know why I'm on the record." The band broke up amicably shortly after the record was released, but Blevins and Schneider have become fixtures of Ogden's music scene. (Simpson called Ogden "Utah's Detroit.") Blevins plays with the country band Flashback. And while Schneider's main band is Loose Change, he loves going to shows to sing a few numbers with plenty of welcoming Ogden bands, including La Fusion, the Porch Pounders, Korene & Company, and the Kapp Brothers.

"Hal Schneider is Utah's King of Rock 'n' Roll," Simpson said. "He's exhibit A. He put out the greatest rock 'n' roll record in Utah history, and even if he weren't musically active today, he'd be a Utah state treasure for that reason alone."

LISTEN TO "Sleigh Bell Rock" and "Booze Party" at

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