Bill Haley is credited as being one of the first rock ’n’ rollers to break in to mainstream pop culture. It was his performance of the legendary ‘Rock Around The Clock’ that gave the world the definitive rock ‘n’ roll sound. Haley was born in Highland Park, Michigan on July 6th, 1925, the son of a mechanic and a piano teacher. Haley’s father, William Haley Sr., played the banjo and the mandolin, and it was he who taught young Bill the basic guitar chords and how to play by ear.
Having started out playing country & western, Bill Haley Jr., had little success on the music scene. He formed a band called The Saddlemen in 1949, but their first excursion into the rock ’n’ roll scene was with a cover of Ike Turner’s ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951. It became increasingly apparent that The Saddlemen needed a name change to reflect this new breed of music, and, in 1952, they were renamed ‘Bill Haley & His Comets’. In 1953, Haley’s ‘Crazy Man, Crazy’ became the first rock ’n’ roll hit in America, ranking 15th on the Billboard Best Selling Singles and 11th on the Cash Box chart.
'Rock Around the Clock' was written by Max Freedman and James Myers, and, although it was first recorded by Sonny Dae & His Knights, Myers claims that the song was written specifically for Bill Haley. Haley recorded the song in 1954, and, despite a slow start, the song has since sold 25 million copies. ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was released in May, and in June a cover of Big Joe Turner’s ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’ took Bill Haley & His Comets up to the top spot in the American charts, selling over a million copies and earning a place across the pond in the British singles charts.
Bill Haley’s popularity began to wane as newer, more exciting rock ‘n’ roll acts began to emerge and achieve commercial success. The band continued to play with reasonable results until Haley’s death in 1981. He was 55. Despite Haley’s comparative lack of commercial longevity to other rock ‘n’ roll artists, he, and his Comets, are still one of the best-known acts in the history of music, and their most famous song is possibly one of the most important pieces of music ever to have been produced. That’s not bad for the son of a mechanic and a piano teacher.
For The Record:
Born William John Clifton Haley, Jr., July 6, 1925, in Highland Park, MI; died of heart failure February 9, 1981, in Harlingen, TX; son of William John Clifton Haley (a farmer) and a church organist mother; married; several children.
Singer, songwriter, guitar player, and bandleader, 1945-81. Formed band Four Aces of Western Swing, 1948, and performed on WPWA Radio, Chester, PA, 1948-50; changed group name to Bill Haley and His Saddlemen, 1950, released first single, "Rocket 88" on independent label, 1951; changed group name to Bill Haley and the Comets. Recorded with Essex label, 1951-53, had first hit, "Crazy Man, Crazy," 1952; moved to Decca Records, 1954, had multi-million seller with "Rock Around the Clock," 1954. Music was featured in the film "The Blackboard Jungle," 1955, "Rock Around the Clock," 1956, and "Don't Knock the Rock," 1958. Made numerous live appearances in the United States, Europe, Mexico, and Central and South America, 1955-79.
Membership of the Comets between 1951 and 1975 included John Grande (guitar), Bill Williamson (guitar), Marshall Lytle (bass), Dick Richards (drums), Joey D'Ambrosia (tenor saxophone), Al Rex (bass), Ralph Jones (drums), Rudy Pompelli (tenor saxophone), Frank Beecher, John Kay, and Dave Holly.
Awards: Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, 1986.
Bitter over the indifference he faced in his native country, Haley became a recluse as the 1970s progressed. In one of his last interviews he said: "I wrote 'Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie,' which was the song that gave rock 'n' roll its name. Remember how it started out? 'Rock, rock, rock everybody! Roll, roll, roll everybody!' Well, that started it. The story has got pretty crowded as to who was the father of rock. These days, you'd think everybody did it. But we were the first. I haven't done much in life except that. And I'd like to get credit for it." Indeed, Haley's was no small accomplishment. His music was a breakthrough combination of styles that had previously been split along racial lines, conjured at a time when a young audience with increasing record-buying power was craving novelty.
Bill Haley died in his sleep on February 9, 1981, in the small town of Harlingen, Texas. Stuart Colman offered a tribute to Haley in the book They Kept On Rockin': "Leaders in the music world are always predestined, and Bill had every right to be a star. . . . Whatever. . . [the] criticisms of the Haley style of music, the fact remains that the slick three chord pop songs at which he so excelled, have always been the hardest to write successfully." Colman concluded, "Rest assured, any future songwriter would give his eye teeth to unlock the secret of some of the all-time greats created by Bill Haley and the Comets!" Fittingly, Bill Haley was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as one of its first members.
Singles; with the Saddlemen
"Rocket 88," Holiday, 1951.
"Green Tree Boogie," Holiday, 1951.
"Jukebox Cannonball," Holiday, 1951.
Singles; with the Comets
"Rock the Joint," Essex, 1952.
"Crazy Man Crazy," Essex, 1953.
"Sundown Boogie," Essex, 1954.
"Rock Around the Clock," Decca, 1954.
"Shake, Rattle, and Roll," Decca, 1954.
"Dim Dim the Lights," Decca, 1954.
"Mambo Rock," Decca, 1955.
"Razzle Dazzle," Decca, 1955.
"Rock a Beatin' Boogie," Decca, 1955.
"See You Later, Alligator," Decca, 1955.
"Rockin' Through the Rye," Decca, 1956.
"Rockin' Rollin' Rover," Decca, 1957.
"Skinny Minnie," Decca, 1958.
"Tamiami," Warner Bros., 1960.
"Chick Safari," Warner Bros., 1960.
"Tenor Man," Newtown, 1963.
"Dance Around the Clock," Newtown, 1963.
"Burn That Candle," Apt, 1965.
"Haley a-Go Go," Apt, 1965.
"A Little Piece at a Time," Janus, 1972.
"Kohoutek," MGM, 1974.
"Within This Broken Heart of Mine," Arzee, 1977.
Albums; with the Comets
Bill Haley and the Comets, Essex.
Rock Around the Clock, Decca.
Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show, Decca.
Rockin' the Oldies, Decca.
Rockin' Around the World, Decca.
Rockin' the Joint, Decca.
Shake, Rattle and Roll, Decca.
Bill Haley's Chicks, Decca.
Haley's Juke Box, Warner Bros.
Bill Haley's Scrapbook, Kama Sutra.
Bill Haley & His Comets, Warner Bros.
Golden Hits of Bill Haley & the Comets, MCA.
Greatest Hits of Bill Haley & the Comets, MCA.
Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay, Gusto.
Rock and Roll, Crescendo.
Rock Around the Country, Crescendo.
Bill Haley & the Comets From the Original Master Tapes, MCA
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