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Guide Profile: Bill Haley

By

Bill Haley

Bill Haley

Born:

William John Clifton Haley Jr., July 6th, 1925, Highland Park, MI; died February 9, 1981 (Harlingen, TX)

Genres:

Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Western Swing

Instruments:

Vocals, Guitar

Contributions to music:

  • First to take rock and roll into the top 40
  • Mingled Western Swing with Jump Blues to help create the new style
  • One of the first white entertainers to cross over to black audiences
  • The first rock performer to bring the music to the UK
  • First rock performer to have a self-contained band (The Comets)
  • First rock performer to appear on network television
  • First rock performer to own his own publishing company and label
  • First rock performer to be tied into teen rebellion

Early life:

Son of a piano-playing mother and a banjo-picking father, Haley was raised in a strict, religious, yet musically inclined family in a suburb of Detroit. The younger Bill had a guitar at 13 and was playing in country bands by the age of 18 with dreams of being a singing cowboy. At 21, disgusted with the life of a traveling country singer, Haley quit, but after a series of music-related jobs, he returned to performing, organizing a "western swing" band in the early Fifties.

Success:

That band eventually morphed into Bill Haley and His Comets, a group which played western swing with a hard R&B backbeat; in 1953, "Crazy, Man, Crazy" hit Billboard's Top 20. Louis Jordan's producer, Milt Gabler, eventually took the Comets on, encouraging them to develop their hybrid sound, and on April 12, 1954, the group recorded "Rock Around The Clock." It took a year and an appearance in the film The Blackboard Jungle, but it hit big, setting the stage for many more hits thereafter.

Later years:

Haley was never the sexiest or youngest rock star, so his popularity began to fade in the late Fifties. He rebounded by taking the new music to England, endearing him forever to the British. From that point on, Haley and his ever-changing Comets essentially became an oldies act, but one beloved to rock and roll fans on both sides of the ocean. He quit touring in the late Seventies due to his advancing years, and died peacefully in his sleep in 1981.

Other Facts:

  • Was part Cherokee
  • Worked in a bottling plant and a locomotive works before his fame
  • Was DJ and musical director for radio station WPWA, Chester, PA
  • The group was known as The Saddlemen before WPWA Program Director Bob Johnson suggested the "Halley's Comet" pun
  • The Comets of "Rock Around The Clock" are: Bill Haley (vocals, guitar), Danny Cedrone (lead guitar), Joey D'Ambrosio (tenor saxophone), Johnny Grande (piano), Billy Williamson (steel guitar), Marshall Lytle (double bass), Billy Gussak (drums)

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1982)
  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1999)

Important Songs:


#1 hits:
Pop:
  • "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" (1955)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "See You Later, Alligator" (1956)
Other important recordings: "Crazy, Man, Crazy," "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," "Birth of the Boogie," "Dim, Dim The Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)," "Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie," "Burn That Candle," "Don't Knock the Rock," "R-O-C-K," "The Saints Rock N' Roll," "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)," "Razzle Dazzle," "Skinny Minnie"
Appears in the movies: "Round Up of Rhythm" (1954), "Rock Around the Clock" (1956), "Don't Knock the Rock" (1956), "Let the Good Times Roll" (1973), "The London Rock and Roll Show" (1973), "Blue Suede Shoes" (1980)
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