Bill Haley with Elvis Presley backstage at a concert in Frankfurt, Germany
|Birth name||William John Clifton Haley|
|Also known as||Jack Haley, Johnny Clifton, Scott Gregory|
|Born||July 6 1925|
|Origin||Highland Park, Michigan|
|Died||February 9 1981 (aged 55)|
|Genre(s)||Rock and roll, Country music|
|Instrument(s)||Guitar, slap bass|
|Years active||1946 – 1980|
|Label(s)||Cowboy, Atlantic, Keystone, Center, Holiday, Essex, Decca, Warner Bros. Records, Orfeon, Dimsa, Newtown, Guest Star, Logo, APT, Gone, United Artists, Roulette, Sonet, Buddah, Antic|
|Associated acts||Bill Haley & His Comets, The Down Homers, The Jodimars|
Bill Haley (July 6, 1925 - February 9, 1981) was one of the first American rock and roll musicians, brought this form of music into the American mainstream in the mid-1950s with the hit song, "Rock Around the Clock." With his group Bill Haley & His Comets Haley expanded the appeal of rock and roll to a much wider audience after years of the style being relegated to the R & B and rockabilly markets.
After a mildly successful career as a western swing performer in the later 1940s, Haley began performing in the rockabilly genre in the early 1950s and scored a major hit with a cover of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" in 1954. When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared in the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle, it rocketed to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts for eight weeks, beginning a musical revolution that ushered in the rock and roll era. He had several other hits, including "See You Later Alligator," but was soon eclipsed by younger stars, such as Elvis Presley and others.
Haley continued to record and tour, and his career received a boost during the rock and roll revival movement of the 1970s. He died in 1981, after suffering a brain tumor. In 1987, Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Early life and career
Haley was born William John Clifton Haley in Highland Park, Michigan, and raised in Booth's Corner, Pennsylvania. Many sources state that Haley was born in 1927, apparently due to Haley taking two years off his age for publicity purposes in the 1950s. Several sources append "Junior" to his name, but his eldest son had stated that this is erroneous.
Haley was blinded in his left eye as a child due to a failed operation. According to biographer John Swenson, Haley later adopted his distinctive spit-curl hairstyle to distract attention from his blind eye. The hair style caught on as a 50s-style signature, although Haley and others had worn the hairstyle much earlier.
In 1946, Haley joined his first professional group, a Pennsylvania-based western swing band called the Down Homers. As Haley became experienced on the professional music scene, he created several groups. These included the Four Aces of Western Swing and the Range Drifters. With the Four Aces, he made some country hit singles in the late 1940s, for Cowboy Records. During this time he worked as a touring musician and, beginning in 1947, as musical director at radio station WPWA in Philadelphia. Many of Haley's early recordings from this period would not be released until after his death.
After disbanding the Four Aces and briefly trying a solo career using the names Jack Haley and Johnny Clifton, Haley formed a new group called the Saddlemen around 1950, recording for several labels.
In 1951, Haley was signed to Dave Miller's Philadelphia-based Holiday Records and began to move toward the rockabilly genre, recording "Rocket 88," and in, 1952, "Rock the Joint" for Miller's larger Essex label. These recordings both sold in the 75,000-100,000 range in the Pennsylvania-New England region.
In 1951, Haley crossed paths with The Treniers while playing in Wildwood, New Jersey. Haley arranged for their song, "Rock a Beatin' Boogie," to be recorded by two bands: the Esquire Boys in 1952 and The Treniers themselves in 1953. (Bill Haley and The Comets did not record their own version of the song until 1955.)
Bill Haley & His Comets
During the Labor Day weekend in 1952, the Saddlemen were renamed "Bill Haley with Haley's Comets," inspired by a popular mispronunciation of Halley's Comet. In 1953, Haley's recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" hit the American charts, considered by many to be the first true "rock and roll" song to do so. Soon after, the band's name was revised to Bill Haley & His Comets.
"Rock Around the Clock" was written for Haley in 1953, but he was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful, remaining on the charts for only one week. However, Haley soon scored a major worldwide hit with a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which went on to sell a million copies and became the first ever rock song to enter British singles charts in December 1954 and became a Gold Record.
Then, when "Rock Around the Clock" appeared behind the opening credits of the 1955 hit film, Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford, the song soared to the top of the American Billboard charts for eight weeks. It launched a musical revolution that opened the doors for the likes of Elvis Presley and others.
"Rock Around the Clock" was the first record ever to sell over one million copies in both Britain and Germany. Thus, in 1957, Haley became the first major American rock singer to tour Europe. Haley continued to score hits throughout the 1950s, such as "See You Later, Alligator," and he starred in the first rock and roll musical movies, Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock, both in 1956. His star was soon surpassed in the United States by the younger, sexier Elvis Presley, but Haley continued to be a major star in Latin America, Mexico, and Europe throughout the 1960s.
Later career and death
A self-admitted alcoholic, Haley fought a battle with liquor well into the 1970s. Nonetheless, he and his band continued to be a popular touring act, enjoying a career resurgence in the late 1960s with the rock and roll revival movement and signing of a lucrative record deal with the European Sonet Records label. After performing for Queen Elizabeth II at a command performance in 1979, Haley made his final performances in South Africa in May and June of 1980.
Prior to the South African tour, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and a planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 was canceled. He soon retired to his home in Harlingen, Texas where he died early on the morning February 9, 1981.
Media reports immediately following his death indicated Haley displayed deranged and erratic behavior in his final weeks, although there is little information about Haley's final days. The exact cause of his death is controversial. Media reports, supported by Haley's death certificate, suggest he died of "natural causes most likely heart attack." Members of Haley's family, however, contest that he died from the brain tumor.
Married three times, Bill Haley had at least eight children. John W. Haley, his eldest son, wrote a biography of Haley, Sound and Glory, while his youngest daughter, Gina Haley, is a musician based out of Los Angeles. Scott Haley went on to be a noted athlete. His second son, Bill Haley Jr. is currently writing a biography about his father, concentrating on the years 1949-1961.
Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The remaining Comets from 1954 and 1955 still tour the world to packed houses. The group recleased a concert DVD in 2004, on Hydra Records, playing the trendy Viper Room in West Hollywood in 2005, and performing at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri in 2006-07. The Bill-Haley-Museum opened in Munich, Germany in 2007.
In February 2006, the International Astronomical Union announced the naming of asteroid 79896 Billhaley to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bill Haley's death. Numerous biographies and histories have been written about Haley and his role in the development of rock and roll.
Unlike his contemporaries, Bill Haley has rarely been portrayed on screen. Following the success of The Buddy Holly Story in 1978, Haley expressed interest in having his life story committed to film, but this never came to fruition. In the 1980s and early 1990s, numerous media reports emerged that plans were underway to do a biopic based upon Haley's life, with Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges and John Ritter all at one point being mentioned as actors in line to play Haley (according to Goldmine Magazine, Ritter attempted to buy the film rights to Sound and Glory). In March 2005, the British network Sky TV reported that Tom Hanks was planning to produce a biopic on the life of Bill Haley, with production tentatively scheduled to begin in 2006. However, this rumor was quickly debunked by Hanks.
As Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing 1948
- Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals (vocal by Tex King)/Four Leaf Clover Blues (Cowboy CR1201)
- Tennessee Border/Candy Kisses (Cowboy CR1202)
As Johnny Clifton and His String Band 1949 or 1950
- Stand Up and Be Counted/Loveless Blues (Center C102)
As Bill Haley and his Comets
As Bill Haley & the Saddlemen (and variations of the name) 1950
- Deal Me a Hand/Ten Gallon Stetson (Keystone 5101)
- Susan Van Dusan/I'm Not to Blame (Keystone 5102)
- Why Do I Cry Over You?/I'm Gonna Dry Ev'ry Tear With a Kiss (Atlantic 727)
- My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada/My Palomino and I (Cowboy 1701)—released as Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos
- Rocket 88/Tearstains on My Heart (Holiday 105)
- Green Tree Boogie/Down Deep in My Heart (Holiday 108)
- I'm Crying/Pretty Baby (Holiday 110)—with Loretta Glendenning
- A Year Ago This Christmas/I Don't Want to Be Alone for Christmas (Holiday 111)
- Jukebox Cannonball/Sundown Boogie (Holiday 113)
- Rock the Joint/Icy Heart (Essex 303)
- Dance with a Dolly (With a Hole in Her Stockin') /Rocking Chair on the Moon (Essex 305)
As Bill Haley & His Comets (and name variations thereof) 1953
- Stop Beatin' round the Mulberry Bush/Real Rock Drive (Essex 310)
- Crazy Man, Crazy/Whatcha Gonna Do? (Essex 321)
- Pat-a-Cake/Fractured (Essex 327)
- Live it Up/Farewell-So Long-Goodbye (Essex 332)
- I'll Be True/Ten Little Indians (Essex 340)
- Chattanooga Choo Choo/Straight Jacket (Essex 348)
- Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)/ We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock (Decca 29124)—"Rock Around the Clock" was initially released as the B-side
- Shake, Rattle and Roll/ABC Boogie (Decca 29204)
- Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)/Happy Baby (Decca 29317)
- Yes Indeed!/Real Rock Drive (Transworld 718)
- Mambo Rock/Birth of the Boogie (Decca 29418)
- Razzle-Dazzle/Two Hound Dogs (Decca 29552)
- Burn That Candle/Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie (Decca 29713)
- See You Later Alligator/The Paper Boy (On Main Street U.S.A.) (Decca 29791)
- The Saint's Rock 'n' Roll/R-O-C-K (Decca 29870)
- Hot Dog Buddy Buddy/Rockin' Through the Rye (Decca 29948)
- Rip it Up/Teenager's Mother (Are You Right?) (Decca 30028)
- Rudy's Rock/Blue Comet Blues (Decca 30085)
- Don't Knock the Rock/Choo Choo Ch'Boogie (Decca 30148)
- Forty Cups of Coffee/Hook, Line and Sinker (Decca 30214)
- (You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat/Rockin' Rollin' Rover (Decca 30314)
- The Dipsy Doodle/Miss You (Decca 30394)
- Rock the Joint (a.k.a. New Rock the Joint [stereo])/How Many? (Decca 30461)
- Mary, Mary Lou/It's a Sin (Decca 30530)
- Skinny Minnie/Sway with Me (Decca 30592)
- Lean Jean/Don't Nobody Move (Decca 30681)
- Chiquita Linda (Un Poquito de tu Amor) /Whoa Mabel! (Decca 30741)
- Corrine, Corrina/B.B. Betty (Decca 30781)
- I Got a Woman/Charmaine (Decca 30844)
- (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I/Where'd You Go Last Night(Decca 30873)
- Shaky/Caldonia (Decca 30926)
- Joey's Song/Ooh! Look-a-There, Ain't She Pretty? (Decca 30956)
- Skokiaan (South African Song) /Puerto Rican Peddler (Decca 31030)
- Music! Music! Music!/Strictly Instrumental (Decca 31080)
- Candy Kisses/Tamiami (Warner Bros. Records 5145)
- Hawk/Chick Safari (Warner Bros. 5154)
- So Right Tonight/Let the Good Times Roll, Creole (Warner Bros. 5171)
- Rock Around the Clock/Shake Rattle and Roll (new versions) (Warner Bros. no. unknown)
- Honky Tonk/Flip, Flop and Fly (Warner Bros. 5228)
- Riviera/War Paint (Gone 5116)
- Twist Español/My Kind of Woman (Spanish version) (Orfeon 1010) [May 1961]
- Cerca del Mar/Tren Nocturno (Orfeon 1036)
- Florida Twist/Negra Consentida (Orfeon 1047)
- Spanish Twist (English version) /My Kind of Woman (Gone 5111) [September 1961]
- Caravan Twist/Actopan Twist (Orfeon 1052)
- La Paloma/Silbando Y Caminando (Orfeon 1062)
- Bikini Twist/Rudy's (Orfeon 1067)
- Mas Twist/Tampico Twist (Orfeon 1082)
- Twist Lento/Sonora Twist (Orfeon 1100)
- Martha/Tacos de Twist (Orfeon 1132)
- Jalisco Twist/Pueblo del Twist (Orfeon 1169)
- Tenor Man/Up Goes My Love (Newtown 5013)
- White Parakeet/Midnight in Washington (Newhits 5014)
- Dance Around the Clock/What Can I Say (Newtown 5024)
- Tandy/You Call Everybody Darling (Newtown 5025)
- Yakety Sax (by Bill Haley & His Comets)/Boot's Blues (by Boots Randolph (Logo 7005)
- ABC Boogie (new version) (by Haley) /Rock Around the Clock (by Phil Flowers (Kasey 7006)
- Pure de Papas/Anoche (Orfeon 1195)
- El Madison de la Estrella/Viajando Con el Madison (Orfeon 1229)
- Avenida Madison/Reunion de Etiqueta (Orfeon 1243)
- Limbo Rock/Ana Maria (Orfeon 1269)
- Green Door/Yeah, She's Evil! (Decca 31650)
- Adios Mariquita Linda/El Quelite (Orfeon 1324)
- Mish Mash/Madero y Gante (Orfeon 1333)
- Jimmy Martinez/Al Compás del Reloj (Orfeon 1429)
- Burn That Candle (new version)/Stop, Look and Listen (APT 25081)
- Tongue-Tied Tony/Haley-a-Go-Go (APT 25087)
- A Gusto Contigo/Mish Mash (Orfeon 1570)
- Land of a Thousand Dances/Estomago Caliente (Orfeon 1825)
- Rock Around the Clock/Rip it Up (new versions) (Orfeon 1894)
- That's How I Got to Memphis/Ain't Love Funny, Ha Ha Ha (United Artists 50483)
- Rock Around the Clock/Framed (live versions) (Kama Sutra 508)
- Travelin' Band/A Little Piece at a Time (Janus J-162)
- Me and Bobby McGee/I Wouldn't Have Missed it for the World (Sonet 2016)
- Yodel Your Blues Away/Within This Broken Heart of Mine (previously unissued pre-Comets recordings) (Arzee 4677)
- Hail Hail Rock and Roll/Let the Good Times Roll Again (Sonet 2188)
- Everyone Can Rock and Roll/I Need the Music (Sonet 2194)
- God Bless Rock and Roll/So Right Tonight (Sonet 2202)
- 1956—Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show (Decca 8345)
- 1957—Rockin' the Oldies (Decca 8569)
- 1958—Rockin' Around the World (Decca 8692)
- 1959—Bill Haley's Chicks (Decca 8821)
- 1959—Strictly Instrumental (Decca 8964)
- 1960—Bill Haley and His Comets (Warner Bros. 1378)
- 1960—Haley's Juke Box (Warner Bros. 1391)
- 1961—Twist (Dimsa 8255)
- 1961—Bikini Twist (Dimsa 8259)
- 1962—Twistin' Knights at the Roundtable (live) (Roulette SR-25174)
- 1962—Twist Vol. 2 (Dimsa 8275)
- 1962—Twist en Mexico (Dimsa 8290)
- 1963—Bill Haley & His Comets (compilation with unreleased tracks) (Vocalion 3696)
- 1963—Rock Around the Clock King (Guest Star 1454)
- 1963—Madison (Orfeon 12339)
- 1963—Carnaval de Ritmos Modernos (Orfeon 12340)
- 1964—Surf Surf Surf (Orfeon 12354)
- 1966—Whiskey a Go-Go (Orfeon 12478)
- 1966—Bill Haley a Go-Go (Dimsa 8381)
- 1968—Biggest Hits (re-recordings plus new tracks) (Sonet 9945); issued in England as Rock Around the Clock (Hallmark SHM 668) and in North America as Rockin' (Pickwick SPC 3256)
- 1968—On Stage Vol. 1 (live) (Sonet SLP63)
- 1968—On Stage Vol. 2 (live) (Sonet SLP69)
- The above two albums have been reissued in many forms, including by Janus Records as the two-album set, Razzle-Dazzle (Janus 7003), a numerous releases on the Pickwick and Hallmark labels.
- 1970—Bill Haley Scrapbook (live) (Kama Sutra/Buddah 2014)
- 1971—Rock Around the Country (Sonet 623); issued in North America by GNP-Crescendo (LP 2097) and as Travelin' Band on Janus (JLS 3035)
- 1973—Just Rock 'n' Roll Music (Sonet 645); issued in North America by GNP-Crescendo (LP 2077)
- 1974—Live in London '74 (live) (Antic 51501)
- 1975—Golden Favorites (compilation with unreleased tracks) (MCA Coral 7845P)
- 1976—Rudy's Rock: The Sax That Changed the World (billed as Rudy Pompilli and the Comets; recorded without Haley) (Sonet 696)
- 1976—R-O-C-K (re-recordings) (Sonet 710)
- 1978—Golden Country Origins (previously unissued pre-Comets recordings) (Grassroots Records)
- 1979—Everyone Can Rock and Roll (Sonet 808)
Other notable album releases by the group included Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets (Essex 102; 1954), Shake, Rattle and Roll (Decca DL5560; 1955), Rock Around the Clock (Decca DL8225; 1956), and Rockin' the Joint (Decca DL8775; 1958). These were all compilations of previously issued material.
Notable discoveries that have been commercially released have included:
- Several 1946 radio recordings Haley made with the Down Homers (Rock n' Roll Arrives box set, Bear Family Records, 2006);
- A large cache of country-western recordings made by Haley in the 1946-51 era, before the formation of the Comets (also released on Rock 'n' Roll Arrives)
- An April 1955 concert in Cleveland, Ohio, including the earliest known live recordings of "Rock Around the Clock" (Rock 'n' Roll Show, Hydra Records, 1995)
- A concert recording from the German tour of 1958 (Vive La Rock 'n' Roll, Big Beat Records, 2002)
- A 1957 radio recording from Haley's tour of Australia
- Soundtrack recordings from the 1958 film Here I Am, Here I Stay and the 1954 short film, Round Up of Rhythm (On Screen, Hydra Records, 1998)
- Previously unreleased live recordings from the 1969 Bill Haley's Scrapbook sessions at the Bitter End, CD release of Bill Haley's Scrapbook (Kama Sutra/Buddah, 1993) and The Warner Brothers Years and More box set (Bear Family, 1999)
- Two Christmas recordings and a version of "Flip Flop and Fly" from the 1968 United Artists sessions
- In-studio discussion recordings and alternate takes from the 1979 Everyone Can Rock and Roll sessions (The Journey to Fame, Denton Media, 2004)
- Assorted demos and alternate takes from the Decca and Warner Bros. era from the period 1958-1961, as well as additional alternate takes and unreleased tracks from the various labels Haley recorded with in the mid-1960s The Decca Years and More box set (Bear Family, 1991) and The Warner Brothers Years and More box set (Bear Family, 1999)
- Two 1962 broadcasts for Armed Forces Radio (On the Air, Hydra Records, 2001).
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Dawson, Jim. Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution! San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0879308292.
- Haley, John W., and von Hoëlle, John. Sound and Glory. Wilmington, DE: Dyne-American, 1990. ISBN 978-1878970008.
- Swenson, John. Bill Haley. London: W.H. Allen, 1982.
All links retrieved October 31, 2023.
- Bill Haley at the Internet Movie Database imdb.com
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