William John Clifton Haley (/ˈheɪliː/; July 6, 1925 - February 9, 1981), known as Bill Haley, was an American rock and roll musician. He is credited by many with first popularizing this form of music in the early 1950s with his group Bill Haley & His Comets (inspired by Halley's Comet) and million selling hits such as "Rock Around the Clock", "See You Later, Alligator", "Shake, Rattle and Roll", "Rocket 88", "Skinny Minnie", and "Razzle Dazzle". He has sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Early life and career:
Bill Haley was born July 6, 1925 in Highland Park, Michigan as William John Clifton Haley. Because of the effects of the Great Depression on the Detroit area, his father moved the family to Boothwyn, near Chester, Pennsylvania, when Bill was seven years old. Haley's father William Albert Haley was from Kentucky and played the banjo and mandolin, and his mother, Maude Green, who was originally from Ulverston in Cumbria, England, was a technically accomplished keyboardist with classical training. Haley told the story that when he made a simulated guitar out of cardboard, his parents bought him a real one.
The anonymous sleeve notes accompanying the 1956 Decca album "Rock Around The Clock" describe Haley's early life and career thus: "Bill got his first professional job at the age of 13, playing and entertaining at an auction for the fee of $1 a night. Very soon after this he formed a group of equally enthusiastic youngsters and managed to get quite a few local bookings for his band."
The sleeve notes continue: "When Bill Haley was fifteen c. 1940 he left home with his guitar and very little else and set out on the hard road to fame and fortune. The next few years, continuing this story in a fairy-tale manner, were hard and poverty-stricken, but crammed full of useful experience. Apart from learning how to exist on one meal a day and other artistic exercises, he worked at an open-air park show, sang and yodelled with any band that would have him, and worked with a traveling medicine show. Eventually he got a job with a popular group known as the "Down Homers" while they were in Hartford, Connecticut. Soon after this he decided, as all successful people must decide at some time or another, to be his own boss again - and he has been that ever since.' Note: these notes fail to account for his early band, known as the Four Aces of Western Swing. During the 1940s Haley was considered one of the top cowboy yodelers in America as "Silver Yodeling Bill Haley".
The sleeve notes conclude: "For six years Bill Haley was a musical director of Radio Station WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania, and led his own band all through this period. It was then known as Bill Haley's Saddlemen, indicating their definite leaning toward the tough Western style. They continued playing in clubs as well as over the radio around Philadelphia, and in 1951 made their first recordings on Ed Wilson's Keystone Records in Philadelphia." On June 14, 1951 the Saddlemen recorded a cover of "Rocket 88". Many Rock historians regard this song, with its fusion of African-American R&B and Haley's country swing, as the very first "Rock and Roll" recording. This pre-dated Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" recording by over a year, and its chart success by three years!
Bill Haley & His Comets:
During the Labor Day weekend in 1952, the Saddlemen were renamed Bill Haley with Haley's Comets (inspired by the supposedly official pronunciation of Halley's Comet, a name suggested by the DJ Alan Freed), and in 1953, Haley's recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" (co-written by him and his bass player, Marshall Lytle, although Lytle would not receive credit until 2001) became the first rock and roll song to hit the American charts, peaking at no.15 on Billboard and no.11 on Cash Box. Soon after, the band's name was revised to Bill Haley & His Comets.
In 1953, a song called "Rock Around the Clock" was written for Haley. He was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful, peaking at no. 23 on the Billboard pop singles chart and staying on the charts for only one week.
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 was the first ever rock 'n' roll song to enter the British singles charts in December 1954, becoming a Gold Record. He retained elements of the original, but threw some country music aspects into the song (specifically, Western Swing) and cleaned up the lyrics. Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "Rock and Roll" to a wider, mostly white audience after a period of it being considered an underground genre.
When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared as the theme song of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford, it soared to the top of the American Billboard chart for eight weeks. The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it. Billboard separated its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955-present. After the record rose to number one, Haley was quickly given the title "Father of Rock and Roll" by the media, and by teenagers who had come to embrace the new style of music. With the song's success, the age of rock music began overnight and instantly ended the dominance of the jazz and pop standards performed by Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and others.
Success came at somewhat of a price as the new music confused and horrified most people over the age of 30, leading to Cold War-fueled suspicion that rock and roll was part of a communist plot to corrupt the minds of American teenagers. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover attempted to dig up incriminating material on Bill Haley, who took to carrying a gun with him on tours for his own safety.
"Rock Around the Clock" was the first record ever to sell over one million copies in both Britain and Germany and, 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 films Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock, both in 1956. Haley was already 30 years old and so he was soon eclipsed in the United States by the younger, sexier Elvis Presley, but continued to enjoy great popularity in Latin America, Europe and Australia during the 1960s.
Bill Haley and the Comets performed "Rock Around the Clock" on the Texaco Star Theater hosted by Milton Berle on May 31, 1955 on NBC in an a cappella and lip-synched version. Berle predicted that the song would go no. 1: "A group of entertainers who are going right to the top." Berle also sang and danced to the song which was performed by the entire cast of the show. This was one of the earliest nationally televised performances by a rock and roll band and provided the new musical genre called "rock and roll" a much wider audience.
Bill Haley and the Comets were the first rock and roll act to appear on the iconic American musical variety series the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, August 7, 1955 on CBS in a broadcast that originated from the Shakespeare Festival Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. They performed a live version of "Rock Around the Clock" with Franny Beecher on lead guitar and Dick Richards on drums. The band made their second appearance on the show on Sunday, April 28, 1957 performing the songs "Rudy's Rock" and "Forty Cups of Coffee".
Bill Haley and the Comets appeared on American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark on ABC twice in 1957, on the prime time show October 28, 1957 and on the regular daytime show on November 27, 1957. The band also appeared on Dick Clark's Saturday Night Beechnut Show, also known as The Dick Clark Show, a primetime TV series from New York on March 22, 1958 during the first season and on February 20, 1960, performing "Rock Around the Clock", "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", and "Tamiami".
Death and legacy:
A self-admitted alcoholic (as indicated in a 1974 radio interview for the BBC), Haley fought a battle with alcohol into the 1970s. Nonetheless, he and his band continued to be a popular touring act, benefiting from a 1950s nostalgia movement that began in the late 1960s and the signing of a lucrative record deal with the European Sonet label. After performing for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Performance on November 10, 1979, Haley made his final performances in South Africa in May and June 1980. Before the South African tour, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and a planned tour of Germany in the autumn of 1980 was cancelled.
The October 25, 1980 edition of the German paper Bild reported that Haley had a brain tumor. It quoted British manager Patrick Maylan as saying that Haley "had taken a fit and went over the seat. He didn't recognize anyone anymore" after being taken to his home in Beverly Hills. It also reported that a doctor at the clinic where Haley had been taken said, 'The tumor can't be operated on anymore.'"
The Berliner Zeitung reported a few days later that Haley had collapsed after a performance in Texas and been taken to the hospital in his home town of Harlingen, Texas. However, this account is questionable as Bill Haley did not perform in the United States at all in 1980.
Despite his ill health, Haley began compiling notes for possible use as a basis for either a biographical film based on his life, or a published autobiography (accounts differ), and there were plans for him to record an album in Memphis, Tennessee, when the brain tumor began affecting his behavior and he went back to his home in Harlingen, where he died early in the morning of February 9, 1981.
Martha, Bill's widow, who was with him in these troubling times, denies he had a brain tumor as does his old, very close friend, Hugh McCallum. Martha and friends related that Bill did not want to go on the road any more and that ticket sales for that planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 were slow. According to McCallum, "It's my unproven gut feeling that that the brain tumor was said to curtail talks about the tour and play the sympathy card."
It was obvious that his drinking problem was getting worse. By this time, Bill and Martha fought all the time and she told him to stop drinking or move out. He then did move out into a room in their pool house. Martha still took care of him and sometimes he would come in the house to eat, but he ate very little. "There were days we never saw him," said his daughter Martha Maria.
In addition to Haley's drinking problems, it had also become obvious that he was having serious mental problems as well; Martha Maria said that, "It was like sometimes he was drunk even when he wasn't drinking." After he'd been jailed by the Harlingen Police, Martha had the judge put Haley in the hospital where he was seen by a psychiatrist who said Bill's brain was overproducing a chemical, like adrenaline. The doctor prescribed a medication to stop the overproduction but said Bill would have to stop drinking. Martha said, "This is pointless." She took him home, however, fed him and gave him his first dose. As soon as he felt better, he went back out to his room in the pool house and the downward spiral continued until his death on February 9, 1981.
Haley's death certificate listed "Natural causes: Most likely heart attack" as the 'Immediate Cause' of death. The next lines, 'Due to, or as a consequence of" were blank.
Haley made a succession of bizarre, mostly monologue late-night phone calls to friends and relatives in which he seemed incoherently drunk or ill. Haley's first wife has been quoted as saying, "He would call and ramble and dwell on the past, his mind was really warped." A belligerent phone call to a business associate was taped and gives evidence of Haley's troubled state of mind.
Media reports immediately following his death indicated Haley displayed deranged and erratic behavior in his final weeks, although beyond a biography by John Swenson, released a year later, which described Haley painting the windows of his home black, there is little information about Haley's final days. After a small funeral service, Haley was cremated, although his widow Martha won't say what was done with the ashes.
Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. His son Pedro represented him at the ceremony. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Comets were separately inducted into the Hall of Fame as a group in 2012, after a rule change allowed the induction of backing groups (the Comets were mass-inducted alongside several other groups such as Hank Ballard's Midnighters and Gene Vincent's Blue Caps).
Songwriters Tom Russell and Dave Alvin addressed Haley's demise in musical terms with "Haley's Comet" on Alvin's 1991 album Blue Blvd. Dwight Yoakam sang backup on the tribute.
Surviving members of the 1954-55 contingent of Haley's Comets reunited in the late 1980s and continued to perform for many years around the world. They released a concert DVD in 2004 on Hydra Records, played the Viper Room in West Hollywood in 2005, and performed at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri beginning in 2006-07. As of 2014, only two members of this particular contingent are still alive (Joey Ambrose and Dick Richards), but they continue to perform in Branson and in Europe. At least two other groups also continue to perform in North America under the Comets name as of 2014.
In March 2007, the Original Comets pre-opened the Bill Haley Museum in Munich, Germany. On October 27, 2007, ex-Comets guitar player Bill Turner opened the Bill Haley Museum for the public.
Two of Haley's children, Bill Haley Jr. and Gina Haley, are themselves musicians and have in recent years recorded albums of their father's music and headlined tribute musical shows.
Main article - 79896 Billhaley
In February 2006, the International Astronomical Union announced the naming of asteroid 79896 Billhaley to mark the 25th anniversary of Bill Haley's death.
Married three times, Bill Haley had at least four children. John W. Haley, his eldest son, wrote Sound and Glory, a biography of Haley, while his youngest daughter, Gina Haley, is a professional musician based in Texas. Scott Haley is an athlete. His youngest son Pedro is also a musician.
He also had a daughter, Martha Maria, from his last marriage with Martha Velasco.
Bill Haley Jr. (Haley's second son and first with Joan Barbara "Cuppy" Haley-Hahn) publishes a regional business magazine in Southeastern Pennsylvania (Route 422 Business Advisor). He sings and plays guitar with a band called "Bill Haley and the Satellites," and released a CD in 2011. He also has occasionally appeared with the "Original Comets" at the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point, New Jersey from 2004-2011, and at the Twin Bar re-dedication ceremony in Gloucester City, New Jersey, in 2007. In February 2011, he formed a tribute band "Bill Haley Jr. and the Comets," performing his father's music and telling the stories behind the songs.
In 1980, Haley began working on an autobiography entitled The Life and Times of Bill Haley but died after completing only 100 pages. The work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office but has yet to be released to the public.,
In 1982, John Swenson wrote Bill Haley: The Daddy of Rock and Roll (published in the UK under the title, Bill Haley).,
In 1990, Haley's eldest son, John W. Haley, along with John von Hoëlle wrote Sound and Glory, a biography focusing mostly on Haley's early life and peak career years. This book is out of print.,
A German language biography was published soon after Haley's death, written by Peter Cornelsen and Harald D. Kain.,
A book on the history of Haley's most famous recording, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution by Jim Dawson was published in June 2005.,
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).
Bill Haley has also been portrayed - not always in a positive light - in several "period" films:
John Paramor in Shout! The Story of Johnny O'Keefe (1985),
Michael Daingerfield in Mr. Rock 'n' Roll: The Alan Freed Story (1999),
Dicky Barrett (of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) in Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story (also 1999),
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.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license