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Bill Haley

[hey-lee]

This article is specifically about the singer. For detailed information about his rock and roll group, see Bill Haley & His Comets.

Bill Haley (July 6 1925November 9 1981) was one of the first American rock and roll musicians. He is credited by many with first popularizing this form of music in the mid-1950s with his group Bill Haley & His Comets and their hit song Rock Around the Clock.

Biography

Early life and career

Haley was born William John Clifton Haley (some sources append "Junior" to his name, but his eldest son states that this is erroneous) in Highland Park, Michigan and raised in Booth's Corner, Pennsylvania. Many sources (almost universally predating his death in 1981) state that Haley was born in 1927, which is due to Haley knocking two years off his age for publicity purposes in the 1950s. A few recent sources erroneously give a birth year of 1924.

Haley was blinded in his left eye as a child due to a botched operation. According to biographer John Swenson, Haley later adopted his distinctive spit-curl hairstyle to distract attention from his blind eye. The spit-curl caught on as a 50's style signature, although Haley and others had worn the hairstyle much earlier.

In 1943, Haley joined his first professional group, the Cousin Lee Band (a Wilmington, Delaware-based country music group) as a guitarist and yodeler. In 1946, Haley joined a Pennsylvania-based western swing band called the Down Homers run by Kenny Roberts. It has often been reported in musical reference works that Haley's first professional recordings were made with the Down Homers on a pair of singles released in 1946 by Vogue Records. This was later debunked by Roberts and others, stating Haley had already left the group by the time the singles were made. In the early 2000s, however, a set of 1946 radio recordings by the Down Homers were discovered and Haley is definitely present as he is identified by name and sings a solo number "She Taught Me to Yodel"; these recordings were commercially released for the first time in 2006.

When Haley gigged and became experienced on the professional music front, 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 while working as a touring musician and, beginning in 1947 as musical director at WPWA. (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 (as chronicled in the biography Sound and Glory), Haley formed a new group called The Saddlemen in either 1949 or 1950 (sources vary as to the exact year); this new group recorded for several labels, including one single for Atlantic Records.

Haley was signed to Dave Miller's Philadelphia-based Holiday Records in 1951 and began to change musical styles, recording Rocket 88 (originally by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats), and in, 1952, "Rock the Joint", previously recorded by several bands including Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians. (By the time of "Rock the Joint", Haley had graduated from Holiday Records to Miller's larger Essex label. The relative success of these recordings (both sold in the 75,000-100,000 copy range in the Pennsylvania-New England region) made Haley believe that the combination of rhythm and blues, along with country could be successful.

In 1951 Haley crossed paths with The Treniers while playing in Wildwood, NJ. After writing "Rock a Beatin' Boogie" The Treniers used the song in their live shows, and Haley arranged for the song to be recorded by two bands: in summer 1952 it was covered by the Esquire Boys (a band that featured Haley session guitarist Danny Cedrone), and in 1953 by The Treniers. Haley and The Comets did not record their own version of the song till 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), and in 1953, Haley's recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" (co-written by Haley and his bass player, Marshall Lytle although Lytle wouldn't receive credit until 2001) became the first rock and roll song to hit the American charts. 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 (Dawson 2005). He was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful staying at the charts for only one week, but 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'n'roll song to enter British singles charts in December 1954 and became a Gold Record. Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "Rock and Roll" to a wider, mostly white audience after years of it being considered an underground genre. When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford, it soared to the top of the American Billboard charts for eight weeks, launching a musical revolution that opened the doors for the likes of Elvis Presley. The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it; Billboard Magazine separates its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955-present.

"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 movies Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock, both in 1956. His star was soon surpassed in the USA by the younger, sexier Elvis, but Haley continued to be a major star in Latin America, Mexico, and in Europe throughout the 1960s.

Death and legacy

A self-admitted alcoholic (as indicated in a 1974 radio interview for the BBC), 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 the 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 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. 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 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 beyond a biography of Haley by John Swenson released a year later which describes Haley painting the windows of his home black and making rambling late-night phone calls to friends and relatives, there is little information extant about Haley's final days. The exact cause of his death is controversial. Media reports, supported by Haley's death certificate (reproduced in the book Bill Haley: The Daddy of Rock and Roll by John Swenson), suggest he died of "natural causes most likely heart attack". Members of Haley's family, however, contest that he died from the brain tumor. Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Songwriters Tom Russell and Dave Alvin addressed Haley's sad demise in musical terms with "Haley's Comet" on Alvin's 1991 album "Blue Blvd." Dwight Yoakam sang backup on the tribute.

Haley's original Comets from 1954 and 1955 still tour the world to packed houses. Despite ranging in age from 72 to 84, the band shows no sign of slowing down, releasing 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. In March 2007 The Original Comets pre opened the Bill-Haley-Museum in Munich Germany (Schleissheimerstr.321,München www.rockithydra.de). On October 27, 2007 ex Comets guitar player Bill Turner opened the Bill-Haley-Museum for the public. The Museum keeps the legacy and importance of Bill Haley & His Comets alive. There are hundreds of photos, posters, books, instruments, Gold Records, business papers and merchandise on display.

Asteroid

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.

Children

Married three times, Bill Haley had at least eight children. John W. Haley, his eldest son, wrote Sound and Glory, a biography of Haley, while his youngest daughter, Gina Haley, is an up-and-coming musician based out of Los Angeles. Scott Haley is a noted athlete, while Bill's youngest son, Pedro Haley, is also a musician-in-the-making.He also had a daughter from his last marriage with Mrs. Martha Velasco, her name is Martha Maria

Bill Haley Jr. (b. 7/28/55), Bill'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 "Lager Rhythms," and appeared with the "Original Comets" at the Bubba Mac Shack in Sommers Point NJ in 2004 and 2005, and at the Twin Bar re-dedication ceremony in Gloucester, New Jersey in 2007. He is currently writing a biography about his father, concentrating on the years 1949-61.

Biographies

  • 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), which is controversial among Haley fans for alleged inaccuracies.
  • 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 long 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 ().

Film portrayals

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:

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.

Discography

Prior to the formation of Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, which later became The Comets, Haley released several singles with other groups. Dates are approximate due to lack of documentation. (Source: the Bill Haley Database)

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)

1949

  • 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)

Many Haley discographies list two 1946 recordings by the Down Homers released on the Vogue Records label as featuring Haley. Haley historian Chris Gardner, as well as surviving members of the group, have confirmed that the two singles: "Out Where the West Winds Blow"/"Who's Gonna Kiss You When I'm Gone" (Vogue R736) and "Boogie Woogie Yodel"/"Baby I Found Out All About You" (Vogue R786) do not feature Haley. However, the tracks were nonetheless included in the compilation box set Rock 'n' Roll Arrives released by Bear Family Records in 2006.

See the discography section of Bill Haley & His Comets for a list of the singles and album releases made by Haley with the Saddlemen and the Comets from 1950 onwards.

Unreleased recordings

Bill Haley recorded prolifically during the 1940s, often at the radio stations where he worked, or in formal studio settings. Virtually none of these recordings were ever released. Liner notes for a 2003 CD release by Hydra Records entitled Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 2: The Legendary Cowboy Recordings reveal that several additional Cowboy label single releases were planned for the Four Aces, but this never occurred.

A number of previously unreleased Haley country-western recordings from the 1946-1950 period began to emerge near the end of Haley's life, some of which were released by the Arzee label, with titles such as "Yodel Your Blues Away" and "Rose of My Heart." Still more demos, alternate takes, and wholly unheard-before recordings have been released since Haley's death. Notable examples of such releases include the albums Golden Country Origins by Grassroots Records of Australia and Hillbilly Haley by the British label, Rollercoaster, as well as the aforementioned German release by Hydra Records. In 2006, Bear Family Records of Germany released what is considered to be the most comprehensive (yet still incomplete) collection of Haley's 1946-1950 recordings as part of its Haley box set Rock n' Roll Arrives.

Sources

Books

  • Jim Dawson, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution! (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005)
  • John W. Haley and John von Hoëlle, Sound and Glory (Wilmington, DE: Dyne-American, 1990)
  • John Swenson, Bill Haley (London: W.H. Allen, 1982)

External links

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