Renegade white country & western swing band Bill Haley & The Saddlemen record "Rock
The Joint", the first white rock song of note.
Biography Published for Historical Reasons
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.
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. When Bill Haley was fifteen (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. 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.
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 Jackie Brenston's Sun/Chess recording "Rocket 88". Many rock historians regard this song, with its fusion of African-American
Rhythm & Blues as the very first "rock and roll" recording.
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 disk jockey 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 number 15 on Billboard and number11 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 number 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 and 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 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 number. "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 prime-time 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".
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.
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.
Johnny Ace, a former piano player with the Beale Streeters, a group that included blues legends B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland, records his first record in Memphis and watches it hit number 1 launching him
as a major rhythm and blues star.
Fats Domino's own "Goin' Home" hits number 1 on the rhythm and blues charts and becomes one of the first rock songs to scrape the Pop
Charts as well, reaching number 30.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, still in their late teens, write their first hit "Hard Times" for rhythm and blues star Charles Brown,
as well as the rock classic "Kansas City". Their work as writers and producers over the next decade will result in countless hits for dozens of musical legends.
Hit singer Johnnie Ray was so over-the-top histrionic that he's sometimes called the first rock singer, but his style owed more to tuneful rhythm and blues than rock – some call him
the "missing link" between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Ray could (and would) sob on stage to great effect, and his big hits this year were "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried."
Cinerama presented multi sound track replay to the public for the first time. This stimulated public interest in the possibility of stereo recordings and research was stepped up.
Newspaper clipping, Baton Rouge.
Roundup Boys Give Show
The Louisiana Round-Up Boys, local band composed of teen-agers, visited in Nashville on the Labor Day week end where they entertained at the "Corral", owned
by Hank and Audry Williams.
The members of the band and Hannah Faye Harger were the guests of R.L. Langhart. Band members are Red Withers, Buddy Harger, Bucky Wood, Earl
LeBlanc and Anthony Whittington. They visited the studios of Station WSM, met the stars of the Grand Ole Opry and were the guests of Lew Childre at the Grand Ole Opry show Saturday night.
Sun Records comes into being in March. Sam Phillips founds Sun Records and declares "If I could find a white man who sings with the Negro feel,
I'll make a million dollars".
Bill Haley's Saddlemen become the Comets.
Horn's Bandstand TV program airs from Philadelphia every weekday afternoon.
The Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (aka Moondog) organizes the first rock and roll concert,
the Moondog Coronation Ball.
Charles Brown's "Hard Times" is the first hit by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to enter the charts.
Little Richard's first records released.
This year, Scotty Moore, a guitar player from Humbolt, Tennessee had got out of the Army and moved to Memphis. He had contacted Sam Phillips and had been asked to scout around town for musical talent to work with. Whether it was Scotty who
approached Doug Poindexter or Sam who put the two together is now unclear, but the result was that Scotty and his friend, bass player Bill Black, joined the Starlite Wranglers. The band worked out a new sound while they played a residency at the Eagle Nest
club on Lamar Avenue in Memphis.
Roy Orbison forms the Wink Westerners with high school friends James Morrow, Charles Evans, Billy Pat Ellis in 1952.
Future Sun artist Johnny Carroll's high school band, formed in 1952, was called the Texas Moonlighters because of the many nights he and his friends spent milking cows or bling hay. ''They
sounded like Slim Whitman'' he told John Blair. ''But with a little touch of the Clovers''. They performed at talent contests sponsored by the Future Farmers of America organization and on KCLE where the programme directors, Ronnie Hall and Gene Echols, helped
them obtain other bookings.
Pianist Roy Hall was on Fortune Records again, working with Skeeter Davis, really Mary Frances Pennick from Corbin, Kentucky, a girl he had
known ten years before. Hall told Martin Hawkins, ''I made a record called ''Jealous Love'' with Skeeter that sold about 80,000 copies, which was pretty big record in those days. I had known Skeeter Davis since the age of 14. She was a very fine girl, very
religious''. According to Hall, she would join in at social events for which he provided piano and accordion accompaniment. This started around 1945 when she was fourteen, and he was twenty-three. back in Nashville in 1952, Roy Hall set up a late night drinking
club on Commerce Street known as the Musician's Hideaway. He continued to work as a session man at Tennessee Records and probably spent much of the next three years running his night club, cursing the day Tennessee Records made Del Wood a piano star than him,
and cultivating a drinking habit that really kicked in at this point. In this he was not alone. He developed friendships with a number of Nashville songwriters who also drank hard, men like Jackson Toombs and Vic McAlpin. He started to write songs himself,
including ''Cheap Love Affair'', ''Christine'', ''Three Alley Cats'', and ''Santa Claus Is A Texas Cowboy''. He often took inspiration from the players and patrons who frequented the Hideaway. Hall hired a number of passing musicians to play at the Hideaway,
and he took pride in later years in having first hired and then fired two of the best, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
By 1952, future Sun artist Curtis Hobock was in Carl Perkins' home town, Bemis, working in lumber, milling, and trucking. Driving a truck one winter he was caught in a snowstorm and was holed up for two weeks
in a motel in Chicago. Returning home, he vowed to never drive a truck again as it took too much time away from home and family. He worked for the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) for a short period and then joined Central Woodworks as a millwright, staying
with them until his retirement from music in the mid 1960s.