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iOldies Music Store Home > Artist Biographies > Bill Haley

Bill Haley

Bill Haley 1925 - 1981

Picture of Bill Haley 1925 - 1981



Bill HaleyBill Haley




Early Life and Career of Bill Haley



Bill Haley was born in Highland Park, Michigan. Because of the effects of the Great Depression on the Detroit area, his father moved the family to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, near the town of Chester, when Bill was seven years old. Haley's father played the banjo, and his mother was a technically accomplished keyboardist with classical training.


Bill 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" described Bill 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 Bill Haley 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 became a useful experience.


Apart from learning how to exist on one meal a day and other artistic exercises, Bill Haley 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 Bill Haley got a job with a popular group known as the Down Homers while they were in Hartford, Connecticut.

Soon after this, Bill Haley 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.

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."





Cover (Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show:Bill Haley & His Comets)Cover (Rock Around the Clock:Bill Haley)







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 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 Bill Haley. He was unable to record it until April 12, 1954.

Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful, staying at the charts for only one week, but Bill 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.


Bill Haley retained elements of the original, but threw some country music aspects in to 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 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 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, Bill Haley was quickly given the title "Father of Rock and Roll," by the media, and by teenagers that had come to embrace the new style of music.

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.


Bill 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.


Bill Haley



The death and legacy of bill haley

A self-admitted alcoholic (as indicated in a 1974 radio interview for the 
BBC), Bill Haley fought a battle with alcohol 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, Bill 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.

The October 25, 1980 edition of the German paper Bild reported that Bill 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.

Despite his ill health, Bill 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

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.

Bill 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 Bill Haley displayed deranged and erratic behavior in his final weeks, although beyond a biography of Haley by John Swenson, released a year later, which described Haley painting the windows of his home black, there is little information extant about Haley's final days.

Bill Haley was posthumously inducted into the 
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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

Haley's original Comets still tour 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 in 2006-07.

In March 2007, the Original Comets pre-opened the 
Bill Haley Museum in Munich, Germany (Schleissheimerstr.321,München On October 27, 2007, ex-Comets guitar player Bill Turner opened the Bill Haley Museum for the public.





Cover (Mister Rock 'N' Roll:Bill Haley)Cover (Haley's Juke Box [Collectables]:Bill Haley & His Comets)






In February 2006, the International Astronomical Union announced the naming of asteroid 79896 Bill Haley to mark the 25th anniversary of 
Bill Haley's death.







Bill HaleyBill Haley




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 a professional musician based in Texas. Scott Haley is an athlete, while Haley's youngest son, Pedro Haley, is also a musician.




Cover (Bill Haley & The Comets [eOne]:Bill Haley & His Comets)


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:

    * 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.




Cover (Shake Rattle & Roll:Bill Haley)






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