Bill Haley, The Beginning of Rock
  
The Comets 1954

William John Clifton Haley was born 6th July 1925 at Highland Park, Michigan. His father, William Albert Haley was from Firebrick, Kentucky. His mother, Maude Green was English, she came from Ulverston in Lancashire and emigrated to the States during her teens. Later the family moved to Boothwyn, near the town of Chester, Pennsylvania. At home, Bill was surrounded by music, his father played Banjo, his mother who had been classically trained, taught piano. His first performances date from about 1938, when as a child he sang and played guitar at variety shows, put on by local children to raise money for local causes. Haley was a shy child, perhaps due to the fact that he had been blind in his left eye since infancy. This made him extremely self conscious about his appearance.

In his late teens, Bill found work playing the local amusement parks, which featured live entertainment. His first break came when he signed on with 'Cousin Lee's Band' who had a popular radio show. Haley sang, played his guitar and yodelled. Because of his disability, he avoided being called into the armed forces in WWII. At this time a group called the 'Downhomers' were looking for a singing yodeller to replace their lead singer, who had been drafted in 1944. Haley joined the group and even at this early stage was talking about combining country and pop music. At the age of 22, Bill left the 'Downhomers', and returned to Chester to host a local radio programme. At this time he also married his childhood sweetheart Dorothy Crowe a beautiful part American Indian girl.

The Four Aces of Western Swing
In 1948, Bill released his first records on the 'Cowboy' label with his backing group the 'Four Aces of Western Swing', made up of Al Constantine (Accordian), Barney Barnard (bass) and Tex King (guitar).

The Saddlemen
The 'Four Aces' disbanded in mid '49 and Haley formed a new band, 'The Saddlemen' which in turn was ultimately to become the very first rock and roll band in history, the 'Comets'. Al Rex on bass, Billy Williamson on steel guitar and John Grande played piano and accordian. Haley fronted this group wearing a ten-gallon stetson covering his trademark kiss-curl, a hair style he developed to take attention away from his blind eye.

Bill Haley & The Comets
April 12th 1954, Pythian Temple Studio, West 80th Street, New York City. The song that introduced rock & roll to the unsuspecting public was recorded in a converted ballroom, the high vaulted ceilings adding to the dynamics of the recording. The Comets - Danny Cedrone, Billy Williamson, Johnny Grande, Joey D'Ambrosio (tenor sax), Marshall Lytle (bass) and Billy Gussack (drums) **, stood on a stage, some four feet above Haley. He stood, facing the stage, on the beautiful wooden dancefloor, close to the microphone, about eight feet from his musicians.

** at the insistance of Gabler the Comets regular drummer, Dick Richards was replaced by Gussack at the session.

Milt Gabler, sat in the control room, urging the engineers to crank up the levels, as the meters bounced up into the red. Gabler was an experienced producer, having previously recorded The Inkspots, Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald. He was to remain in control of Bill's recording dates for the next 5 years. The second song recorded at that historic session was an unusual novelty tune, 'Thirteen Women'. The premise of the story being an explosion of an 'H' Bomb, leaving only one man and thirteen women alive! And that was it. Just two titles. Decca presumably testing the market for this new style of music before committing themselves any further.

They were not to be disappointed. With initial sales topping 75,000 the band were signed to the label and the next session planned for June 7th. Although 'Clock' was a modest hit, it wasn't until the song was used as the title track on the movie 'The Blackboard Jungle' some 12 months later, that it became the first anthem of Rock & Roll. Estimates state that Haley was eventually to sell over 25 million copies of the record. And the rest is history, the history of Rock 'n' Roll ...

On February 9th 1981 Bill Haley passed away at his home in Harlingen Texas at the age of 55; the news reported throughout the world marked the end of one of the greatest and most successful careers in the history of modern entertainment.

Courtesy of Rik Hull, rikhull@Bigfoot.com

Visit the Bill Haley & The Comets Website at:
http://www.billhaley.co.uk/

New CD by The Comets, The Original Band:
Still Rockin' Around The Clock (Rollin' Rock CD-103)



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