He was born William John Clifton Haley in Highland Park, Michigan and was raised in Pennsylvania (some sources append "Junior" to his name, but his eldest son states that this is erroneous). In 1946, Haley joined his first professional group, a
country band called the Down Homers, after which he set out on his own. He made a number of unsuccessful country music singles in the 1940s, for several labels, including Cowboy Records 1948-1949 whilst working as a touring musician and later a DJ. In 1951 he and his band, The
Saddlemen, changed styles, recording cover versions of Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88" and "Rock this Joint". The relative success of the latter of these convinced Haley that he could be a successful rock and roller. In 1952 The Saddlemen became
Bill Haley & His Comets, and in 1953 Haley's recording of his original composition, "Crazy Man Crazy" became the first rock and roll song to hit the American charts.
In 1953, a song entitled Rock Around the Clock was written for Haley, but he was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was unsuccessful, 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. Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "Rock and Roll" to a wider (white) audience after years of it being considered an underground movement. When
"Rock Around the Clock" appeared on the soundtrack of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, it launched a musical revolution and opened the doors for the likes of Elvis Presley. 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. His star was soon surpassed in the USA by the younger, sexier Elvis, but Haley continued to be a major star in Latin America and in Europe in the 1960s, and continued to be a popular touring act for the rest of his career. He made his final performances in South Africa in 1980. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Haley's original Comets from 1954 and 1955 still tour the world to packed houses. Despite ranging in age from 70 to 82, the band shows no sign of slowing down and recently released a concert DVD.
Some sources 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 sources erroneously give a birth year of 1924.
Note: the article Bill Haley & His Comets includes more detailed biographical information on Haley's career.
In 1980, Haley began work 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 and 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 Hoelle 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 French-language biography apparently exists, but no other information is available.
Unlike his contemporaries, Bill Haley has rarely been portrayed on screen. Following the success of The Buddy Holly Story in the 1970s, 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 bio-pic 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). As of 2004, however, no such project has ever come to pass.
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)
|Bill Haley and the Comets--"Shake, Rattle and Roll" (1954); "Dim, Dim the Lights" (1954/5); "Mambo Rock"/"Birth of the Boogie" (1955); "Rock Around the Clock" (1955); "Razzle-Dazzle" (1955); "Burn That Candle" (1955); "See You Later, Alligator" (1956); "R-O-C-K"/ "The Saints Rock 'N Roll" (1956); "Rip It Up" (1956); "Rudy's Rock" (1956); "Skinny Minnie" (1958)