Bill Haleys Comets Biography
Born William John Clifton Haley in Highland Park, Mich., Bill Haley was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most influential rock icons. By blending country and western influences with soulful R&B, Haley and his Comets were pioneers of the rock ‘n’ roll standard, providing a permanent place for its sounds and styles up through the 1960s.
The son of a musical couple, Haley got his start playing guitar and singing at variety shows organized by himself and other children hoping to raise money for local causes. Blind in his left eye since he was an infant, Haley was a shy child who nevertheless assimilated to performing in public, though his blindness was something that would foster self-consciousness in the performer for the remainder of his career.
In his late teens, Haley filled the lead position in a band called the Downhomers, already expressing his hopes to one day combine country and pop music. At age 22, he left the band to host a local radio program in Chester, Pa., where he and his family had relocated. During this time, he married his childhood sweetheart and formed his own band, the Four Acres of Western Swing, a quartet that featured accordion, guitar, bass and drums. Together for only a year, the group released one record before Haley formed a new band, the Saddlemen, in 1949.
The Saddlemen, composed of Al Rex on bass, Billy Williamson on steel guitar and John Grande on piano and accordion, the outfit would eventually become what is considered rock ‘n’ roll’s first band, the Comets. Led by Haley, the group released their first single, “Rocket 88,” in 1951. Haley quickly developed an image by wearing a kiss-curl in his hair that hung down over his left eye; a style he hoped would distract fans from his blind eye.
The Comets recorded several successful singles in the next two years, including “Rock the Joint”, a single that sold more than 70,000 copies, and “Crazy, Crazy Man,” a single that soared into the Top 20 and made Haley a national rock ‘n’ roll hero.
It was in 1954 that the Comets most successful tune, “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” hit the airwaves. Recorded in a ballroom in New York City, the success of the single and a second recorded at this time, “Thirteen Women,” landed Bill Haley and the Comets a recording contract with Decca Records. “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” eventually sold more than 25 million copies.
In the next year, Haley and the Comets would record five new singles. The first, a song originally done by Joe Turner as a blues tune, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” featured a true rock ‘n’ roll vibe, becoming the first record to sell more than 1 million copies. “Dim, Dim the Lights,” the next single, broke into the R&B charts. Just as Haley was making his dream come true, Joey d’Ambrosio, Dick Richards and Marshall Lytle left to form their own band, the Jodimars. They would release several successful singles in the years to come, all of which mimicked Haley’s true rock ‘n’ roll style.
Late in 1955, Haley had to rebuild his band. Bassist Al Rex agreed to rejoin, and Frank Beecher, a session guitarist who had played on some previous recordings, joined full-time. Rudy Pompilli was added on tenor saxophone. The musicians’ chemistry was unsurpassed, an element that made Comets’ performances some of the best on the rock ‘n’ roll stage. They released their first album, Rock and Roll Stage Show, in 1955.
The Comets continued to record for Decca until 1964, producing some of early rock ‘n’ roll’s staple tunes including “Move it on Over,” “Skinnie Minnie” and “Lean Jean.” Throughout the course of his career, Haley landed nine albums in the Top 40. A true pioneer until his death in 1981, Haley will be remembered as the first artist to bring rock ‘n’ roll to the mainstream. Rolling Stone ~Lana Fanelli