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. 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" describe 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 he 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 cramful 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.’ [Note: these notes fail to account for his early band, known as the Four Aces of Western Swing. They later changed their name to avoid confusion with the pop vocal group the Four Aces. During the 1940s Haley was considered one of the top cowboy yodelers in America as "Silver Yodeling Bill Haley".
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."
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 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 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. He 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, 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. 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. Haley was soon eclipsed in the United States by the younger, sexier Elvis, but continued to enjoy great popularity in Latin America, Europe, and Australia through the 1960s.
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, 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, 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 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, 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, Texas, where he died early in the morning of February 9, 1981.
Martha, Bill's wife who was with him in these troubling times, denies he had a brain tumor as does his old, very close friend, Hugh McCallum. Martha and friends related that Bill did not want to go on the road any more and that ticket sales for that planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 were slow. According to McCallum, "It's my unproven gut feeling that that [the brain tumor] was said to curtail talks about the tour and play the sympathy card."
It was obvious that his drinking problem was getting worse. According to Martha, by this time she and Bill fought all the time and she told him to stop drinking or move out so he moved out into a room in their pool house. Martha still took care of him and sometimes he would come in the house to eat, but he ate very little. "There were days we never saw him," said his daughter Martha Maria.
In addition to the drinking problems, it had become obvious that he also was having serious mental problems; Martha Maria said that, "It was like sometimes he was drunk even when he wasn't drinking." After having been jailed by the Harlingen Police, Martha had the judge put Haley in the hospital where he was seen by a psychiatrist who said Bill's brain was overproducing a chemical, like adrenaline. The doctor prescribed a medication to stop the overproduction but said Bill would have to stop drinking. Martha said, "This is pointless." She took him home, however, fed him and gave him his first dose. As soon as he felt better, he went back out the his room in the pool house and the downward spiral continued until his death.
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.
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 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.
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 Blvd. Dwight 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. On October 27, 2007, ex-Comets guitar player Bill Turner opened the Bill Haley Museum for the public.
Bill Haley (Highland Park, Detroit, Estados Unidos, 6 de julio de 1925 - Texas, Estados Unidos, 9 de febrero de 1981), cuyo nombre completo era William John Clifton Haley (pronunciado IPA:[ˈheɪliː], aprox. hey-lii) fue un músico estadounidense, uno de los fundadores del rock and roll, considerado el padre del rock and roll.
Hay quienes datan el origen del rock and roll en 1954, con el trabajo discográfico de Bill Haley y su grupo "Bill Haley and his Comets", evolucionando desde el country y el rockabilly, así como desde el rhythm and blues, especialmente con Crazy Man Crazy (1954) y su gran éxito Rock Around The Clock (1955), una reinterpretación del clásico de Jimmy Myers y Max Freedman, y que ya había sido grabado en 1952 por Sunny Dae & His Nights.
A diferencia de la mayoría de las grandes estrellas del rock and roll, Bill Haley realizó importantes giras por América Latina que tuvieron una gran influencia en la difusión del nuevo estilo. En 1958 debutó en Buenos Aires (Argentina), 1960 en Ciudad de México (Teatro Follies) y 1962 en Bogotá (Colombia), donde fue todo un éxito.
Grabó varios discos en español durante su estancia en México, con los que comenzó a promover un nuevo ritmo que finalmente desplazaría al Rock & Roll, el Twist, estilo musical que entró pisando fuerte en 1962. Entre sus discos de Twist se encuentran La Paloma y Florida Twist. El Twist, vino a marcar el fin de la era del Rock & Roll original e inalterado (1955 a 1961). En 1964 el grupo británico los Beatles (más la gran ola inglesa que les siguió), vino a desplazar al Twist, o sea que el Twist reinó únicamente por dos años.
El gran mérito de Bill Haley y sus Cometas1 es que comenzaron a tocar música de rock unos tres años antes que Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley o The Platters. Resulta difícil determinar quien fue el "Padre" o fundador del Rock & Roll, lo que si se puede asegurar, es que Bill Haley y su banda fueron auténticos pioneros del género. Uno de sus temas mas conocidos (aunque no compuesto por ellos) es "Rock Around The Clock".