William John Clifton Haley was born in Highland Park, Michigan on July 6, 1925. A botched operation when he was a child left him blind in one eye. Later, to distract attention away from it, the young man was to adopt a spit curl hairstyle that became a fashion fad in the late 1950s.
In 1946, Bill joined a western swing band called The Down Homers. Brief associations with other groups followed, as did a radio run on WPWA and his very first recordings.
In 1952, The Saddlemen became Bill Haley with Haley’s Comets and then Bill Haley & his Comets. The next year Haley wrote the band’s first hit, “Crazy Man Crazy” that which reached #12 from coast-to-coast that summer.
“Fractured” and “Live It Up” were follow-up hits in 1953. However, the owner of Essex refused to allow the group to record what had become their biggest crowd pleaser “Rock Around The Clock.” Indignant, Haley left Essex and signed with Decca, which assigned Milt Gabler to produce the band’s next session on April 12, 1954. That day, “Rock Around The Clock” was finally recorded, but only reached #23 for one week that May. A year later, though, after the track turned up on the soundtrack of The Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock” was re-released. This time around it became the first rock ‘n ‘ roll #1 hit, sold over 20 million copies and ignited the rock ‘n’ roll era.
Bill Haley & his Comets spent the rest of the ‘50s touring the world, starring in films and racking up more than 30 hits. “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and “Dim The Lights” came along in 1954; “Razzle Dazzle,” “Burn That Candle,” “Mambo Rock,” “Birth Of The Boogie” and “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” in 1955. The beat went on in 1956 with “Rip It Up,” “Rudy’s Rock,” “R-O-C-K,” “The Saints Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “See You Later, Alligator.” “Skinny Minnie” was Haley’s last significant hit in 1958. There might have been more million-sellers, except that by that point the spotlight had shifted. The new “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which Bill had been in 1953-5, was now the far more charismatic Elvis Presley.
Bill Haley & his Comets, who once gave a command performance for Queen Elizabeth, continued to record and tour until June 1980, when Bill was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He retired to his home in Harlington, Texas, where he died on February 9, 1981. Six years later, Bill Haley wss inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007.