William John Clifton Haley was born 6th July 1925 at Highland Park, Michigan. Growing up at home, Bill was surrounded by music, his father played Banjo, his mother who had been classically trained, taught piano. Blind in one eye from infancy, he avoided being called up 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 program on the newly formed station WPWA. It was around this time he also married his childhood sweetheart Dorothy Crowe a beautiful part American Indian girl.
In 1948, Bill released his first records on the Cowboy label with his backing group The Four Aces of Western Swing. Fast-forward to 1954 when Bill Haley signed to Decca on the back a 1953 hit ‘Crazy, Man Crazy’ (a U.S. top 20 hit on Essex Records), and thanks to the persistence of Jimmy Myers, publisher of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, and under a pen name of Jimmy DeKnight recipient of half the royalties. At two of the sessions following ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ Bill Haley presented a song called ‘Rock Around The Clock’, but Dave Miller (Essex label) refused to cut it because of an on-going dispute with James Myers.
Haley was snapped up by Decca and significantly placed with Milt Gabler in New York rather than Paul Cohen in Nashville. In exchange for landing the contract with Decca, Myers made an agreement with Haley that one side of every record would be a composition drawn from Myers's catalogue. The first would be ‘Rock Around The Clock’. On April 12th, 1954 Haley went to New York to cut his first Decca session. He brought his partners, Billy Williamson and Johnny Grande, together with the salaried members of the Comets, Joey D'Ambrosio on tenor sax, Danny Cedrone on guitar and Marshall Lytle on bass. Gabler supplied a New York session drummer, Billy Gussack. The session commenced at 2:15pm, but by 5:40 they had only cut two songs instead on the Union standard of four. Those two songs were ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and ‘Thirteen Women’. Myers later took credit for achieving the unique sound that Haley forged on the session, a claim that Gabler disputes.
Decca initially put ‘Rock Around The Clock’ as the ‘b’ side to the undistinguished ‘Thirteen Women’; it was finally to break through in 1955, thanks to its inclusion on the M-G-M soundtrack of ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ an upcoming movie about juvenile delinquency. After 'Blackboard Jungle' was released in the spring of 1955, it quickly became a teenage cult movie like 'The Wild One' and 'East of Eden'. However, it was distinct from those in that it featured Rock ‘n’ roll music - the first full-length movie to do so. The impact of the song played at full volume in theatres coupled with images of teenage disaffection on the screen made an indelible imprint on a generation. The success of 'Blackboard Jungle' encouraged Decca to re-sample and re-promote ‘Rock Around The Clock’. This and the fact it was one of the best records ever made - it became a number one hit on both sides of the Atlantic and went on to sell millions. Because Decca in the United States and Decca in Britain were separately owned companies, Haley's recordings were issued in England on the Brunswick label and prior to ‘Rock Around The Clock’ becoming a huge hit, the first Brunswick EP ‘Dim. Dim The Lights’ emerged in July 1955 with four tracks recorded in 1954. ‘Rock Around The Clock’ duly appeared on an EP of the same title in June 1956 also include was ‘See You Later Alligator ‘ recorded in a great hurry in December 1955 at Decca’s own studio.
Haley’s 1956 schedule had reached epic proportions. On three dates in March The Comets recorded the Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Show LP. The schedule had left little time to write material for the album and some of the numbers were composed at the session. During April and May they toured the entire United States with Irving Fields ‘Biggest Rock ‘n’ Roll Show of 1956’ and after Stage Show he managed to squeeze another two recording sessions in 1956. He began to lose ground to (among other) Elvis Presley. In the UK however the charts had gone Haley mad in 1956. The year had started with ‘Rock Around The Clock’ still in the No. 1 slot. ‘Rock-a-Beatin’ Boogie’ came straight in at number 3 on 7th January. ‘See You Later Alligator’ arrived in March peaking at number 4. Saints Rock ‘n’ Roll’ spent 22 weeks on the chart between June and October. ‘Rockin’ Through The Rye’ was top 3 in August and by October there were five Bill Haley & The Comets records on the chart throughout the month. ‘Rudy’s Rock’ made a brief appearance in November and overall not a week passed without at least one top twenty hit. Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Show LP sold enough copies one week to have entered the U.K. singles charts. The entire LP was issued on 3 EPs, Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Show Volumes 1, 2 & 3, just in time for Christmas. The climax to the year was that Bill Haley & The Comets would visit overseas territories with Australia in January 1957 and the UK would follow in February and March. Returning to the States in March, Haley recorded his second concept album ‘Rocking The Oldies’; Brunswick put all the tracks on three EP volumes.
Another concept followed the flagging sales ‘Rocking Around The World’ from five sessions in 1957, again Decca released three as EP volumes but Brunswick only issued one.
He continued his concept fascination with Bill Haley’s Chicks, recorded in June 1958, this time with no Brunswick EP at all. Instead the final Brunswick EP ‘A Fool Such As I’ appeared in June 1959 with four songs drawn from February 1958 and January 1959 sessions.
He remained on Decca until September 1959, with IRS tax problems having attached his Decca earnings to meet unpaid taxes. He took an offer from Warner Brothers and parted company with Decca after some five and a half years – no more hits were recorded. Although he would never match the huge success he enjoyed in the mid fifties, he continued working right up to his death in February 1981.
A true innovator and Rock ‘n’ Roll legend! Collected here are some great sides that feature on eleven of those wonderful EPs of the 1950s.
These ‘Extended Play’ sides will evoke nostalgic memories, not only from the music of the day but fond memories of the EP’s they came from which featured many of his classic hits and more.