The Bill Haley and the Comets recording of "Rock Around the Clock," which topped the charts for eight weeks in 1955, is remembered as the beginning of the rock era.
Though it also represented Haley's peak as a performer, his career had begun some time before and would continue for a long time after.
Born in Michigan, Haley began leading Western swing bands under various names in the late '40s, slowly starting to incorporate elements of R&B. Soon after he began recording for Essex in the early '50s, his backup band was named the Comets.
Because of his somewhat square image and his undeniably white sound, Haley, it could be argued, has been short-changed by latter-day rock historians.
He was among the first performers -- perhaps he was even the very first -- of any color to combine R&B and C&W in a way that can readily be identified by listeners of any era as bonafide rock & roll.
Although their initial impact was regional, his early '50s sides rank among his most exciting, steering country and Western and big band forms into uncharted regions that were more frenetic and reckless.
Haley also wrote much of his own material, and one of his compositions, "Crazy, Man, Crazy," became one of the first Top 20 rock & roll hits in 1953.In 1954, he moved to the major Decca label, where his sides became increasingly formulaic, though for a time very successful, after "Rock Around the Clock."
It is his Decca sides, however, that are his most famous. In 1954, he went to number 12 with "Shake, Rattle and Roll," and in 1955 he hit with "Dim, Dim the Lights," "Mambo Rock," and "Birth of the Boogie."
But it was "Rock Around the Clock," previously recorded and released as a B-side in 1954 and reissued as the theme song for the movie Blackboard Jungle, that became his biggest hit. At that time the band consisted of Haley on guitar and vocals, Danny Cedrone on lead guitar, Joey D'Ambrose on sax, Billy Williamson on steel guitar, Johnny Grande on piano, Marshall Lytle on bass, and Dick Richards on d
rums. Following the success of "Rock Around the Clock," Haley and the Comets placed nine more records in the Top 40 over the next three years, among them the Top Tens "Burn That Candle" and "See You Later, Alligator." Haley was largely eclipsed as the king of rock & roll by Elvis Presley and other more flamboyant performers who followed him from 1956 on. Nevertheless, he continued to perform overseas and in oldies shows in the United States, and "Rock Around the Clock" even got back into the Top 40 in 1974.