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Mr. Bill Haley, el primer ídolo Rockero de la historia. Hay que hacer énfasis en lo de primer ídolo porque esto no quiere decir que él se inventase el Rock & Roll, ni que fuera el primero que lo tocase. Si leíste el artículo antes mencionado sabrás que el Rock & Roll no lo inventó nadie: surgió como una mezcla de muchos elementos y en muchos lugares a la vez. Pero Bill Haley es el primero que alcanza la consideración de ídolo del nuevo ritmo, lo que no deja de ser curioso porque nuestro amigo del caracolillo a lo folclórica no se ajusta para nada al estereotipo de figura del Rock de primera generación: no fue pobre, no tenía nada de sex-appeal (aunque hay gustos para todo), era del Norte, ya era un profesional cuando empezó esta movida y, además, ya era mayorcito cuando Rock around the clock, su tema más conocido, alcanzó el éxito. Pero empecemos por el principio: nuestro protagonista nace cerquita de Detroit en 1927. Desde pequeño ya tenía claro que quería ser músico y pronto comenzó a aplicarse: con 13 años sabía tocar la guitarra y poco después empieza a tocar en garitos. Su repertorio abarca los principales subgéneros del Country: Hillbilly, Bluegrass, Western Swing, Yodel Songs… También incorpora temas del gran innovador del Country del momento: Hank Williams. Pero el ambiente de los baretos es demasiado bronca para un chaval joven como él, al que le interesa la música y no las hostias. Deja de tocar en directo y se emplea como locutor de radio. También organiza pequeños bailes en colegios e institutos, pero pronto le vuelve a picar el gusanillo y comienza a tocar en las fiestas que organiza, y descubre una cosa: su música no acaba de conectar con la juventud. Los chavales quieren algo especial para ellos, con más ritmo. Nuestro héroe se da cuenta de esto y piensa en un nuevo estilo usando más instrumentos de cuerda, pero buscando con ellos el mismo efecto que con los de viento, para producir un sonido que los chicos pudieran acompañar dando palmas y bailando. En su búsqueda de un nuevo sonido terminará encontrando algo familiar para los jóvenes del Sur: una mezcla de Country y Blues. A todo esto, Haley ya había estado en bastantes grupos. Podemos destacar entre ellos a los Four Aces of Western Swing. Como vocalista de The Downhomers conoce su debut discográfico en 1948. En 1949 inicia su andadura con The Saddlemen, grupo que constituye el embrión de lo que luego serán The Comets. Hay que hacer notar que hasta aquí su carrera no es nada del otro mundo, pero las cosas cambiarán pronto. Bill Haley & The Saddlemen no conocen un éxito inmediato, pero su nombre empieza a sonar. Hacen su “rodaje” en directo por la zona de Michigan y Pennsylvania hasta que Dave Miller, dueño del sello Essex, les ofrece un contrato. Estamos en 1951. Influidos por los sonidos negros, graban una versión de un éxito negro de esa época: Rocket 88, de Jackie Brenston & his Delta Cats (seudónimo de la banda de Ike Turner. Sí, tío, el que después se casaría con Tina). La versión original era ya cañera, pero Bill Haley le da un toque personal flipante. Aún así, el plástico sólo vendió 1000 copias, pero estamos en el camino. Bill Haley y sus colegas se inventan una fórmula para los singles que lanzan: en la cara A meten canciones tradicionales del Country o del Folk de los EE.UU. y en la cara B cuelan cualquier tema del nuevo estilo. Esto terminará dando sus frutos. Un año después de Rocket 88, y tras nuevos fracasos con temas propios como Green tree Boogie y Sundown Boogie, se recupera el puntillo con Rock the joint, una canción de Jimmy Preston y sus Prestonians, con el que obtienen buenos resultados (150.000 copias vendidas). En 1953 cambian el nombre del grupo por el que será el definitivo y con el que serán con el tiempo mundialmente conocidos: Bill Haley and his Comets. Su éxito sigue este año con Crazy man crazy. El estilo propio del grupo de Haley ya está totalmente marcado: acentúan los ritmos, aprovechan el tono metálico de las guitarras y utilizan la capacidad percusiva del contrabajo para, junto con la batería, crear la base rítmica sobre la que “colorean” los demás instrumentos y la voz. En cuanto a lo que dice en sus canciones, usa jerga negra con voz blanca, lo que en aquella época no era moco de pavo. Hay que dejar claro que él mismo declaró que no había un plan organizado para fusionar estilos, sino que todo se debió a una serie de casualidades. El caso es que se va acentuando progresivamente la influencia negra. Ya estamos lejos de aquel chaval que tocaba todos los palos del Country en los bares. Crazy man crazy y Rock the joint les va a abrir las puertas de Decca. La historia ocurre de la siguiente manera: Milt Gabler, ejecutivo y productor de dicha discográfica, viejo zorro él, estaba al loro, y cuando Dave Miller rehusa en 1953 Rock around the clock como tema a grabar por Haley y su grupo (siendo grabado a continuación por Sonny Dae y sus Knights), James Myers y Jim Ferguson, managers de Haley, le apañan el paso a Decca. Louis Jordan acaba de dejar el sello y Gabler ve en Haley una posible continuación del éxito de Jordan. Decca contrata a la banda por un año, por si las moscas. La primera sesión de grabación tiene lugar en abril del ´54, grabándose dos temas, que componen el primer single de los Comets para Decca: Thirteen women y Rock around the clock. El disco vende sólo 75.000 copias, pero la discográfica, con buen olfato, prorroga de todos modos el contrato a Haley. Como curiosidad que muestra el grado de influencia negra en la música de los Comets, cuando llega el single al Reino Unido, todo dios en las islas cree que se trata de una banda negra. El siguiente disco es una versión de Shake, Rattle and Roll, de Big Joe Turner. La letra es suavizada para neutralizar sus connotaciones sexuales, pero aun así le pareció ofensiva a mucha gente por su ritmo. La canción entra en el Top Ten y se mantiene allí dando caña durante dos meses. Y llega el bombazo: Rock around the clock es elegida como tema principal para la película Semilla de maldad, de Richard Brooks, con Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier y Tom Ewell. Ya conté en el anterior artículo lo que pasó con esta peli: los jóvenes entran en el cine tan tranquilos, pero, en cuanto suena la canción, sufren una transformación en plan Jekyll y Hyde, se levantan de sus asientos y empiezan a bailotear en los pasillos. En varios cines arrancan las butacas para ganar espacio para el baile. En otros, algunos chavales se golpean a sí mismos con los asientos y tienen que recibir atención médica. Esto ayuda a reforzar la teoría carca de que el Rock and Roll incita a la violencia (y el “alístate en los Marines” no, ¿verdad?). En una pequeña ciudad, un grupo de jóvenes destrozan el cine y salen a la calle, eufóricos, a por más, arrasando la ciudad. Ni un solo cine en el que se hubiera proyectado la película escapa sin incidentes. Las autoridades de muchos Estados prohiben la película y a Bill Haley le llueven ataques de todas partes. Pero todo esto es publicidad y provoca que, en los meses que siguen al estreno, Bill Haley & his Comets sean el grupo más apreciado por los jóvenes. Esto se traduce en ventas. A finales del ´55, Rock around the clock ha vendido tres millones de discos. Siguiendo el éxito, la banda aparece en tres films, dos de ellos de Alan Freed. Al remolque de esto se suceden los hits: Mambo Rock, Razzle dazzle, Rock-a-beatin´-boogie, etc. Todo esto acompañado de muchos bolos, actuaciones en T.V… El éxito, vaya. Pero todo tiene un final. See you later, alligator es el último de sus temas que entra en el Top Ten, a principios de 1956. Las causas de su caída son variadas: la aparición de artistas más potentes; la dificultad del bueno de Bill para adaptarse a la corriente del Rock & Roll ya establecido, resistiéndose a cambiar su fórmula cuando el simple hecho de tocar Rock & Roll ya no basta; y también la insistencia en grabar sólo temas sobre los que se poseyeran derechos de autor, así cuando se les agotaron las ideas tuvieron que recurrir a fórmulas facilonas como pasar a Rock and Roll viejos standards americanos o europeos o la grabación de instrumentales simples y algo pachangueras. Ahora bien, de estos tres factores que provocan la caída, seguramente el principal es el primero: la aparición de Rockeros más potentes. Y esto, sobre todo, tiene un nombre propio: Elvis. El Rey en persona. Y es que, para darnos cuenta, no hay más que comparar: Elvis tiene entonces 20 años; Haley, 27. Elvis es guapo; Haley está cebotas. Elvis tiene pinta de rebelde y es sexy y provocativo; Haley ya tiene varios hijos: es un “papá”, un “adulto infiltrado” en la movida del Rock´n´Roll. Las consecuencias son lógicas: en pocos meses Bill será olvidado y Elvis será coronado Rey del Rock. Para intentar mantenerse, Bill se va a Europa, donde su música aun es apreciada y, sobre todo, donde los discos de Elvis aun no se han editado. Hace una mini-gira y aun conoce una breve temporada de gloria en Inglaterra, gloria que acaba, como en EE.UU., cuando llega Elvis. A partir de 1956 sólo conocerá éxitos menores. En 1959, Bill Haley deja Decca y se dedica a vivir del recuerdo de sus viejos éxitos. Sigue grabando LP´s y tocando Rock around the clock y demás en infinidad de conciertos y discos de revival. En 1968, con el auge del revival del Rock & Roll, Rock around the clock vuelve a subir a las listas de éxitos y Bill Haley conoce una nueva y breve popularidad. Desde entonces fue grabando periódicamente LP´s con mínimas ventas y tocando en shows de viejas glorias en Inglaterra y Francia, además de pequeñas giras por los EE.UU. El nivel ya no podía ser el mismo, y en ocasiones se llegaba a extremos grotescos, como la vez en que algunos de sus más acérrimos seguidores se pasaron cien pueblos organizando en los ´70 una gala en la que fue coronado Rey del Rock & Roll. Y colorado, colorín, la historia llega a su fin: se retira a su casa de Harlingen (Texas) abrumado por desgracias familiares y problemas contractuales y muere allí el 9 de febrero del ´81, a los 53 años, solo y olvidado, de un ataque al corazón. Dicen que estaba ya alcoholizado y desquiciado mentalmente. Yo qué sé. Efectivamente: como dije al principio, Bill Haley no es tan excitante como un Vincent o un Cochran, ni movía tanto los huevos como Elvis, pero con sus Comets, una máquina de precisión perfectamente engrasada y grandes músicos todos ellos, dieron forma a algunas de las canciones más bailadas de los ´50. Porque yo creo que ese es el rasgo que mejor define a Bill Haley and his Comets: bailongos. Su música es una de las mejores para rocanrolear; cuando la oyes no puedes evitar moverte. Y además, qué coño, sí que mola en plan macarra. Cuando aun iba al colegio y empezaba a construirme el tupé y oír Rock & Roll, hubo una temporada en la que Rock around the clock era una de mis canciones favoritas, si no la canción. Más tarde conocería otros grupos y solistas más cañeros, pero en esos tiempos pre-adolescentes, oyendo Rock around the clock me sentía todo un Rocker. Oh yeah!

Inglish

Inglish Version

 

Bill Haley & His Comets was an American rock and roll band that was founded in 1952 and continued until Haley's death in 1981. The band, also known by the names Bill Haley and The Comets and Bill Haley's Comets (and variations thereof), was one of the earliest groups of white musicians to bring rock and roll to the attention of white America and the rest of the world. Bandleader Bill Haley had previously been a country performer; after recording a country and western-styled version of "Rocket 88", a rhythm and blues song, he changed musical direction to a new sound which came to be called rock and roll.

Although several members of the Comets became famous, Bill Haley remained the star. With his spit curl and the band's matching plaid dinner jackets and energetic stage behaviour, many fans consider them to be as revolutionary in their time as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were in theirs.

Following Haley's death, no fewer than six different groups have existed under the Comets name, all claiming (with varying degrees of authority) to be the official continuation of the group led by Haley.
Contents
 
* 1 Early history and Rocket 88
* 2 National success and Rock Around the Clock
* 3 Decline in popularity
* 4 Mexico and the late 1960s
* 5 Revival
* 6 Late career
* 7 The Comets
* 8 Discography
o 8.1 Singles
o 8.2 Albums
o 8.3 Unreleased recordings
o 8.4 Later Comets recordings
o 8.5 Chart positions (US and UK)
* 9 Sources
* 10 External links

Early history and Rocket 88

The band initially formed as Bill Haley and the Saddlemen c.1949-1950, and performed mostly country and western songs, though occasionally with a bluesy feel. Many Saddlemen recordings would not be released until the 1970s and 1980s, and highlights included romantic ballads such as "Rose of My Heart" and western swing tunes such as "Yodel Your Blues Away". The original members of this group were Haley, pianist and accordion player Johnny Grande and steel guitarist Billy Williamson. Al Thompson was the group's first bass player, followed by Al Rex and Marshall Lytle. During the group's early years, it recorded under several other names, including Johnny Clifton and His String Band and Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos (although Browne, a female matinee idol of the time, did not actually appear on the record).

Haley began his rock and roll career with a cover of "Rocket 88" recorded for the Philadelphia-based Holiday Records label in 1951 which sold well and was followed up a cover of a 1940s rhythm and blues song called "Rock the Joint" in 1952 (this time for Holiday's sister company, Essex Records). Both songs were released under the increasingly incongruous Saddlemen name. It soon became apparent that a new name was needed to fit the music the band was now playing. A friend of Haley's, making note of the common alternative pronunciation of the name Halley's Comet to rhyme with Bailey, suggested that Haley call his band The Comets. (This event is cited in the Haley biographies Sound and Glory by John Haley and John von Hoelle, and Bill Haley by John Swenson.)

The new name was adopted in the fall of 1952. At that time, the members were Haley, Grande, Williamson, and Lytle. Grande usually played piano on record, but switched to accordion for live shows as it was more portable than a piano and easier to deal with during musical numbers that involved a lot of dancing around. Soon after renaming the band, Haley hired his first drummer, Charlie Higler, though Higler was soon replaced by Dick Boccelli (a.k.a Dick Richards). During this time (and indeed, as late as the fall of 1955), Haley did not have a permanent lead guitar player, choosing to use session musicians on record and either playing lead guitar himself or having Williamson play steel solos, instead.

National success and Rock Around the Clock

In 1953, Haley scored his first national success with an original song (co-written by an uncredited Marshall Lytle) called "Crazy Man, Crazy", a phrase Haley said he heard from his teenaged audience. Haley later claimed it sold a million copies, but this is considered an exaggeration. "Crazy Man, Crazy" was the first rock and roll song to be televised nationally when it was used on the soundtrack for a 1953 television play starring James Dean.

In early 1954, Haley added Joey Ambrose on tenor sax, and soon after this the band left Essex Records for the larger Decca Records label of New York City. For their first recording session on April 12, 1954, with session musicians Danny Cedrone on electric guitar and Billy Gussak on drums (standing in for Boccelli), Bill Haley and His Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock". Haley's biggest hit, and one of the most important records in rock and roll history, sales of "Rock Around the Clock" started slow but eventually sold an estimated 25 million copies (per the Guinness Book of World Records) and marked the arrival of a cultural shift.

Initially, "Rock Around the Clock" was only a modest success. Much more impressive was the million-seller, "Shake, Rattle and Roll", a somewhat bowdlerized cover version of the Big Joe Turner recording of earlier in 1954. Although Haley's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" never achieved the same level of historical importance as "Rock Around the Clock", it actually predated it as the first major international rock and roll hit, although it did not attain the Number 1 position in the American charts. When Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1956, he combined Haley's arrangement with Turner's original lyrics but failed to score a substantial hit. Late in 1954, Haley also recorded another hit, "Dim, Dim The Lights", which was significant as the first R&B song recorded by a white artist to cross over to the R&B charts. The success of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Dim, Dim The Lights" prompted some DJs, including Alan Freed, to rediscover and play earlier Haley records, including "Rock Around the Clock"[1].

The (belated) success of "Rock Around the Clock" is attributed to its use in the soundtrack of the film Blackboard Jungle, which was released in March 1955. The song, which was re-released to coincide with the film, rose to the top of the American musical charts that summer and stayed there for eight weeks, the first rock and roll record to do so.

Ambrose's acrobatic saxophone playing, along with Lytle on the double bass -literally on it, riding it like a pony, and holding it over his head- were highlights of the band's live performances during this time. Their music and their act were part of a tradition in jazz and rhythm and blues, but it all came like a thunderclap to most of their audience. In late 1954, Haley and His Comets appeared in a short subject entitled Round Up of Rhythm, performing three songs. This was the earliest known theatrical rock and roll film release.
Bill Haley and His Comets in 1956. Left to right: Rudy Pompilli, Billy Williamson, Al Rex, Johnny Grande, Ralph Jones, Franny Beecher. Top: Bill Haley.
Bill Haley and His Comets in 1956. Left to right: Rudy Pompilli, Billy Williamson, Al Rex, Johnny Grande, Ralph Jones, Franny Beecher. Top: Bill Haley.

In 1955, Lytle, Richards and Ambrose quit the Comets in a salary dispute and formed their own group, The Jodimars. Haley hired several new musicians to take their place: Rudy Pompilli on sax, Al Rex (a former member of the Saddlemen) on double bass, and Ralph Jones on drums; in addition, lead guitarist Franny Beecher, who had been a session musician for Haley since Cedrone's death in the fall of 1954, became a full-time Comet and Haley's first performing lead guitarist. This version of the band became even more popular than the earlier manifestation, and appeared in several motion pictures over the next few years.

Other hits recorded by the band included "See You Later, Alligator" in which Haley's frantic delivery contrasted with the Louisiana langour of the original by Bobby Charles, "Don't Knock the Rock", "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie", "Rudy's Rock" (the first instrumental hit of the rock and roll era) and "Skinny Minnie".

In 1956, Bill Haley and His Comets appeared in two of the earliest full-length rock and roll movies: Rock Around the Clock, and Don't Knock the Rock.

Decline in popularity

The band's popularity in the United States began to wane in 1956-57 as sexier, wilder acts such as Elvis and Little Richard began to dominate the record charts (although Haley's cover version of Little Richard's "Rip It Up" - which was released in direct competition - actually outsold the original). After "Skinny Minnie" hit the charts in 1958, Haley found it difficult to score further successes Stateside, although a spin-off group made up of Comets musicians dubbed The Kingsmen (no relation to the later group of "Louie, Louie" fame) did score a hit with the instrumental, "Weekend" that same year.
Vintage magazine cover published during the Comets' pioneering 1957 tour of the United Kingdom.
Vintage magazine cover published during the Comets' pioneering 1957 tour of the United Kingdom.

Overseas, however, Haley and his band continued to be extremely popular, touring the United Kingdom in the spring of 1957, during which Haley and his crew were mobbed by thousands of fans at Waterloo Station in London at an incident dubbed the Second Battle of Waterloo by media. That same year, the Comets toured Australia and in 1958 enjoyed a successful (if riot-dominated) tour of the European mainland. Bill Haley & His Comets were the first major American rock and roll act to tour the world in this way.

Back in the U.S., Haley attempted to start his own record label, Clymax, and establish his own stable of performers, most notably Sally Starr (a children's show host) and the Matys Brothers. Members of The Comets were commissioned to work as session musicians on many of these recordings, many of which were written or co-written by Haley and/or members of The Comets. The Clymax experiment only lasted about a year. In 1959, Haley's relationship with Decca collapsed and after a final set of instrumental-only recordings in the fall, Haley announced he was leaving Decca for the new Warner Bros. Records label.

In 1960, the band enjoyed its last new hit in the United States with an instrumental version of "Skokiaan" on Decca, although another instrumental for Warner Bros. that same year called "Tamiami" almost became a hit. Meanwhile, Haley and the Comets began recording for Warner Bros. in January, creating a series of critically acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful songs over the next 13-14 months, many in the country and western style. From 1961 to 1969, Haley and His Comets recorded unsuccessful singles for a number of small labels in America such as Newtown Records, Guest Star Records, APT Records, as well as for United Artists. APT Records even went so far as to release a single under the name B.H. Sees Combo in order to trick American radio stations into playing music by the so-called "has been" group. Guest Star Records released an album of Haley recordings under the name Scott Gregory, possibly due to the fact Haley was having major problems with the Internal Revenue Service at the time. In 1964 there was an abortive attempt to return to Decca with a low-selling recording of Jim Lowe's "The Green Door" backed by "Yeah, She's Evil!" a song that would later be recorded by Elvis Presley as "The Meanest Girl in Town" for the soundtrack of his movie, Girl Happy. That song's writer, Joy Byers, also wrote "Stop, Look and Listen" which Haley recorded in 1965 for APT Records; the next year it was again recycled by Elvis, this time for his film, Spinout.

For commercial success in the 1960s, the band had to turn to venues outside the United States. The group continued to be a top concert draw in Europe throughout the 1960s, including a successful stint at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany where they played around the same time the Beatles performed there.

[edit] Mexico and the late 1960s

In 1961-1962, Bill Haley y sus Cometas (as the band was known in Latin America) signed with the Orfeon Records label of Mexico and scored an unexpected hit with "Twist Español", a Spanish language recording based on the Twist dance craze that was sweeping America at the time. Haley followed up with what was, for a time, the biggest selling single in Mexican history with "Florida Twist". Although Chubby Checker and Hank Ballard were credited with starting the Twist craze in America, in Mexico and Latin America, Bill Haley and His Comets were proclaimed the Kings of the Twist. Thanks to the success to "Twist Español" and "Florida Twist", among others, the band had continued success in Mexico and Latin America over the next few years, selling many recordings of Spanish and Spanish flavored material and simulated live performances (overdubbed audience over studio recordings) on the Orfeon label and its subsidiary, Dimsa. They hosted a TV series entitled Orfeon a Go-Go and made cameo appearances in several movies, lipsynching to some of their old hits. Haley, who was fluent in Spanish, recorded a number of songs in the language, but the vast majority of the band's output during these years were instrumental recordings, many utilizing local session musicians playing trumpet. There was also some experimentation with Haley's style during this time; one single for Orfeon was a folk ballad, "Jimmy Martinez", which Haley recorded without the Comets.

In 1966, the Comets (without Bill Haley) cut an album for Orfeon as session musicians for Big Joe Turner, who had always been an idol to Haley; no joint performance of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was recorded, however. In a 1974 interview with BBC Radio, Haley said Turner's career was in a slump at this time, so he used his then-considerable influence with Orfeon to get Turner a recording session. The Comets' association with Orfeon/Dimsa ended later that year.

By 1967, as related by Haley in an interview with radio host Red Robinson that same year, the group was "a free agent" without any recording contracts at all, although the band continued to perform regularly in North America and Europe. During this year, Haley -- without the Comets -- recorded a pair of demos in Phoenix, Arizona: a country-western song called "Jealous Heart" for which he was backed by a local mariachi band (and similar in style to the earlier "Jimmy Martinez", and late-60s-style rocker called "Rock on Baby" backed by a group called Superfine Dandelion. Neither recording would be released for 30 years. In 1968, Haley and the Comets recorded a single for the United Artists label, a version of Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis" but no long-term association with the label resulted. In order to revive his recording career, Haley turned to Europe.

Revival

By the late 1960s, Haley and the Comets were considered an oldies act. The band's popularly never waned in Europe, and the group signed a lucrative deal with Sonet Records of Sweden in 1968 that resulted in a new version of "Rock Around the table" hitting the European charts that year. The band would record a mixture of live and studio albums for the label over the next decade.

In the United States in 1969, promoter Richard Nader launched a series of rock and roll revival concert tours featuring "oldies" acts of the 50s and 60s. One of the first of these shows, held at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden in New York City, resulted in Haley receiving an eight-and-a-half minute standing ovation following his performance, as Nader related in his recorded introduction to Haley's live album Bill Haley's Scrapbook, which was recorded a few weeks later at New York's Bitter End club.

The band appeared in several concert films in the early 1970s, including The London Rock and Roll Show and Let the Good Times Roll. After 1974, tax and management problems prevented Haley from performing in the United States, so he performed in Europe almost exclusively, though he also toured South America in 1975. The band was also kept busy in the studio, recording numerous albums for Sonet and other labels in the 1970s, several with a country music flavor. In 1974, Haley's original Decca recording of "Rock Around the Clock" hit the American sales charts once again thanks to its use in American Graffiti and Happy Days.

Late career

In February 1976, Haley's saxophone player and best friend, Rudy Pompilli, died of cancer after a nearly 20-year career with the Comets. Haley continued to tour for the next year with a succession of new sax players, but his popularity was waning again and his 1976 performance in London was critically lambasted by music media such as Melody Maker. That year, the group also recorded an album, R-O-C-K at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio for Sonet Records. In early 1977, Haley announced his retirement from performing and settled down at his home in Mexico. According to the John Swenson biography of Haley, the musician was quoted as saying that he and Pompilli had an agreement that if one died, the other would retire.

The Comets continued to tour on their own during this period.

In 1979, Haley was persuaded to return to performing with the offer of a lucrative contract to tour Europe. An almost completely new group of musicians, mostly British, were assembled to perform as The Comets, and Haley appeared on many TV shows as well as in the movie Blue Suede Shoes, filmed at one of his London concerts in March 1979. A few days later, a performance in Birmingham was videotaped and aired on UK television; it was released on DVD in 2005. During the March tour, Haley recorded several tracks in London for his next album with Sonet, completing the work that summer at Muscle Shoals in Alabama; released later in the year, the resulting album Everyone Can Rock & Roll was the last release of new recordings by Bill Haley before his death.

In November 1979, Haley and the Comets performed for Queen Elizabeth II, a moment Haley considered the proudest of his career. It was also the last time he performed in Europe and the last time most fans saw him perform "Rock Around the Clock".

In 1980, Bill Haley and His Comets toured South Africa but Haley's health was failing and it was reported that he had a brain tumor. The tour was critically lambasted, but surviving recordings of a performance in Johannesburg show Haley in good spirits and good voice. Nonetheless, according to the Haley News fan club newsletter and the Haley biography Sound and Glory, planned concerts such as a fall 1980 tour of Germany, and proposed recording sessions in New York and Memphis were cancelled -- including a potential reunion with past members of the Comets -- and Haley returned to his home in Harlingen, Texas where he died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack on February 9, 1981.

In April 1981, Bill Haley & His Comets returned to the British musical charts once again when MCA Records (inheritors of the Decca catalog) released "Haley's Golden Medley", a hastily compiled edit of the band's best known hits in the style of the then-popular "Stars on 45" format. The single reached No. 50 in the UK but was not released in the United States.

In 1987, Bill Haley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At that time, supporting bands were not also named to the hall. This policy has since changed and efforts have been under way for several years to have The Comets also named to the Hall. Bill Haley and His Comets have also been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and, in July 2005, the surviving members of the 1954-55 Comets (see below) represented Haley when Bill Haley and His Comets were inducted into Hollywood's Rockwalk, a ceremony also attended by Haley's second wife and youngest daughter. The Comets placed their handprints in cement; a space was left blank for Haley.

The Comets

More than 100 musicians performed with Bill Haley & His Comets between 1952 and Haley's death in 1981, many becoming fan favorites along the way.[1] Several short-lived Comets reunions were attempted in the 1980s, including one contingent (organized by Baltimore-based piano player Joey Welz who was briefly a Comet in the mid-1960s) that appeared on The Tomorrow Show, and another run by an Elvis Presley impersonator named Joey Rand (this group later lost a legal action over the right to use the Comets name).

The Comets, featuring musicians who performed with Haley in 1954-1955, reunited in 1987 and are still touring the world as of 2007, playing showrooms in the United States and Europe. They have also recorded a half-dozen albums for small labels in Europe and the United States. This version of the group has also been credited as Bill Haley's Original Comets, and in circumstances where the use of the Comets name is in dispute, A Tribute to Bill Haley and The Original Band. The basic line-up of this group from 1987 to May 2006 consisted of Marshall Lytle (bass), Joey Ambrose (sax), Johnny Grande (piano), Dick Richards (drums) and Franny Beecher (guitar). British singer Jacko Buddin augmented the group on vocals during most of their European tours (with Lytle handling most vocal chores during North American performances starting around 2000-2001).

Two additional groups claim the name Bill Haley's Comets and have extensively toured in the United States since forming in the 1980s: one featuring Haley's 1965-68 drummer John "Bam-Bam" Lane, the other run by Al Rappa who played bass for Haley off-and-on between late 1959 and early 1969 (some media promotion for Rappa erroneously states that he joined the group in 1956). Both these musicians claim trademark ownership of the Bill Haley's Comets name; this dates back to Lane and Rappa (during a period when they worked together as one band) winning a trademark infringement lawsuit against the aforementioned Joey Rand group in 1989. Both Rappa and Lane's bands have, from time to time, recruited other former Comets for their line-ups (for example, in 2005, Rappa joined forces with Joey Welz), but for the most part the bandleaders are the only regular members who have worked with Bill Haley directly.

In March and July 2005, the members of the 1954-55 group, now billed as simply The Comets after decades of controversy over the use of the name, made several high-profile concert appearances in New York City and Los Angeles organized by Martin Lewis as part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of rock and roll, the release of Blackboard Jungle, the 50th anniversary of "Rock Around the Clock" hitting Number 1, and the 80th birthday of Bill Haley. During a July 6, 2005 concert at the Viper Room in West Hollywood, The Comets were joined on stage for one song by Gina Haley, the youngest daughter of Bill Haley; at a similar appearance in March they were joined by Haley's eldest son, John W. Haley.

In 2006, The 1954-55 Comets spent much of the year in residence at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri (their second season at the theater is scheduled to begin on March 30, 2007). Meanwhile, the John Lane edition of Bill Haley's Comets recorded a new album in Tennessee in early 2006 which has yet to be released.

On June 2, 2006, Johnny Grande, keyboardist with the 1954-55 Comets and an original founding member of the band, died after a short illness. The following month, 85-year-old guitarist Franny Beecher announced his retirement, though he was at one point announced as participating in an early 2007 tour of Germany. The three remaining original Comets (Lytle, Richards, and Ambrose) continue to perform in Branson with new musicians taking over the keyboard and lead guitar positions. During September 2006, PBS in the United States aired a series of programs videotaped in Branson during the spring of 2006; these shows include the last recorded performances of the complete Original Comets line-up including Grande.

John "Bam-Bam" Lane died on February 18, 2007[2] but his edition of Bill Haley's Comets is expected to continue touring, with the 2006 recordings to be released in Lane's memory.

Several tribute bands patterning themselves after The Comets are also active in Europe, including Phil Haley and His Comments in Great Britain, and the Bill Haley and His Comets Revival (also known as Bill Haley's New Comets) in Germany.

Discography

Bill Haley & His Comets recorded many singles and albums. The following list references only their original release and does not include compilation albums or single reissues. This list does not include releases on which the Comets worked as session musicians and only includes releases during Haley's lifetime.

Singles

As Bill Haley & the Saddlemen (and variations of the name)

1950

* Deal Me a Hand/Ten Gallon Stetson (Keystone 5101)
* Susan Van Dusan/I'm Not to Blame (Keystone 5102)
* Why Do I Cry Over You?/I'm Gonna Dry Ev'ry Tear With a Kiss (Atlantic 727)
* My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada/My Palomino and I (Cowboy 1701) - released as Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos

1951

* Rocket 88/Tearstains on My Heart (Holiday 105)
* Green Tree Boogie/Down Deep in My Heart (Holiday 108)
* I'm Crying/Pretty Baby (Holiday 110) - with Loretta Glendenning
* A Year Ago This Christmas/I Don't Want to Be Alone for Christmas (Holiday 111)

1952

* Jukebox Cannonball/Sundown Boogie (Holiday 113)
* Rock the Joint/Icy Heart (Essex 303)
* Dance with a Dolly (With a Hole in Her Stockin')/Rocking Chair on the Moon (Essex 305)

As Bill Haley & His Comets (and name variations thereof)

1953

* Stop Beatin' round the Mulberry Bush/Real Rock Drive (Essex 310)
* Crazy Man, Crazy/Whatcha Gonna Do? (Essex 321)
* Pat-a-Cake/Fractured (Essex 327)
* Live it Up/Farewell-So Long-Goodbye (Essex 332)

1954

* I'll Be True /Ten Little Indians (Essex 340)
* Chattanooga Choo Choo/Straight Jacket (Essex 348)
* Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)/(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock (Decca 29124) - "Rock Around the Clock" was initially released as the B-side
* Shake, Rattle and Roll/ABC Boogie (Decca 29204)
* Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)/Happy Baby (Decca 29317)
* Yes Indeed!/Real Rock Drive (Transworld 718)

1955

* Mambo Rock/Birth of the Boogie (Decca 29418)
* Razzle-Dazzle/Two Hound Dogs (Decca 29552)
* Burn That Candle/Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie (Decca 29713)

1956

* See You Later Alligator/The Paper Boy (On Main Street U.S.A.) (Decca 29791)
* The Saint's Rock 'n' Roll/R-O-C-K (Decca 29870)
* Hot Dog Buddy Buddy/Rockin' Through the Rye (Decca 29948)
* Rip it Up/Teenager's Mother (Are You Right?) (Decca 30028)
* Rudy's Rock/Blue Comet Blues (Decca 30085)
* Don't Knock the Rock/Choo Choo Ch'Boogie (Decca 30148)

1957

* Forty Cups of Coffee/Hook, Line and Sinker (Decca 30214)
* (You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat/Rockin' Rollin' Rover (Decca 30314)
* The Dipsy Doodle/Miss You (Decca 30394)
* Rock the Joint (a.k.a. New Rock the Joint [stereo])/How Many? (Decca 30461)
* Mary, Mary Lou/It's a Sin (Decca 30530)

1958

* Skinny Minnie/Sway with Me (Decca 30592)
* Lean Jean/Don't Nobody Move (Decca 30681)
* Chiquita Linda (Un Poquito de tu Amor)/Whoa Mabel! (Decca 30741)
* Corrine, Corrina/B.B. Betty (Decca 30781)

1959

* I Got a Woman/Charmaine (Decca 30844)
* (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I/Where Did You Go Last Night? (Decca 30873)
* Shaky/Caldonia (Decca 30926)
* Joey's Song/Ooh! Look-a-There, Ain't She Pretty? (Decca 30956)

1960

* Skokiaan (South African Song)/Puerto Rican Peddler (Decca 31030)
* Music! Music! Music!/Strictly Instrumental (Decca 31080)
* Candy Kisses/Tamiami (Warner Bros. Records 5145)
* Hawk/Chick Safari (Warner Bros. 5154)
* So Right Tonight/Let the Good Times Roll, Creole (Warner Bros. 5171)
* Rock Around the Clock/Shake Rattle and Roll (new versions) (Warner Bros. no. unknown)

1961

* Honky Tonk/Flip, Flop and Fly (Warner Bros. 5228)
* Riviera/War Paint (Gone 5116)
* Twist Español/My Kind of Woman (Spanish version) (Orfeon 1010) [May 1961]
* Cerca del Mar/Tren Nocturno (Orfeon 1036)
* Florida Twist/Negra Consentida (Orfeon 1047)
* Spanish Twist (English version)/My Kind of Woman (Gone 5111) [September 1961]

1962

* Caravan Twist/Actopan Twist (Orfeon 1052)
* La Paloma/Silbando Y Caminando (Orfeon 1062)
* Bikini Twist/Rudy's (Orfeon 1067)
* Mas Twist/Tampico Twist (Orfeon 1082)
* Twist Lento/Sonora Twist (Orfeon 1100)
* Martha/Tacos de Twist (Orfeon 1132)
* Jalisco Twist/Pueblo del Twist (Orfeon 1169)

1963

* Tenor Man/Up Goes My Love (Newtown 5013)
* White Parakeet/Midnight in Washington (Newhits 5014)
* Dance Around the Clock/What Can I Say (Newtown 5024)
* Tandy/You Call Everybody Darling (Newtown 5025)
* Yakety Sax (by Bill Haley & His Comets)/Boot's Blues (by Boots Randolph (Logo 7005)
* ABC Boogie (new version) (by Haley)/Rock Around the Clock (by Phil Flowers (Kasey 7006)
* Pure de Papas/Anoche (Orfeon 1195)
* El Madison de la Estrella/Viajando Con el Madison (Orfeon 1229)
* Avenida Madison/Reunion de Etiqueta (Orfeon 1243)
* Limbo Rock/Ana Maria (Orfeon 1269)

1964

* Green Door/Yeah, She's Evil! (Decca 31650)
* Adios Mariquita Linda/El Quelite (Orfeon 1324)
* Mish Mash/Madero y Gante (Orfeon 1333)
* Jimmy Martinez/Al Compás del Reloj (Orfeon 1429)

1965

* Burn That Candle (new version)/Stop, Look and Listen (APT 25081)
* Tongue-Tied Tony/Haley-a-Go-Go (APT 25087)
* A Gusto Contigo/Mish Mash (Orfeon 1570)

1966

* Land of a Thousand Dances/Estomago Caliente (Orfeon 1825)
* Rock Around the Clock/Rip it Up (new versions) (Orfeon 1894)

1968

* That's How I Got to Memphis/Ain't Love Funny, Ha Ha Ha (United Artists 50483)

1970

* Rock Around the Clock/Framed (live versions) (Kama Sutra 508)

1971

* Travelin' Band/A Little Piece at a Time (Janus J-162)
* Me and Bobby McGee/I Wouldn't Have Missed it for the World (Sonet 2016)

1978

* Yodel Your Blues Away/Within This Broken Heart of Mine (previously unissued pre-Comets recordings) (Arzee 4677)

1979

* Hail Hail Rock and Roll/Let the Good Times Roll Again (Sonet 2188)
* Everyone Can Rock and Roll/I Need the Music (Sonet 2194)

1980

* God Bless Rock and Roll/So Right Tonight (Sonet 2202)

Albums

* 1956 - Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show (Decca 8345)
* 1957 - Rockin' the Oldies (Decca 8569)
* 1958 - Rockin' Around the World (Decca 8692)
* 1959 - Bill Haley's Chicks (Decca 8821)
* 1959 - Strictly Instrumental (Decca 8964)
* 1960 - Bill Haley and His Comets (Warner Bros. 1378)
* 1960 - Haley's Juke Box (Warner Bros. 1391)
* 1961 - Twist (Dimsa 8255)
* 1961 - Bikini Twist (Dimsa 8259)
* 1962 - Twistin' Knights at the Roundtable (live) (Roulette SR-25174)
* 1962 - Twist Vol. 2 (Dimsa 8275)
* 1962 - Twist en Mexico (Dimsa 8290)
* 1963 - Bill Haley & His Comets (compilation with unreleased tracks) (Vocalion 3696)
* 1963 - Rock Around the Clock King (Guest Star 1454)
* 1963 - Madison (Orfeon 12339)
* 1963 - Carnaval de Ritmos Modernos (Orfeon 12340)
* 1964 - Surf Surf Surf (Orfeon 12354)
* 1966 - Whiskey a Go-Go (Orfeon 12478)
* 1966 - Bill Haley a Go-Go (Dimsa 8381)
* 1968 - Biggest Hits (re-recordings plus new tracks) (Sonet 9945); issued in England as Rock Around the Clock (Hallmark SHM 668) and in North America as Rockin' (Pickwick SPC 3256)
* 1968 - On Stage Vol. 1 (live) (Sonet SLP63)
* 1968 - On Stage Vol. 2 (live) (Sonet SLP69)
o The above two albums have been reissued in many forms, including by Janus Records as the two-album set, Razzle-Dazzle (Janus 7003), a numerous releases on the Pickwick and Hallmark labels.
* 1970 - Bill Haley's Scrapbook (live) (Kama Sutra/Buddah 2014)
* 1971 - Rock Around the Country (Sonet 623); issued in North America by GNP-Crescendo (LP 2097) and as Travelin' Band on Janus (JLS 3035)
* 1973 - Just Rock 'n' Roll Music (Sonet 645); issued in North America by GNP-Crescendo (LP 2077)
* 1974 - Live in London '74 (live) (Antic 51501)
* 1975 - Golden Favorites (compilation with unreleased tracks) (MCA Coral 7845P)
* 1976 - Rudy's Rock: The Sax That Changed the World (billed as Rudy Pompilli and the Comets; recorded without Haley) (Sonet 696)
* 1976 - R-O-C-K (re-recordings) (Sonet 710)
* 1978 - Golden Country Origins (previously unissued pre-Comets recordings) (Grassroots Records)
* 1979 - Everyone Can Rock and Roll (Sonet 808)

Other notable album releases by the group included Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets (Essex 102; 1954), Shake, Rattle and Roll (Decca DL5560; 1955), Rock Around the Clock (Decca DL8225; 1956) and Rockin' the Joint (Decca DL8775; 1958). These were all compilations of previously issued material.

[edit] Unreleased recordings

As with Elvis Presley and other contemporaries of the 1950s, a large stock of previously unreleased recordings by Bill Haley exist and have been released periodically in the years following his death. Many of these are early country and western tracks recorded as demos or, for some reason, unreleased. However, occasionally tracks from the 1950s and 1960s have emerged, as have live recordings. Since the early 1990s several European labels have released a number of previously unreleased recordings, including Hydra Records, Rollercoaster Records, Rockstar Records, Buddah Records, and Bear Family Records.

Notable discoveries that have been commercially released have included:

* Several 1946 radio recordings Haley made with the Down Homers (released in 2006);
* A large cache of country-western recordings made by Haley in the 1946-51 era, before the formation of the Comets (many released for the first time in 2006);
* An April 1955 concert in Cleveland, Ohio including the earliest known live recordings of "Rock Around the Clock";
* A concert recording from the German tour of 1958;
* A 1957 radio recording from Haley's tour of Australia;
* Soundtrack recordings from the 1958 film Here I Am, Here I Stay and the 1954 short film Round Up of Rhythm;
* Previously unreleased live recordings from the 1969 Bill Haley's Scrapbook sessions at the Bitter End;
* Two Christmas recordings and a version of "Flip Flop and Fly" from the 1968 United Artists sessions;
* In-studio discussion recordings and alternate takes from the 1979 Everyone Can Rock and Roll sessions;
* Assorted demos and alternate takes from the Decca and Warner Bros. era from the period 1958-1961, as well as additional alternate takes and unreleased tracks from the various labels Haley recorded with in the mid-1960s; and
* Two 1962 broadcasts for Armed Forces Radio.

A number of recordings exist in the hands of private collectors and remain to be commercially released, including a number of privately made live recordings of several 1960s and 1970s concerts, and a number of rehearsal recordings from 1960. To date, however, no one has discovered any alternative takes of any of Haley's most famous recordings of the 1950s, in particular "Rock Around the Clock" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll".

Later Comets recordings

Several of the post-Haley contingents of Comets had their own single and album releases:

* The 1981-82 Comets reunion group recorded on single in 1982, Bring Back the Music/The Hawk Talks (Music City Records). Musicians involved in this recording included former Comets Franny Beecher, Al Rappa and Joey Welz. Welz later released a single overdubbing two Haley demo recordings using a group of session musicians who were dubbed The Comets for the occasion.
* The Joey Rand version of Bill Haley's Comets recorded an album in the 1980s.
* The John Lane version of Bill Haley's Comets recorded a live album in the early 2000s, along with a Christmas single.
* Al Rappa's version of Bill Haley's Comets have recorded tracks with Joey Welz.
* The 1954-55 Comets (a.k.a. The Original Comets) have been the most prolific, recording a half-dozen albums since 1993 -
o We're Gonna Party! (Hydra Records, 1993)
o You're Never Too Old to Rock (Hydra, 1994)
o The House is Rockin (Rollercoaster Records, 1998)
o Still Rockin' Around the Clock (Rollin' Rock Records, 1999)
o Aged to Perfection (Rollin' Rock, 2001)
o Bill Haley's Original Comets (CD-DVD hybrid; Bradley House Records, 2003)

The group has also appeared as guest stars on a number of other recordings by Andy Lee Lang, Schurli Weiss and others.

Chart positions (US and UK)

* Billboard or Cash Box charts:
* "Crazy Man, Crazy" - # 12, summer 1953
* "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" – # 1 US, 06/1955; # 1 (8 weeks), UK, 10/1955; UK recharts # 5 09/1956; # 24, 12/1956; #25 01/1957; #20 04/1968; #34 05/1968; #12 UK then #39 US, 04/1974
* "Shake, Rattle and Roll" – # 7 [04/54]; # 4 UK, 12/1954
* "Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)" - # 11, 01/1955
* "Birth of the Boogie" – #17, 04/1955
* "Mambo Rock" – (flipside of "Birth Of The Boogie") # 17; # 14 UK, 04/1955
* "Two Hound Dogs" – # 9 (09/1955)
* "Razzle-Dazzle" - (A-side of "Two Hound Dogs") # 15, 09/1955; # 13 UK, 09/1956
* "Burn That Candle" - # 9, 11/1955
* "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie" – (A-side) of "Burn That Candle") #23, # 4 RU, 01/1956
* "The Saints Rock 'n' Roll" - # 18, 04/1956 # 5 UK, 05/56
* "R-O-C-K" - (A-side of "The Saints Rock and Roll") # 29, 04/1956
* "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy" - # 78) - # 60, 06/1956
* "Rockin' Through the Rye" - (flipside of "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy") # 3, UK, 08/1956; # 19 (UK), 01/1957
* "See You Later, Alligator" – # 6, 02/1956; # 7 UK, 03/1956; # 12 UK, 09/1956 (new entry)
* "Rip It Up" – # 25, 08/1956; # 4 UK, 11/1956
* "Teenager's Mother (Are You Right?)" - (flipside of "Rip it Up") - # 68, 08/1956
* "Rudy's Rock""- # 34; # 30 (UK), 11/1956; re-charts # 26 (UK), 12/1956
* "Don't Knock the Rock" - # 45, 12/1956; # 7, UK, 02/1957
* "Rock the Joint" (1952 recording) - # 20 UK, 02/1957
* "Forty Cups of Coffee"/"Hook, Line and Sinker" - # 70, 04/1957
* "(You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat" - # 60, 06/1957
* "Skinny Minnie" - # 22, 05/1958
* "Lean Jean" - # 67, 08/1958
* "Joey's Song" - # 46, 11/1959
* "Skokiaan (South African Song)" - # 70, 1960
* "Haley's Golden Medley" - (posthumous edit of "Rock Around the Clock", "See You Later Alligator", "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and others) # 50, UK, 04/1981

In addition, Haley and the Comets also scored chart hits in Latin America during the period 1961-1966 with recordings such as "Twist Español", "Florida Twist" and "Land of 1000 Dances". Reportedly, "Chick Safari", a 1960 recording, reached the No. 1 position on the Indian musical charts. Both the single "Florida Twist" and the Twist LP Record went to No. 1 in Mexico
 
Sources

* Jim Dawson, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution! (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005)
* John W. Haley and John von Hoelle, Sound and Glory (Wilmington, DE: Dyne-American, 1990)
* John Swenson, Bill Haley (London: W.H. Allen, 1982)
* Discography information from Bill Haley Central and Bill Haley & His Comets, etc.: A Discography, an unpublished reference work by Herbert Kamitz.

Videos

 

Rock Around The Clock

 

Shake Rattle & Roll 1979

 

See You Later Alligator 1979

 

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