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  • Writer's pictureDave Nemo

Musical Milestone 003: Bill Haley, The Father of Rock and Roll

Halley's Comet can be seen from Earth every 75–76 years. It's the only known comet that is regularly visible to the naked eye from Earth, and the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime.

Another comet has appeared only once...Bill Haley's Comets. They rocketed to fame in the early 1950's. But, of course, it took 8 or 9 years to skyrocket to "overnight" success. If Jimmy Rodgers was the Father of Country Music, most historians will call Bill Haley the Father of Rock and Roll.

But lets go back just a little farther.

From the start, music in America was a real gumbo of cultural origins that began to blend almost from the beginning. So, we have African, British, Irish, Scottish, and more starting points for what would eventually be recognized as American music. When you boil that gumbo down, it's the blending and homogenizing of those musical cultures that would eventually give birth to music that would come to be our sound. But it took a while before that gumbo would be ready to serve.

Now, back to Bill Haley. Describing rock and roll, he said, “We put country & western together with rhythm & blues, and that was rock. The first three years were ours, all ours, till Presley came along.”

When he was 7 years old, he made a cardboard guitar. (BTW, my first drum set was a pile of cardboard boxes). His dad, a banjo player, got Bill his first real instrument and he was on his way. In his teens, he played, sang, and yodeled in amateur groups and landed his first spot in a real professional group called the Downhomers when he was 20.

In 1950, Bill became a disc jockey and was exposed to all kinds of music giving him a wide palette from which to paint a new "gumbo" of styles blended together. Bob Wills was certainly an early influence; Bill's band names kinda say it all...Bill Haley and The Four Aces of Western Swing. Then Bill Haley and The Saddlemen in 1950. Listen the the Saddlemen's version of The Delta Cat's "Rocket 88," a R&B song from the 1940's, to hear the gumbo of country, swing and rhythm and blues. Not quite rock and roll but getting close.

By 1952, it was all coming into focus when the band became Bill Haley and His Comets.

Their first top 20 song was "Crazy Man Crazy" followed by “Rock the Joint.” but the overnight success song for Haley came in the form of another cover of a R&B tune first recorded by Big Joe Turner, “Shake, Rattle and Roll."

The breakthrough song for the Comets was, of course, 1954's "Rock Around The Clock." Many listeners had never heard of "rock and roll" when it was released, so the record company had a hard time describing the song. The label on the single called it a "Novelty Foxtrot."

If Bill Haley was the Father of Rock and Roll, this song was the one that brought rock and roll into the spotlight, not just here but around the world. In 2018, it was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Recording Registry as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant." Some of the artists who were influenced by Bill Haley and His Comets were Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checker and yes, The Beatles.


Cover photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash


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