In a second floor apartment in a blue-collar section of Detroit, Michigan, William John Clifton Haley was born to William and Maude Haley in 1925. This boy, who would be known later as Bill Haley, was the second child in the Haley family. Bill had an older sister, Margaret, who was two years old at his birth. The Haley's were a working class family with William Haley Sr., a Kentucky native, working as a mechanic, and Maude Haley working for 25 cents an hour giving piano lessons.
Despite the Haley's humble means, both of Bill's parents were musically talented. His mother was an immigrant from Lancashire, England, where she had studied classical piano and often played the organ in church. His father, who was part Cherokee Indian, had quit school as a child in order to earn money for his family, and did not know how to read music but could pick out tunes on a guitar by ear. Most of the music that William Sr. chose to listen to was Country and young Bill soon became interested in this style as well. Bill had seemingly inherited his father's talent for playing music by ear.
At the age of 13, Bill Haley's dream was to become a singing cowboy. In 1938, the boy received his first real guitar as a Christmas gift and his father taught him how to play. With guitar lessons from his father and singing lessons from his mother, Bill Haley was beginning a lifetime in music.
In 1940, Bill left school after the eighth grade to take a job at the Bethel Springs Water Bottling Company. He was paid 35 cents an hour to fill five-gallon glass bottles with water from the spring. Following his employment at Bethel Springs, he worked for a time in at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, near where his family had relocated.
Bill Haley would have his go at being a singing cowboy in 1943, when he formed his first band. He wore a white cowboy hat along with a red suit and cowboy boots. His band was named the "Down Homers." For a period of about three years, Haley traveled with the band before returning home in 1946. By the time he was twenty-one, Bill had decided to abandon the idea of becoming a singing cowboy.
In 1947, he became a disc jockey the radio station, WPWA. During the same time period, Haley got together with three other musicians to form a band called the "Four Aces of Western Swing". The band combined several musical styles in their work including hillbilly, Dixieland and Western Swing. Because Bill had connections through his work with the radio station, the band easily obtained bookings. Briefly, Bill tried out changing his name to Jack Haley and created another band called "Jack Haley and his All Western Sextette."
Haley's next band was to be called Bill Haley and His Saddlemen, which he formed with Johnny Grande and Billy Williamson. Of the three, John Grande was the only one who could read music and so he became the recorder and arranger of their material. The Keystone label produced the band's first records in 1950. The style of the band at the time was Western Swing and some of their songs included "Ten Gallon Stetson and Susan Van Dusan", "Deal Me a Hand" and "I'm Not To Blame".
In 1952, Bill Haley wrote a song called "Rock A Beatin' Bogie", in which he used the soon to become well-known phrase "rock and roll" when playing around with the lyrics. His words and his style later had a tremendous influence of many younger stars including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Finally, Bill Haley and His Saddlemen did away with their cowboy attire and decided that they needed a new name. Although there are competing theories as to how they acquired the new name, it appears that either the Program Director at WPWA , or another associate, suggested that the name Haley's Comets would be a good choice. Either way, Bill Haley and His Comets were born. The year was 1952 and this was the last time that the band changed its name and its image. And while leaving their cowboy hats behind, they also made the tough decision to abandon Country music to take on the rock and roll style, which was emerging from Rhythm and Blues.
In 1954, Bill Haley signed a contract for four records per year that Decca agreed to mail out to 2000 disc jockeys across the country. To begin this deal, Haley composed a new arrangement for "Rock Around the Clock", which the band had been performing for the last year. The song was recorded in Studio A at Decca, which was actually an auditorium-like hall that sported high-ceilings and walnut paneling that created a reverberation chamber.
"Rock Around the Clock" became Bill's first hit and the first massive Rock and Roll hit and would go on to sell over 25 million copies. Bill Haley soon became a leader of what some have called the Rock and Roll revolution, a change in musical tastes that has lasted to this day. Extremely popular with young people, Haley actually was a very strange teen sensation, already balding and looking middle-aged when his career took off in 1955.
Bill Haley and his Comets continued to record with Decca until 1964, releasing a number of songs, including a very popular cover of Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll", as well as such hits as "Move It On Over", "Lean Jean" and "Dim, Dim the Lights". During Bill Haley's career, he had 9 albums in the Top 40, as well as a large number of singles.
Bill Haley died in his sleep while at home in Harlingen, Texas, in 1981.