NOTE: The majority of the information on this page is condensed from the book "Sound and Glory" by John W. Haley (Bill's son) and John von Hoelle. Published by: Dyne-American Publishing, 2070 Naamans Rd., Suite 103, Wilmington, DE. 19810, 1990.
The book lists over 400 titles that were recorded and released
by Bill Haley and his musicians over a period of forty years, The vocals were
sometimes done by other artists, but the back up was Bill's Comets or
one of his earlier country-western bands. Bill Haley also recorded over a hundred
titles on at least four different Latin American labels: Dimsa, Orfeon, Maya and
Dim. Many were sung in Spanish, while others were instrumentals with a strong
Spanish flair. Those records sold in the tens of millions thoughout Latin America
and South American where "Bill Haley y sus Cometas" remained very popular during
the 1960's. -
Special thanks also to Marshall Lytle for his contribution.
LEAD GUITAR: Walt Aldridge, James "Slim" Allsman, George Baker, Franny Beecher, Danny Cedrone, Joe DeNick, Dallas Edwards, Jimmy English, Charles "Fingers" Hess, Chuch Huffman, Johnny Kay (Kaciuban), Tex King (Orville Mitchell), Nick Masters (Nastos), Bill Miller, Paul Pruitt, Art Ryerson, Bob Scales (Scaltrito), Duke Snow (John Muntz), Gerry Tilley, Bill Turner (Trimarco).
DRUMS: Tonyo Adonii, Dave Bates, Tony Benson (Gaudioso), Buddy Dee (Wayne deMint), Sticks Evans, Earl Famous, Panama Francis, Billy Gussak, Owen Hale, Charlie Higler, Karl Himmel, Dave Holly, Cliff Jackson, Ralph Jones, Joey Kay, Ivan Krill, John "Bam-Bam" Lane (Barrowclough), Cliff Leeman, Art Marotti, Bobby Monk, Freddie Moore (Fusting), Steve Murray, Bill Nolte, Don Raymond, Dick Richards (Boccelli), Brad Skinner, Wayne Stevens, Dean Tinker, Ed Ward.
BASS: Julian "Bashful Barney" Barnard, Ray Cawley, Chalmers Davis, Jim "Ed" Gorbey, Rusty Keefer, Jim Lebak, Marshall Lyle (Tommy Page), Bill Moss, Ray Parsons, Al Rex (Piccirilli), Al Pompilli, Al Rappa, Bobby Sharp, Al Thompson (Scholz).
SAXOPHONE: Joey Ambrose (d'Ambrosio), George Baker, Al Dean (Albert DeNittis), Goeff Daily, Goeff Driscoll, Tony Lance (Liquori), Ed Logan, Rudy Pompilli (Pompilii), Frankie Scott, Mike Shay, Frank Sikora, Pete Thomas.
RHYTHM GUITAR: Ron Atwood, Pat Berg, Slim Bland, Lloyd Cornell, Neil Drummond, George Gray, Herb Hutchinson, Tom Kozer, Clifford Lytle, Marshall Lytle (Tommy Page), Dennis McLeod, Bobby Marhu, Bob Mason, Ray McCann, Joe Oliver, Ray Parsons, Jesse Rogers, Chico Ryan, Mike Shay, Jerry Shook, Pete Spencer, Ernie Walker, Major Wallace, Ed Warminski, Jimmy Weidow.
STEEL GUITAR: Curley Chawker, Merle Fritz, Lloyd Green, Nick Masters (Nastos), Billy Williamson.
PIANO/ORGAN: David Baroni, Bill Brelli, Mike Cannon, Chalmers Davis, Johnny Grande, Ernie Henry, Hargus Robbins, Hank Thompson (Scholz), Joey Welz, Bobby Wood, Pete Wingfield.
ACCORDION: Al Constantine, Johnny Grande, Dorothy Heavlow.
VIOLIN-MANDOLIN: Jimmy Collett (Colletti), Bill Gray, Ben "Pop" Guthrie, Arrett "Rusty" Keefer, Jimmy Maise, Roy Perky, Brother Wayne (Wayne Wright).
OTHER INSTRUMENTS: Rudy Pompilli (Pompilii), Clarinet and Flute; Loyd Green, Dobro; Dick Richards (Boccelli), Triangle; Sonny Jim Davis and Al Rappa, Trumpet; Jimmy Riddle and Wanda Hale, harmonica.
BILL HALEY played: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, steel guitar and fiddle.
IT WAS 2:30 ON A HOT, sultry afternoon in the noisy blue-collar suburb of Detroit called Highland Park. A seven pound, eight ounce boy was born in a small, second floor apartment on Florence Avenue to William and Maude Haley. The date was July 6th, 1925. The little boy would be named William John Clifton Haley, but one day he would become the musical legend known as Bill Haley, and with his Comets, he would rock the concert halls of the world with the thunder of his sound and the glory of his music.
The baby was the second born to the Haleys. Margaret, their daughter, was born two years earlier. William Sr. had moved to Detroit from Firebrick, Kentucky, where he found work in a nearby service station. The Roaring Twenties were in full swing and times were good to the thirty-five year old father. He enjoyed his work as a mechanic and his wife gave piano lessons in their home at 25 cents an hour. Maude Haley was a woman of strong religious convictions and gentle kindness. She had come to America with her family from Ulverston in Lancashire, England before the First World War. She had studied classical piano in Great Britain, and played the organ with such grace she was often asked to play at her church services.
Her American husband, part Cherokee Indian, was a quiet man from the hills of Eastern Kentucky. He had to quit school early to find work. His father had died young and his mother desperately needed his income to raise the younger children. William Sr. struggled with this burden until the last of his brothers and sisters were educated and on their own. Only then, after he was thirty years old, did he marry.
James Otis, who worked with William Sr. said: ". . he had a bad speech impediment which made him shy of talking very much. He was very good with his hands, a born mechanic . . . could fix almost anything. He kept to himself and, you know, I seldom saw him smile. I guess you would call him a real hillbilly at heart, but I tell you, he could play both the mandolin and banjo. He couldn't read no music, but he could pick out any tune he wanted. He had an ear for good country music. I think that's where little Billy got his ear for them foot-stomping hillbilly tunes."
By the time Bill was thirteen, his new fantasy was to become a singing cowboy like the ones he idolized every Saturday afternoon at the movie houses in nearby Marcus Hook or Chester.
Joseph Lauginiger, a school mate of Bill, remembers the Christmas of 1938 when Bill received his first real guitar from his parents. It was not new and had a funny green color, but to an excited thirteen year old, it was a priceless treasure. His father taught him to play the basic chords and notes by ear. This second-hand guitar and the music it would create became a love affair Bill would hold for the rest of his life.
He soon realized he had his father's talent and ear for music. He found he could listen to a tune on the radio and pick it out on his guitar, note for note. From his mother he learned to sing a pretty fair ballad.
In June of 1940, jut before his fifteenth birthday, he left school after finishing the eighth grade and went to work bottling water at Bethel Springs. This company sold pure spring water and fruit flavored soft drinks in a three state area. Here Bill worked for 35 cents an hour, filling large five gallon glass bottles with spring water. That summer he met two other young men, Bob Miles and Albert (Ike) McCann while working at the Springs. The three boys soon became close pals. These two buddies were the first real friends Bill ever had.
In July of 1941 Bill received his driver's license and Mr. Smith, the owner of Bethel Springs, let him drive one of the company trucks. Bob Miles fondly remembers the many trips to Ocean City, Rehoboth and the many sea-side hotels he and Bill would deliver their spring water to. "Bill was an awful driver, you took your life in your hands when you rode with him. I don't know why Mr. Smith ever let him drive those big trucks." Bill's old hot-rod, a 1935 Plymouth was named "Curly Fenders" by his buddies in honor of his near disastrous driving skills.
Soon after, all three boys found work in the massive Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, PA. On weekends they often cruised the streets of Chester in one of their old cars looking for adventure. It has always been perceived by the young men of small towns that city girls were a bit more accommodating than their country cousins. This universal piece of wisdom drove Bill Haley and his two companions to the bright lights of Chester on many a Saturday night. This bustling city became the magnet for many of their amorous sorties. Bill would usually sit in the back seat and play his guitar. If they got lucky and found a couple of girls willing to be seen with a bunch of country boys, Bill would sing one of his best songs to break the ice. His quiet country charm, good looks and singing ability proved to be irresistible, even to the city girls. Both Bob and Ike recall, "Bill had a way with girls, like he always knew what to say, and when to say it."
By September of 1943, the eighteen year old Bill Haley had become a real, certified singing cowboy - at least in appearance. He now sported a white, ten gallon hat, a fancy pair of western boots and a bright red cowboy suit with white fringe and trimmings that would bring tears to a Montana Santa Claus. His detractors would call him a "phony drug store cowboy" and taunt him, "Hey dude, where did you park your horse?" Sometimes they had even been known to throw tomatoes at him when he was performing, but woe to he who was seen. Disrespect to an American cowboy in full uniform was like spitting on the American flag, to Bill's way of thinking. More than one obnoxious critic suffered a black eye and a physical, if not moral, lesson in manners and soft tenor voice was a fist of iron if you were foolish enough to get his dander up!
After time on the road with the Down Homers Bill returned to his parents' home in Booth's Corner in September of 1946. He was ill, disillusioned and so broke he had to walk from the train station in Marcus Hook four miles to Booth's Corner. His only request to his mother was not to tell anyone he was home, not even his fiance Dottie. Bill fell into bed and slept thirty hours. Over the next two weeks Mrs. Haley slowly nursed her itinerant son back to health.
At the age of twenty-one, Bill felt he wasn't going to make it big as a cowboy singer. Bill was to later say, "I returned with the idea of getting out of show business. I had had a pretty decent career but I wasn't getting anywhere. I needed to get a steady job, forget my foolish ideas, and accomplish something that was real. The road can be hard on a kid if he's not careful. I needed a rest, I wanted someplace to hide. All I could think of is I'm a failure, and now everybody is going to know it.
By September of 1947, Bill Haley had recovered from what he felt was his failure to become a big time singing star and started to do some DJ work. With a new sense of confidence, Bill began to develop some of his earlier ambition again. He no longer wanted to be just another disc jockey, but now wanted to get into radio management, so he could have some control over programming.
Bill was hired in 1947 as musical director for radio station WPWA. Bill threw all his energy and soul into it. He would work twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week. He interviewed dozens of local people, always looking for good ideas and new talent. Each Sunday he would go to Radio Park and invite celebrities to do a special half hour program. Bill would interview them and ask them to sing or play their latest tunes.
About that time, James Allsman and Bill renewed their friendship and along with two other local musicians, Albert Constantine on the accordion and Julian "Bashful Barney" Barnard on the bass, they formed a group called the Four Aces of Western Swing.
Barnard was unique among these early singing cowboy-hillbillies. While most of his peers were from poor, hard- working, blue-collar families, Barnard's father was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and was raised in wealth and comfort. Barney's love of country-western music and his zany comic routines always made him a favorite with the audience, if not with his Orthodox Jewish family! It was also Barney's expensive new car which often hauled Bill and the little band to their shows. Barney's good nature and generosity was tapped more than once by the always-a-little-short Haley.
With this new band, Bill tried to introduce a new style of Western music to the Delaware Valley. Part hillbilly, part Dixieland and part western Swing. Bill's popularity on radio made bookings easier to come by. The band played the Wilson Line excursion boats on the Delaware River and Many of the local parks, political functions and taverns in the greater Philadelphia-Wilmington area. The Four Aces of Western Swing also became the "house band" of WPWA.
For a short period Bill toyed with the idea of changing his stage name to "Jack Haley". He created another side band of six musicians for special Sunday park dates. This band was billed as "Bill (Jack) Haley and his All Western Sextette". The musicians were the same men who had played at one time or another in his other bands.
Shortly thereafter, Johnny Grande and Billy Williamson talked Bill into forming a new group. They all shook hands on it. That's all the contract they had for many years to come. Haley was to be the undisputed leader, but only the first among equals when the profits were distributed. The nucleus of the band that would rock the world was forged in friendship and a sense of high adventure, on that remarkable day in the winter of 1949. The excited young musicians then chose a name for their new group, "Bill Haley and His Saddlemen",
Marshall Lytle and his brother Cliff were two of Bill's admirers. Marshall remembers Bill always introducing them and other local musicians in the audience and getting them to come up on the stage to do a few tunes. This popular rite also gave Bill's voice a few minutes of badly needed rest.
The next months Bill Haley demanded at least two hours rehearsal every day except Sunday. The three men would take popular tunes and play them in many different styles, trying to syncopate the various rhythms and cadences into a new format. They experimented on dozens of little used or half forgotten techniques to build volume and create unique sound effects. They used many of the techniques Bill had observed in his travels around the country. True to Bill's prediction, John Grande, being the only musician who could read music, became the chief arranger and recorder of most of their new material.
In one technique which became dominant, Bill would back-slap the strings on the bass fiddle, the way he saw Pee Wee Miller do it when he played with Cousin Lee. This unusual technique changed the bass from a melodic to a percussion instrument. It gave the early "Rockabilly" music to come some of the drive and power that drums would add later when they would cross over to the unknown dominions of the sound known as "Rock'n'Roll".
In the summer of 1950, through the efforts of Jimmy Myers, Bill Haley and his Saddlemen cut their first records. They were on Ed Wilson's Keystone label, a small Philadelphia independent publisher. The songs were standard western swing tunes: Deal Me A Hand / Ten Gallon Stetson and Susan Van Dusan / I'm Not To Blame. These rare 78 rpm records recently brought bids of over $500.00 each from astute collectors. They are the first recordings of the band that would become the nucleus of the world famous Comets.
Late in 1952, inspired by his adopted theme song Rock The Joint, Bill Haley would write the quintessential rock song, Rock A Beating' Bogie which would later be recorded by Danny Cedrone and his group the Esquire Boys. Bill Haley tells this story in an article published in 1955: I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to write this tune. The first lyric was easy, 'Rock, rock, rock everybody!' Then I wrote 'Stomp, stomp, stomp everybody!' But it didn't fit. I then wrote in, 'Rock, roll, roll everybody!' It sounded better, I liked the two R's sound of rock and roll. The rest is history!" This "Rock" classic was also recorded on Okeh label by a black group called the Treniers a few months later. Bill himself would not record the song until 1955. Only his recorded version has the above quoted introduction.
The word "rock" had a long history in the English language as a metaphor for "to shake up, to disturb or to incite". Shakespeare used it in his play "Venus and Adonis" when he wrote "My throbbing heart shall rock thee day and night". The verb "Roll" was a medieval metaphor which meant "having sex". Writers for hundreds of years have used the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover". In an old English sea chanty we can find the lyrics:"Oh do, me Johnny Bowker . . .
Unbeknownst to the so-called powers that be, Bill Haley had opened a musical Pandora's Box and the virus would spread until the breeze became a cultural hurricane. Bill Haley's disciples had yet to catch the bug, but his infectious rhythms and beat would soon be seducing their dormant talents.
In that spring of 1952, when Bill Haley was recording Rock The Joint, twenty-one year old Chuck Berry was a hairdresser in St. Louis, thinking about joining a little rhythm and blues combo to make some extra money. In 1955 he would record his first hit on the Chess label, Maybellene.
Twenty-three year old Ellas Bates (Bo Diddley) was also three years away from his first hit record. Down in Lubbock, Texas, fourteen year old Buddy Holly, still in junior high school, was dreaming of forming his own band some day. Twenty year old Richard Penniman (Little Richard) was working odd jobs in Macon, Georgia, still three years away from his first song, "Tutti Frutti". Twenty-three year old Antoine "Fats" Domino known for this "New Orleans sound", would not adapt his pounding boogie-woogie piano style to a more rock beat until 1955.
Another unknown, sixteen year old Jerry Lee Lewis was under the influence of the soft country music style of Gene Autry. He had just been expelled from a fundamentalist Bible school in Waxahachie, Texas. His talents and future were yet to be awakened.
Down in memphis, Tennessee that spring of 1952, a seventeen year old boy named Elvis Presley was in the eleventh grade. He had promised his mother he was going to be a truck driver because they made good money. He also promised her he would get her out of the hated public housing project their poverty had forced them to live in. He swore to her she would never again be on public welfare.
Over the next three years Bill Haley's remarkable string of hit rock'n'roll songs would alter the careers of thousands of musicians and vocal artists the world over. For the above six young men, Bill Haley's new sound would forever alter their destinies.
A remarkable cultural revolution was about to take place as the nation elected Dwight David Eisenhower as its 34th President. Bill Haley had opened the door and torn down the barriers of musical prejudice, but like another pioneer-explorer, Christopher Columbus, Haley had little idea of the vast new worlds he had discovered and/or revealed nor the magnitude of its influence on the culture of the world in the second half of the twentieth century.
With their new, exciting sound and sharp looking outfits the name "Saddlemen" no longer seemed appropriate. According to Marshall Lytle, it was Bob Johnson, Program Director at WPWA who first suggested the name "Haley's Comets" for a new handle. "Ya 'know, with a name like Haley, you guys should call your group the Comets!" Bill had been told many times his music was "far out" and the idea of a blazing comet searing across the skies appealed to him.
The family of Dave Miller also claim it was their bother Dave, with his unique knack for merchandising, who came up withthe catchy name. In any event, soon after, Bill met with Billy Williamson, Johnny Grande, Lord Jim and their junior partner, Marshall lytle and voted to adopt the snazzy new name. Thus just before the Thanksgiving holidays in 1952, the world's first true Rock'n'Roll band changed their name and their image for the last time. Off came the cowboy boots and the white Stetsons. With some regrets and more than a little apprehension, the four young musicians, turned their backs on their beloved country/ western music and bravely faced an unknown future as "Bill Haley and his Comets".
What happened next was an incredible string of events of almost ludicrous proportions. Looking back now, these events seem like a divine comedy of errors which almost doomed Bill Haley's career and the greatest rock song ever recorded.
On April 1st, 1954, April's Fools Day, Myers, Gabler and Bill Haley met in Decca's New York offices. The three men discussed a contract for four records a year, a standard royalty of 5% of sales, $5,000.00 in advance royalties, and the understanding that Decca would mail out each release to two thousand disc-jockeys with full support publicity. Plus full page ads in Billboard and Cash Box magazines! This was the kind of marketing power Bill Haley wanted. Bill was also impressed by the fact that Red Foley, one of his idols, was also on the label. With the deal set and signed, the three men shook hands and agreed on a recording date four days after the Essex contract was due to expire.
Bill Haley returned home to prepare for the upcoming recording session with the Comets. While they had been performing Rock Around The Clock for over a year, Bill wanted to put together a unique arrangement for this all-important recording.
Joe Ambrose has a vivid recollection of the rehearsals: "We worked on the arrangement of Rock Around The Clock" at Bill's home. All of the Comets were there, plus Danny Cedrone who would be our lead guitarist. Danny was an acomplished musician and we all looked to him for advice."
"First we all listened to Sonny Dae's recording. Then we decided the record wold have more 'bounce' if we added stacatto riffs throughout the song. The voicing on the riffs was three parts - sax, lead guitar and steel. Danny, Billy and I worked it out on the spot and it sounded great."
"Marshall suggested that Danny use as his guitar solo the terrific solo from 'Rock The Joint'. The second break was supposed to be a sax solo, but the song was building to a point where I thought we'd get more excitement out of it by doing something the whole band could join in on. That's what rhythm and blues combos would often do. So we came up with that second riff. All of this was worked out before we went to New York to do the session".
The date set for the session was April 12th, 1954. The studio for this legendary recording would be a former ballroom in Manhattan called the Pythian Temple. Decca had been using this huge auditorium-like hall for years. Its cavernous high ceiling and great walnut-paneled walls created a natural reverberation chamber which added a unique strength and volume to any music played there. Gabler had recorded some of his best work here in what Decca called their Studio A. Decca had also just installed their new "state-of-the-art" high fidelity recording equipment, thus ending their monotone sound forever.
It was 4:30 P.M. before the first note was played of the song that would one day rock the world. Billy Gussak hit two sharp-rim shots and Bill Haley shouts out the immortal words which would become forever the international anthem of Rock'n'roll:"One-two-three o'clock, four o'clock ROCK!"
Then all hell breaks loose. The Comet come into their own sound and glory as their guitars, saxophone and piano cut full out into a wild orgy of sounds, all powered by the driving bet of Marshall Lytle's back slap bass. Danny Cedrone establishes himself for posterity as the first of the great rock lead guitarists. His fluid style and speed inspired unborn generations with his awesome signature solo, taken note for note from his earlier work on "Rock the Joint".
Joey Ambrose's tenor sax fires short staccato bursts as Grande's pounding piano strengthens the bass line. Billy Williamson's steel guitar meshes perfectly with the sax and the guitars in this joyous celebration of pure sound.
Billy Gussak ends the song with a mad flourish on the drums. Gussak recalls: "I put that in because I had just done a session the day before where the producer only wanted me to play straight time. I was very frustrated because I always liked to throw in something extra - just beating time is boring. I made up my mind that at this session I'd get my licks in".
For one inspired, fabulous and sublime moment in time, Bill Haley and his Comets created the perfect rock song, never to be equaled again. A song so perfect, so classic it would sell tens of millions of records over the next four decades. The song would be recorded by over two hundred artists but none would capture the Comets' special magic that was recorded on that spring day in New York City.