Ray Cleere recalls the life and career of Bill Haley, dubbed ‘The Father of Rock and Roll’, who died 40 years ago on February 9, 1981


For most Europeans, rock and roll began with Bill Haley and particularly with ‘Rock Around the Clock’ which gained success from being selected as the theme song for the film ‘The Blackboard Jungle’.

Born William John Clifton Haley, on July 6th, 1925, at Highland Park, a Detroit suburb, Bill Haley spent a decade in obscurity before finding fame in the mid-fifties as the first idol of the rock and roll era.

When Haley was four his parents, both musical, moved to Pennsylvania. As a teenager, Haley attempted to launch himself as a hillbilly artiste in local fairs and amusement parks.

He played guitar for two years with cousin Lee’s band in Booth-Winn during the early forties, made his first solo record, ‘Candy Kisses’, at 18, and spent the next four years on the road with various obscure cowboy bands.

While Haley had been on the road, a small radio station, WPWA, had been built in Chester, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Booth-Winn. In 1949, Haley returned home, worked at WPWA and formed his own band – ‘The Four Aces of Western Swing’ – who broadcast regularly from the station. With another band, first called the Down Homers, then the Saddlemen, he recorded several country songs that quickly disappeared into obscurity.

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