Bill Haley was an American musician best known for the hit song he wrote and recorded with his band, The Comets, called "Rock Around the Clock."
Born in Highland Park, Mich., into a family strongly influenced by country-style music, Haley already was an accomplished guitarist by the time he entered Boothyne High School there. He dropped out of school at 15 to play and sing with touring country music bands in the Midwest. He formed his own band, the Down Homers, a few years later.
In 1951, he changed the band's name to Haley's Saddlemen and under that name the group recorded its first song — "Rocket 88," a tune with western swing touches, but which some critics now say was really what is now called rock 'n' roll.
"Unwittingly Bill Haley, basically a down-home sort, had opened up a Pandora's box of acne-scarred emotion," wrote Lillian Roxon in the Rock Encyclopedia. "He was always (later) apologizing for the social monster he had created. Musically, however, he was proud. Proud that as far back as 1951 (with songs like "Crazy Mama") he was combining R&B (rhythm and blues), country and western, and pop in what was to become one of the basic rock 'n' roll sounds. He always said that he had developed rock 'n' roll, while Alan Freed, the disc jockey, had only named it and exploited it."
Said Times rock critic Robert Hilburn: "Unquestionably 'Rock Around the Clock' was the most important single record in terms of the birth of rock 'n' roll; it focused the interests in the music, it was a catalyst for teenage interest in that kind of music."
But, Hilburn said, it was not long before Elvis Presley eclipsed Haley because of Presley's youth and good looks.
But Haley wasn't entirely eclipsed. He had a number of other big hit records — "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Crazy Man Crazy" and "See You Later Alligator" through the '50s and into the early '60s.
In a 1970 interview with The Times, Haley reminisced about his beginnings: "We started as a country western group," he said, "then we added a touch of rhythm and blues."
And, although he played it literally thousands of times, Haley said "Rock Around the Clock" remained his favorite. "No matter how bad a show might be going some night," he said, "I always know that song will pull us through. It's my little piece of gold."