But as the high priest of R & R, Haley refuses to talk much about his art; rather he practices what he won’t preach. And as a practitioner of R & R, Hale)y is doing quite well thank you.
In only two years time the Haley aggregation called the Comets has sold more than 8,000.000 records. Today R & R is the No.1 music form in the land, Tin Pan Alley analysts admit, in terms of record sales, and will likely go on being successful for at least another year.
Bill Haley is neither dazed nor even surprised that his records far outsell Sinatra’s, Como’s, Shore’s and Stafford’s, or that he and his gang, when they make personal appearances are the hottest item in the music world today. Their "See You Later, Alligator" went over the 1,000,000 platter marker in less than two months. "Crazy, Man, Crazy," and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" also hit a million sales. and "Rock Around The Clock" passed two million.
Spit curl is cultivated by Bill Haley for concert appearances. Suits which he canges between numbers are laid out on a table in his dressing room. Tastes are concervative.
They play to standees when they unleash their manic energy in theaters, night clubs, auditoriums and drive-ins, Their second movie for Columbia Pictures, "Rock Around The Clock." was shot in no time at all and at a ridiculously low budget, but played 300 cities and broke box office records in sober cities like Denver, Seattle, and Omaha. They were offered $45.000, plus transportation costs for themselves and their families, to play 15 days in Australia. It’s been estimated that, if they wished they could work 2 weeks out of every 14. Their recording company, Decca, can’t get their discs mailed to distributors fast enough.
What’s made this outfit as big as it is? Professionals in the pop field have debated it, and the generally agreed answer goes like this:
"They work like pile drivers from the second they start until they’re completely drained. They’re certainly notflawless musicians but they have a sense of rhythms, or at least a sense of rock and roll rhythm, which means a steady and unvarying beat, They’re showmen.
"They came along al the psychological moment when teenagers were looking for a kind of jump music that would dig right in and throw the lid ofT their sex frustrations. The Cornets play up 10 this, whether they’re conscious 01 this or not. They fill the need in spades, and make a hell of a 101 of money doing it."
Haley himself steadfastly denies that the songs he and his men offer have any relation to hot and heavy sex urges. Suggest this to him and he’ll defensively state that there is nothing unhealty about R & R he insists that "Rock Around The Clock," for instance is not suggestive. and pledges to rewrite any lyrics which in his estimation would otherwise make for erotic allusions. "I can’t understand why they write certain Iyrics," he says. "The music is the main thing and it’s just as easy to write acceptable words. Tunes with objectionable phrases often are banned by radio stations so, among other reasons, it would just seem good business sense not to write them that way."
Since the "Rock Around The Clock" click, no week has gone by without a Haley record on the best-selling lists. He turned down a $6.000 offer to appear on a Milton Berle show because that appearance would have interfered with his vacation, and he refused a staggering offer to play the European circuit because he doesn’t like to fly. Butt these expressions of independence haven’t set him back.
He is wanted by almost every manager who owns a microphone and who has access to an audience. They know that his seven man band (two guitars and steel guitar, accordion, sax. bass, and drum) can team with Haley in their gaudy Scotch plaid jackets, mount a stage with all the excitement of goosed deer, follow the hysterical
yell of "Rock!" with a full evenings concert of breathless, super-charged, unsubtle nonsencical singing and clowning. and break all previously held boxoffice records.
Teenagers worshipful and obedient whip themselves up into such a hot lather of enthusiasm that they rufuse to allow the shows to end and will scream, demand, and beg for encore after encore.
Although the Comets’ success is recent, the shy but self-assured Haley has been involved in pop music, in one form or another, all his life. Born in Highland Park. Michigan, he was making a dollar a night at the age of 13 by playing and singing at auction sales, A short time later, he formed his own band and worked wherever he could book the group.
He left home at 15 to go out on his own. He worked in open air parks, sang and yodeled with a small band and worked with a traveling medicine show. Eventually he got a job with the Down Homers, a hillbilly outfit popular in Hartford. Connecticut and stayed with them until he decided after a restless period of taking orders that he was not cut out to be an employee. Assertive in a quiet way, he was then and still is comfortable only in a boss-man role.
Haley later formed "Bill Haley’s Saddle men" in Chester, Pennsylvania, and as musical director of Radio station WPWA there for six years, he worked steadily to develop new ways of presenting his country and western band to a public getting bored with the standard crn of sombreros, chaps, geetars, and invocations which always began, Wa’al naow, howdy, all you folks out ther in Radioland."
He experimented with sounds, visual tricks, methods of better displaying his own personality and his men’s. By 1951 he was ready to record. he dropped the middle. tempo beat of the country and western styles and gradually up-tempoed along more commercial lines. he changed the name of his group from the Saddlemen to the Comets, recorded a frenzied number called "Crazy, Man, Crazy," and by 1952 was snapped up by Decca.
Although Haley and his Comets began to shoot up as fast and as poignantly as real comets (they scored heavily with " Shake. Rattle and Roll" their first Decca release. and with “Dim, Dim The lights ", Mambo Rock," and "Razzle Dazzle"). their coast to-coast fame did not actually start to jump until last year when MGM released "The Blackboard Jungle." a B-budgeted picture about juvenile delinquents which was expected to do pretty well on the second half of a movie bill. The film fooled everyone though, by becoming one of Hollywood’s top grossers in 1955 – and in so doing. made audiences Haley conscious, His rescording of “Rock Around The Clock” which had not done especially good business in the shops. was used as background music in "Jungle.’
Shortly after the film’s premiere, "Rock Around The Clock" began to sell again. The last count taken shows that it has sold close to two and a half million copies.
Bill Haley is Dr. Hyde as a performer, Dr . Jekyl as a man away from the bandstand. He lives with an attractive wife and three children in a 12 room house in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, and feels an unspoken irritarion that his performing dates must keep him away from his family so often. When he is home, he works hard at playing. He is serious about boating, hunting and fishing. He loves new cars and changes Cadillacs every six months,
It pleases him that the Comers are as business-minded as he. With them, he has invested in a sheet metal business in Wilmington, Delaware. and plans are under way to erect a series of motels. complete with swimming pools. There is never friction between him and his musicians; jointly they own two boars which they keep at the Wildwood, N. L. inlet, and are continually rrying to hold of engagements so they ean Iive it up in the outdoors.
Haley has had disputes (none of them really serious yet) with Jolly Joyce, his booking agent, who wants him and his Comets to work steadily, Joyce can keep them working every morning, noon, and night, but lately Haley has been putting his foot down.
Certainty there won’t be any noticeable slackening of record or personal appearances for some time to come, Haley, who with show-smart gimmicks and with an incredible amount of luck, rose to the top quickly, is astute and aware thut R & R is not a deathless musical art, that it will fly for a time, then flutter, then die, and his aggregation will die with it. But he is ready to change.
Not long ago he said, "We have tried in our arrangements to conform to what the public wants, and not to bend the public likes and dislikes to ours. This, I think, is the major Factor in our group’s success. "
By now he is inured and calloused to shrieks that he is misleading the younger generation. He knows that this is the perpetual shout of elders, who quickly forget that they themselves were once guilty of such inane delinquency as swallowing gold fish, drinking bootleg booze and chasing off on panty raids. All the expressed fears of what our youth is coming to adds up to what medical men commonly term hardening of the arteries and Haley prefers not to worry too much about today’s teenagers, whose zest for fun bodes well for their future.