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Chris Gardner's Bill Haley Gallery
1955-1958
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Christmas 1954 was a time of great promise for Bill Haley and the Comets. Dim Dim The Lights was riding high in both the pop charts and the R&B charts, whilst Shake, Rattle and Roll was a big hit either side of the Atlantic. As Bill and the Comets enjoyed their second annual Christmas Party and Brawl, they must have been expecting great things from the year ahead.
Here's a shot of Milt Gabler at the wheel of the Comets' equipment van.In 1954 they would drive to gigs in cars, with the equipment packed in with them. Then they bought this van for the equipment. Then in 1956, they bought several Cadillacs. Finally, they bought a bus, although Bill still often preferred to ride in his own, pastel pink., Cadillac (shades of Elvis Presley!).

Milt Gabler was the producer of their sessions at Decca Reccords, almost all of which were held in the Pythian Temple, New York.

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1955.JPG - 29732 Bytes The biggest shock of 1955, a year in which success was piling on success, came in September, when three members of the band (Marshall Lytle, Joey Ambrose and Dick Richards) quit to form the Jodimars. They had asked for a raise, been turned down on the advice of Bill's Manager, "Lord" Jim Ferguson, and called Haley's bluff by walking out. This picture shows the new band. l.r. Rudy Pompilli (tenor saxophone), Al Rex (bass), Johnny Grande (piano & accordon), Ralph Jones (drums), Billy Williamson (steel guitar) and Frank "Franny" Beecher (lead guitar). To be strictly speaking, the new band included Don Raymond on drums, but he lasted only a few weeks and was quickly replaced by Ralph Jones.

The New Year of 1956 began with a long trek across country to Hollywood to make the film Rock Around the Clock. As was becoming customary, Bill travelled with a large entourage of family and staff, and combined the trip with some vacation. According to Ralph Jones these days were some of the happiest of Haley's life. Feted as a big star, staying in lavish hotels, starring in a film which was going to break all known box office records, he was literally on top of the World. This shot is taken from a scene which was cut in the final version of the movie. (One wonders how many more such scenes were left on the cutting room floor...)

Screen capture by Alex Frazer Harrison

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Haley and Freed.jpg - 60864 Bytes Here are two Kings of Rock 'n' Roll deep in conversation. Bill and the Comets appeared on stage, screen TV and radio with Alan Freed, and this shot probably dates from a radio show sometime in 1956.
In 1957 Bill Haley and the Comets became the first international superstars of Rock 'n' Roll. In January Bill headlined a massive tour of Australia, and followed it in February with an equally massive tour of the UK. This picture was taken on the UK tour. This tour crowned a year which had seen 5 Bill Haley records simultaneously in the UK top 20, for the entire month of October. His music and his film were causing riots all over the country, leading to bans in many cities. By modern standards these "riots" were pretty tame stuff, but they were a scandal back in 1957. london 1957.JPG - 18724 Bytes
bandstand.JPG - 212393 Bytes This picture probably dates from 22nd March 1958 and shows Bill and the Comets miming to Skinny Minnnie on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand". Bill and the Comets were frequent visitors on Bandstand, with their first appearance being in 1953, when the show was hosted by Bob Horn and was simply called "Bandstand". Other known appearances include "You Hit the Wrong Note, Billy Goat", (27th November 1957) Whoa Mabel (Autumn 1958), "Ooh, Look-a There Ain't She Pretty", (1959) and "Rock Around the Clock and "Tamiami", both in 1960.

Here performing for South American TV is Joe Olivier fronting the Comets. Joe was hired by Haley as a featured vocalist with the Comets, and also as a translator who spoke Spanish. This plan rather fell apart when they arrived in Brazil and found that the local language was in fact Portugese! The South American tour took place in April and May 1958, at a time when Bill was enjoying more-or-less his last hit in the US Charts (Skinny Minnie).

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fishing trip.JPG - 682021 Bytes Fishing was a lifelong passion for Bill, and he celebrated the end of the South American tour with a fishing charter for the whole band (at Boynton Inlet, South Florida). Here with their catch are (l. to r.) Ralph Jones, Billy Williamson, "Catfish" Broomall (?), Johnny Grande, Bill and Joe Olivier. Franny and Rudy presumably didn't join in on this trip.
A picture of Bill in the recording studio. Many people would say that one of the reasons for Haley's eventual fall from favour were the poor recordings he made from 1957 onwards. It has to be said that some of the album concepts, such as Rockin the Oldies or Bill Haley's Chicks were highly dubious, and that the formula of slap bass and simplified riffs had become tired. One of the later successes was the Strictly Instrumental album in late 1959, the last album for Decca, with Haley himself barely participating in the sessions. This sold quite well and for a brief period, with records like Joey's Song, Skokiaan and Tamiami, Bill was able to keep his record sales up as a middle of the road instrumental artist!

Photo courtesey Lothar Mackenbach

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AGFASC~1.JPG - 448365 Bytes During 1958, the Comets' organisation notched up the activity on the Fan Club front and started issuing regular fan club magazines. These ran to maybe half a dozen issues before running out of cash and steam. They are now seen as part of the last ditch attempt to rescue Bill's ailing finances. This issue probably dates from October or November 1958, and with the picture of Rudy dressed as "Mabel", probably demonstrates well how detached Haley had become from his record-buying fans.
In 1958 Bill and the Comets toured Germany, another major sensation, with full scale riots at the Berlin and Essen shows. By 1958, poor financial management had left Bill short of cash. He had made a fortune, but he'd also spent a fortune, and his overblown organisation was simply not profitable. The European tour was to have been a major plank in the financial recovery plan. Only it was not to be. In Italy his concerts were cancelled because of the death of the Pope; in Spain his music was outlawed; in France his shows were curtailed by overenthusiastic audiences; his Manager, Lord Jim wasted the band's pay packet on a worthless collection of "art", and in Germany his shows were destroyed by violent rioting. Here he is backstage in Stuttgart, being visited by Elvis Presley, then doing his National Service in the US Army. frankfurt 23101958.jpg - 6667 Bytes

classic.jpg - 15546 Bytes Bill says,"Chris has worked very hard on these pages. If you've enjoyed them, please e-mail him, or sign the guest book. Above all, if you have any Bill Haley stories or reminiscences you want to share, please pass them on. If you visit Bill Haley Central you'll find Chris's e-mail address".

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