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Bill Haley: The Daddy of Rock and Roll by…
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Bill Haley: The Daddy of Rock and Roll

by John Swenson

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This is a relatively short but very informative biography of one of the first, or quite possibly the first, rock and roll star, the man who had a huge hit in 1955 with the song "Rock Around the Clock," but was already an established star by then. This book was published only a year after Haley died, so Swenson obviously had some quick work to do, but he did it very well; there are quotes from many interviews of Haley's musicians and the people who worked with him in the music/recording business. Perhaps Swenson was already at work on the bio when Haley died of an inoperable brain tumor and the effects of years of alcohol abuse.

At any rate, this is a good book, and I learned a lot about how influential Haley was. I had always known Haley as the man who sang "Rock Around the Clock," but had thought of him as mostly a one-hit wonder. The degree to which Haley really did help launch rock music, and the degree to which he remained a huge star in Europe in particular right up to the day he died, came as a surprise to me. So this was a very interesting book. It well and crisply written, too. The second half is kind of rough stuff, as Haley had the usual problems of the good-hearted (according to most but not all of the witnesses, here) with a far less business sense then he thought he had and a cadre of associates equally out of their league. Haley's downward spiral is informative but not that much fun to read about. Swenson does a great job of showing us the musicians who formed the nucleus of Haley's band, the Comets. For the most part, they were excellent musicians, and the Comets were, by this account, a tight and dynamic rock band that performed very well on-stage.

Swenson doesn't dwell on details too much. The book comes in at only 164 pages. I kind of liked that. There's not much dwelling on Haley's childhood, for example. That's fine, for me, as the need to slog through bio subjects' childhoods often makes it hard for me to decide to read biographies in the first place. I don't feel I missed much in this case, though, as there didn't seem to be much childhood trauma to relate. Haley came from working-class parents who loved music themselves and supported his desire to be professional musician. But the flavor of the early days of rock and roll and the mania it created comes through quite well. Interestingly, although Haley and Elvis Presley were friends, Haley saw himself as sort of the anti-Presley professionally, as he always made sure to keep his stage gestures and, for the most part, his lyrics free of sexual innuendo.

A note that my copy is a British edition. Evidently, the book was published in the U.S. with the title Bill Haley: the Daddy of Rock and Roll.
1 vote rocketjk | Sep 9, 2014 |
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