Q&A BILL HALEY: Why didn’t any of the big 50s rock & rollers acknowledge him? They did covers of each others’ songs but never one of his.


John Howard Sr writes ...

Just off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons.

First, Bill Haley was white. Many radio stations simply would not play songs by black artists, even if the songs were big hits. A large number of record producers and managers took advantage of this by having their white artists take great songs by black artists and re-record them. The songs became hits, but (usually) the second version was lacking “that certain something” which made the song a hit in the first place. However, the songs were now by white artists, so it was OK to play them on the radio. Most black artists grumbled at this arrangement, but they collected their songwriting royalties and went along with it — since there was little they could do about the system. As I noted earlier, Bill Haley was white, so he never had to deal with any of this.

Second, Bill Haley and his backing band, the Comets, were simply great. They knew how to rock & roll, and there was little point in trying to put a new spin on one of their hits: Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954), Rock Around the Clock (1955), Burn that Candle (1956), See You Later, Alligator (1956), and many more favorites. Billboard says they’re the third most successful group of the 1950s, and the 10th most successful artist overall. After all, they are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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