Originally called “Bill Haley and the Saddlemen,” the group started mixing blues with country and western. This new sound was being recognized as rock and roll. In 1951 they recorded a cover of “Rocket 88,” making it the first rock and roll recording by a white artist. And in 1953, they became Bill Haley and His Comets, in reference to Halley’s Comet.
Bill Haley and His Comets had their first national success in 1953 with the release of “Crazy Man, Crazy.” It was the first recognized rock and roll song to appear on the US charts. However, it was “Rock Around The Clock,” released in 1954, that marked the arrival of a cultural shift to the new musical genre.
The song, released in the spring of 1954, made the Billboard charts, but was initially overshadowed by their hit “Shake Rattle and Roll.” However, following the use of “Rock Around The Clock” in the opening credits of the film Blackboard Jungle, the song really took off. In 1955, “Rock Around The Clock” spent 24 weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts and became the anthem for rebellious Fifties youth.
On August 7, 1955, Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town was held at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. Following Ed’s introduction, Haley, with his spit curl and plaid dinner jacket, took the stage with His Comets for an energetic performance of “Rock Around The Clock.” The Comets were all dressed in matching suits and bobbed back and forth to the music. Haley gave a playful performance, rolling his eyes and smiling to the audience during his frantic delivery of the lyrics. That evening Bill Haley and His Comets caught the attention of people in living rooms throughout the country and introduced them to the growing rock and roll revolution.
With the success of “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” the band became an international success. Following their 1957 UK tour, on April 28, 1957 Bill Haley and His Comets returned to The Ed Sullivan Show. They opened with the big band number “40 Cups of Coffee.” The performance was highlighted by the enthusiastic saxophone player, who arched his back to almost a 90 degree angle. The band then came out at the end of the show and wowed the crowd with the instrumental rock and roll hit “Rudy’s Rock.”
The boys really rocked the audience with an astounding and fervent performance to close out the show. All eyes were on the antics of the bassist and the sax player. The saxophonist opened with an incredible solo, holding his sax way up above his head and dropping to his knees. The bass player joined in, straddling his bass as he plucked the strings. Next thing the audience knew, he was playing his bass while lying on top of it. The two went back and forth, one playing the saxophone behind his back and the other holding his double bass like a guitar while spinning in circles. At one point, both musicians were lying on the ground playing their instruments. The lively performance and crowd pleasing antics really captivated Ed Sullivan’s audience that night.
Following their two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Bill Haley and His Comets’ popularity began to decline. They lost a big part of their audience to sexier and wilder acts like Little Richard and Elvis Presley Ed Sullivan Show appearances. These new acts’ popularity was a direct result of Bill Haley and His Comets clearing a path for rock and roll in America. The band had opened a musical Pandora’s Box, spreading the infectious sound of rock and roll.