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Bill Haley

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Early life and career

Haley was born William John Clifton Haley (some sources append “Junior” to his name, but his eldest son states that this is erroneous) in Highland Park, Michigan and raised in Pennsylvania. Many sources (almost universally predating his death in 1981) state that Haley was born in 1927, which is due to Haley knocking two years off his age for publicity purposes in the 1950s. A few recent sources erroneously give a birth year of 1924.

Haley was blinded in his left eye as a child due to a botched operation. According to biographer John Swenson, Haley later adopted his distinctive spit-curl hairstyle to distract attention from his blind eye. The spit-curl caught on as a 50’s style signature, although Haley and others had worn the hairstyle much earlier.

In 1946, Haley joined his first professional group, a Pennsylvania-based western swing band called The Down Homers run by Kenny Roberts. It has often been reported in musical reference works that Haley’s first professional recordings were made with the Down Homers on a pair of singles released in 1946 by Vogue Records. This was later debunked by Roberts and others, stating Haley had already left the group by the time the singles were made. In the early 2000s, however, a set of 1946 radio recordings by the Down Homers were discovered and Haley is definitely present as he is identified by name and sings a solo number “She Taught Me to Yodel”; these recordings were commercially released for the first time in 2006.

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