Early Years 1947-1951
Although remembered for his 1955 single "Rock Around the Clock," which fired rock & roll's first clear shot across the bow of pop music, Bill Haley's initial recordings actually appeared a decade earlier on the Cowboy Records label. Specializing in a sort of polka-country-swing -- a style that combined accordions with pedal steel -- Cowboy released Haley's first single, "Candy Kisses," in 1948. Nearly 50 such early Haley tracks appear here, and while these cuts display some verve and energy, and even some yodeling, don't expect anything much like proto-rock & roll, even though it's tempting to look for it (and therefore see it, since no one wants to feel like it isn't hiding there somewhere). Oh, Bill Haley & the Four Aces of Western Swing (or Bill Haley & His Saddlemen, or any of Haley's other band incarnations) do tend to edge up the beat a little, and there's a predilection for boogie-woogie styling, but it isn't exactly rock & roll. Or is it? Tracks like "Rocket 88" really do stand directly at a crossroads. This generous two-disc, 53-track box presents Haley's early work (along with four tracks by fellow Cowboy recording artist Ray Whitley, who, interestingly enough, played James Dean's character's manager in Dean's last film, Giant), spanning 1947 to 1954 and brings everything right up to the doorstep of rock & roll. Haley knew what audiences wanted (and they wanted him to push the beat) and he always had his ear to the ground. What he heard in the collision of Western swing and boogie-woogie was "Rock Around the Clock." The rest, as they say, is history.