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The People that Shaped Rock

Updated on July 5, 2012

Some early rock personalities made such an impact on the music business that it would never be the same again. They weren't all musicians, but they all have a vision for a hipper, more united rock subculture. One may not have guessed they would become such a significant role models early in their lives- none came from wealthy families, and some had very little ambition. But when these geniuses got their big break, they influenced the music industry like no one have ever done before. These are their legacies.

Bill Haley and his Comets were the first American rock and roll stars to visit Great Britain

Bill Haley in 1948
Bill Haley in 1948


A son of a hard-working high school dropout who had taught himself to master the banjo and the mandolin, Bil Haley was kin to a small-town country music legacy. At thirteen years old, he followed in his father's self-made footsteps and learned basic chords on the guitar. The very moment he mastered it, he developed a lifelong dream to become a singing cowboy - just like in the movies. Despite his family's bleak financial situation, Haley practiced diligently and joined a handful of local country and western bands, releasing his first record, Candy Kisses, at just eighteen years old. He went on tour with a band of highschool buddies called the Down Homers Haley, but after releasing a few unsuccessful singles in the 1940s, they went broke so quickly that Haley came crawling home, begging his mother to keep his failure a secret. Not even his fiancee, Dorothy, knew that her love have given up fame and was sleeping off the disappointment at his parent's house.


Leaving behind the dream of becoming a "singing cowboy" like Gene Autry, Haley married Dorothy ,his childhood sweetheart, and became a radio host in Chester, Pennsylvania. Bored by his twelve to sixteen -hour shifts nearly seven days a week, he decided to spice up the programming by putting together his own band to perform on the show. In the 1950, Bill Haley and his saddlemen cut a record of old cowboy tunes. For their next album, the band decided to change their image and put a new twist on western swing music. Their ingenuity changed the music industry forever, but the name " Saddlemen" didn't capture their newfound energy and popularity. Haley remembered a cheesy nickname from a friend and applied it to the group - Bill Haley and his Comets were ready for the world.


Combining key elements of classic country swing, and rhythm and blues, Bill Haley and his Comets fabricated some of the earliest rock and roll hits, including Rock the Joint ,which sold an impressive seventy-thousand copies. Haley's next hit single Crazy, Man Crazy , became the first rock and roll record to make the Billboard charts, shooting to the TOP 20 within weeks. It would be Rock Around The Clock, however, that would make history and set their fame in stone. Only a partial hit at first, the song's popularity went through the roof when it was used as the title track in the cult classic film The Blackboard Jungle, becoming an anthem for the nation's rebel youth. The song held Billboard's No. 1 spot for eight weeks and sold 22 million copies worldwide. Haley continued to score hit singles throughout the 1950s and later starred in early rock and roll musical movies. Although his fame and fortune in the United States was eventually surpassed by the young Elvis, Haley continued to be a major star in Latin American and in Europe. He died on February 9, 1981.

The American Music Awards, one of four major music award shows in the U.S., were created by Dick Clark in 1973 to compete wit the Grammys.


Born Richard Wagstaff Clark in 1929, Dick Clark was infamous for his poor grades in highschool - that is, until he discovered radio. A tenth grader with big dreams, Clark set his sights on broadcasting and got a job at WRUN-AM in Rome, New York, just after graduation. He was a lowly offce boy without much responsibility until his boss asked to fill in for a vacationing weatherman. Shocked to take on an important role, he jumped at the chance for practice behind the microphone. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Advertising and a minor in radio, then worked an array of jobs in broadcasting. In 1952, he joined WFIL radio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to try his hand at an interesting new trend- deejays playing records for their listening audiences.


As Clark learned how to spin records at the station ,fellow deejay Bob Horn experimented with a hot new television music show called Bandstand. After a few episodes, Horn invited local highschool students to dance while he played music. The show was a huge success ,but Horn blew it when he took a vacation and left Clark at the wheel as substitute. At just twenty-six years old, Clark was so in tune with the teenagers that he quickly developed a repertoire among them ,discussing the latest dance fads and clothing trends. It wasn't longbefore he took Horn's spot permanently. After returning from his time off, Horn was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and Bandstand producers had the confirmation they needed to pass the torch.


On August 5,1957, Bandstand changed its name to American Bandstand for its first-ever national airing from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. each day on ABC. (It later moved to Saturday) A good balance of partying with limitations ,the show had after-school entertainment value for teens and class for parents. Its famous dress code denied girls the right to wear tight clothes or slacks, and boy were asked to don a coat and tie. Calming parent's fears that rock and roll would corrupt their children, American Bandstand made Dick Clark and new artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly ,and Jerry Lee Lewis stars among the whole family. Clark stuck with the show for several decades, and when he said goodbye in 1989, it had become the longest- running program of its kind. Dick Clark died on April 18 2012.

Although Crawdaddy! stopped printing in 1979, Williams revived it once again for a brief 28 issues in 1993. Unfortunately, financial problems forced him to put

Crawdaddy! issue in 1967
Crawdaddy! issue in 1967


In the mid-1960s, those who weren't actually making music stepped up as critics to separate the good from the bad, speaking out about which stars were hot and which stars were no. The best way to share their opinions was to write about them, but where could the praiss and rantings be publicly read? Trade magazines like Billboard and Cashbox had long been popular, predicting bands would flop and which would sell, but they were more known for their charts than for solid critiques. There was a hole in journalism just waiting for music critic and college student Paul Williams to step in. A freshman at Swarthmore College, just outside of Philadelphia, Williams was a science fiction junkie familiar with the sci[fi fanzine following. He wrote a column for a local folk magazine and hosted blues programs for his college radio station.


On a whim, Williams decided to start his own magazine and name it after a British club where the Rolling Stones made it big - the Crawdaddy! He hoped the weekly publication would provide readers with substantial musical reveiws - not fluff. It was not much to look at in the beginnning, though. The magazine was held together with staples ,and he sold it for a quarter at record shops and bookstores from Philadelphia to New York City to Boston. Crawdaddy! became so popular in the northeast that he hired a handful of writers and moved the operation to an office in New York.


Crawdaddy! gained steam as an influence in the music industry when critical New York newspaper The Village Voice called it the most fascinating magazine covering the rockscene for people who " dig rock 'n' roll as an art form". It went on to influence the early years of Rolling Stone - a similar publication out of San Francisco. Williams quit and magazine stopped printing for a few years, but in 1970, it returned - without its signature exlclamation point and with a broader, more pop- culture approach to its articles. Sadly, the new Crawdaddy didn't sell as well as its former self, and shut down by 1979.


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