Interview with the Author


As first published on Wyman Stewart´s:







This is the first of a 3 part interview on Bill Haley, His Comets, and Otto Fuchs, author of Bill Haley--The Father of Rock n' Roll. What you read in the 3 interviews is a small fraction of what you will read in Otto's Bill Haley biography.





What is a fanography? A fanography, to coin a new literary category, is a book like Otto Fuchs’ Bill Haley—The Father of Rock n’ Roll. A fanography is a biography written with the fun and excitement you expect from a fan, while including the facts and details, a professional biographer includes. Otto Fuchs shares his knowledge of Bill Haley and His Comets with us, in an extensive three part interview. Otto’s 2014 revised edition biography of Bill Haley is now in fine bookstores everywhere. The book is 1,070 pages, covering the life of Bill Haley, his Comets, and their time together. Links to a book review of the biography and related posts are noted, elsewhere. Without further ado, let the interview begin!




First, is the 2014 revised edition Bill Haley biography appearing in a German edition, as well as, English?



Otto Fuchs: “No. The English edition, published in 2011, is basically a very revised edition of an originally (in the German language) released book entitled “Bill Haley – Vater des Rock and Roll”, published by Wagner Verlag. The German book, tells Bill Haley´s life story in 498 pages, plus it contains full interviews with The Comets Marshall Lytle (bass, 1952 – 1955), Joey Welz (piano, 1964) and Bill Turner (lead guitar, 1974 – 1976). The 2011 edition differs, first of all, in language. Secondly, in adding interviews with Joey D´Ambrosio (sax, 1953 – 1955), Dick Richards (drums, 1953 – 1955), Al Rappa (bass, 1959 – 1969), Johnny Kay (lead guitar, 1960 – 1967, and again in 1972), Bill Nolte (drums, 1968 – 1972), Mal Gray (bandleader and rhythm guitarist, 1979 – 1980), plus an interview with Bill Haley´s youngest daughter Gina, who is an accomplished singer, songwriter and musician in her own right.


Gina also promoted her father´s music, and the 2011 English book, with two appearances at the “Shake, Rattle and Roll Weekender Festival” in Great Yarmouth and the “Kings of Rock and Roll Weekender Festival”, in Weston-Super-Mare, in the year of the book´s publication. That was, so far, her only dates on which she did full shows with her father´s music. Plus the first shows, to sing his material in an entire concert.


Gina, is only 38, now. Close to my age – we got on really well, when I accompanied her to both shows to England, and are close friends to this day. I also do not plan to release the 2014 Revised edition of “Bill Haley – The Father of Rock n' Roll” in German, as I hope to reach a wider audience with an English book. Plus, I hope to get Bill Haley more credit in his home country the US, with an English book. By now, the 2007 published German book is not one I am very fond of. Think it needs a lot of revision, and maybe another 500 pages to make it worth reading!”



What inspired you to write about Bill Haley and why a biography?



Otto Fuchs: “I think it was “Rock Around The Clock”. I was 11, watching an Austrian charts show. In the Top 10 was a remix of old Rock and Roll Standards – I am talking about Jive Bunny and The Mastermixers. The song was called “Swing The Mood” and was basically a swing / rock and roll medley. Of course, since the people behind the project were from England, where Bill Haley is still fondly remembered, they featured the man. It was the first time I heard him sing “Rock Around The Clock” to edited footage of his arrival at Southampton, with the ship Queen Elizabeth, then his train journey to London on the “Bill Haley Special” – where he was greeted by 4,000 people, at Waterloo station. I felt cheated.

Until then, I thought Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll. But this man Bill Haley, must have been The King at some time also, I figured. So I began my personal research, finding more out about the man, and trying to obtain more music by him. The idea for the book came as a promise to my dad at the Dallas airport in 1993, when we flew to Harlingen, Texas. He had spent a lot of money on getting us to the USA, and I was in charge of choosing the cities to go to. I picked destinations such as Memphis, Tennessee; Lubbock,Texas; Tupelo, Mississippi; Boothwyn, Pennsylvania; Harlingen,Texas and so on. So besides promising to write an article for a German magazine simply entitled “Rock and Roll Music Magazine”; I also had the idea born, of dedicating a full book to my hero, Bill Haley!”



Could you tell us about Bill Haley’s yodeling and how he ranked as a yodeler?



Otto Fuchs: “Bill Haley replaced Kenny Roberts in an immensely popular Cowboy band named “The Down Homers”. Kenny Roberts who was a top yodeler was cited in John Swenson´s Bill Haley biography “The Daddy of Rock and Roll” as saying: “Bill should have thrown a few yodels into his rock and roll act at the end. That would have really getting them going.


Jerry Lee Lewis did, and he is far from being as good as Bill Haley, as a yodeler. Bill Haley won the 1947 “Indiana State Yodeling Championship” and if you listen to his recordings of tunes such as “Yodel Your Blues Away” and “A Yodeler´s Lullaby” you understand why. He was on top, with his technique and impressed people, such as Elton Britt, when opening for them.”



Before Bill Haley and His Comets gave us Rock n’ Roll, what was Haley’s other bands and what kind of music did they play?



Otto Fuchs: “He started as a solo act at the Booth Corner´s auction mart, in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania; having his first appearance there, in 1943. He then teamed up with a fiddler from the Vaudeville days named Ben “Pop” Guthrie. Later he formed the Texas Range Riders, going professional in 1944 when spotted by Arlee Elsworth, who fronted the Cousin Lee Band. He was immediately hired, and had the chance to open with them for Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers, with 10,000 people in the audience.


With financial help from his future wife Dorothy Crowe, Bill Haley traveled to an audition to become the replacement for Kenny Roberts, who got drafted – in The Down Homers. He broke away with other musicians from that outfit to form The Range Drifters. When they disbanded he worked for a traveling medicine show, then became a driving force as a radio personality for WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania.


There, he formed the Four Aces of Western Swing, The Saddlemen, and in late 1952, “Haley´s Comets”. Bill made Cowboy music, coming pretty close to Rockabilly with some of his waxings, not counting his work with The Saddlemen. But given the fact that Hank Williams´ “Move It On Over” is seen as a rural route to Rockabilly; some Haley recordings made between 1948 and 1950 should also be seen as such.”



If you had to pick a year, which year did Bill Haley and His Comets music, transition into Rock n’ Roll?



Otto Fuchs: “In 1951, when Bill Haley and The Saddlemen cut their version of Jackie Brenston´s “Rocket 88”, Dave Miller, legendary producer and President of the Miller International, Somerset, and Essex Music Group, in Media, PA, said about it: “Rocket 88 was the first true Rock and Roll song recorded by a white artist; the record that launched hundreds of blue-eyed cats in the world of black music. On that day, Bill Haley crossed over from an unknown country music singer to being the world´s first King of Rock and Roll.” I share a similar opinion, only dating Bill Haley´s reign as King of Rock and Roll, to a little later date.”



As an author, is it frustrating to realize Bill Haley worked hard on behalf of so many others, yet he gets little credit for this? Your book tells us, Bill Haley brought many Black artists, of his day, to mainstream audiences. He did so by touring with them, recording their music, and acknowledging them. Bill Haley campaigned successfully to make Rock music for teens, acceptable to parents. Bill Haley inspired Elvis, along with others, yet the historical importance of this, is little noted, nor long remembered. (Words in italics are based on my reading of the biography, but are not intended to quote the book directly.)



Otto Fuchs: “I know Gina Haley approached Dick Clark who scored a blockbuster with his Elvis biopic starring Kurt Russell, on making a film about her dad. Clark refused. To a large extent I think, Bill Haley was, yes, the first to produce Rock and Roll music, a fusion of white elements and black elements. Rock and Roll is not a sole black product. It was Bill Haley himself who stated: “Too much publicity, absolutely too much publicity has been given to the fact that rock and roll is rhythm and blues music. And it is not. It very definitely isn´t, anymore than it is western music. It is a combination as you say of both (…)” Maybe some people, can´t live with it!”



While researching Bill Haley’s life, did you discover unexpected surprises or interesting new facts about him or his music?



Otto Fuchs: “First I must state, that the book owes a lot to previous Haley biographers such as John Swenson, John von Hoelle and John W. “Jack” Haley, Chris Gardner, James F. Cullinan and Jim Dawson. Without their work, the book would be much smaller in scale and volume. Some of their research was so great, that it only needed adaption, and maybe re-interpretation with the added interviews. And yes, there were some surprises. Some even only published, so far, in the 2014 revised edition.”



Why do you think Bill Haley’s star faded in the USA, before the 1950’s came to an end?



Otto Fuchs: “In 1957 he toured Australia and the United Kingdom. In 1958 he toured Europe and parts of Northern Africa, in 1959 Brazil. They were constantly on the road, not only on other continents. But also, due to public demand in the US. The band definitely spent too much energy on concerts, instead of on good material to be recorded. None of their Decca songs are poor, but in the year 1957 they began to lack good material! It´s not solely that others were younger and sexier, look at Fats Domino!”



Did Bill Haley’s star fade in Europe also?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes chart wise, but he was always drawing huge live crowds!”



When and how did Bill Haley’s career revive, as an Oldies act, in the USA?



Otto Fuchs: “That began with the Richard Nader instigated Rock and Roll Revival Shows in 1968. The shows were first held at the Felt Forum, Madison Square Garden, in New York. Bill Haley received an 8 ½ minute standing ovation. Stopping the show cold, before Chuck Berry would go on! I was in touch with Mr. Nader, and we were assembling an interview. Sadly Richard Nader passed away, before it was conducted.”



What was the status of Bill Haley’s career, both in Europe and the USA, at the time of his death?



Otto Fuchs: “There was a lawsuit which Sandra Shekell won on behalf of the Jolly Joyce Agency, when Bill Haley dealt with a serious agency which paid him higher fees, instead of sticking with the Joyce agency. This agent was able to get him the concerts he deserved. This lawsuit lost, led to Bill Haley never appearing live again in the US, after 1974. He toured Europe extensively, being in great demand. Also, (he toured) after going into semi-retirement in 1976, having undertaken a tour without Rudy Pompilli. Rudy Pompilli had died of lung cancer. In 1979 he played at the Royal Variety Show in London for Queen Elizabeth The Second.


In 1980 he undertook a successful tour through South Africa. When he died, he had cancelled a major European tour. He was still a big star at the time of his death. I think, he largely was forgotten due to the fact there was never good management after his death. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash have this kind of management, never to be forgotten. Bill Haley does not, and sadly he is gone, and cannot bring it back again, as he did through several comebacks during his lifetime!”



How did poor management lead to Bill Haley’s self-exile in Mexico in the Sixties, and his little-known (in the USA and Europe), recording career, while living in Mexico?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes Bill Haley had to flee the U.S., because of severe debts. But Mexico was not solely a tax exile. Bill Haley fell in love with Mexico, and the life it offered him and his new family, he had with Martha Velasco. The reason to leave the U.S., was laid by Bill Haley´s manager Lord Jim Ferguson: On October 2nd, 1958, while Bill Haley and His Comets were on tour in Europe, Lord Jim Ferguson spent $50,000 and bought a collection of pavement art paintings for the art gallery, charging them to Bill Haley’s hotel account. Bill ordered him to sell the paintings straight back, but they only raised $5,000, so Ferguson was promptly sent back home in disgrace. The Comets, with a number of their concerts canceled, because of the sudden death of the Pope, became stranded in Italy with no means of paying their bills or of getting home. Haley wired Ferguson to tell him to raise money and wire $50,000 to their hotel in Paris later that week. Haley’s relief is heard on a live recording issued on Big Beat Records, telling the French audience how good it is “finally to see your beautiful city”. But that relief was short-lived, as the tour became a financial disaster.


When Bill returned home, he found out that Ferguson had obtained the money from the local Mafia. The next few years, Bill repaid his loan and the extortionate interest completely, but as his finances declined, he completely wrecked his personal and corporate finances. Ferguson continued to run the art gallery, under his name alone, until 1967. He lived his last days out in a modest trailer home and died of a heart attack-stroke combination at the age of 64 in 1969. It is all too easy to lay the blame for Bill Haley’s downfall at Ferguson’s feet. He was bad at business and was more of an enthusiast than a professional. But few people who knew him have said a bad word about him.”



Was Bill Haley a star in Mexico, Central America, and South America during his Mexico exile?



Otto Fuchs: “Haley soon began establishing himself as a recording artist on


the Mexican “Orfeon” label, and as a new supper club and casino star attraction on the Mexican nightclub circuit, introducing the new American “Twist” dance craze and ironically, beating Chubby Checker to this international market!


His fame in Latin America increased with cameo appearances in several Mexican movies loosely based on the “Blackboard Jungle” theme. They soon scored a major hit with “Florida Twist” in 1960 for their new Mexican Orfeon label, which to date remains the best-selling single in the history of Latin America, while “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets concurrently became the best selling rock single of all time worldwide, with estimates of between 50 and 90 million copies being sold to date.




“Bill Haley y Sus Cometas” continued recording in Mexico on the Orfeon, Maya and Dimsa labels (presently owned by Sony Latino) up until 1966, having a string of hits with their interpretations of the new American Twist dance and surf music trends of the “swinging sixties”, as well as rearranged treatments of swing band instrumental favorites, introducing them to the Latin American public for the first time, including “Jalisco Twist” (1962), “Avenida Madison” (1963) and albums such as “Surf, Surf, Surf” (1964) and “Whisky A-Go-Go”.



Rudy Pompilli was a great saxophone player and long-time member of the Comets. How did the 1976 death of Rudy Pompilli affect Bill Haley?



Otto Fuchs: “Bill Turner, the lead guitarist of Bill Haley and The Comets nailed it, when he told me in an interview for the book: “The day that Rudy Pompilli died, that was the beginning of the day that Bill Haley began to die...and ironically, I think Bill died five years to the day that they buried Rudy...and that was a very sad chapter indeed...and that was the beginning of the end of the Comets."



Was there lesser known, but notable song gems, Bill Haley recorded, in different periods of his career?



Otto Fuchs: “Absolutely, for instance “Jealous Heart” is a ballad Bill Haley recorded in 1967 at the club JD´s lounge in Phoenix, Arizona with a Mexican trio. Sadly the song remained unissued until the 1999 Bear Family Records box-set “The Warner Bros. Years and More”. It´s a beautiful rendition, and the favourite of the Bill Haley songs, of his daughter Gina, who sings it at every live show dedicated to her dad´s memory. Bill also cut a beautiful version of “She Thinks I Still Care” in Spanish; further, he made a musical testimony with the autobiographical “God Bless Rock and Roll”. This was his final single in1980. I am in good company when I refer to “Me and Bobby McGee” sung and recorded by Bill Haley in 1970: Kris Kristofferson finds it astonishing also – he wrote the song.


“Cryin´ Time” is another great gem, recorded live as part of two Live LP´s recorded in Sweden for Sonet Records. “That´s How I Got To Memphis” from 1969 (re-recorded in 1979) is outstanding as well. And this shows that Haley also had potential and maybe a promising career, as a country singer, had he chose to follow this path.”



The title, Bill Haley—The Father of Rock n’ Roll places Bill Haley at the beginning of Rock music. Should we view Bill Haley as more than the Father of Rock?



Otto Fuchs: “Bill Haley should have the word on this, and I´d like to cite him, from an interview made shortly before his death: “Well … as an entertainer … the fellow who started it all … and I hope contributed to the happiness, perhaps, of the world, a little bit.”



The revised edition of your Bill Haley biography still includes your interview with Gina Haley (Bill Haley’s youngest daughter). In the revised edition you add interviews with Jack, William, and Pedro Haley. What do their interviews give readers of the revised edition that was missing from the original edition?



Otto Fuchs: “First of all, the perspective of children to their father. Secondly, a lot of blanks to the Bill Haley Story are filled in. Third, his children have a great understanding of their dad. Jack Haley also co-wrote the Bill Haley Biography “Sound and Glory” – so he was a must to be interviewed. I think William Haley could have given us more information, but we´ll have to be patient. He will share this knowledge very likely in his own book on Bill Haley, coming out shortly!”


(A book worth adding to our wish list, readers!)



Is there anything you feel we should know about Bill Haley, we have not discussed, before we move on to the Comets?



Otto Fuchs: “Wyman, thanks – I think you ask very good, challenging and interesting questions. More can only be discussed in a book.”



Bill Haley--The Father of Rock n' Roll



Otto Fuchs has done more than write a biography on Bill Haley, although he does that, as well. In Bill Haley--The Father of Rock n' Roll, Otto goes out of his way to cover, The Comets. Included in the biography, you will find many Comets interviews; most, personally done by Otto, himself. In addition, he selected and got permission to publish, key interviews done by others, on Bill Haley. The Comets warrant an interview devoted to their history. Below, you will find Otto as generous in his comments on The Comets, as individuals and a group, as he was in part one, on Bill Haley. Away we go to that interview....!




The Comets




Who were the original Comets?



Otto Fuchs: “I think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gives the best answer to it. In 2012 two line-ups of The Comets were inducted: Billy Williamson (steel guitar, 1949 – 1964), Johnny Grande (piano, 1949 – 1962), Joey D´Ambrosio (sax, 1953 – 1955), Dick Richards (drums, 1953 – 1955), Marshall Lytle (bass, 1952 – 1955), Franny Beecher (lead guitar, 1954 – 1962), Al Rex (bass, on and off 1950 – 1957), Danny Cedrone {not a full-fledged member, but a close friend of Bill Haley, and audible on many of the early recordings, most notably remembered for his immortal signature solo on both “Rock The Joint” (1952) and “Rock Around The Clock” (1954)}, Rudy Pompilli (saxophone, 1955 – 1976) and Ralph Jones (drums, 1955 – 1960).



Are any original Comets living as of June 2014?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes Al Rex, the Saddlemen´s and Comets´ bassplayer. Dick Richards (drums) and Joey D´Ambrosio (sax) who just undertook a European tour as part of a supergroup with Bill Haley´s daughter Gina Haley featuring 1970s Comet Bill Turner. Another ever popular Comet – namely Al Rappa (bass, 1959 – 1969) still performs with a band featuring Joey Welz (piano, 1964) as Bill Haley´s Comets!”



Danny Cedrone played lead guitar on some of Bill Haley’s early Rock songs. His tragic, accidental death came soon after his famous Haley recordings. Should we consider the creative guitarist, Danny Cedrone, an original Comet or a great session musician, employed to record with Haley?



Otto Fuchs: “I personally see him as a Comet, though he did not tour with Bill Haley. But I think Danny Cedrone was crucial to the early sound of Bill Haley and The Comets. Plus he influenced Franny Beecher, Johnny Kay and Bill Turner who followed him in the band!”



Were you able to interview all the original Comets, before they passed away?



Otto Fuchs: “No, I missed out on Franny Beecher and Johnny Grande. Maybe I still have the chance to interview Al Rex, one day!”



Did there exist, numerous Comets line-ups, while Bill Haley lived and performed?



Otto Fuchs: “Not during his lifetime, from 1977 – 1978 Nick Masters aka Nick Nastos (lead guitar), Bill Nolte (drums), Ray Parsons (rhythm guitar), Rey Cawley (bass) – who all had worked with Bill Haley as “Comets”; featuring sax-player Jim Robertson, toured in the US as Bill Haley´s Comets. Bill Haley, himself, was in semi-retirement.


After his death a reunion occurred in 1981 which lasted until 1982, which consisted of Franny Beecher (lead guitar), Al Rappa (bass), Dave Holly (drums), Ray Parsons (rhythm guitar), Joey Welz (piano) – featuring again Jim Robertson.


Then Al Rappa (bass) and John “Bam Bam” Lane had the name trademarked and appeared with additional musicians as Bill Haley´s Comets; before they individually led their Comets lineups. Both line-ups are still active today. While Lane passed away, there is actually one band led by Lenny Longo, which features non-Haley


musicians appearing as Bill Haley´s Comets.




Bill Haley´s Original Comets Johnny Grande (piano), Franny Beecher (lead guitar), Joey D´Ambrosio (sax), Dick Richards (drums), Marshall Lytle (bass), featuring Englishman Jacko Buddin filling in for Bill Haley on vocals, toured from 1989 – 2005.


Bill Haley´s son William now appears as Bill Haley Jr. and The Comets, with Bill Turner on steel guitar! Basically there was one band named The Comets, with personnel line-up changes occurring, from 1952 – 1980.”



Did you get to interview all the significant Comets, who recorded or toured with Bill Haley?



Otto Fuchs: “I think so, but to my taste they could have been higher in number!”



While reading the Bill Haley biography, I found it interesting, not all the original Comets were partners in the band, with Bill Haley. Could you please explain this?



“Bill Haley, Johnny Grande and Billy Williamson had a partnership with their manager Lord Jim Ferguson. They shared the income equally. I think it wouldn´t have been possible to make a 6 to 7 piece band work, with all members being partners. Elvis Presley didn´t have a partnership with Scotty Moore and Bill Black. So I think there must have been more reasons, than solely money for Joey D´Ambrosio (sax), Dick Richards (drums) and Marshall Lytle (bass) to quit.



How did this lead to the Jodimars band?



Otto Fuchs: “I think they more or less thought that they could make more money on their own, and they did. So that was the reason for The Jodimars to be formed!”



What’s the origin of the Jodimars’ band name?



Otto Fuchs: “JOey, DIck and MARShall.”



Did the Jodimars release any music?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes they were signed to Capitol Records, and there are three great CD compilations out on their music!”



Were the Jodimars together for long?



Otto Fuchs. “Not really, by 1959 they had disbanded.”



Who replaced the Jodimars members in the Comets?



Otto Fuchs: “Al Rex who had worked with Bill Haley as part of The Saddlemen returned on bass, Don Raymond and Dean Tinker filled in on drums, until Ralph Jones took over on that instrument until 1960. Rudy Pompilli replaced Joey D´Ambrosio on saxophone!”



During his lifetime, did the Comets ever perform without Bill Haley?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes, it was quite common that The Country Gentlemen a band led by Nick Masters aka Nick Nastos, who became part of The Comets after Al Rappa (bass) and John “Bam Bam” Lane (drums) left The Comets in 1969, did gigs as Bill Haley´s Comets during a tour, on dates Bill Haley did not participate in. And again, from 1977 – 1978 when Bill Haley was in semi-retirement.”



Which Comets line-up stayed together the longest?



Otto Fuchs: “The second line-up. Long serving members were in all, but the first Original line-up. Notably Rudy Pompilli (sax, 1955 – 1976), Al Rappa (bass, 1959 – 1969), Johnny Kay (lead guitar, 1960 – 1967, again in 1972), Nick Masters aka Nick Nastos (steel and lead guitar, 1962 – 1974) and of course, the partners Johnny Grande (piano, 1949 – 1962) and Billy Williamson (steel guitar, 1949 – 1962). Not to forget Ray Parsons who joined on rhythm guitar in 1970, and left after a 1979 tour.”



Will you please tell us a little about Rudy Pompilli and his importance to Bill Haley and his importance, over the years, to the Comets band?



Otto Fuchs: “Rudy Pompilli was integral to the sound of The Comets. He and Bill Haley were best friends. Rudy stayed with the band through thick and thin. Rudy was with Bill Haley, through the good and the bad. Bill Haley financed new furniture to Rudy´s house in the decade of the 1960s / 1970s. In John Swenson´s book it somehow seems as if Bill Haley was an unthankful friend. But I think there was mutual respect, understanding, gratitude and love towards each other. When Rudy died, Bill Haley found it impossible to go on, and withdrew from the public eye, for a full two years. I think his last comeback came to be, out of respect for what he and Rudy had worked for, and to meet financial needs.”



We think of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, when it comes to delirious crowds, who scream and jump out of their seats. Yet, Bill Haley and His Comets were the first Rockers to create a scene, almost everywhere they went, were they not?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes, and some live transcripts from Alan Freed shows, and even a 1974 Live album cut at the now demolished Hammersmith Palais in London, prove this. Bill Haley wrote the book on being a rock star, long before Elvis. John Lennon is quoted as saying “Before Elvis, there was nothing”. John should have had it changed to “Before Elvis, there was Bill Haley”, and to a certain extent he did – he was later quoted to say about Bill Haley – “The man who started it all!”



I know it’s hard to re-create in words what takes place on a stage. You do this well in your Bill Haley biography. Can you give us examples of Comets’ stage antics, which were sure to excite crowds?



Otto Fuchs: “Most of the wild stage antics were done by the bassplayer and the saxophonist, the drums were important to create excitement also. At some point, Bill Haley and the rest of the band would be on their knees or on their back. It must have been both charisma and feeling for interacting, and staying true to the music to have this success on stage. And of course, back then, the music was entirely new. No one had dared to play music, that way, before! Rudy Pompilli would sit on the bass, while Al Rex would push him from one side of the stage to the other. The bassman would play the double bass like a guitar, or upside down, or ride on it. The saxophonist played, lying on the floor, hitting the highest notes. Plus, all the songs, ”were performed at a much higher pace onstage, than in the studio.”



Your Bill Haley biography is filled with Comets information. We can’t cover everything. Is there more we should know about the Comets, which my questions have failed to cover?



Otto Fuchs: “One last thing, all musicians who shared the stage with Bill Haley as The Comets from 1952 until 1980 should be seen as what they were. They were contributors to the success of Rock and Roll and Bill Haley. Contrary to what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame published, the band did not break up in 1962, but went on until the final curtain fell for Bill Haley!”






Finally, we arrive at part 3, an interview with Otto, about Otto Fuchs and the writing of Bill Haley—The Father of Rock n’ Roll. This interview is in keeping with one of this blog's central themes, focusing on writers and writing. Criticism from many quarters comes with being a published writer; as well as being, an unpublished writer, for many. Otto offers an interesting perspective on that and other matters. Readers may find this interesting also; so let’s ROCK ON….!




Otto Fuchs Research and Writing Journey



Let us start with three important life events, preparing you for your Bill Haley journey. They are: 1.) While a young teen, your parents’ belief in you, allowed you the freedom to write for Rock magazines. 2.) Writing for those magazines turned you into a fine interviewer. 3.) Your father’s financial support enabled you to make the journey to Bill Haley’s birthplace. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a brief space. Still, will you please briefly describe the importance of the above, in “making Otto Fuchs” a Rock writer and biographer of Bill Haley?



Otto Fuchs: “First, the love of the music. To this day, I prefer Rockabilly / Rock and Roll to any other music. I also dress 1950s. Second and third, is the endorsement of my dad. My father believed in me one-hundred percent. He made me feel, that only I, could stop me from achieving what I wanted to achieve. So I guess that´s the three main parts. It makes me sad, that my dad didn´t live to see my book being published. But maybe somewhere up in Rock and Roll Heaven, he tells Bill Haley about it.”



Did you ever aspire to be a Rock singer or musician?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes, I only got as far as being a bassplayer as part of a Rockabilly band. Sorry, but I know some jokes on bassplayers, from other musicians. But I quit before the band appeared in public, as I worked in banqueting, in a five-star hotel in Vienna. I never had the weekends or evenings off to rehearse. I have a deep voice, so I guess if I could play guitar, or would have some musicians to back me – I would give it a try, on say - two Johnny Cash songs. Solely for private listening pleasure though.”



How and when did you discover Bill Haley and His Comets music?



Otto Fuchs: “Rock Around The Clock” I first heard at the famous fun fair in Vienna – the Prater was ten I believe. It got back to me, when used in the remix “Swing The Mood” by Jive Bunny. Finally when I really was into it, my father was so kind to spend money for me on a dozen rare LP´s by a special mail-order record shop from Germany. I still fondly remember me and my dad listening to those records. As my father also grew up with Bill Haley, it was great to see his reaction on some of the lesser known Bill Haley material. I miss my dad a lot.”



As an Austrian, how many countries did you visit in writing your Bill Haley biography, including your homeland?



Otto Fuchs: “Let me count, well we´ve been to the US twice including Bill Haley´s birthplace Highland Park, visiting his house Melody Manor in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, his house in Harlingen, Texas – the Orfeon Studios in Mexico. I lived two years in London, guess that´s the most relevant places to have been for the book.”



Did you offer Bill Haley’s biography to major publishers, before turning to Wagner Verlag to publish your book? If not, what advantages do you see in going with Wagner Verlag?



Otto Fuchs: “Not the English version, the German one would have been published byHannibal Verlag, who specializes in music books. But they felt they should have published it in 2005, at the anniversary of Rock and Roll (Rock is fifty) – and thought it could not be successfully marketed there-after. After the publication at Wagner,Backbeat Books showed interest. Bill Turner a Comet, who also proofread my book, approached them. But at the end, they turned down licensing the book, also. The advantage (with Wagner Verlag) is to have the book out, instead of having a thick manuscript at home.”



Have you received feedback from readers of the original edition of your Bill Haley biography? If so, what were their reactions to the book?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes, there are some Amazon reviews – the greatest honour is having a five star one by Bill Haley´s son Jack Haley. Who also wrote the Bill Haley biography “Sound and Glory” with John von Hoelle. The most demolishing is the one by future fellow-Haley biographer W. Sockwell.”


Jack Haley's Amazon review comments



How do you handle criticism of your biography?


W. Sockwell's Amazon Critique Comments (Otto refers to this link in his reply.)



Otto Fuchs. “That´s the one. With a glass of Four Roses Bourbon. No seriously, the German book had half the volume of the English edition. So a lot of people criticized it for being too brief, with not enough new information.

Now W. Sockwell blames mine for being “War and Peace”. Peter Guralnick´s “Last Train To Memphis” and “Careless Love” on Elvis Presley keeps me in good company.


I can live with it.


To be honest, W. Sockwell was bitter the day that Jack Haley turned him down for an interview. Just read his other comments, in the comments section, on Amazon. I wish him all the best with his book. At the end of the day – he has to like his own book. I like mine, also.”



Note: We look forward to this Bill Haley biography's release.



Does the new edition include an index at the end of the biography to help readers?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes it does! Thanks to Gina Haley, who stressed the importance of having an index (to me). Credit due, when it is due. The index on persons, song titles, albums and TV shows / Movies was done by Bodo Nies. He is a fellow writer for the German“Rock and Roll Musik Magazin”.



Do you think there is more important information still to be discovered on Bill Haley or his Comets band members?



Otto Fuchs: “Certainly. And I think people like Chris Gardner and W. Sockwell, plus others, will unearth things very shortly. So maybe, another revised edition of my book to be due …”



With all the Comets information you uncovered, have you considered writing a separate book on Bill Haley’s Comets or turning your Comets interviews into an e-book?



Otto Fuchs: “Never, I think that must be done by a record collector, type of person. Plus there is a lot of competition between individual members of the band, especially the ones still running their “Bill Haley´s Comets”. There were even lawsuits from the Bill Haley´s Comets featuring Al Rappa and John “Bam Bam” Lane to the Original Bill Haley´s Comets and vice-versa. So maybe these musicians do not want to share a book on themselves.”



Given the monumental task of writing a biography on Bill Haley, was there ever a point, where you wanted to give up?



Otto Fuchs: “After fatal criticism on the German Haley book I wrote, but in the end, that was what kept me going writing the English one.”



What did you find to be the greatest challenge(s) in researching Bill Haley, as well as, the Comets?



Otto Fuchs: “We had just had our daughter, when I was working on the Haley book. So I had to do phone interviews on a park bench. For instance, with Gina Haley and Al Rappa, at 4 in the morning, because of the time difference with the US; also, to not disturb our daughter. Not the safest situation, even in Austria.”



Are there areas of Bill Haley’s life you still have questions about? Also, are there questions you still wish to ask Comets; living or dead? (Rudy Pompilli comes to mind or Danny Cedrone.)



Otto Fuchs: “Too many, honestly, there is so much I still would like to know.”



Today, do you feel like you know Bill Haley, the man and the star?



Otto Fuchs: “To a certain extent yes.”



Before we end this interview, would you like to share some last thoughts with us, on the research and challenges, of writing a biography on Bill Haley; which, also includes an extensive history of the Comets band?



Otto Fuchs: “Yes, it´s hard to please the fans of the person you are writing about. To quote Rick Nelson: “You can’t please everyone, so sometimes you´ve got to please yourself.”




Personal Note: Thank you, Otto Fuchs, for the chance to interview you concerning your Bill Haley biography. I am in awe of your accomplishment.



Otto Fuchs: Wyman, it was an honour and a pleasure. Thanks for your great review on the 2011 edition. People like you, make it worthwhile writing. Thanks, so much.”




Bill Haley - The Father of Rock & Roll Book 1

Paperback: 570 pages

Publisher: Books on Demand (June 13, 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 3741248746

ISBN-13: 978-3741248740

Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches

Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds


Bill Haley - The Father of Rock & Roll Book 2

Paperback: 570 pages

Publisher: Books on Demand (June 13, 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 3741248746

ISBN-13: 978-3741248740

Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches


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