Bill Haley, native of Highland Park, Michigan, became one of the early stars
and legends of Rock and Roll, but before then, his musical career was
quite varied and concentrated on country music. The Saddlemen were the
prelude to the Comets.
The band was formed in late 1949. The Saddlemen ceased to exist when
they became the Comets in 1953.
The group was able to promote its act while working with radio station
WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania. Bill was employed by station and like
many acts in those days, it was their work on the station that enabled
them to reach the listening audiences to help augment their salaries
with personal appearances in the listening area. One of their
frequent venues for performances was a place called the Twin Bars in
Glouchester, New Jersey.
Bill Haley was the leader of the band on stage and
for billing purposes, but in reality it was a three way partnership between
himself, John Grande and Billy Williamson.
The Saddlemen's recordings ranged from pure hillbilly ("Jukebox Cannonball"),
to Hank Williams' copies ("Down Deep In My Heart", "Icy Heart") to hillbilly
jive ("Sundown Boogie"), all the way to early rock and roll ("Rock The Joint").
Some background about members of the group:
Bill Haley (1925-1981)
(lead singer/rhythm guitar). Bill Haley already
had several groups previous to forming the Saddlemen. He'd been a member
of the Down Homers, plus had the Texas Range Riders, and was leader
of the Four Aces of Western Swing.
In the 1940s, at one point,
Bill Haley was awarded Indiana State Yodeling champion for his skill
(of which he was taught through such artists as Elton Britt and Kenny
Roberts of the Down Homers). Bill Haley mainly played rhythm guitar
during performances, but was also known for playing the bass and the
fiddle on stage.
Bill Haley didn't achieve his fame and fortune until
the mid '50s when he went on to become the father of rock and roll.
But through all the years of his life, he never did completely shake
off and forget his country and hillbilly roots in music.
Billy Williamson (1925 -1996)
(steel guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, fiddle).
Billy Williamson was mainly known for playing the steel guitar with both
the Saddlemen and later the Comets. He was one of those "lightning flash"
players. Before joining the Saddlemen, Billy was with a group called the
John Grande (1930 - )
(piano/accordion, musical arranger). John Grande was
a good friend of Billy Williamson's and also a member of the Southern
Swingsters when they persuaded Bill Haley to form a new group. On a
handshake, the three men became partners and formed the Saddlemen. John
was initially a classically trained pianist, and was the only member of
the group who could read music. Therefore, he became (and remained through
his Comet days into the 1960s) the band's musical arranger. John still tours with
the Original Comets today.
Al Rex (1928? - )
(bass/vocals) Al Rex was the band's earliest bass player.
He was also a comedian on stage, and helped establish the slot of bass player
with comedy routines and unusual stage antics. Al Rex recorded with the
Saddlemen on the Cowboy and Keystone records. He left in 1951 to form
his own band.
Marshall Lytle (1933 - )
(bass, vocals)- Bill Haley was a good friend of
Marshall Lytle's. He had visited with his family, and Marshall's older
brother, Cliff, played with Bill Haley's previous group "The Four Aces
of the Western Swing", as did Tex King who stayed with the Lytle family.
Marshall believed in the Saddlemen, and soon found himself in the band.
Bill Haley taught him how to play the slap bass style he had invented.
Marshall's first recording with the group was "Green Tree Boogie" on Holiday
Marshall remained with the group until he left in 1955 to help
form "The Jodimars". Marshall still tours with the Original Comets today,
performing his antics with the bass with enthusiasm, as well as many
vocals on the show.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
- Bill Haley, guitar, lead vocals
- Billy Williamson - steel guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, fiddle
- John Grande - piano and accordion, musical arranger
- Al Rex - bass, vocals
- Marshall Lytle - bass, vocals
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Denise M. Gregoire for
providing us with the group's discography, member biographies and other information.