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'Daughter of Rock' Learns to Roll With the Punches : Pop music: Gina Haley, whose father, Bill, rose to stardom 40 years ago, wants to be heard. But will the industry listen?

December 04, 1995|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who would have thought that attracting attention from the recording industry would be so difficult for the daughter of rock 'n' roll pioneer Bill Haley?

Certainly not Gina Haley, whose father helped launch the rock revolution 40 years ago with his landmark recording of "Rock Around the Clock."

The fresh-faced singer-songwriter is still confused about the industry's indifference toward her recent L.A. debut, an elaborate production at a Los Feliz dinner club during which her husband and bandleader, Art Mendoza, introduced her as "the daughter of rock 'n' roll."

Representatives of about a dozen record companies had been invited to see the 20-year-old redhead perform, but not a single one showed up.

Sitting the next day in the modest apartment she shares with her husband and their baby son in a nondescript section of Hollywood, she ponders her next move.

"I'm not sure what to do at this point," says Haley, who moved here in August from Austin, Texas, believing that it would be easier to be "discovered" in Los Angeles. "It's just very puzzling to me that they would not take the time to come out. . . .

"We've been sending them demos from Texas and all they kept saying was, 'They're really good, but we want to see you live.' So we get out here and what happens? They don't come. So, I'm stunned."

Haley, a classically trained pianist who hopes to become a "female Elton John or Billy Joel," had prepared for this show almost from the moment she arrived in town. And she approached the showcase with high hopes. Only two nights earlier, a friend says, she had performed brilliantly, albeit briefly, during intermission at a Roller Derby match at the Grand Olympic Auditorium.

"The crowd loved her," says her friend, Tony Prince. But record company executives, obviously, are not as easily impressed as Roller Derby fans.

"We get maybe 50 to 75 [invitations] like that a day," says an artists and repertoire coordinator for a major label, speaking for one of Haley's invitees. "And it's not unusual for us to get calls from people with famous relatives. That's not enough of a hook to get us out there."

Not even repeated faxed reminders of "an historic night of international entertainment," as the invitations put it, could lure industry reps to "the public debut of Gina Haley," which, in fact, was simply her first performance with band accompaniment.

Unlike her father, who played in country bands before hitting it big in rock as leader of the Comets, Haley usually performs solo.

*

At her showcase, however, she was backed by her husband's band, the Art Exhibit. In front of about 60 people, many of them friends who walked up to the stage to take snapshots during the show, she sang and played piano and guitar on eight original songs, two of which talked tenderly about her father. She ended the 45-minute set with two of her father's hits, "Rock Around the Clock" and 1956's "The Saints Rock 'n' Roll."

"That was probably a one-time thing," she says of her performance of "Rock Around the Clock." "It's a shame [industry reps] didn't come out, because if I was someone else, I would consider it a delightful pleasure to see Bill Haley's daughter do his [signature] song. . . .

"Those who saw it can remember it forever and ever."

Few have forgotten the original, which hailed the beginning of the rock era. Originally released as a B-side in 1954, "Rock Around the Clock" topped the charts for eight weeks in 1955 after it was used as the theme song for the movie "Blackboard Jungle." Haley and the Comets recorded several more hits, including "See You Later, Alligator," but Haley was largely eclipsed as the king of rock 'n' roll by Elvis Presley.

He attempted a comeback in 1968, but never again attained the popularity he had known in the '50s. Battling alcoholism in his later years, he lived a reclusive life in Harlingen, Texas. He was 55 when he died of a heart attack in 1981, more than two decades after recording his last hit. In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Gina is the youngest of three children born to Haley and his third wife, Martha Velasco, who was a nightclub performer in Mexico City when she met her husband in the late '50s.

Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Gina lived there only a year before the family, including sister Martha and brother Pete, moved to Harlingen--about 25 miles north of the Mexican border near the Gulf of Mexico.

Only 5 when her father died, she has only sketchy memories of him. And her mother, she says, kept mum about her late husband. Haley was curious, however, and eventually learned about her father's legacy through books, documentaries and music.

"I go around telling people all the time, 'Only the older generation knows what he did and what he really stood for,' " she says. "He changed America. He turned the country upside down."

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