Marshall Lytle, Bill Haley’s Bassist, Dead at 79
Marshall Lytle, who played bass in Bill Haley and the Comets, has died at the age of 79. He passed away on Saturday, May 25, in New Port Richey, Fla., of lung cancer.
Lytle (who’s pictured far right in the above photo) played on some of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll hits, including ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll.’ Lytle was the Comets’ bassist during their biggest years, from 1951 through 1955.
Haley found Lytle working at a rival radio station in Pennsylvania and asked him to join his band, which was called Bill Haley and the Saddlemen at the time (they’d change their name to the Comets in 1952). Lytle didn’t know how to play bass, but Haley showed him the basics in about half an hour. (Lytle reminisces about those days in a 2011 radio interview you can listen to here.)
And it’s Lytle’s swingin’ bass-slapping style that anchored so many of the group’s pioneering rock hits, including ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ generally considered to be the first No. 1 song of the rock era. He was also a showman. According to Rolling Stone, Lytle used to throw “his bass into the air, lifting it over his shoulder and riding it like a horse.”
Lytle and other members of the Comets quit the group in 1955 and formed their own band, the Jodimars, which played in Las Vegas. But he rejoined the Comets (without Haley, who died in 1981) in 1987. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 along with five other backing bands.