Bassist Marshall Lytle Dies At 79

Comets bassist Marshall Lytle died on Saturday at his home in New Port Beach, Florida. Lytle was best known for his work with Bill Haley and the Comets, including the song “Rock Around the Clock.”

Cathy Smith, Lytle’s partner since 2011, stated that his death was a result of lung cancer. He was 79.

Lytle was born in 1933 in Old Fort, North Carolina, where his father was a hog butcher. The family moved to Pensylvania, where Marshall started playing guitar in his teens. He never finished high school.

Marshall Lytle was working at a radio station in Chester, Pennsylvania when he met Bill Haley in the 1950s. Haley hired him to replace the stand-up bass player in his band.

Lytle considered himself an odd choice, since at the time he didn’t know how to play bass. But in 30 minutes, Haley taught him the slap-bass technique and several other basics of the instrument. Lytle recalled in a recent interview:

“He got this old bass fiddle out, started slapping it, with a shuffle beat, and showed me the basic three notes you need on a little bass run to get started with, and I gave it a try and I said, ‘Hell, I can do that.’ “

Lytle went on to play with the Comets during hits like “Crazy, Man, Crazy” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” But their biggest hit came in 1954 with “Rock Around the Clock.” It came on the flip side of “Thirteen Women {And Only One Man in Town)” and appeared in the film Blackboard Jungle.

The bassist became known as a showman, doing tricks with his guitar on stage. He lifted his bass over his shoulder onstage, tossed it in the air, and even rode it like a horse. Lytle split from the Comets in 1955 and formed a group with two other former players, called the Jodimars. The group became popular in Las Vegas.

In the 1960s, a booking agent convinced him to change his name, saying it was too connected to his days with Bill Haley. Lytle changed it to Tommy Page.

Marshall Lytle is survived by Smith, nine children, and several grandchildren. There was no word on pending funeral arrangements.