Comets bass player Marshall Lytle dies at 79AP , Associated Press
May. 29, 2013 4:36 PM ET
NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (AP) — Marshall Lytle, the original bass player for Bill Haley & His Comets, one of the first bands to take rock 'n' roll music mainstream, has died. He was 79.
Lytle died at his home in New Port Richey, Fla., on May 25, said his niece, Shayna Golda.
Lytle recorded hits like "Rock Around the Clock" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" with Haley in the 1950s. He was known for his percussive bass style, slapping the strings as he played, and his lively performances. He would sometimes take the bass over his head or ride it like a surfboard.
"He's known as the father of rock bass by some people," said Michael Jordan Rush, who published a memoir by Lytle titled "Still Rockin' Around the Clock" in 2011. "He certainly influenced rock bass more than any other individual."
Lytle was born in Old Fort, N.C., in September 1933. A birth defect made it nearly impossible for him to walk as a child. His older brother would carry him to and from school on his back. It was then that Lytle developed a love of music.
"He had been a musician from the time he was barely able to walk," Golda said.
While Lytle was still a young boy, he had surgery that gave him the use of his legs, she said. In 1951, Lytle, then still a teen, joined Bill Haley's Saddlemen. At the time, Haley had a radio show in Chester, Pa., and the manager commented that the group didn't look like saddlemen, Rush said.
He suggested they call themselves "The Comets" instead.
"Marshall said, 'That's a great name, I think we should go with it,'" Rush said.
Several of the band's hits are now iconic rock 'n' roll songs: "Rock Around the Clock," recorded in 1954, is one of the highest selling singles of all time. Lytle also played on hits like "See You Later, Alligator."
But he and two other members of the band quit in 1955 over a money dispute and formed a new group called The Jodimars. The group had limited commercial success, and Lytle temporarily changed his name and later went into real estate.
He returned to music in 1987, playing in a Comets reunion band, and performed right up until the weeks before his death, Rush said. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other members of the Comets in 2012.
Golda said Lytle was diagnosed with lung cancer early this year.
"And he didn't smoke," she said. "But performing all those years in nightclubs and bars and being on tour buses and all those things, you're exposed."
She recalled receiving postcards from around the world from her uncle as a child.
"He led a fulfilling, very interesting, very joyful life," she said.
Lytle is survived by his longtime girlfriend, Cathy Smith, two siblings and seven children.