2001 – James Myers, whose 2-minute, 8-second tune “Rock Around the Clock” is considered the granddaddy of all rock’n’roll songs, dies of leukemia. He is 81. Myers wrote the song with Max Freedman in 1953.
JAMES E. MYERS
a.k.a. JIMMY DeKNIGHT
Posted May 11th – From the Associated Press:
Songwriter James Myers dies;
co-wrote ‘Rock Around the Clock’
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — James Myers, whose two-minute, eight-second tune “Rock Around the Clock” is considered the granddaddy of all rock ‘n’ roll songs, has died of leukemia. He was 81.
Myers, who died Wednesday, wrote the song with Max Freedman in 1953. Bill Haley & His Comets recorded it in 1954, and it soared to the top of the charts in 1955 as the theme song of the teen rebel movie “The Blackboard Jungle.”
With its rockabilly sound, the song was considered a breakthrough for crossing racial barriers by borrowing from rhythm and blues.
Myers, who also wrote under the name Jimmy DeKnight, wrote more than 300 songs and had bit parts in movies and TV shows, but “Rock Around the Clock” remained his most famous work.
He said the melody evolved in his head over a few years before he finally wrote it down. While picking out the tune on a piano at his office one day, his friend Freedman joined him.
“When we finished it he said, `What are you going to call it?’ I said, ‘Rock Around The Clock,”‘ Myers said in an interview with the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Burns, Tenn.
“And he said, `Why rock? What’s that mean? Why not “Dance Around The Clock?”‘ And I said, ‘I just have a gut feeling and since I’m half writer and whole publisher, I’m the boss! Right!’ So, we called it ‘Rock Around The Clock.”‘
The song was No. 1 for eight weeks and went on to sell 22 million copies worldwide. It has been recorded by more than 500 artists, from Mae West to the Sex Pistols, and has been used in more than 40 movies and on TV shows such as “Happy Days.”
“It sounded like nothing else,” said Howard Kramer, associate curator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. “The drums and guitar on that song sound like nothing else. The snare drum on that was like a howitzer going off.”
Dick Clark called the song “the anthem of rock ‘n’ roll.” Disc jockey Alan Freed pronounced it “the daddy of rock ‘n’ roll” songs.
A Philadelphia native, Myers was a drummer in his own band before joining the Army during World War II. After serving in the South Pacific, he returned to his hometown to become a songwriter, country music promoter and music publisher.
Marshall Lytle, the bass player who played “Rock Around the Clock” with Bill Haley & His Comets, said he realized how big the song was as the band drove to Boston from New York in Haley’s new Cadillac and turned on the radio.
“It was one of those new car radios, where you pushed a button and it went to the next station,” he said. “I turned on the radio and hit the button and the station was playing ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ I hit the button again and the next station was playing ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ and the next station too.
“Within two minutes that morning, I heard `Rock Around the Clock’ playing on 12 different stations simultaneously.”
Myers estimated he made $10 million in royalties from the tune.
“He figured out that at any given moment, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ is playing somewhere in the world,” Lytle said.
Myers, who lived in Bonita Springs, Fla., for the last year, will be buried in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Myers told the News-Press of Fort Myers last year that he didn’t set out to create a style of music; he just wanted to make people feel happy.
“And I think I succeeded,” he said.
05-11-01 / The Associated Press