The year was 1951 and Marshall had just been approached by Bill Haley, a long time family friend, to play bass for his band, The Saddlemen. Marshall, up to this point, was a guitar player and singer who had never even tried to play bass. "Our Rhythm section was basically a rhythm guitar and a bass and Bill wanted it played loud. I had no amplification so I had to physically play loud. I was an old guitar player before playing bass, so in about thirty minutes he taught me the basics of the bass neck and the tuning and how it works and some basic little riffs. And he said 'I want you to go to work with me tonight.' So after about a half hour lesson I bought a bass fiddle and went to work with him that night."
Over the next year or so, Bill put Marshall through the paces, "Bill said, 'I want you to play loud, man!' And he kept on me. At the time we were doing five hours a night, from nine till two am, 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off. I had no callouses, man, and I had blood blisters all over my fingers. Man, I tell you I suffered."
Marshall continued on with Bill and then it all happened. "We started creating rock'n'roll through a disk jockey on a radio station called WPWA who had a rhythm 'n' blues show at the time. His show was called "Shorty The Bailiff" and he just played purely black music. He came to us one day and he said 'Hey man I got this song and everybody is just crazy about it. Bill you oughta learn it.' And it was called "Rock This Joint." Well Bill learned it and we started doing it in the Twin Bar over in Gloster, New Jersey. A bunch of sailors and folks would come out to see us and they just loved it! We were just beatin' the hell outta the bass fiddle and havin' a good time and so we decided to record it. Well next thing we know we were in Cleveland, Ohio and we did the Alan Freed Show. We were doing an interview with him around a big round table that had a boom mic hanging out over the center of the thing and he had a switch on the wall that he could turn the mic on and off with. Well he played "Rock This Joint" and when the song says 'rock, rock, rock everybody. Roll, roll, roll everybody' Alan turned the mic on and started yelling 'ROCK AND ROLL EVERYBODY,' and everyone started calling up and saying 'Play that rock 'n' roll song again!" Building on the regional success of "Rock This Joint," the chart success of "Crazy Man Crazy" and the national success of "Rock Around The Clock," Bill Haley And The Comets hit the road even harder than before. One of the many road stops was Wildwood, New Jersey.
"In 1953 the band would do a matinee in the afternoon. We'd go down there and just kinda have a jam session from about one to three in the afternoon and the place would be jammed with people. So one day Joey (D'Ambrossio) was doing a sax solo and I said well hell let's see if I can stand up on this damned thing. So I put the bass down and I stood up on it and the crowd went nuts, they went crazy, they had never seen anyone do that before. So I said hell, they liked that so much let's see what else I can do, so I kinda threw it up over my head and pretended I was playing it like a guitar, just silly stuff, and everything I would do they would go nuts. Then I'd lay down on my back and throw it up on my feet, then I would lay down on top of it and Joey would sit on my back. Then Joey would sit on the bass and I'd drag him across the floor and he'd honk at people. Then we'd go out into the audience and start honkin' at the audience and that's how the stage antics I used to do got started." Nowadays Marshall plays in The Comets. It's the band that made Bill Haley a national success and a household name.
They still tour and put on what has been called "The best rock 'n' roll show on earth". They have outrocked the
rockin'-est bands in the world and they will no doubt be rockin ' near you some time soon. Without even knowing
it, Marshall Lytle changed the way an entire world looked at the upright bass. No longer was it a support
instrument that went virtually unnoticed. It became, and remains, an instrument that has the ability to steal
the show, as long as it's in the hands of the right player. Thanks to Marshall Lytle those of us who have
answered the calling of the doghouse have a yard stick by which to be measured. We have the standard and thanks
be to God we still have Marshall to show us how it's done. "I didn't invent the slap bass but I sure popularized
the hell out of it." (End).
Several months after recording "Rocket 88," Bill Haley's rebellious bass player, Al Rex, left Bill's band to his own group. Bill hired a talented young musician, Marshall Lytle, whom he has known for years. Marshall's older brother Cliff had played with Bill in the Four Western Aces, along with Tex King, who roomed at the Lytle home. Bill was a frequent guest for dinner as the young musician fell under the persuasive charm and enthusiasm of Haley's dreams.
Marshall had his own show on WVCH, a Chester, PA radio station, where he sang and played rhythm guitar. Bill taught the seventeen-year-old lad how to slap back the bull fiddle and reproduced Bill's unique clicking sound.
Marshall recalls, "Bill asked me to come and play the bass for him. I said that I didn't know how to play a bass. He said 'I'll teach you.' So he spent one hour and taught me the basic chords plus how to slap back and get a shuffle beat. The day I joined The Saddlemen, I bought a bass. That night I joined them at the Twin Bar as the youngest member of the band. Bill had to pencil in a mustache on my face to make me look older. I was under age at the time."
Marshall also recalls his fingers were so sore and bloody, he had to wrap tape around them to pound the strings of his bass fiddle. Later, when thick callouses formed on his hands, the band-aids were no longer necessary.
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