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The Composer of "Rock Around The Clock"


1919-2001

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




Also see The Timeless "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK" Story



The New "Rock Around the Clock" Museum

27190 Holly Lane
Bonita Springs, Florida


James E. Myers is probably our most unique featured Pioneer to date. Although his own career as a local musician was short-lived compared to others, his impact on the music business as we know it today, was, and still is, phenomenal.

I was born on October 26, 1919, in Philadelpha, Pennsylvania, and I've lived here most of my life. I started out as a drummer. I broke my father's bass drum when I was two years old, he played drums and taught me. When I was six, I played in the school band in Northfield, New Jersey and I played in a Junior High School Symphony Orchestra at 13. One of my favorites was "March Milatar." You could wail the heck out of the drums on it and I had an affinity for that.

His love for the music business grew quickly and soon he started his own band. When I was 14, I started a group called Jimmy Myers & The Truckadeers Orchestra. We had a nice group and worked fairly steady on the weekends. This was back when the "Trucking" dance was very popular. After the dance phased out, we decided to change the name of the band to keep on working. We went down to the telephone company where they had walls of phone books from all over the United States. We pulled out books from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, and went through all of them. We couldn't find a Jimmy DeKnight. There were lots of Knights but no DeKnights, so we decided to call the band Jimmy DeKnight & His Knights of Rhythm. My father made portable metal bandstands for us, put lights on them, with a drawing of a knight in armor, holding a lance, riding a musical note, and that was our trademark. For a long time we went under that name and performed all over the Delaware Valley. We had a 22 piece orchestra at some locations and if they couldn't afford that, we'd cut down to 15 or whatever they could afford. Sometimes, we'd play clubs with just a trio or a quartet.

Then he became a songwriter. I had picked a song for our theme called, "Blue Prelude." Another band leader came in one night and heard this song that we'd been using for about a year or two, and a few months later, there's a hit song out by him called "Blue Prelude"! That made me angry, so I decided to write a song of my own and copyright it. I wrote one called, "Things That You Say" which we used for our theme song from then on. After that, I wrote an occasional song before I went into the Army, and all during the Army, even in combat. I've been writing ever since and I've got approximately 300 songs now.

He also became a music publisher, a record producer and a promoter. In 1946, after four years of combat in the South Pacific, and being away from performing music for so long, I didn't feel like going back to playing drums. A friend of mine, Jack Howard, took me over to the Pythian Temple on Broad Street where "The Hayloft Hoedown" originated on Saturday nights broadcasting coast to coast on ABC radio. He introduced me to all the Country artists and talked me into starting Cowboy Records. Then I started Meyers Music Inc., and became a promoter too. We recorded people like Jesse Rogers, Sally Starr's first husband, Shorty Long & The Santa Fe Rangers, Pee Wee Miller and the entire Hayloft Hoedown crowd. Anyone who needed a record promoted out of New York would call me and I'd take it around. In those days there was only AM radio, no FM, and there were only about 13 stations in the immediate area and you could walk to all of them. The stations in those days played all types of music, there was no specialization. If you felt like playing "Eight More Miles To Louisville", you played that too, on the same program. Everyone knew me and when I walked in with a record, if it was decent, they would put it right on the air.

Then he became a booking agent. A friend of mine owned three bars in Philadelphia that catered to the sailors who were stationed at the Navy Yard after the war and they liked Country music. He came to me one night and said, "Jim, I understand booze and how to control it, but I don't understand music. Suppose I give you a flat salary and you run it for me and book the shows for all three clubs." I said, "Alright." That was a good way to pay for the newly emerging record company and publishing company by getting a weekly check from him, so I started booking the acts. I used Lucky Steel, Rusty Keefer, Bill Haley & The Comets and quite a few other groups.

Then he wrote his first big hit. I wrote and copyrighted "Rock Around The Clock" in 1953. I had written the melody and about half of the lyrics, but I was having trouble with the rest of it. Max Freedman, who had written some other songs with me, walked into my office while I was fooling around with it one day and said, "That sounds pretty good, can I help you with it?" I said, "Why not?" When we finished it he said, "What are you going to call it?" I said, "Rock Around The Clock." 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." When I showed it to Bill Haley he flipped over it, but his record company at that particular time, said it would never sell. He recorded two versions of it, but they never released them. Then Jack Howard, who had Arcade Records at that time, said he wanted to record it with a group that he had called, Sonny Dae & His Knights. They were first to release the song and it was a big hit locally. It sold thousands of records in the Delaware Valley, but Jack didn't know how to promote it nationally. A year later, Haley came to me and said, "Jim, my contract is up, can you get me on a major label?" I said, "I think so, what's the deal?" He said, "I'll record one of your songs on one side of every release." I said, "That sounds good to me!"

So, he went to New York to make a deal. I took a few demos into Decca, which is now MCA Records. The guy listened to about 30 seconds of each one and said, "Let's go to lunch." The office was on 57th Street and we went around the corner to a beautiful restaurant, had a nice lunch, and by the time we got back, we had a contract with Bill Haley & The Comets. It was so great it was unbelievable. He had a guaranteed release of 8 singles a year, a $5,000 bonus for signing disc jockeys and radio stations of each release, a guaranteed full page ad in Billboard and Cash Box and on and on. It was a great contract!

They went into the studio again. The Decca version of "Rock Around The Clock" was recorded at Pythian Temple in New York City. The band, the producer, two engineers and myself, that's all that was present at that session, no other outsiders. Then it became a national hit, a world-wide hit, made Song Of The Year, and now it's being called the "The Song Of The Century"!

It's the biggest selling song of all time, anywhere! It's sold over 200 million copies to date, it's been recorded by more than 500 artists in 32 languages, including; Ray Anthony, Pat Boone, Freddie Cannon, Chubby Checker, Meyer Davis Orchestra, The Deep River Boys, Alan Freed, The Isley Brothers, Micky Katz, Buddy Knox, Sandy Nelson, Harry Nilsson with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, produced by John Lennon, The Osmonds, Carl Perkins, The Platters, Sex Pistols, Sha-Na-Na, Mae West, and many more. It was featured in 40 motion pictures including: One of the "Superman" films, "Rock Around The Clock" by Columbia Pictures, and many others. Of course, "Blackboard Jungle", starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier was the first one to use it as a theme song. Then along came "Happy Days" and that series is still being aired every day of the week and continues to bring in money world-wide. I was invited to the set once to watch the taping. They had a live audience of about 1000 people in the bleachers. When they introduced me the rafters rang. It made me feel very good getting a standing ovation right on the show! Now, everytime one of the features are performed, by anybody, anywhere, they pay a royalty. And with the new copyright laws, that will continue 50 years after I'm dead. Most of my relatives lived for ages, so I guess I'll stick around.

Then the awards started coming in. We just celebrated the 40th Anniversary and I picked up my 8th Living Legend award. Through the years I've received many awards including: two Mayor's Awards from the City of Philadelphia, the Community Effort and the city Council Awards, two Governor's Tributes and the Pennsylvania State Senate Award, the Liberty and Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards from New York, a U.S. Congressional Award, a Presidential Citation from Harry S. Truman, ASCAP Pop Awards, the Billboard Triple Crown, Cash Box Song Of The Year, and a Grammy!

And there was more wheeling and dealing. Bill Haley was happy with our deal for the first year, but the boys in New York were trying to cut me out by saying things like, "What can Meyers do for you? Alright, he got you on Decca Records, and he got you into the movies with Columbia Pictures, but what else can he do?" At that time, I was working on another deal for him, and there might not have been an Elvis Presley around if he'd have kept his word. I was working on a deal for a 1/2 hour weekly television show, with 39 segments to be filmed within a 13 week period in Hollywood. The rest of the time he was free to travel. It was to be called, "Rock Around The Clock With Bill Haley & The Comets" and we would have used a guest star each week like Pat Boone. I was dealing with Desilu Productions at that time and there was nobody bigger. They sent the contracts and I presented them to Haley. He had a lot of penny-ante demands that they wouldn't accept and he blew it! This had to be a multi-million dollar deal! I called him back and said, "Bill if you want to stay friends, fine, but I can't do business with you anymore!" And that's the way we left it.

Then he tried to retire. After several years of building a worldwide music publishing company, and doing all the promotion work, there was so much pressure and stress in the business that I was advised by my doctors to get out of it or die. So, I sold a number of record companies and publishing companies that I owned at the time and tried to retire. I tried a Florida vacation, then I took a trip around the world for a year, then I drove out to Hollywood to visit some friends and I didn't come back for 20 years!

Hollywood welcomed Jim, who already held a black belt in Karate and had written a book about his Army days called, "Hell Is A Foxhole". Soon he became an actor, director, screen play writer, columnist and producer. I joined the Screen Actors Guild and worked as a bit player in over 300 TV shows and movies on both sides of the camera. I was in such films as: "China Syndrome", "MacArthur", the new "King Kong", 4 of the "Rocky" films and many others. I appeared on "The Waltons", "Sanford & Son", "The Hardy Boys", "Laverne & Shirley", "C.H.I.P.s", "The Dukes of Hazzard", "The Rockford Files", and the list goes on. I made a good living at it, I made a lot of friends, and I had a lot of fun doing it. In fact, the last movie I made was "Nine To Five" with Dolly Parton. I worked with her for about a week, and the last day she came up to me and said, "Jim, you wrote a great song, now when are you going to write one for me?" And I said, "Are you serious?" And she said, "Yes." Well, she gave me an address where I could reach her and I've sent her a half a dozen songs since then, but I've never heard back from her yet.

Finally, he came back home. I came back for a visit after about 10 year. The main working sessions in Hollywood are from late August to February, then it dies, everything is made in that period of time. Around the first of March, I loaded up the car, closed up the apartment and drove home to spend some time with Mom. About 10 years after that, I moved back permanently to take care of her. She passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 94.

Then he got back into the music business. When I came back, I got my copyrights together and started James E. Myers Enterprises. Then I analyzed the market. A novelty song is a million to one shot so you stay away from them. The Pop market with Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Patti Page, and the rest of the big artists couldn't get a recording deal unless they own it themselves. Rock music generates money by either the artist, or the manager or their relatives writing all the songs. They don't take outside songs, they want to keep all the money. So, I figured there was only two markets available to get back into, Country and Gospel. Of the two, Country is naturally bigger. In fact, Country is so big today, that it's bigger than all of the others put together. There's more radio stations playing Country and there's more attention paid to it overseas. So, I decided to write a bunch of Country songs, which I've done, and a number of Gospel tunes, put them all together and get them out on CDs and cassettes to give out to recording artists and record companies. I've got 18 volumes out already, with more in the works called my, "And Then I Wrote" series.

He helped many careers get started in the music business, either directly, or indirectly. I helped Al Martino in the business, along with Al Alberts, The Four Aces, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and some other people. Al Martino was in town giving a performance at Palumbo's one night not too long ago and I was sitting right out front and there must have been hundreds of people jammed into the room and he stopped at the end of one of his songs and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like the spotlights focused on a good friend of mine who wrote the Song of the Century "Rock Around The Clock". I thought that was nice and I'll never forget it. I was reading Playboy magazine's last interview with John Lennon of the Beatles, and he was asked, "What made you get into Rock 'n Roll?" And he said, "Rock Around The Clock." Then Elton John was on "The Tonight Show" and Jay Leno asked him "What made you go into the music busines and Rock ' Roll in general?" And he said, "Rock Around The Clock." It feels good to hear powerhouses of the music world attribute their interest to "Rock Around The Clock."

One song changed music forever. Some people say I'm "The Father Of Rock 'n Roll", and the song was the daddy of all Rock 'n Roll, but when it first came out they called it a Fox Trot, they didn't know what else to call it. I found that very amusing. I think one of the big disc jockeys up in New York, Alan Freed, actually coined the term "Rock 'n Roll". I took the record into him right after we cut it and he put it on the air and said, "It's got a good rocking motion, it rolls along. Ah, rock and roll!" Then I said, "You've got it!"




He's still plugging songs and helping others. I'm still actively writing songs, I average about one a month. I'm still producing and promoting as well. We're starting to work next month on a new release on Caprice Records by Joey Welz, who used to be a keyboard player with The Comets. For years he was Rock 'n Roll and then he switched to Country. He's pretty big into Country and he's in Nashville quite often. He recorded "Rock Around The Clock '93" and it got a lot of play the past year. In about a month, we go to work on one that he and I wrote together that he recorded in Nashville with the Nashville Now Band, "Back To A Better Time", and we'll be promoting that worldwide. We also have 4 CD's coming out by him. One in Europe, one in Texas and two on his own label. I have records coming out all over. I got a letter from Australia telling me they just recorded three of my songs. My sub-publisher in Scandinavia, has 10 artists recording 10 of my songs. Fortunately for me, they're afraid not to look at what I submit. The light bulb goes on in the back of their heads and they say, "Oh, "Rock Around The Clock", well, let's see what he wrote now." They may not like it, they may not record it, but I have a better opportunity to get them heard than most other songwriters.

Thanks Jim, for so many contributions to the music industry and keep that old clock ticking on the Country side. Who knows? Maybe you'll have the song of the next Century too! CMN


Also visit: Barry Klein's Interview with James Myers




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