NEW YORK — Marshall Lytle — whose spirited, percussive bass work was heard on one of rock ’n’ roll’s seminal recordings, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets — died last Saturday at home in New Port Richey, Fla.
The cause was lung cancer, said Cathy Smith, his partner since 2001. He was 79.
Mr. Lytle was a guitar player working at a radio station in Chester, Pa., in the early 1950s when Bill Haley, who worked at a different station, hired him to replace the stand-up bass player in his band. It was an odd choice; Mr. Lytle, who was still a teenager, did not play bass. But as he explained in many interviews, Haley gave him a 30-minute lesson, showing him the slap-bass technique, in which the strings are smacked against the fingerboard. Such playing was a feature of country music, which is what Haley’s band, then known as Bill Haley and His Saddlemen, specialized in.
“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,’ ” Mr. Lytle recalled in 2011.
With the Comets — the name of the band changed in 1952 — Mr. Lytle played on the hits “Crazy, Man, Crazy” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” but their biggest success was “Rock Around the Clock.” Released in 1954 on the flip side of a song called “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town),” it appeared in the film “Blackboard Jungle” the next year and became a rock standard.
Marshall Edward Lytle was born Old Fort, N.C., where his father, John, was a hog butcher before he moved the family to Pennsylvania. Mr. Lytle began playing guitar in his teens and never finished high school.
Mr. Lytle grew into something of a showman, lifting his bass over his shoulder onstage, tossing it in the air, even seeming to ride it like a horse.
He was married and divorced three times. In the 1960s, a booking agent persuaded him that the name Marshall Lytle was too connected to his Bill Haley days, so he changed it to Tommy Page. In addition to Smith, he leaves nine children and numerous grandchildren.
Haley died in 1981. Mr. Lytle reunited with other Comets in 1987 and performed off and on until 2009. With the other Comets, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.