|Boyd Bennett’s Musical Career
Boyd Bennett was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, December 7, 1924. He was raised in the town of Goodlettsville North Davidson County, TN, just outside of Nashville. His family was very musically oriented.
Boyd’s grandfather instructed members of local churches how to read music and sing biblical songs. He taught Boyd to read shape note music from church hymnals before he could actually read the English printed lyrics.
Boyd began singing gospel songs with his grandfather at 4 years of age. He grew up singing gospel music with local quartets. During the hard times of his youth, the aftermath of the Great Depression, Boyd played the guitar and sang outside of the old-time Honky Tonks for whatever donations he could muster from patrons.
At the age of 16, in 1941, Boyd’s music career was interrupted for four years by the outbreak of World War II. While in service, he perfected the art of playing the guitar.
Boyd trained at the San Diego Naval Training Center and served on different Navy troop transports. He suffered a severe leg wound in the Solomon Islands. Unfortunately, he did not realize until later that his lungs and those of all his shipmates were filled with deadly asbestos dust from the insulation on the exposed pipes.
This lethal asbestos dust disabled and eventually killed many men who served on these ships years later. Pulmonary fibrosis and mesothelioma (cancer of the lungs) became a fatal curse of the sailors that served on navy ships during World War II. Boyd is a miracle survivor, due to alternative medicine therapies and the grace of God. He survived pulmonary fibrosis for 20 years.
After the war, Boyd sang in nightclubs nightly. He continually impressed his audiences with the depth of his repertoire of songs, instrumental versatility and voice quality. He effortlessly fulfilled the audience’s musical requests.
During this time, Boyd worked in the music industry and performed with a number of different bands. He had a temporary gig as a drummer and singer with a band led by Francis Craig. Unfortunately, Boyd could not make a decent living playing at the nightclubs so he supplemented his income by working as a disk jockey and radio announcer for local radio stations. Soon he was a famous local radio personality.
In the early 50’s, a friend in Owensboro, Kentucky who owned a record store introduced him to a Columbia Records executive. The company liked Boyd’s songs and signed him to his first record contract.
His big break in show business came when he was performing regularly on a local radio station as a disk jockey, announcer, and singer. He assembled a band named the “Southlanders”. They created a unique sound similar to western swing. There was a little honky tonk attitude in the music. Boyd soon reformed and renamed his band, ” The Rockets”.
The members of “Boyd Bennett and His Rockets” were also famous musicians in their own right. They played all types of music and were considered a hotel type band, not specifically rock and roll, rockabilly or pop.
Jim Muzey, known as “Big Moe”, played the trumpet extremely well. At 425 pounds, he was one of the funniest men Boyd ever performed with. M.D. Allen, quite the opposite of “Big Moe”, weighed only 110 pounds. He played the guitar and was a great comedian. Kenny Cobb, played the bass fiddle and was considered one of the best in the country. Boots Randolph, now famous for his saxophone expertise, contributed greatly to the quality music produced by “The Rockets”.
Jimmy McDaniels, was an incredible piano player and pioneer in his own right. He was the first black musician to tour with a multi-racial band through the Midwest and South. Boyd constantly battled racism across the country. Some clubs would allow Jimmy to play in the band but not allow him to eat in the dining room. Boyd quickly solved the problem whenever it reared its ugly head.
During the early 50’s, Boyd Bennett and his “Rockets” performed consistently at local dances and on variety TV shows. In 1952, while working at WAVE-TV Louisville, KY, Boyd came up with the brilliant idea of a musical variety show called “Boyd Bennett and His Space Buddies”.
For Foster Brooks, a famous comedian, this was his first big break in show business. The show was a take off of the “Gene Autry Show”. Instead of singing cowboys, it was singing space cadets. The humor, music, and originality made the show a great hit with local fans. Unfortunately, the owner of the station was not so farsighted and the show was cancelled after only seven shows (see picture and story below).
The next couple of years they performed at numerous dances and shows in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio area. Every Saturday night you could see 1,500 to 2,000 people in the Rustic Ballroom in Jasper, Indiana. Boyd and his group played there on a regular basis for a number of years.
“Boyd Bennett and His Rockets” eventually came to the attention of Sid Nathan, owner of King Records. They produced a couple of mediocre country hits “Time and Hopeless Case” on the King Label.
In 1955, the same year “Bill Haley and the Comets” topped the pop music chart with Rock Around the Clock, Boyd created a new sound while playing the drums during a number of recording sessions with such musicians as Earl Bostick, Bill Doggett, and “Otis Williams and The Charms”.
Boyd realized country music was not the best music for future success. He began to experiment with songs that would appeal to teenagers. Boyd and his band rented the King Record’s studio to produce revolutionary new songs. They recorded Poison Ivy, You upset Me Baby and Boogie at Midnight. When sales topped 100,000 copies on each session, Boyd leased the masters to King Record Company. Singles were then re-released under King Records. They eventually signed Boyd to a contract.
In 1955, “Boyd Bennett and His Rockets” hit pay dirt. They produced the chart topper, “Seventeen” and the rest is history.
Boyd wanted to lease the master to Syd Nathan, but Syd was not interested. He did not think teenagers had enough money to buy records.
Boyd convinced Henry Glover, who was Syd Nathan’s assistant, that Seventeen would be a big hit. Henry made one of the best decisions of his life. While Sid was in Florida on a vacation, he released Seventeen.
During the first three months after the release of Seventeen, Boyd and his band traveled all over the country being interviewed by disk jockeys. He used a very effective marketing technique to get his record air time. He gave each disk jockey a personally autographed copy.
Bill Randall, a disk jockey in Cleveland, Ohio, was primarily responsible for the initial exposure on the airwaves that made Seventeen a big hit. After Bill Randall played it continuously as the number one record on his dance party shows, Allen Freed, in New York, followed suit. Boyd performed for different groups almost every night.
During the first year, “Seventeen” was a blockbuster hit in the U.S., Boyd performed with many bands. “Bill Haley and the Comets” appeared regularly with Boyd’s band. The promoters generated large crowds by selling the idea of a “Battle of Bands”. All shows sold outstanding room only. People thought “Boyd Bennett and His Rockets” and “Bill Haley and the Comets” were competing on stage to determine who was the best band.
While working in NY during Christmas of 1955, Boyd was offered an audition for some western TV shows. The two shows were Maverick and Wyatt Erp. Boyd decided to stay with Rock & Roll. It was during this time, Boyd wrote “My Boy Flat Top”.
In 1956, Boyd and his “Rockets” provided musical and lyrical support for Moon Mullican on the classic rockabilly single Seven Nights To Rock. The “Rockets” had one more successful single in 1956 with Blue Suede Shoes. In 1957 and 1958, they recorded several regional hits “Hit That Jive” and “High School Hop”.
In 1959, Boyd signed with Mercury records. That year he had another minor hit record called, Boogie Bear. After a series of unsuccessful singles, Boyd realized the time had come. He realized he was too old for the current rock & roll audience.
At the ripe old age of 31, Boyd was considered a grandpa by most of his fans who were under 16 years of age. The age differential was just too great. Boyd wisely decided to retire in 1960 to raise his family.
Boyd’s early records are extremely rare and command a large price on the collector’s music market. The reason is King Records had very low overhead cause of their total control of their music products from the beginning to end. At one site, the artists were recorded, masters produced, records pressed, album covers designed and printed and all music products warehoused and shipped. They could economically produce records in very small numbers, sometimes as few as 50. This is why so many of the King Records are extremely rare.(rockabillyhall)