December 7, 1924 - June 2, 2009
Boyd Bennett and his music rank as marginally Country in a manner somewhat similar to that of Bill Haley. His earliest and best-known discs were released in the latter days of King Records’ legendary 500 series, but his biggest recognition came in the Pop field.
Boyd grew up near Nashville and secured some of his professional experience in music as a drummer and vocalist in a group led by WSM staff band leader Francis Craig. Shortly after, Boyd entered the military during the latter part of WWII. At the end of hostilities, he got a job at a radio station and organized a small dance band called the Southlanders. Boyd described this unit’s style as leaning towards Western Swing. In 1952, Boyd signed with King Records and his initial session took place that December. One side of his first release, a Country number called Time, met with modest success, but the next year, he began restyling his band for more appeal to a youthful audience, renaming them the Rockets (this was about the time that Haley’s Saddlement became the Comets).
In January 1955, the Rockets cut Seventeen, which Bennett and co-writer John Young had penned about the latter’s teenage daughter. Despite producer Syd Nathan’s initial reluctance to even release it, Seventeen rose to No. 5 on the Pop charts and provided King with one of its all-time best-sellers. A number of established Pop artists quickly covered the number ultimately pushing writer-sale royalties to some 3 million. The follow-up, My Boy Flat-Top, with vocals by a band member known as Big Moe (James Muzey), also crashed the Pop Top 40 listings. They had one more Pop chart single in 1956, with their version of Carl Perkin’s Blue Suede Shoes, but it only reached the Top 70. Bennett and the Rockets recorded several more numbers with King through January 1958, and while some did quite well, such as High School Hop and Hit That Jive, Jack, none ever quite had the impact of Seventeen. Boyd’s band also backed Moon Mullican on the 1956 session which produced his Rockabilly classic Seven Nights to Rock. Ironically, the Rockets themselves did not really play the primitive type of Rockabilly which collectors would later treasure.
After leaving King, Boyd signed with Mercury and had a minor hit with Boogie Bear in the latter part of 1959. He was acutely aware that he was several years older than most of the emerging Rock ‘n’ Roll superstars and with a sharp mind for business, opted to get out of music while ahead of the game. He already owned three night clubs and became part owner of a TV station.
In 1967, Bennett started a company called Hardcast manufacturing which in recent years has made parts for the air-conditioning industry. In 1988, when an album of his King sides was released in Denmark, researcher Adam Komorowski reported that Boyd was more or less retired from music except for an occasional charity benefit appearance with Ray Price when Price does a show in the Dallas area, where Boyd now resides.
Boyd Bennett was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, December 7, 1924. He was taught to read shape note music from church hymnals before he could actually read the English printed lyrics. During the hard times of his youth, he played the guitar and sang outside of the so called, “Honky Tonks”.
During the early 50's, Boyd Bennett and his band played their variety TV shows and played a lot of very important dances and shows in the Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio area. Every Saturday night you could see 1,500 to 2,000 people in the Rustic Ballroom in Jasper, Indiana for a period of years when Boyd and his band played there on a regular basis.
After having a couple of mediocre country hits with “Time” and “Homeless Case”, Boyd turned to recording something new for white musicians. While with the King Record Company, he performed on a number of sessions that required a very unorthodox beat that he had on the drums. He worked with people such as Earl Bostick, Bill Dogget, and Otis Williams and the Charms. Boyd had decided that country was not the field that he fit into the the best and began to look for material that would sell to young people. He rented the King Studio and recorded songs like “Poison Ivy”, “You Upset Me Baby”, “Boogie at Midnight”, which sold up to 100,000 copies on each session. He leased those masters to King Records Company and they were released on King Records.
In the Spring of 1954, Boyd was given an idea by a friend and fellow musician, and wrote the song”Seventeen”. Boyd later recorded the song “Seventeen” and wanted to lease the master to Sid Nathan. Sid threw the dub of the master in the waste basket and said, “That kind of music is crap and I will not spend my money to issue a record...besides that, teenagers today have no money with which to buy records”. However, Boyd was successful in convincing Henry Glover, who was Sid Nathan’s assistant, that this “Seventeen” could be a hit. So, while Sid Nathan was in Florida on a vacation, Henry Glover released “Seventeen”. During the first three months that “Seventeen” was released, Boyd traveled all over the country being interviewed by disc jockeys and taking them a personal autographed copy to play. One disc jockey in particular, Bill Randall, in Cleveland, Ohio, was responsible for “Seventeen” eventually becoming a hit. Bill Randall played it and made it a number one record on his dance party shows ad it was then picked up by Allen Freed, in New York. Boyd played many stage appearances for Bill Randall and Allen Freed. The record of “Seventeen” sold over three million copies with the cover records that were issued during that time.
During the first year that “Seventeen” was a block-buster hit in the U.S., Boyd was booked many times on shows with Bill Haley, with the promoters saying that this was going to be a battle of bands. All of those shows were sell-outs because people thought that Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, and Bill Haley and the Comets, were having a competition situation on stage. Most music critics will attest to the fact that Boyd Bennett and his Rockets Band was far superior to any band on the scene in those days.
The songs, “Seventeen” and “My Boy Flat Top” were the first songs ever recorded for the teenage market. The popularity of both started a series of teen records that is still a major part of music today. The original manuscript of “Seventeen” is on display in the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC.