James E. Myers

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James E. Myers is forever cemented in rock history -- his influence on the music industry is undeniably massive as the co-author of "Rock Around the Clock," the song cited by John Lennon, Elton John,…
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James E. Myers is forever cemented in rock history -- his influence on the music industry is undeniably massive as the co-author of "Rock Around the Clock," the song cited by John Lennon, Elton John, and many others as being the single most inspiring song for a generation. Myers was born on the 26th of October, 1919, in Philadelphia, and began playing his father's drum kit at a very early age, breaking out professionally at 14 years of age with his 22-piece group, Jimmy Myers & the Truckadeers Orchestra. The band gigged steadily on the weekends, catering specifically to the "trucking" dance popular at the time, but as the popularity of the dance faded, the Truckadeers Orchestra updated their image to continue working.

Agreeing they must stand out a bit from the competition, Myers and his band rifled through the phone directories and came up with the stage name Jimmy DeKnight & His Knights of Rhythm, precisely because they could find no one named "Jimmy DeKnight" listed anywhere. Although the Knights of Rhythm weren't around long, it was because of the band that the name Jimmy DeKnight was tagged onto many of Myers' songs, primarily because Myers was compelled to begin his songwriting career when the group's initial theme song, "Blue Prelude," was released locally as a single by a competing band. He wrote a new theme and found he quite enjoyed writing songs. From then on, Myers continued to write music, even while serving in the Army during World War II.

After his four-year stint in combat, Myers never picked the drums back up, but continued writing songs; became a producer, promoter, and booking agent; and started both Cowboy Records and (for music publishing) Myers Music Inc. It was as a booking agent and promoter that Myers became connected to Bill Haley. Although Myers was working with Haley for some time, Myers' classic "Rock Around the Clock" wasn't recorded by Haley due to contractual issues, until after Sonny Dae & His Nights recorded a version that settled on the local Philadelphia chart in 1952. Haley, disappointed with Essex, his label at the time, asked Myers to help him get signed to a major, and Myers set up a lucrative deal with Decca. In appreciation, Haley agreed to devote a side of each 45 to a Myers song.

When it came time to record, Decca devoted two and a half hours of a three-hour session to the A-side of Haley's first single, "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)," then handed the remaining half hour of the session over to Myers to produce a B-side. Haley and band wrapped up "Rock Around the Clock" in two takes with Myers producing, but the song's immense success took some time to come around. The "Thirteen Women" single was released to moderate sales in 1954, but Myers' grassroots promotion heightened attention on the B-side. Myers ordered a couple of boxes of the single from Decca and drove around Philadelphia and New York dropping it off at any radio station he could find, asking that the stations check out the B-side, "Rock Around the Clock." Station by station, the single was picked up and began to become a minor hit. Shortly thereafter, the film The Blackbird Jungle took the song as its theme and "Rock Around the Clock" finally broke in 1955, staying at the number one slot for eight weeks.

Shortly after the success of "Rock Around the Clock," Myers retired from the music business under doctor's orders due to the stress of having his hands in so many parts of the industry. He traveled the world for a while, wrote Hell Is a Foxhole, a book chronicling his war days, and ended up in Hollywood. Naturally, he became enamored with the film industry and worked on both sides of the camera, picking up small jobs wherever he was needed. He ended up staying for two decades. As an actor, Myers landed bit parts in four of the Rocky films, The China Syndrome, King Kong, and episodes of Laverne & Shirley, The Waltons, CHiPs, Sanford & Son, the Dukes of Hazzard, and others.

In the '80s, Myers left Hollywood and went back to Philadelphia to take care of his ailing mother. He stayed with her until her death and then decided to have another go at the music business, this time focusing on the country music market due to his brush with Dolly Parton when the two worked on the film Nine to Five together. Myers didn't have much luck his second time around, but continued to collect royalties and countless awards honoring "Rock Around the Clock." He died of leukemia in May of 2001.