Five years ago we featured the Fontane Sisters and mentioned several of their hits, including one that wasn’t their biggest but still nearly reached the top of the charts. But the trio’s version of ‘Seventeen” wasn’t the only one to hit high on the charts, and it also wasn’t the first. That distinction belongs to the guy who wrote the song — Boyd Bennett — an early rockabilly performer who had his biggest hit with it.
Alabama-born but raised near Nashville, Bennett grew up surrounded by music at home, in church, and at at school, and he took to it like a duck to water. Although his professional career had to wait until his World War II service was over, in the post-war years he began finding some success in the Louisville area while leading a honky-tonk group called the Southlanders. He and the varying members of the group became a popular draw in local nightspots and also found some exposure on early TV.
While working on TV, Bennett also spread his wings in a different way, coming up with a musical variety show he called Boyd Bennett and His Space Buddies, and it proved to be a hit with fans but not with management, who later cancelled it. By then it was the early 1950s, and Bennett was bubbling with ideas. He’d already cut a record with a variety of bandmates, but he renamed the latest bunch the Rockets (around the same time that Bill Haley broke out with his group, the Comets) and began to find some real success with a new record contract.
Songs like “Seventeen” and “My Boy Flat Top” (with a vocal by band-mate James Muzey in his ‘Big Moe’ persona) charted well, as did a cover of “Blue Suede Shoes” and several other good records, and the band also toured with great success. However, by the close of the decade things had wound down and Bennett was spending most of his time as a DJ. On the other hand, he was always a shrewd businessman and the royalties from the music he wrote helped him become quite a wheeler-dealer, eventually owning nightclubs, a TV station, and other profitable ventures. He died at age 77 in 2002.