Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Billy Lee Riley - Family Portrait - Going Back To Memphis
A man most famous for his early Sun singles but obviously had a very long career, here are a couple of rockin' soul (yep, i said soul, check it) from the late 60', 1968 to be exact. Pretty cool stuff from a guy that is really known as a rockabilly cat. These tunes could almost pass for straight soul cuts...
Born in Pocahontas, Arkansas, the son of a sharecropper, Riley learned to play guitar from black farm workers. After 4 years in the Army, Riley first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1955 before being lured to Sun Studios by Sam Phillips. He recorded "Trouble Bound" for Jack Clement and Slim Wallace. Sam Phillips obtained the rights and he released "Trouble Bound" b/w "Rock With Me Baby" on September 1, 1956 (Sun 245). His first hit was "Flyin' Saucers Rock and Roll" b/w "I Want You Baby" released February 23, 1957 (Sun 260) with backing piano by Jerry Lee Lewis, after which he recorded "Red Hot" b/w "Pearly Lee" released September 30, 1957 (Sun 277).
"Red Hot" was showing a lot of promise as a big hit record, but Sam Phillips pulled the promotion and switched it to "Great Balls Of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. The record was pulled without a lot of sales. He had other Sun recordings and they, likewise, did not have a lot of sales as his promotion had stopped.
Considered good looking and with wild stage moves, Riley had a brief solo career with his backing band "The Little Green Men". Riley and his Little Green Men were the main Sun studio band. They were Riley, Roland Janes, J.M. Van Eaton, Marvin Pepper, and Jimmy Wilson, later joined by Martin Willis.
In 1960, he left Sun, and started Rita Record label with Roland Janes. They produced the national hit record "Mountain Of Love" by Harold Dorman. He later started two other labels Nita and Mojo.
In 1962, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a session musician with Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Sammy Davis Jr. and others, as well as recording under various aliases.
In the early seventies, Riley quit music to return to Arkansas to begin his own construction business. In 1978 "Red Hot" and "Flyin' Saucers Rock 'n' Roll" were covered by Robert Gordon and Link Wray, which led to a one-off performance in Memphis in 1979, the success of which led to further recording at Sun Studio and a full-time return to performing.
Rediscovered by Bob Dylan in 1992, who had been a fan since 1956, Riley played rock and roll, blues and country-blues.
His album Hot Damn! (Capricorn, 1997) was nominated for the Grammy.
He was injured falling on a slippery department store floor in 2005, requiring two surgeries as a result. In 2006, he released a country CD, Hillbilly Rockin' Man.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame reported in summer 2009 that Riley was in poor health, battling stage 4 colon cancer, which caused his death on August 2, 2009 in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Billy Lee Riley - Family Portrait
Billy Lee Riley - Going Back To Memphis