R.I.P. Billy Lee

Another music legend gone.  Sadly, this one didn’t get as much press as some others, and I didn’t catch wind of this until today.

On August 2, Sun Records legend Billy Lee Riley succumbed to cancer in Jonesboro Arkansas.  From the Memphis Commercial Appeal obituary…

Riley is considered by many to be Sun Records’ lost giant. A true multi-threat, he possessed the myriad musical gifts of Carl Perkins, the unhinged spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the punkish insouciance of Elvis Presley — yet fate never rewarded Riley beyond cult acclaim.

Real music aficionados understand it’s the names that don’t make the front page that have the most impact.  Billy Lee was one of those.

Billy Lee Riley and his group the “Little Green Men” were the Sun Records house band during the golden days of that little Memphis record label’s run.  Billy Lee himself was a multi-instrumentalist and later worked as a session musician in L.A. for other music legends including Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Sammy Davis Jr.  This cat got around!

Anyway, the “Little Green Men” included the great Roland Janes and Jimmy Van Eaton, who backed Jerry Lee Lewis on most all his Sun recordings.

Billy Lee cut some rockin’ records himself.  The first one I ever heard was his classic “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”.  I’ve got this one on 45.  It’s one of my treasures.  Of course the Sun single “Red Hot” was covered by a number of artists, but the most impassioned performance by far is Riley’s, whose hard-driven vocals always seemed to originate in the soles of his feet.

If you’re a rockabilly greenhorn, I highly recommend you give a listen to “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”.  It’s truly one of the quintessential 1950’s rockabilly selections – complete with frantic, echo-drenched guitar intro, primal howls from the band, the Killer’s boogie-woogie keys, and space-age theme!  Who could ask for more?

For those interested in seeing some living rockabilly legends like Dale Hawkins, Sonny Burgess and Carl Mann, you can attend the…

BILLY LEE RILEY MEMORIAL BENEFIT SHOW: Sunday, August 30th. Newport, Arkansas at the Silver Moon Club, located on 167 Highway, North of the Rock and Roll Highway. The show will start at 1 pm. Scheduled to appear: Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, WS Holland and his band, Travis Wammack, Carl Mann, Smoochy Smith, Ace Cannon and his band, Jr Rogers, Warren Crow, JM VanEaton, Dale Hawkins, CW Gattin, Teddy Reidel, Jeannie and the Guys, Matt – Jim & Tim the Blues Bros. Band, Teddy Hill, Larry Donn, Ben Cooter Jones

R.I.P Billy Lee, and condolensces to his widow.


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