Memphis Minute - September 17th
We lost him way too soon. He was country, rock, rockabilly, and a jazzy rhythm and blues - Memphis music. His band put eight songs into Billboard’s Top 40 from 1959-1962. The first one spent a month at the top of the Rhythm and Blues charts - the first hit for the legend that is Hi Records, even before Willie Mitchell’s arrival. They rated a request by THE British Invasion band (yes I mean the Beatles), to open their 1964 U.S. tour, though by then he was too sick to travel.
His music and personality were pure Memphis - friendly, talented, a great performer in any genre and in all his projects. He was an Army veteran and veteran of playing local bars as a teen. Like generations of Memphians, he came back from military service to work at Firestone. In his first band he played a hillbilly clown in overalls and straw hat. In his rockabilly years with Sun he warmed up the crowd with jokes and kept them laughing with antics like straddling his big standup bass. With his last act he wore a suit and played the part of serious musician and stylish bandleader. Throughout, his energetic play - slapping that bass - was recognized as a signature and hit-making sound.
When his country band sold no records, sharp-eared Sam Phillips kept him and his bandmate guitarist at Sun and had them team up with a young singer from the same housing project. Though their Mothers knew each other, he had left home before the youngster’s family moved to Memphis. When that singer’s contract was sold and the new record company restructured the band's deal, he left to join a band which he eventually led and created that string of hits for newcomer Hi Records.
He was that comical character in the Starlite Wranglers. He was the well-dressed leader of the instrumental combo that bore his name even after his death from a brain tumor at 39 years old. He was one of the creators of Memphis rock ‘n roll. With the other Blue Moon Boys, he ruled the charts and put Memphis music on the map once again (after 20-30’s blues) from 1954-1958.
Born in Memphis on this day in 1926, we remember Rock and Roll and Rockabilly Hall of Famer Bill Black, bandleader of the hit-making Bill Black Combo, partner to Scotty Moore in the Starlite Wranglers and the duo (trio later with DJ Fontana) that helped make Elvis the King.
“Blue Suede Shoes” (from Milton Berle’s show)