Billy Lee Riley

Temporary bio - full bio to come:

Listen to Billy Lee Riley on Red Hot
Billy Lee Riley

Update: Deke Dickerson to back Riley at the Stomp- expect the set you want to hear done right.

BORN: October 5, 1933, Pocohontas, AR Billy Lee Riley is a rockabilly singer and multi-instrumentalist. An alumni of Sun Records, he was one of the most crazed, unabashed rockers that label had to offer -- in the company of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Sonny Burgess, that's saying a lot. Proficient at harmonica, guitar, bass, and drums, Riley contributed as a sideman to many a classic Sun session, and his combo the Little Green Men (most notably guitarist Roland Janes and drummer J.M. Van Eaton) in time became the Sun house band. Riley recorded for a number of labels in a variety of styles, especially effective with blues. Though never commercially successful, Riley's Sun recordings of "Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll" and "Red Hot" (both covered in wooden renditions by Robert Gordon) remain landmarks of the genre.

Billy Lee In listing the names of the Sun faithful who toiled at 706 Union who could have been-and should have been-national contenders, several talented names come to mind and with them, perhaps very plausible reasons why they never clicked with a national audience. Sonny Burgess had a booming voice like a tenor sax and a band that absolutely burned, but his wild-ass stage show just couldn't be successfully translated to records. Warren Smith had the voice, looks and will to succeed, but was just too country to make the pop charts past the rockabilly boom of 1956. Hayden Thompson huffed and puffed convincingly enough, but was just too late to make it on Elvis' coat tails past a regional level. But the one man who had the looks, talent and the adaptability to pull it off and didn't even come close to having a hit on Sun was Billy Riley. Known to most rockabilly fanatics as Billy Lee Riley, although the use of his middle name didn't come until the mid to late 60s, his meister work at Sun almost runs the whole development of white artists on the label in microcosm, from raw rockin' simplicity to production chasing after then current market trends. Riley's top notch band, the Little Green Men, were literally the Sun house band from late '56 on, housing the talents of both James Van Eaton on drums and the incredible Roland Janes on guitar, the twin musical glue of the label. With Sam Phillips doing the early sessions, handing over the reigns to producers Jack Clement and Bill Justis (an avowed rock hater from day one, despite his hit with "Raunchy"), they tried just about anything to get that elusive hit. Along the way, they made some of the best rockin' tracks ever logged in at 706 Union, played the blues, did doo-wop covers, and sometimes tried like all git out to piggy back on some current novelty trend and sounded uncomfortable doing it as well. But no matter what they cut, none of it sold in big numbers by any stretch of the imagination. Riley went on from Sun to a plethora of labels recording in a number of styles, never finding a mainstream audience for his talent. But the truth lying in the laser beams of his AVI CD Red Hot! The Best Of Billy Riley tells us that sales figures sometimes don't give the real story, because much music of tremendously high quality came from one Billy Riley. He was, as Sam Phillips himself once described him, a real rockin' mutha.

~ Cub Koda, All-Music Guide

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