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Courtesy: Sheree Homer
"Rockin' Little Angel’" was Ray Smith's biggest commercial success. However, amongst
rockabilly enthusiasts, he is revered for his five singles released on Sun Records.
Stanley Walker, lead guitarist, appeared on all of Smith's songs cut at Sun. Walker
played with Smith for thirteen years, until 1969. Even though Smith passed away in 1979,
Walker's career flourished with appearances on Hee Haw, solo recordings, and regular show
Stanley Walker was born on January 27, 1939 in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. He started
playing guitar when he was just a kid, younger than six years old: "I started fooling with
a guitar back when I lived with my grandpaw. We had an old Gene Autry guitar. I just
kept on learning and learning. I never did lay it down." Similar to other youngsters,
he listened to the Grand Ole Opry. His dream was to appear on it, and in 1969, his dream
came true when he played behind Jean Shepard: "That was the greatest thrill of my life."
Walker's sound is different from any other guitarist because he tunes his guitar to
straight E rather than natural tuning. His early playing resembled single string Ernest
Tubb songs. Even though Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and James Burton were all influences,
according to Walker, "Everything I learned, I had to learn my own way." He wanted to
achieve his own sound and one that would give Smith an edge over his competition.
It was in 1956 when Smith recruited Walker to become a member of his band, the Rock
and Roll Boys. Raymond Jones quit and was replaced by Walker. The other members included
James Webb on bass, Dean Perkins on steel guitar, and Henry Stevens on drums. Walker's
uncle convinced him to grab his guitar and attend a Smith show with him at a skating rink
in Metropolis, Illinois. All the teenage girls were screaming, a fact that Walker was not
used to: "I listened to country and gospel music back then." Prior to his playing with
Smith, he worked with gospel singers Bucky and Dottie Rambo. "I knew he had something
different, so I told my uncle, well that man's not going to listen to me with the band he
has. When the show was over, they were packing up, and my uncle told Ray Smith, 'would
you listen to this kid play the guitar?' I used one of the boy's amps, and Ray listened
to me." Smith was impressed with Walker's rendition of Chet Atkins' "Blue Echo."
After Walker's impromptu audition, Smith took him home with him. They sat up and
played all night. Walker remembered: "First he took me by a club where a band was
playing. He had me sit in with that band." Then he took him in, to live with him and
his family: "He gave me three dollars a night. He fed me, clothed me, and gave me a place
to sleep. We were as close as brothers. He got me started in this business and was
really generous to me."
Charlie Terrell began managing Smith and soon he had a contract with Sun Records.
From 1958-1961, Smith recorded for the little yellow label. Walker played lead on all the
cuts, and his solos are unmistakable: "I thought that was something when I got to record.
I didn't know anything about recording." Walker reflected on his performances: "On
'Willing and Ready,' I wanted to come up with something different on my intro. I
managed to pull that off. 'You Made a Hit' was pretty good. I never will forget; we
were recording 'So Young', and Jack Clement took my fingers and placed them and showed
me just exactly that right idea on that. I tried to come up with my own stuff, and I did
on all the others, the intros and the turnarounds, I came up with all of that." Walker
even showcased his singing abilities when Smith had him sing harmony on Charlie Rich's
composition "Sail Away." Rich also played on all of Smith's Sun recordings and was the
predominant songwriter. Walker was friends with Rich as well: "He was a wonderful
person." Working with Smith on those recordings meant a lot to Walker: "Ray featured me
quite a bit on those records. I was proud of that." Unfortunately, years later the
guitar he used at Sun broke and was thrown out.
In the late 1950's and early 1960's, Smith played pool and shot darts with Elvis
Presley. Walker knew that Smith was good friends with Presley. In fact, Smith invited
him along a couple of times, but he declined. Walker wasn't a big fan of Presley's, even
though he enjoyed his early work such as "That's Alright’" and "Mystery Train." He now
has his regrets: "I'd give anything that I could have met Elvis, but then I didn't think
much about it."
Smith would be on the road for months at a time, and Walker always got homesick.
After thirteen years of constant traveling, Walker called it quits with Smith. However,
they stayed in touch and remained friends. He holds a fondness for Smith: "I think Ray
was a great singer. That album, Traveling with Ray was just a wonderful album. It showed
how he could sing." His favorite song of Smith's was "My First Lonely Weekend."
Walker backed other artists besides Smith including Roy Clark, Lefty Frizzell, and
Jerry Lee Lewis. "I enjoyed working with Jerry Lee. A lot of times we'd be sitting at
Sun, doing a session or something, and Jerry Lee would come in, and we'd just jam. That
just thrilled me to death because I just love Jerry Lee Lewis. After Lewis' ill fated
trip to England, Walker worked with him a few times: "JW Brown and I got acquainted. He'd
ask me to play if we were booked on the same show." Incidentally, Lewis, Carl Perkins,
and Carl Mann are his favorites in rockabilly music.
Johnny Cash almost hired Walker. While he was working at a club in Paducah, a guy by
the name of Stoney Cooper heard him rehearsing Cash's material. After rehearsal, Cooper
asked Walker if he would like to work for Cash. However, it wasn't meant to be: "I was on
my way to audition for Johnny, and he hired someone before I could get down there. I
pulled over and cried. I knew I could do it because I loved it." Bob Wooten was the man
Cash hired instead.
The singing bug bit Walker with the production of four country albums. His first love
was country music. According to Walker, "When I was growing up, I never really thought
much about singing, I was more interested in learning guitar. There were some people down
here I met at a club that wanted to invest some money in a singer, so they took me to
Nashville and recorded an album. I tried to get a record deal, but I never could land
one. I did get recognized in Billboard Magazine for one of my singles, 'Old Easy
Loving, He Ain't Easy Anymore.' It was recommended to chart." He also recorded Tommy
Roe's "Little Miss Sunshine" which is still requested at his shows.
Today, his band plays on a regular basis, two to three times a week. As part of his
repertoire, Walker sings Smith's "Rockin' Little Angel,’" Dale Hawkins "Suzy Q,’" and
Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." They have played Narvel Felts' birthday party.
He and Walker are good friends: "He's wonderful. I can't say enough about Narvel. I was
so happy he got all those hits." It was through Felts' recommendation that Smith got
bookings in Canada.
On March 7, 2008, Walker retired from his regular day job at the county road
department. For fifteen years, he paved roads. Now that he's retired, he can play more
shows and enjoy his gardening. In recent years, he has received fan mail from England: "I
was proud of that. I just can't believe that people know who I am. I hear it's really
big over there. I heard they are really up on Ray's songs." Walker would love to play a
rockabilly show whether it is here in America or overseas: "That would be a dream."
Unfortunately, he has never been invited to do so. He hasn't played any of Smith's Sun
material since he worked with him. However, if given the opportunity, he would relearn
them. He would also love to hear from his fans, so write him a letter and tell him how
much his contributions have meant to you. His address is:
199 Varnell Road
Grand Rivers, KY 42045
Posted April, 2008
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