Sam Phillips had an affection for Billy Lee Riley and his band, which he called 'rocking mothers.' Why he didn't promote Billy Lee Riley with the same intensity as he did others is a mystery. Riley was undoubtedly one of the finest rock and roll artist of his era and beyond.
Billy was an outstanding artist. Great musician. R.I.P.
I heard for the first time Billy Lee's on May 7, 1966 (I checked my book files) on a weekly radio broadcast dedicated to Sun record hosted by Mike Raven. Mike spinned "Red Hot" and I noted about that song "fabulous" in my book. I had to wait until June 18, 1966 to heard "Thunderbird". Then I was ending a school job at King's Lynn, Norfolk (UK), as french teacher assistant at College Edward VII.
To have my first Billy's recording (no web or credit card then), I had to wait to meet George Collange next fall. He had Sam Phillips' address from a friend named Jacques "Arthur" Grimbot and bring there a lot of Sun 45 rpm's records still available. Those records were sold at cool price and my first single by Billy was, of course, Red Hot!
With Billy's passing that a part of the legendary Memphis record label that disappear and I was glad to pay a full tribute to him in "Rock and Revue" issue no. 50. The whole "Rock and Roll Revue" crew came with me to send to Joyce and family our kindest regards.
Billy was very popular among the french rockin' crowd and ... will stay.
He was one of the coolest handsome talented guy who like many others sad to say didnt get what he deserved in his early career. thats life. its never fair!! we will always love you for what you did Billy. your name will live forever in history. god bless you.
I loved Billy from the first time i was with him at espy park in Dyersburg, TN. at the 4th of July Fest (in the latter 50's) they would have each year.
He was driving Jerry Lee Lewis to the show, which also had Barbara Pittman and Webb Pierce there to perform.
As a teenager, the "Bad Bad Boy" was in awe
as we were playing for 4 hours "live" on the air. I watched as he drove up with "The Killer" and we had a great show. He was always one to watch. Flying saucer rock 'n' roll, wow! I have learned to love the sweet spirit of his wife Joyce since we have lost Billy and Jesus has received him. My wife Clara and I've vowed to send Joyce a "thinking of you card" each week until Jesus calls us home. I will never forget her or him. A friend, Bobby Lollar.
Carlton South, Victoria, Australia
Sun label recording artist Billy Lee Riley has passed away following a battle with cancer and a number of health problems in recent years. Apart from his obituary in Stars In The Sky, we have a personal tribute from one of our readers, Rocko Jerome, along with some pictures supplied by ARRAS member Lucky Queffelec. Billy Lee's contribution to Sun records was huge and it is a shame that Sam Phillips chose not to put his ressources into the promotion of Billy's "Red Hot" which was gaining popularity at the same time as Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire". I felt I was important to pay tribute to the contribution Billy Lee has made by putting him the cover of this issue (n° 114)
Big Beat of the 50's editor
Australian Rock'n'Roll Appreciation Society
I know he'll be rockin it hard up in heaven,
R.I.P - FROM YOUR UK FANS
Sandra Di Campli
Billy Lee Riley was a milestone in music, he went way beyond the 1950's. keeping r'n'r alive with dedication . I was lucky enough to see him live in Greenbay's first edition and was very impressed by his show!!!!! What a performer he was!
He will be sadly missed but never forgotten.
Billy Lee Riley has gone and i am crying. Since i am five years old Rockabilly is a Part of me and Mr. Riley was a Part of Rockabilly. So another Part of me is gone too.
Red Hot, Flyin' Saucers and a lot more is what he left for us. Let us keep him in our Hearts and let us keep him alive with his Music. R.I.P. Billy
I wish I wouldn't be there with such good people paying tribute to our friend Billy Lee but we can't reject what he accepted. Billy Lee was one of the most talented cat that ever knocked on Sam Phillips' door and bring here his own raw Arkansas style of music, wild, cool and loose. If you want to know about rock and roll reciepe, just check Billy's recordings starting with some rockin' billy roots in "Rock With Me Baby", from there you need some wild sound that catch with the fear of the time "Flyin' Saucers Rock & Roll" (an unusual spelling then). You also need a drop of rompin blues with "Red Hot" and a good song from one of the top rock and roll writer of the time, Marascalco, so that's "Wouldn't You Know". The Gospel roots can't be forgotten with a great reworking of "Down By the Riverside" and you will borrow a song from the Atlantic record catalog that's "Got The Water Boiling". Elvis wanted to sign with that label covering "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Fool, Fool, Fool" ...
Billy Lee with his band bring us more than his own recordings being the backbone of "Sun" studio for years. They backed and make the sound for many cats that came without band in Memphis. The Sun sound owe much to The Little Green Men and them leader then many think. We learned a lot about it when Shelby Singleton opened the "Sun" vaults bringing in light several hundreds of recordings that will blow the DA of many cats in the mid 70's. First on "Phonogram" and next on "Charly" Records, unissued came pouring on our library. Here came on LP Billy's unissued sides "Sweet Williams" and "She's My Baby". In 1977, both sides were issued on the rare Sun 607 single. Only 700 copies came out the pressing plant. Would that songs last until the next century? Yes indeed. "She My Baby" was available again on 45 rpm's courtesy "Norton" records a couple of year ago. That's the end ... No, siree!
That month saw the coming, in France, of a movie titled "Violent Days" dealing with some rockabilly misfits. That movie in black and white got a strong sound track with Sonny Burgess, Jack Earls, Barbara Pittman, Hop Wilson, Rudy Grayzell and ... Billy Lee with "She's my Baby"!
So the legacy goes on and Billy Lee will stay with us for decades. He just moved away and I am glad to bring that post almost in time for his birthday.
That Arkansaw cat blew my brain out on stage in 1979 and 30 years later those memories still warm my heart.
May him rest in peace and our love help Joyce to make it on the rocky road of life.
South Lyon, Mi
Sad to hear of Billy Lee's passing. Outstanding music, loved by generations. I first heard Billy Lee in the 80's asva teenager, now I am 40 with 3 girls, my youngest (8) knows Red Hot (amongst others) off to a beat, including hollers in the right places. Billy Lee, your music was superbly simple, easy to pick up and learn. Rest In Peace Billy Lee, and thank you for your contribution to Rockabilly.
BLGood to read all the heartfelt, and much deserved, tributes to Billy! am sure! I am sure Mrs Riley and her family will realise the affection and respect that we all have for the late, very great Billy Lee Riley!
Billy's family, friends and fans can listen to a forthcoming tribute on UK radio- next Saturday October 3rd on Geoff Barker's "Saturday Night Rock n'Roll Party". This goes out 6.05pm-8.00p.m (UK Summer time) on all BBC Radio stations in South West England. It can be heard on the "listen again"facility through the next week until the next show. Just log to any of the BBC South west websites (BBC Radio Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucester, Bristol or Wiltshire)- if you don't see the show listed click onto "Schedule". Knowing Geoff this will be a fitting tribute to a great Rocker- BILLY LEE RILEY! Rock On forever BILLY
Ben Ben Adler
West Helena ARKANSAS
Billy Lee was one of the dearest sweetest musicians that I ever knew. right alongside of Paul Burlison. He and his wife Joyce helped Mack Self and I numerous times especially when they helped us out at the airport on the way to England they showed us the ropes so to speak. Billy you will never be forgotten. We love you still, Ben Ben, Mack Self & Jimmy Evans
Billy Lee Riley will always be special for me. I was his bass player on those early tours of Europe in 1979 and 1980. He was just a great guy to be with and especially to be on stage with, audiences went wild for him and his voice strong and superb just like on those Sun records.
Sadly I lost touch with Billy Lee and his wife Joyce after meeting them in England a few years back and I never knew of his medical condition. How sad that the USA is so much to the fore in many things but so backward in health care for its people.
Billy Lee Riley was real special to many of us and it is deeply distressing to realise that the man who used to slap me on the back and call me his brother has lost his fight for life in this way.
But through the gloom of this time we are very lucky that he was such a prolific recording artiste and we will have so many music tracks to play and listen to and remember such a great man.
Next time you are at a Record Hop be sure to ask the DJ to play a Billy Lee Riley track and keep his memory alive.
Johnny and the Roccos 1975-1985
I'm a good friend of guitar legend, Travis Wammack and I'm going to the
Billy Lee Memorial Benefit in Newport, Arkansas on Sunday, August 30th.
I've included an MP3 of a song I wrote
called "MEMPHIS SOUND" which features Billy Lee Riley,
Sonny Burgess, Travis Wammack and myself.
It was recorded last October @ Sam Phillips Recording Inc., Memphis,
by Roland Janes. My new CD "SOUTH NEW YORK"
was co-produced by Travis Wammack. It was recorded
in Tupelo, Memphis and Muscle Shoals.
East Sussex, England
I never met Mr Billy Lee Riley, but his music followed me for years. When I heard of his passing, I decided to pay a litte tribute by designing a Poster. What was a personal graphic to share with my friends is now, thanks to Michael Louis, Bobby Crafford and Bob Timmers, "Official", and led me to design the Poster for the Memorial Show in Newport Arkansas, on August 30, 2009. I hope Billy Lee will be remembered for the many years to come and his input into the world of Rock'n Roll acknowledged by the whole wide world... We will miss you always.... Now it is time to Rock for you Mr. Riley. R.I.P.
Topeka, Kansas, USA
Billy Lee Riley was one of the very best artists to record and release records on the Sun label. I've enjoyed his music for decades.
Snellville, GA 30039
It's sad to mark the passing of Billy Lee Riley. His music had the ability to make you feel good; to make you forget your problems. I regret that I never had the chance to thank him in person for the great music and the fun he brought into my life through his music.
To his widow, family, friends, and fellow fans, I express my condolences. Billy Lee is in a better place now and free of pain. We mourn the loss and in his memory, we'll keep on rockin' which is what Billy Lee would want us to do.
Rest easy Billy Lee; your music is eternal.
Martin Willis (Willie Maude)
Valrico, FL USA
I had the great pleasure of being a member of Billy's band (sax)1957-1959 and returned to perform with him at the 2006 Memphis in May Festival. I will always remember him for his talent, kindness, friendliness and energy packed performances. He was one of a kind. I also want to thank Joyce Riley for being his best friend and partner. It is amazing that he still performed with all his health problems. Billy, I shall miss you greatly. Maude
Depew,New York USA
I never had the Honor of seeing him perform but I loved him. He was one of my heroes. I tried so hard to meet him. My wife & I drove out to one of his past homes only to find he no longer lived there. Oh well, we tried. Rest in Peace, Billy. You lived a good long life & touched millions of people. You will NEVER be forgotten!
Billy Lee was very special to me. When I caught the Rockabilly Fever in the late 70's I never thought I would have the chance to see him perform. Little did I know our band would have the honor of backing Billy 3 times here in St. Louis in the early 2000's. Billy and Joyce were over to the house a couple times, and were such a wonderful couple.
Billy told us stories of the old days and was such a gent!
The world of true cool got a little smaller. Here's to ya Billy Lee!! I Hope to see some familiar faces at the memorial show.
It hurts it still hurts.
I met Mister Billy Lee Riley twice in the Netherlands once in my home town Maastricht.
This man wasn't only a good Artist but also a great great man. In some way we are happy that He didn't had to suffering Cancer that long...On the other hand we are more than sad. In our hearts we have Joyce and we hope and pray that more will send some $$ to this lady.
She deserve it just like Billy Lee Riley deserve that we the fans will take care of Him like He took care of us through hiss great music.
Rest in peace mister untill we meet again have fun with your music friends upthere.
We always will love You!
vic van dessel
Sad to hear of the death of Mr Billy Lee Riley,
Have had the privilege to meet Billy person to person, it was after a live performance witch he did here in Turnhout, Belgium in 1979. Had to cover a story over him in a small rock and roll magazine here in belgium.
After signing fotos and records of him he took some time off to talk with me and I took a lot of pictures of him, he was a very warm person during that small conversation we had,haved send him afterwards our magazine with translation, and a short time later he send his reply with a nice thank you letter.
Thank you Mr Billy lee Riley
We where very sad to hear that Billy is death. We had a great time recording and perform with him several times here in The Netherlands. But also we will remember the good times we had with him and Joyce last year. He will be realy missed. R.I.P. BILLY LEE RILEY
Very sad news to hear of the death of Billy. he will be sadly missed by everyone. RIP Billy.
BERNIE AND JAKE SORVARI
LITTLE FALLS, MN USA
WE HAD THE HONOR OF SEEING BILLY LEE SEVERAL TIMES, BOTH IN MEMPHIS AND GREEN BAY. HE WAS A FANTASTIC PERFORMER. AND IS NOW IN ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN.
mamacitas mexican grill and contina
st louis mo 63116
i always tried to give billy to play here but never got the chance....but i will be at the memorial show in newport on the 30th of aug. 2009. R.I.P. BILLY LEE RILEY
Besthorpe, Notts, England
My wife Kathy and I spent many a happy time with Billy and his wife Joyce when he appeared here in the UK.
Billy was a real legend and will be sadly missed. R.I.P.
Ben Ben Adler
The Funeral for Billy went well. It was held at Walnut Grove Cemetery. Jimmy Evans and I found it OK. We left in plenty of time to be sure to make it. Seen alot of friends there. I think Billy would have been proud. We all love him and miss him much. Greetings from Ben Ben Jimmy Evans and Mack Self. Ben Ben
This video is the last time we played Memphis Beale Street Music Festival in
2008, we did two more shows that year. I played with Billy for the last 10
years, he was one of a kind. I will miss that boy.