Today in Blues History
Born today in 1933 in Pocahontas, Arkansas is rockabilly, blues, country, and rock and roll Wildman, Billy Lee Riley. The son of a sharecropper, Riley learned to play guitar from black farm workers. After four years in the Army, Riley first recorded in Memphis, in 1955 before being lured to Sun Studios by Sam Phillips. He recorded Trouble Bound for Jack Clement and Slim Wallace. Sam Phillips obtained the rights and released Trouble Bound b/w Rock With Me Baby on September 1, 1956. His first hit was Flyin' Saucers Rock and Roll b/w I Want You Baby, released February 23, 1957, with backing piano by Jerry Lee Lewis, after which he recorded Red Hot b/w Pearly Lee, released September 30, 1957. Red Hot was showing a lot of promise as a big hit record, but Sam Phillips pulled the promotion and switched it to Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. Riley felt that his own chances of chart success were compromised when Phillips diverted resources to Lewis' career. He had other Sun recordings and they, likewise, did not have a lot of sales as his promotion had stopped. Like other artists such as Sonny Burgess, Hayden Thompson, Ray Harris and Warren Smith, chart success largely eluded him. Considered good looking and with wild stage moves, Riley had a brief solo career with his backing band the Little Green Men. Riley and his Little Green Men were the main Sun studio band. They were Riley, guitarist Roland Janes, drummer J.M. Van Eaton, Marvin Pepper, and Jimmy Wilson, later joined by Martin Willis.
On a personal note, Billy Lee Riley, more than any other man inspired me to play the harmonica and I got the thrill of a lifetime when he invited me to play a couple of songs with him onstage.
You can read my thoughts about the man on another one of my blogs here: http://mondojohnny.blogspot.com/2009/08/goodnight-billy-lee.html
Roy Book Binder was born in Queens, New York on this date in 1943. Upon graduation from high school, he joined the Navy and undertook a tour of duty in Europe. He bought his first guitar at a military base in Italy. After completing his enlistment, he returned to New York, where he met and became friends with his guitar hero, Dave Van Ronk. Book Binder soon sought out Rev. Gary Davis, who also lived in New York, and became his student and later his chauffeur and tour companion. Much of Book Binder's original material is based on his time on the road with Davis. By the mid- to late 1960s Book Binder was recording for both Kicking Mule and Blue Goose Records. In 1969, he toured England with Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and Homesick James. After meeting another of his musical influences, the bluesman Pink Anderson, Book Binder released his first album, Travelin' Man, on Adelphi. The album was named after one of the songs he learned from Anderson.
Travelin’ Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa3QppDIaBU
Also born on this date in 1959 in Sumner, Washington is Kelly Joe Phelps. He learned country and folk songs, as well as drums and piano, from his father. He began playing guitar at age twelve. Phelps concentrated on free jazz and took his cues from musicians like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. He spent 10 years playing jazz, mostly as a bass player. He refers to his "conversion" to a blues musician when he began listening to acoustic blues masters like Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams. Initially gaining notice for his solo lapstyle slide guitar playing, which he played by laying the instrument flat and fretting it with a heavy steel bar, he has incorporated more ensemble work in his later albums. Inspired by the birth of his daughter Rachel in 1990, Phelps began writing songs. He began singing and released his critically praised debut, Lead Me On, in 1995. This album showcased Phelps' craft, and as well as his own songs, he tackled traditional numbers such as Motherless Children and Fare Thee Well.
Hellhound On My Trail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eDtvJLJxkw
Passing on this date in 1993 was Memphis Willie B., who was born William Borum. Borum was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, and was taught to play the guitar by his father, and busked with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters in his teenage years. He quickly moved on to work with the Memphis Jug Band, who played both locally and at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He extended his repertoire after being taught to play the harmonica by Noah Lewis. Willie B. developed away from a disciplined jug band style and played at various locations with Robert Johnson, Garfield Akers, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Willie Brown, who periodically travelled up from the Mississippi Delta to play. Willie B. first recorded at the age of 23, in September 1934 in New York City, for Vocalion Records. He soon returned to working in the Memphis area, in the company of Little Son Joe, Will Shade and Joe Hill Louis. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1942 and served in the North African invasion (Operation Torch) in December 1942 and later in Italy. When demobilized he discovered it hard to find work as a musician and eventually took up other employment. He returned to the music industry in the early 1960s and recorded sufficient material for two albums for Bluesville Records in Memphis in 1961. This provided the impetus for a resurgence in his musical career, and he played at various music festivals and in coffeehouses. Often he worked alongside Gus Cannon and Furry Lewis, reliving their mutual early Memphis days.
Overseas Blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGcw0Jq2T8U