Born in Florida, Emerson learned the piano, playing in various local bands. In 1943, he joined the United States Navy, and after World War II he began playing around Tarpon Springs, and following a spell in one group, dressed as outlaws, he picked up the nickname, “Billy The Kid”.
He joined the United States Air Force in 1952, and on his discharge met up in Memphis with bandleader Ike Turner, who recruited him into his Kings of Rhythm. In 1954 he released his first record on the Sun label, “No Teasing Around”, following which he left Turner’s band and joined a group led by Phineas Newborn. He stayed with Sun as a songwriter, writing and recording “When It Rains It Really Pours”, later recorded by Elvis Presley, and “Red Hot”, which later became a hit for both Billy Lee Riley and Bob Luman but was not a commercial success for Emerson.
In late 1955 he joined Vee-Jay Records in Chicago,[ making records such as “Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles)”, released a year later but with little commercial success, and soon afterwards moved to Chess Records. However, he continued to have more success as a songwriter, writing for Junior Wells, Willie Mabon, Wynonie Harris and Buddy Guy during the early 1960s, often in conjunction with Willie Dixon
After recording for several smaller labels, he formed his own Tarpon Records in 1966, releasing Denise LaSalle’s debut single as well as his own records. He also continued to play in clubs and on European blues tours. In 2005 he was reported as having a church in Oak Park, Illinois, as Rev. William R. Emerson.
Emerson was inducted in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
A compilation album, Red Hot: The Sun Years, was released by Bear Family Records in 2009.
Edited by Pdna2 on 19 Oct 2010, 16:23
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