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Billy Lee Riley

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Billy Lee Riley (born October 5, 1933 - August 2, 2009 ) was a first generation Rockabilly musician, singer, record producer and songwriter who died in Jonesboro Arkansas.

Born in Pocahontas, Arkansas, the son of a sharecropper, Riley learned to play guitar from black farm workers. After 4 years in the Army, Riley first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee 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 he released “Trouble Bound” b/w “”Rock with Me Baby” September 1,1956 (Sun 245). His first hit was “Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll” b/w “I Want You Baby” released February 23,1957 (Sun 260) after which he recorded “”Red Hot” b/w “Pearly Lee” released September 30,1957 (Sun 277) both with backing piano by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Riley was drawn to the Memphis area in 1954 on the heels of Elvis Presley’s success. Riley began performing on KWEM Radio Station in West Memphis, Arkansas along with another Arkansas native, Johnny Cash, who had his own show on KWEM in 1955.

“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. The record was pulled without a lot of sales. He had other Sun recordings and they, likewise, did not have a lot of sales as his promotion had stopped.

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, Roland Janes, J.M. Van Eaton, Marvin Pepper, and Jimmy Wilson, later joined by Martin Willis.

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