Alphabetical Order by the last name of the Artist
Artists V - W - Y
- Van Eaton, Jimmy M. -
- Van Story, Marcus -
- Vickery, Mack -
- Vinson, Mose -
- Wages, Jimmy Lee -
- Walker, Little -
- Wayne, Thomas -
- Wheeler, Onie -
- Wilkins, David -
- Wilkins, Joe Willie -
- Williams, Albert -
- Williams, Jimmy -
- Willis, Martin -
- Wilson, Jimmy -
- Wilson, Sonny -
- Wimberly, Maggie Sue (Sue Richards) -
- Wingate, Allen -
- Wood, Anita -
- Wood, Bobby -
- Yates, Bill -
- Yelvington, Malcolm -
VAN EATON, JIMMY M. – Along with D.J. Fontana, Earl Palmer and Jerry Allison, J.M. Van Eaton
ranks as one of the few drummers of paramount importance to rock and roll in the 1950s. In some ways he
was simply in the right place at the right time. Looking at it from a slightly different angle, he was the perfect
man for the job.
Born as James ''Jimmy'' Marcus Van Eaton on December 23, 1937, in Memphis, he cut some of the best rock and roll records most of America
never heard. Van Eaton took up drums in the ninth grade at school.
His first influences were the propulsive
drummers with the big bands. Van Eaton sought out black gospel rhythms, attending a church on Trigg
Street. "It had a feel like ray Charles and Aretha Franklin", recalled Van Eaton to Ross Johnson and Rob
Bowman. "I was in awe of all this. We wouldn't miss it for the world. It was an every-sunday-night thing".
Van Eaton started playing with Billy Riley and the Little Green Men at the tender age of sixteen or
seventeen, and at eighteen he started working regularly in the studio as in the house band at Sun Records.
Van Eaton is the man driving such stellar performances as Charlie Rich's ''Lonely Weekends'', Billy Riley's
''Red Hot'', Johnny Cash's ''Ballad Of A Teenage Queen'' and ''I Guess Things Happen That Way'', and Jerry
Lee Lewis's ''Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'' and ''Great Balls Of Fire''. In fact, on the latter, the only
instrument heard are Lewis's pumping piano and Van Eaton's rim tapping and unique shuffle. The shuffle is
Van Eaton's chief claim to fame. Ultimately derived from that heard on many a big band swing recording,
Van Eaton shifted the accents and added a heavy back beat to it. Scott Fish, in the July 1982 issue of Modern
Drummer, referred to it as ''almost a Latin rhythm, but not quite'', Van Eaton originality also extended to his
generally surprising placement and execution of fills. In addition, he has always a sensitive and sympathetic
percussionist, able to shift tempos and styles depending on the needs and talents of the featured performer.
Jerry Lee, for one, has never found his equal. No one at Sun Records made a living from studio work,
however, and Van Eaton also played on the road with Billy Riley, Roy Orbison, and Conway Twitty.
"A lot of people try to copy (the sound we got with) Jerry Lee Lewis", said Van Eaton, "but they'll never
copy it, because they're trying to play a straight 4/4 beat and in fact its a shuffle with the backbeat. I never
could play that straight country shuffle - maybe for eight or sixteen bars, but after that I start falling off the
stool. I've got to concentrate, and when you concentrate, you lose the feeling".
James M. Van Eaton grew dissatisfied after Jack Clement and Bill Justis were dismissed in 1959 at Sun, and
he effectively quit Sun at the same time as Roland Janes. He recorded for Janes Records and Riley's Rita
label and, in 1961 Van Eaton married, decided to quit the business. He was twenty-three years old. The
looseness and unpredictability of his drumming may sound out of place in the modern era when most drum
tracks are derived from a computer sample repeated with mathematical precision. But the sound of surprise
that Van Eaton captured in his playing was the pulse of Sun Records.
JAMES M. VAN EATON IN HIS OWN WORDS - ''You get in the 7th grade and you can either play in the band or go sing in the chorus. I had a choice of that, so I tried to get in the band, but it wasn't until probably the 9th grade that I started playing drums. Then I was able to take the marching band and I really started to feel some changes coming on as far as the type of music I like to play as compared to what was going on at the time. Believe it or not, I liked dixieland music a lot. There was a lot of country music in my home and I likes country music, but I guess I liked dixieland because the drummer always had a pretty good part. I used to listen to this group, the Dukes of Dixieland. I guess the reason I liked it was they had a pretty heavy backbeat in dixieland music. You go back and listen to the really dixieland and it's a whole lot like what we're doing. And then the Big Band era - Buddy Rich, I always thought, was one of the best drummers there ever was. I mean, that guy can do more with drums than anybody else I've ever heard. I never was on e to really listen to other people. I played my way of playing. It either worked or it didn't''.
''You could get a little group together and go down to Sun and cut a record. You'd give them 15 bucks and you'd do two sides. That's what we did. There were a couple of guys in school who were pretty good musicians and we'd been playing this dixieland thing. I was still awfully young and we started playing some of the nightclubs around Memphis. We had a pretty good little group and we decided to go down and cut a record. In essence, we were auditioning. I didn't realize it at the time. There was a bass player named Marvin Pepper and myself, and Jack Clement asked us if we'd be interested in playing on some sessions. Of course, I said yeah. He invited me to come back and he introduced me to some other people, Billy Riley. And it just kind of started from there really. One thing led to another and it didn't take long before everybody wanted you to come and play for them''.
''I was in the eleventh grade or senior year of high school when I really started to get into the recording and of music and started playing with some of the bigger names. I really didn't realize how big it was. I thought it was just a local thing, Memphis musicians. I never dreamed that it was a worldwide thing, but there were a lot of good little groups around. I didn't even have a car. Jack Clement, who was the engineer at Sun, used to have to come and pick me up and take me to the session. It was a couple of years later before I ever bought my first car when I was 18 and I'd been playing a couple of years before that''.
''A guy named Johnny Bernero was playing drums at Sun at that time and Johnny was more into the country type stuff they were doing at Sun. Sun really hadn't gotten off into rock and roll. Even Elvis, his first records didn't have a drummer. I was the first drummer that ever played with Johnny Cash. I didn't go on the road with him, but I played on his sessions. It was the first time they ever tried to put a drum with Johnny Cash''.
''My sound was a combination of a lot of things. It was a feel of Memphis bred musicians, like myself, a black church background. When I was a junior in high school, we used to go over to East Trigg Baptist Church on Sunday night just to hear the music. It was great. It had a feel like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. And they were doing this in church and I was in awe of all this. We wouldn't miss it for the world. It was just an every Sunday night thing, but that was before the racial turmoil came into effect. It's a shame because there was a real good rapport at that time. We were welcome. They brought us up front. We sat on the front left-hand side of the church every Sunday night and I'm sure that there are still some people in that congregation who remember that because it was great, 50, 60 or 100 people over there. And then you take that and incorporate it with country music that a lot of us were brought up on''.
''At Sun they had one microphone and it was over the snare. They tried to use maybe two, maybe one for the bass drum, but they would always bring the bass and the drum in on the same mic. But the majority of the time they had only one mic and it was over the snare. You take your billfold and lay it on the head of the snare. I had Gretch drums. That was the best sounding set for what we were doing. All I has was a snare, bass drum, a ride cymbal, and a hi-hat. That was it. I had tom toms that I used out in public, but they never could record them. Boy, it threw the needle all the way over. The engineer would go crazy. A few songs we did have some tom-tom stuff on them, but it was very few''.
''I went on the road with different groups. I played with Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, Billy Riley. We didn't travel that much. I didn't get on the West Coast, but we worked from Canada to Florida, on down the East Coast. I really thought Riley was going to be a big star. That was one of the best bands I've ever played with. They had some musicians in that band that were as good as anybody in the country at that time. The only thing that kept Riley back was that he never had a big hit record. I think what it really boiled down to was they didn't want us to have a hit record because they would lose their staff band''.
''Sam Phillips knew what he wanted and the records he released were the records he obviously liked more than others. He gave you the freedom to do what you wanted to do. Jack Clement had a lot to do with it, too. Jack was doing most of the engineering and Sam was just there. He'd come in later and listen to what was done. He'd make suggestions, 'Let's do it over' or ''That sounds great'. Jack would make suggestions because he was more a musician than Sam. See, Sam, to my knowledge, is not a musician. He's a radio man and he knows sound, but he's not a musician. Now Jack, on the other hand, could come out and say, 'We need to do this' or 'Let's change this chord progression - it doesn't sound right' or 'do this rhythm pattern here'. But most of the time they were kind of excited as to what you might come up with. If you hit on a chemistry that worked then that was it. 'Hey, that sounds good! Let's cut it'. And it was that simple. I was pretty young and didn't realize that there was that much conflict going on between (Sam, Jack, and Bill Justis). It's a shame that they couldn't have all stayed because it was definitely something that was catching on worldwide. Now I look back on it, it was probably some of the happier times of my life''.
''One thing that made a big difference in that studio, Sam never rented it out like a lot of people would do for different artists to come in. If you weren't one of his artists, you didn't record there. And that made the difference. It was a personal touch type thing. You were his artist and he was going to try to do for you the best he could do, give you that sound, that Sun sound. You can go to Nashville. You can rent different studios and cut demos and cut whatever if you've got the bread. Right now you can go down there (to Sam Phillips Recording Service currently located on Madison Avenue) but back then you couldn't do that''.
''I'd never seen Jerry Lee before we cut his first record. I'd just met him that morning. He lived in a different part of the country. We didn't work on that style. ''Whole Lotta Shakin''' was just an old song of Jerry's. We did it at a club we were playing at. He was on the road and ''Crazy Arms'' was doing pretty good. So we were out doing some dates on that. And, of course, we didn't have a long list of songs. His repertoire was pretty short. So he said, 'I used to do this one when I was playing in the club and people went crazy over it'. It was the first time I'd ever hear it. At that time you played these 9 to 1 gigs and we probably did that song 4 or 5 times that night. People kept coming up saying, 'Play that 'Shakin' song'. So the next time we were in the studio we did it''.
''I think that shuffle beat I use came from the big bands. We were rehearsing with a group one night and I said I wonder if we could get this rhythm pattern going (standard swing shuffle) with a back beat and see what we could come up with. That's where it came from. When Jerry Lee came in, that's the rhythm he played. A lot of people try to copy Jerry Lee's sound, but they'll never copy it because they're trying to play a straight 4/4 and it's in fact a shuffle with backbeat. And that's the whole rhythm. I went out with Jerry recently (1986). We did three nights. And the rhythm was still there. It's a shuffle beat, but it's not the country shuffle''.
''I didn't realize that it was that much of an influence really. At that point in time you didn't realize you had a style. I didn't realize we were setting trends to be followed. I was just playing. I wasn't trying to perfect what I was doing because I didn't know that it needed perfecting. I was just playing it because that's what came natural to me''.
Article in the ''Modern Drummer'' by Bowman/Johnson 1986.
VAN STORY, MARCUS - Relatively obscure, yet seminally important figure in the Sun Records story. Born in Corinth, Mississippi on May 3, 1920 as a young man, Van Story was heavily influenced by black musicians.
When he heard Deford Bailey's harmonica on the "Grand Ole Opry", Van Story was surprised to find that Bailey was black, and he began the eagerly learn from local black artists. As a result Van Story became a multi-talented artist who could play any instrument.
In the early 1950s, van Story played with the Snearly Ranch Boys, and he
toured with Warren Smith. Van Story's singing style was one that used a blues harmonica, and he often sang "Milkcow Blues" and Arthur Crudup's "My Baby Left Me".
In 1953-1955, Elvis Presley performed with Marcus Van Story on a number of occasions and they were friends from 1953 to 1955. Although he raised a family and worked a day job, Van Story's vocal performances and musical skill had an enormous impact upon the young Elvis Presley. The significance of Marcus van Story is that he helped Elvis Presley to pace his early shows. At the Goodwin Institute, located at 127 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, where Van Story had a regular show, he taught Elvis Presley to calm down and work the audience. Another important aspect of Van Story's influence is that he taught Elvis Presley to wait for the instrumental break in a song and then give the musicians a change to finish their licks. "I think Elvis learned a lot from the shows in Memphis", Van Story remarked in 1986.
Marcus Van Story is one of the original musicians who crafted the rockabilly sound that made Sun Records in Memphis famous, Van Story was known as the ''Slap Bass King'' for his prowess on the upright bass. He toured with Memphis musicians and recorded at Sun Records during the era when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and other artists were redefining American music. "He was a character'', said Barbara Pittman, who recorded at Sun from 1956-1960. "He played percussion bass, he popped those strings''.
''VanStory'', whose name is misspelled ''Van Story'' in most reference works, Van Story had toured and recorded with the Sun Rhythm Section, a group of six veteran musicians who had worked with Elvis and others. The ensemble's most recent album was ''Old Time Rock 'N Roll''. He was one of the original rockabillies'', said his son, Eddie Van Story of Nesbit, Mississippi. "People came from all over the world to interview him''. Van Story's longest association during the classic era of the late 1950s and early 1960s was with Warren Smith, a Sun rockabilly star who never achieved the fame of Presley or Perkins. Smith was best known for such wild rock songs as ''Ubangi Stomp'' and ''Miss Froggie'', the story of a woman "shaped just like a frog" who enjoyed "drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log''. On the road with Smith, Van Story would sometimes black out a tooth and paint freckles on his face to add an element of hillbilly humor to the act.
Van Story first became involved in music at the local church. He moved to Memphis in 1946. He began playing in local clubs, and made the acquaintance of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. Van Story added harmonica and backup vocals to some records, as well as playing bass. He recorded his only solo album in 1977, ''Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oh-Dee - Memphis Wildcat Marcus Van Story''. The album was released by Barrelhouse Records of Chicago. In recent years, Sun Rhythm Section tours took Van Story all over the world, especially Europe. The other members of the group were D.J. Fontana, guitarists Paul Burlison and Sonny Burgess, guitarist and bass player Stan Kesler, and pianist Smoochy Smith. Van Story worked as a welder when not recording or on tour. For more than 14 years, he worked at ''Sweet's Trailer Hitch & 4-Wheel Drive'' shop on Summer Avenue in Memphis. He was an Army veteran and a member of Bethel Baptist Church.
On Friday April 24, 1992, Marcus Van Story died at Methodist Hospital in Memphis of a heart attack at the age of 71.
VICKERY, MACK – Born on June 8, 1938 in Town Creek, Alabama, was a musician, songwriter, and inductee in the Hillbilly Hall of Fame whose songs have been recorded by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, George Strait, and George Jones.
Vickery was the youngest of seven children. His mother died
when he was four and Vickery spent his early years traveling with his father, finally settling in Adianne, Michigan.
He lied about his age and started playing in honky tonks in Toledo, Ohio and Monroe, Michigan. Johnny Paris (of Johnny and the Hurricanes), another Toledo wonder, was in Vickery's band but apparently did not accompany him on his Sun audition on November 1957, although nothing was initially released, and Vickery returned to Michigan.
In 1964 he packed his bags again and headed for Nashville. His first success came in 1967 when Faron Young recorded ''She Went A Little Bit Further'', a song that Vickery had written with Merle Kilgore which reached number 14 on the country music charts in 1968. He joined the hillbilly underground at the Country Corner, a fleabag bar at 16th and South street, frequented by Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan and Dallas Frazier among others. They traded songs and ideas and cultivated their drinking habits.
Vickery also managed to get his recording career off the ground. His first single had appeared on Princeton Records. This was followed by three on Gone and a slew of one-offs on Jamie (as Vick VickersCickers), Jack O'Diamond, Afco and Boone. Vickery followed this with songs for artists like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Paycheck, Lefty Frizzell, James Carr, John Anderson, and Tanya Tucker.
Vickery’s biggest hit as a writer was ''The Fireman'', recorded by George Strait, which reached number 5 in 1985, while his work with Jerry Lee Lewis brought him the most attention. Lewis recorded a number of Vickery’s songs, including ''Rockin’ My Life Away'', ''Meat Man'' (described as ''two minutes and forty seconds of sexual boasts, delivered furiously and convincingly and ''Ivory Tears''. Vickery became known as Lewis’s speechwriter, and ''In Vickery, a fan as well as a professional, Jerry Lee had found someone who could articulate his troubles better than he himself ever could''.
In 1970, Vickery recorded the album Live at the Alabama Women’s Prison and reached the charts as a singer (under the name ''Atlanta James'') for the first time in 1974 with ''That Kind Of Fool'' (also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis) and again in 1977 with "Ishabilly" and "Here's to the Horses". Vickery was also friends with legendary Nashville disc jockey Ralph Emery and made numerous appearances on his early morning WSM television show. He also made several appearances on The Nashville Network (TNN) show in Nashville. In the 1970s Vickery toured with a comedian named "Elmer Fudpucker", aka Hollis Champion, and they also opened many shows for Jerry Lee Lewis.
In 1989 Vickery won the Music City News "Song Of The Year Award" for "I'll Leave This World Loving You'', a hit for Ricky Van Shelton and in 2002, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame honoured him with a bronze star in its Walkway of Stars Mack had five older brothers: R.A., Quinton "Vic", Brice "Buster", Dave, Pat, and one sister Willena Clark. All his brothers are deceased. Mack Vickery died on December 21, 2004 in Nashville, Tennessee of a heart attack. He was 66 years old.
Mose Vinson at Center for Southern Folklore Festival, Memphis, Tennessee, August 1995. >
VINSON, MOSE - One of Memphis' last barrel house blues and boogie woogie pianist, Mose Vinson was a regular at festivals for thirty or more years, and was already a Sun employee when he cut his September 1953 session. As the studio caretaker, he would sit at the piano between sessions and run through his repertoire of personally moulded but traditional themes, and Sam Phillips had used him on a Jimmy DeBerry session the previous May.
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on June 2, 1917, and according for Social Security, his birth name was Mose Benson. He began played the piano in church as a child. In his teens, Vinson played jazz and blues and joined a touring show.
''I just play my own style'', he said. ''I never did practice anyone else's style''. But Roosevelt Sykes was an influence, as he was upon most mid-South pianists of Mose's generation. At the time he applied for Social Security, Mose was living in Covington, Tennessee and working at the Naval base in Millington. He played local juke joints and parties throughout the 1930s and 1940s in rural communities and neighborhoods in Mississippi and Tennessee.
In 1932, after a chance meeting with Sunnyland Slim, Vinson moved north to Memphis to become a fixture amongst Beale Street's dives and drinking houses. In the late 1940s, he accompanied a young B.B. King in the Parlor Club. It's unclear how he came into contact with Sam Phillips, but he was a janitor or custodian at Taylor's boarding house above Taylor's Restaurant next door to Sun Records, so he might have done no more than go downstairs.
By the time he joined the Sun Records staff, music was taking at least second place to a number of jobs as a plumber and janitor. Although he was accompanied by the likes of Walter Horton and Joe Hill Louis, there was a back of cohesion about the finished tracks for Sam Phillips to change his mind about releasing a single of "44 Blues" and "Come See Me", although they received master numbers. The following year, he played on the Hot Shot Love/Kenneth Banks session and on James Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues".
Mose Vinson never quite disappeared from view, but kept a fairly low profile until the archivists began snooping around. He recorded again in 1969 for Adelphi's ''Memphis Blues Again'' LP, featuring Joe Dobbins, Gus Cannon, Furry Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, and other from earlier times.
Mose Vinson continued to play piano in church and playing on every Friday and Saturday on the Center for Southern Folklore (formerly, Lansky Brother's Clothing Store), located 130 Beale Street, while enthusiastically explaining the basics of his blues and boogie woogie style. ''He was one of the last of the old-time solo piano players'', said David Evans who produced Vinson for a blues compilation in 1994. ''It's the left hand'', Vinson told David Whiteis, ''You had to play by yourself then. You had to use both hands, wasn't nothing to carry you''.
Vinson recorded again during the 1990s, but age had blunted the vigour he'd
displayed 40 years before, until his death. In 1997, his first full-length CD compilation album ''Mose Vinson: Piano Man'' an album produced at Sam Phillips' new studio on Madison Avenue by Sam's son, Knox, and Jim Dickinson. Former Sun session man Roland Janes was the engineer. The album was released via the Center of Southern Folklore, and declining health, however, stopped him playing not long before his death. Mose Vinson died in Memphis at the Wesley Highland Manor assisted living complex of diabetes, in November 16, 2002 in Memphis, at the age of 85. In 2007, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival was dedicated to his memory. (CE)
WAGES, JIMMY LEE - Was one of the great finds in the Sun vaults. A man of singularly warped vision and a true musical primitive, he was a little too deep into left-field even for Sun in its heyday. Quasi-religious images and a distinctly ambivalent attitude toward woman color his work.
Jimmy has lived in Tupelo all his life and worked in construction whilst quality time at weekends was spent playing gigs alongside other locals such as Ray Harris and The Miller Sisters, and says he's not only the same age as Elvis Presley, but went to school with him.
Jimmy Wages ^
He followed the familiar path to Sun's door, and Jack Clement recorded him. James Wood and his band backed Jimmy on one session and his band called Jimmy "The Catman", and that apparently became his local nickname.
As far as we know, Jimmy wages had one record on Tombigbee Records and another on the Nashville based Cavalcade International Records. His brother, Ben, also worked in music as a bandleader and disc jockey on KWAM, Memphis. His early shows must have been something to behold. After Sun, Jimmy tried out at Hi Records and for Stan Kesler. He became a club act, touring as far afield as California. "I'm just one who tried and didn't make it", he says with remarkably little rancor. "I got a lot of company".
TRUE STORY ABOUT JIMMY - Jimmy Wages had recorded at least four unreleased sides for Sun in the middle 1950s but little is known of him. His music suggested that, even by Sun's standards, Wages was a rather unorthodox individual. Like several of his Sun confreres, notably Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Wages music has a tortured side. Bizarre, quasi-religious images are mixed with disturbing personal themes. Jimmy's vision of women (conveyed in ''Miss Pearl'' and ''Mad Man'') is unsettling to say the least. The conflict between good and evil and ritualized moral judgements are embodied in ''Take Me'' (originally titled ''Garden Of Evil''). If anything, Wages' songs are even more revealing than Lewis's since Wages, unlike Jerry Lee, wrote all of his own material. Jimmy Wages is a true musical primitive, his voice, never a trained or precision instrument, is adequate to deliver his often strange lyrics, The musical accompaniment on his recordings is undisciplined and unorthodox, despite the presence of several stalwart session men. The sides project a wild, out of control charm, including a totally out of place steel guitar, The lyrics to Wages songs are often raw, unpolished folk poetry. They are far from commercial pop songs, but are nevertheless quite effective because of the obvious urgency with which he delivers them.
Jimmy's soul was very close to the surface when he wrote and performed this material. As producer Jack Clement surmised when he decided not to release any of it, few people would have had an easy time connecting with Jimmy Wages' music. Even when rockabilly was at its peak, this was not mainstream music. Certainly it was out of place in an era of "Teenage Queens". But in an entirely different sense, this is both compelling and revealing music. For all its chaos and pain and sheer drive, Jimmy Wages' small recorded legacy is what the best southern music is all about: blues, hillbilly, gospel morality plays, pain, conflict, nightmares and, most of all, unbridled honesty.
- When Earl Hooker came to Sun Records, he brought his group from Cairo, Illinois. Marion Keisker's log book cryptically noted someone called Little Walker on harmonica. This was assumed to be a misprint, but Sabastian Danchin's research into Hooker's career revealed that Hooker indeed had a support act he called Little Walker who would play then-current hits by Chess's Little Walter. Hooker would scam his audience into thinking that they were seeing the real deal. ''It was supposed to have been Little Walker on the sign'', drummer Kansas City Red reported to Danchin, ''but Hooker had it printed Little Walter. I don't know where Hooker found this boy at, but he was good. Knowing all of Walter's songs''. At Sun, Walker performed Walter's then-current hit, ''Off The Wall'', a performance previously attributed to Walter Horton. In Pahokee, Florida, Kansas City Red and Little Walker left Hooker, although Danchin says that they reunited briefly in Virginia or Maryland around 1955. Albert Nelson was in Hooker's band by then, and Red believed that it was Hooker who persuaded Nelson to change his name to Albert King to persuaded people to think that they were seeing B.B. King or his brother. No one knows Walker's real name or his whereabouts from that point.
Thomas Wayne with De-Lons, consisting of Sandra Brown, Nancy Reed, and Carol Moss, Memphis, Tennessee. >
WAYNE, THOMAS – Born on July 22, 1940 in Batesville, Mississippi, was an American singer. He is best
remembered as a one-hit wonder for "Tragedy". Wayne, who was born Thomas Wayne Perkins, was the brother
of Johnny Cash's guitarist, Luther Perkins. He released several singles between 1958 and 1964, primarily on the
labels Fernwood and Mercury.
He scored a major U.S. hit with the song "Tragedy" (credited to Thomas Wayne
with the DeLons), which peaked at number 20 on the Black Singles chart and number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100
in 1959. It sold over one million copies, earning gold disc status. The song proved to be his only hit, however.
Later, Wayne worked as a sound engineer, before he died in a car accident in Memphis on August 15, 1971.
THE TRAGEDY - Speeding down the entrance ramp to Interstate 240 in Memphis, Thomas Wayne Perkins crossed four lanes of traffic, picked up speed, then shot across the median into incoming traffic, slamming into a car driven by Vance Simelton of Little Rock. Seven hours later, Thomas Wayne was dead.
Police determined his death to be an accident, although there were indications he had floored his accelerator as he came off the ramp. They couldn't prove what he was thinking when his car went our of control, only that it did go out of control, so they wrote it up as an accident. Vance Simelton was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Thomas Wayne was buried on August 17, 1971, at Madison Heights Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Those who attended the funeral couldn't help but think how tragic it all was, and how ironic that his only success bore the name ''Tragedy'' (Fernwood 45-109).
For more than a decade, Thomas Wayne had struggled to re-create the success of that 1959 hit. Scotty Moore recorded countless sessions with him, released singles on his Belle Meade label, which he had begun shortly after moving to Nashville, and promoted him at every opportunity. Nothing worked. The public had decided Tomas Wayne's place in history was a one-hit wonder. In the end, the best Scotty could do for Thomas Wayne was to offer him work in Music City Recorders. Scotty understood what Wayne did not understand; hit records are a flirtation from the public, not a promise of a long-tern relationship.
Scotty wasn't surprised when he heard about Thomas Wayne's death. His behavior had grown more and more erratic over the years. ''Every once in a while he would tend to get high and flip out on me'', says Scotty, who attributed some of Wayne's problems to an ongoing and long-running dispute with his ex-wife, Charlene. In fact, he had gone to Memphis on the weekend of his death to resolve a conflict with Charlene over their daughter, Maria Elena.
Hugh Hickerson was also among those not surprised at Thomas Wayne's death. Hugh was an audio technician who often worked at Scotty's studio. After Thomas Wayne left Music City Recorders, he worked for Pro-Sound Productions, and then for a recording studio named NAR, where he was employed at the time of his death; Hugh continued to have contact with him on a professional level. They became friends, according to Hickerson, but were not what you would call ''drinking buddies''. Shortly before he died, Thomas Wayne made a startling confession to Hickerson. He confided that he had once parked his car across both lanes of the interstate one night, and turned off his lights. He did it at a blind curve that would have made it impossible for traffic coming at a high rate of speed to stop. Fortunately, the highway patrol arrived on the scene before an accident occurred. They found him sitting in the car, waiting for whatever was going to happen.
''He said he was arrested and they were going to send him for psychological evaluation, but he got an attorney who got him out of it'', he says. ''We talked about it. The impression I had was that he was doing it in order to achieve a violent end to his life''.
The last time Hickerson saw Thomas Wayne was at the NAR facility on Division Street. He went to the studio late one night to repair some equipment. He didn't see Thomas Wayne when he walked in, but since he knew his way around the studio, he went to the back room where the equipment was located. Later, when he finished working, he walked back out into the studio. Someone was at the piano, but he couldn't tell who it was. As he walked closer, he saw that it was Wayne. From the look on his face, and the weird sounds he was making, he thought he might be in trouble.
''Is anything wrong'', asked Hickerson. He walked around the piano, taken aback by what he saw. Thomas Wayne was having sex with a woman on the piano bench. Neither Wayne nor the woman was fully undressed, but they displayed no embarrassment at being interrupted.
''Excuse me'', Hickerson said, and left. He never saw Thomas Wayne alive again. ''I sensed that he was very distraught with his life'', says Hickerson. ''Thomas Wayne wanted to regain that part of his life that he had lost. He was a nice guy, but he was one of those guys that, if you were around him, you could sense that he was suffering. There was some pain he was feeling. If he had not avoided that psychological evaluation, that might have enabled him to see it through. His death was such a tragedy, not only for himself but for the other man involved in the accident''.
Two of the three people with whom Scotty Moore was most closely identified professionally, Bill Black and Thomas Wayne, were now gone, felled under tragic circumstances. At least Elvis was still going strong. Not going strong was Scotty's marriage. The harder he worked to provide for his wife Emily, the longer the hours he put in at the studio, the more they seemed to argue about him never being at home. The more neglected Emily felt, the harder Scotty worked to make her happy. The faster that circle spun, the more Scotty drank to dull the pain. Then the drinking itself became an issue.
WHEELER, ONIE – Born Onie Daniel Wheeler on November 10, 1921 in Senath, Missouri. Onie Wheeler had one minor hit, "John's Been Shucking My Corn", which peaked at number 53 on the country charts in 1973.
But there was much more to Onie than that solitary hit. A career that began in the mid-1940s and ended tragically in 1984. In between there was some great music. One of thirteen kids, Wheeler worked on the family farm until he went into the service in 1940.
He played a harmonica and guitar around the house, but never considered music as a career option until his discharge in 1945, when entertainment seemed a livelier option than farming. His favourites were the Delmore Brothers and Ernest Tubb.
An accident while he was in the Army meant that the harmonica became Onie's major instrument, he had injured the index finger on his left hand and could only play guitar in open tunings. In 1946 he married Betty Jean Crowe; their oldest child, Karen (1947), went on to achieve some success as a country singer in the 1970s.
Wheeler did radio shows in Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Michigan, but didn't give up his day job until 1952, when he settled back in Missouri and started a band with drummer Ernest Thompson and the Nelson brothers, Doyal and A.J., both guitar players. In August 1953, they signed with OKeh/Columbia Records in Nashville and had their first recording session at the end of that month, under the supervision of Don Law. The session included two of Wheeler's best-known songs, "Run 'Em Off" and "Mother Prays Loud In Her Sleep". Both were covered by other Columbia artists: "Run 'Em Off" by Lefty Frizzell (number 8 country hit in February 1954) and "Mother Prays Loud" by Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs.
After five singles on OKeh, Onie's releases were moved to the parent Columbia label in April 1955. In that year, Onie went out on tour with Elvis Presley and other Sun artists. His Columbia contract was extended for two years in August. The amusing "Onie's Bop", recorded in April 1956, was Wheeler's first attempt to come to terms with the new rockabilly music. His last Columbia single appeared in May 1957, "Goin' Back To the City", another rockabillyflavoured number, recorded with the Nashville A-team.
From left: Elvis Presley, Bob Neal, Jimmy Work, and Onie Wheeler in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, March 9, 1955. >
By the time the Columbia deal ended in August 1957, Onie and the Nelson brothers were playing on package shows with the Memphis rockabillies, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Riley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. It was only natural that Sun would become his next label. Onie's opinion of Sun was that it was a "bush-league operation" in terms of recording, but he gave them "Jump Right Out Of This Jukebox", one of his best songs. Recorded in late 1957, it was unaccountably held back until February 1959. By that time, musical tastes had changed considerably and the record (Sun 315) never stood a commercial chance, excellent as it was.
Perhaps Sam Phillips was too busy trying to salvage something from the ruins of Jerry Lee Lewis's career. Two other up-tempo Sun cuts, "That's All" and "Walking Shoes", were held in the can until 1986, when they were saved from oblivion by Bear Family Records. According to Colin Escott, the tempo on these two songs was too fast for Onie to feel comfortable. His heart (and strength) lay in slow country numbers and his rockabilly numbers for Sun and Columbia lack conviction, in Escott's opinion.
For the remainder of his career, Onie Wheeler flitted in and out of the music business. Between 1960 and 1966 he recorded for a variety of labels, had a slot on George Jones's package show for two years and worked with Roy Acuff. He did not record again until 1971. "John's Been Shucking My Corn" was initially released on Old Windmill Records in late 1971, and re-released a year later on Royal American. Onie's only hit brought in a few show dates, but he couldn't find a follow-up. During the late 1970s and early 1980s he owned and operated a guitar repair shop. He was operated on for an aneurysm in January 1984, but started to work again a few months later. While performing at Jimmie Snow's Grand Ole Gospel radio show at the Grand Ole Opry on May 26, 1984 in Nashville, he collapsed on stage and died of a massive heart attack.
Onie Wheeler was a true original, with an immediately recognizable voice, but he never achieved much recognition, in spite of his many talents. A mixture of stubborness, uncommercial attitude and sheer bad luck may explain why he never really made it. According to Charlie Terrell, Onie's songwriting was "too far ahead of its time. His best material was written ten years too soon. He could have been as big as Tom T. Hall later became''. (CE)
WILKINS, DAVID - born on May 18, 1945 in Parsons, Tennessee is an American country music singer and pianist. Between 1969 and 1977, he recorded for MCA Records and released his greatest number of chart hits.
Wilkins worked at a nightclub in Parsons in the 1960s and made his debut as the co-writer of Brenda Lee's 1966 single "Coming On Strong". Other artists who recorded his songs include Charley Pride, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Jack Greene, Leroy Van Dyke and Stonewall Jackson.
He was also the inspiration behind Elvis Presley's 1975 single "T-R-O-U-B-L-E". One of Wilkins' songs, "Georgia Keeps Pulling on My Ring", was later covered by Conway Twitty.
Little David was happy writing songs and entertaining in a Nashville Nitery until producer Owen Bradley and MCA Records offered him a recording contract which produced him four National Top Ten Hits and several Top Twenty Hits such as, "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show", "Butterbeans", and "The Good Night Special". Little David has always attracted some of the greatest record producers, including his first producer and the father of Rock And Roll, Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis, when David was twenty years old.
Sam Phillips discovered Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison, to name a few. David feels so blessed to have been put in this stable of stars. Wilkins has recorded five albums including his newly released CD album "The Boogie Woogie Man", a must for anyone's music library.
If another adjective were invented for this extraordinary, unparalleled performer it would have to be incredible. Incredible in performance. Incredible in creativity. Incredible in audience appeal. What else can you say about a man who has had nearly 100 songs recorded by himself and many other major stars. David has written so many hits to his credit and didn't even start to write until he was an adult. He has written approximately 1,500 songs in his career. And what else can you say about a man who taught himself to play the piano in three days and on the third day, played in front of an audience? Or a man who can elevate a dish of Butterbeans into the status of a country music, comic standard. Incredible.
The reality factor has always been an important facet of Little David's work. His songs and performances, rich with tongue-in cheek subtleties, reflect that reality. While many artists editorialize in their music about the way life should be, Little David Wilkins sings about the way it is. "Not Tonight, I've Got a Headache", "He'll Play The Music But You Can't Make Him Dance", and "Motel Rooms", all project the knowing reality of a man who's been there. Interaction with the audience and humor, down-to-earth and close to the life styles of his audiences, also characterize Little David's dynamite stage appearances. Yeah, I like to talk and mingle with my audiences. We really have fun. I love it and they love it - being part of the show. You know they'll yell for "Butterbeans" that's always first and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show". It's funny, but they'll stop the show until I sing it.
Life and love, viewed through humor and reality, constitute the major themes of Wilkins's work. Mark Twain once said that we speak and write best about the things we know the best. If this is so, then Little David Wilkins is eminently qualified to interpret life and love, for these are the very qualities, the substances that fill his life.
"I love everything to do with music, he relates. I love touring and performing for people. I love my fans and writing songs. It makes you feel good, to know there's something you've created"… His audiences sense this too. From the beginning to end, he has his audiences in the palm of his hand. It's always a great performance. But beyond the greatness, there's an extra-special something about Little David Wilkins that reaches out and engulfs his listeners. He is Magnetic and compelling with a fire and urgency on stage. Everything about this Charismatic performer spells out the words Entertainer. Good times forget your troubles and follow me time. The Little David Wilkins Show is not just another performance. It's a happening you won't forget! Little David says all he wants to do in life is keep on doing what he's doing, Music!
WILKINS, JOE WILLIE - Born on January 7, 1921 in Davenport, Coahoma County, Mississippi, was an
American Memphis blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. Whilst he influenced contemporaries such as
Houston Stackhouse, Robert Nighthawk, David Honeyboy Edwards, and Jimmy Rogers, Wilkins' bigger
impact was on up and coming guitarists, including Little Milton, B.B. King, and Albert King. Wilkins' songs
included "Hard Headed Woman" and "It's Too Bad''.
Wilkins grew up on a plantation near Bobo. His father, Papa Frank Wilkins, was a local sharecropper and
guitarist, whose friend was the country bluesman, Charley Patton.
Young Wilkins learned to play guitar,
harmonica and accordion. His early proficiency of the guitar, and slavish devotion to learning from records,
earned him the nickname of "Walking Seeburg" (Seeburg Jukebos Corporation).
Wilkins becoming a well-known musician in the Mississippi Delta, by the early 1940s Wilkins took over
from Robert Lockwood, Jr. in Sonny Boy Williamson II band. In 1941, Wilkins reloacted to Helena,
Arkansas, and joined both Williamson and Lockwood on KFFA radio's "King Biscuit Time". Through the
1940s Wilkins broadcast regularly playing alongside Williamson, Willie Love, Robert Nighthawk, Elmore
James, Memphis Slim, Houston Stackhouse and Howlin' Wolf. His guitar playing appeared on several
recordings by Williamson, Willie Love and Big Joe Williams, for the latter of whom he played bass.
For Muddy Waters, Wilkins was noted as the first guitarist from the Delta who played single string guitar
riffs without a slide. Later on, Muddy Waters stated "The man is great, the man is stone great. For blues, like
I say, he's the best''.
Forming The Three Aces with Willie Nix and Willie Love in 1950, he rejoined Williamson at KWEM radio,
which led on to Wilkin's becoming part of the studio band at Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis
in the early 1950s. On Wednesday, December 10, 1952 a s
tudio session was placed for Willie Nix at the Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee, and probably on this date a studio
session for for Joe Willie Wilkins at the Memphis Recording Service in Memphis,
He was also utilised by Trumpet Records, and as a prominent sideman, Wilkins recorded
with Williamson, Love, Nix, Arthur Crudup, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Mose
Vinson, Joe Hill Louis, Elmore James, and Floyd Jones.
Charley Booker's final recording was as a guest with Wilkins at a 1973 blues festival at Notre Dame in South
Bend, Indiana. The same year, Mimosa Records released a single of Wilkin's debut vocal performance.
Adamo Records later issued a live album of some of his concert dates. His working relationship and
friendship with Houston Stackhouse endured over the years, with Stackhouse at one time living in the same
premises as Wilkins and his wife. Wilkins and Stackhouse played at various blues music festivals, and were
part of the traveling Memphis Blues Caravan. After undergoing a colostomy in the late 1970s, Wilkins still
continued to perform until his final East Coast tour.
Wilkins home base from the late 1940s was the house his father built at 1656 Carpenter Street in North Memphis, Tennessee.
Joe Willie Wilkins was still living there when he
died at March 28, 1979 at the age of 56. Wilkins is buried near
Memphis in the Galilee Memorial Gardens.
WILLIAMS, ALBERT - Albert Williams - often referred to as Joiner by other musicians – is another largely
unknown figure, although he played piano on a number of down-home sessions for Sam Phillips. The selfstyled
Memphis Al only ever cut the one solo session, and whilst "Hoodoo Man" is assumed to have been
autobiographical, it may well have been drawn from stock verses. A less common name might lead to the
unearthing of some basic biographical information, but instead he remains a name on faded recording
– Jim Williams liked to joke, several decades after his time at Sun. ''I always try to live
up to a coinage from a number of my friends. That Jim Williams is still the biggest unknown in the music
Even if that were true, not many people could console themselves with the knowledge that they
made it as a TWA captain flying the transatlantic route, while at the same time part-owning three recording
Jim Williams could. Williams also made some pretty decent rock and roll records in his time,
recording for Dub, Orbit, Ace and Dot as well as Sun - but a good one. During a year-and-a-half in and out of
Sun, he recorded several permutations on his pop flavored rockabilly.
Although only one record came out on Sun, Jimmy Williams recorded several tapes-full of material during a
year-long contract from June 1956 to June 1957. He possessed a naturally controlled and clear vocal style
best applied to ballads and mid-paced material and he produced some rich tones on the two rock-ballads Sam
Phillips chose to issue on Sun, ''That Depends On You'' and ''Please Don't Cry Over Me''. Before the record
came out, though, in the first half of 1957 Williams had experimented with two other styles with mixed
success. He tried some medium-paced rockers like ''My One Desire'' backed by ably by session players
Roland Janes and Jimmy M. Van Eaton. Before that, in mid-1956, Williams had arrived at Sun with his own
band and recorded seven songs in a totally different and much faster, rocking style. Although some of the
early songs are acceptably good, it is clear throughout that Williams was affecting a breathless, mannered
higher-pitched vocal in the way of a dance-band vocalist trying his hand at being Elvis.
In a 1973 letter, he gave a brief rundown on his life to that point. ''Like Elvis, I lived in the same government
housing project Lauderdale Courts in Memphis. Since Sun had just hit with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, I
went there too, to find fame and fortune. At that time, I had a 16-piece dance-band called The Dixie Landers
and we pretty well had a curb on the market for playing dance and show gigs in the mid-South area. In 1956
I took a nucleus of this dance-band, a drummer, a pianist, bass and guitar man and started my rock group.
What we knew about rock we learned from Elvis and from the movies. Jack Clement and I got together later
on with Sam Phillips to work on ''That Depends On You''. This was not with my own band. We had started to
work with Sun's own musicians. With the record, I toured on Sun shows and got to be real good, lasting
friends with Roy Orbison, Bill Justis and Scotty Moore. But after a while, seeing the way Elvis was received
(clothes torn off and thousands of girls) and the way I was received (rotten eggs, tomatoes and coke bottles) I
decided to join the Air Force as a pilot''.
Before he went into Air Force training, Williams saw his recording of his own song ''I Belong To You'' issued
on the Dub label of Little Rock (as Jimmy Williams with the Sid Bass Orchestra). He said Johnny Vincent
badgered him to record four songs for Ace Records and Jerry Thomas signed him to Dot. But when he got
out of the Air Force in 1963 he gave up recording altogether to go into studio ownership with Scotty Moore,
Chip Moman and others. Then he went back to flying, as a passenger pilot. He became involved in TWA’s
safety and training teams. In his spare time, Williams continued to write songs and produce recordings from
his Caveman productions in Independence, Missouri. Although he always made light of his abilities, Jim
Williams has 32 songs registered at B.M.I. And he was a fine singer. His music on Sun is not very original
but it is well worth a second listen. It's worth remembering too, if you ever flew with TWA in the 1970s and
1980s, what Jack Clement once told, ''Jim Williams, he was the most nervous feller I ever met''.
The derby became Martin Willis' trademark. >
WILLIS, MARTIN – Willis went on to his PhD in Commercial and Industrial Economics from Pacific
Western University in 1995. Not a bad career move for a guy who looks back at his Sun career with a smile
and says ''We were making $8 a day''. Willis had a lengthy career in hotel management, but it is for his sax
work that he is most remembered.
Although his professional musical career only lasted from 1956 to 1966, Willis left a deep mark on Memphis
rock and roll during its formative years.
Willis recalls that, ''My entry into the musical world began in 1949
as a fifth grade school youngster at Hollywood Jr. High in Memphis, when a saxophone player named John
Henry Cannon (later known as Ace Cannon) came into my fifth grade class with a snare drummer and
cymbal player and played the ''Dark Town Strutters Ball''.
''I said right then I wanted to be able to do that. My
desire was further reinforced when I heard artists such as Dorseys, Harry James, Artie Shaw and others in
movies and listened to Dixieland jazz on Sunday nights broadcast live from the Blue Room in New Orleans.
My dad was musically inclined and played the steel guitar and harmonica. He borrowed a tenor saxophone
from one of his friends so that I could see if I could play it. At school, we formed a band of eighth grade
school buddies that we named The Jivin' Five''.
''Since there wasn't a trombone player who could play well enough in our school, my mom bought me a used
one so I could play with the band. In the meantime, I played all the instruments available in school such as
the flute, trumpet and sousaphone and my mom bought me a clarinet and the squawking and squeaking
practicing in the laundry room began (later I used the clarinet on Bill Black's ''Smokey Part 1''). This little
band played at bank openings, movie theaters and talent shows (they even black-faced for one show in
Mississippi, of all places). In 1953, I entered high school at Memphis Tech and my dad gave a Silvertone
guitar to learn to play (this paid off later when I would work with guitarists in arranging various music for
the groups). From 1955 I played in area night clubs (in those days they didn't question your age if you were
in the band) and my mom made the down payment for me for an alto sax and I was ready to venture into the
professional arena. In 1956 Jimmy M. van Eaton and I played in a talent show at Memphis Tech High School
and a musical association that lasted more than 50 years began''.
''1956 proved to be a pivotal period in my musical career when I was approached by Bill Harris, the manager
of Harold Jenkins and the Rockhousers, to play with his rock and roll band. I was a student at Memphis State
University and a big fan of Bill Haley and the comets so I went with the group. They would pick me up on
Friday afternoon after school and we would spend the weekend playing dates. Harold Jenkins later changed
his name to Conway Twitty. It was Conway that I got my first experience in the recording industry at the Sun
Studio followed by sessions in Nashville at the Owen Bradley Studio for Mercury Records. It became
evident that I needed a tenor sax so I bought a used one and this gave me more flexibility to play in the guitar
keys, E, A and D. We toured the mid-south and went to Canada in 1957 for a stint at the Flamingo Lounge in
''J.M. and I finished the engagement and left Conway to join Billy Riley and the Little Green Men at the
Brass Rail in London, Ontario after which the band returned to Memphis to work the clubs and record at Sun
Records. This was a very active period that I experienced with the bands as we worked clubs, made
recordings, and played dances. Our recording work at Sun gave us great experience as we were the studio
band that backed up many artists (and paid the bills). We would play just about any job available including
drive-in movie theaters roof tops, Dairy Queens and college dances and I also made a lot of studio
''After the musical jobs became infrequent and our recording work dwindled, I went to Chicago in 1960 to
play with the Eddie Cash show band and also with the Fabulous Blue Jays, which was a fun job and allowed
me to record at RCA backing Louise Brown. While working at show bars, I received a call from Bill Black
inviting me to joined his group to record and travel. This call got me out of cold snowy Chicago and took me
to Miami to play the Juke Box Operation convention where the group received the Most Played Instrumental
Group award for ''Smokey'' and ''White Silver Sands''. We also recorded several instrumentals in Bill's own
studio, (Lyn-Lou Recording), on Chelsea Avenue in Memphis where, as a youngster, I used to go with my
mom to shop in the 5 & 10 cent store that previously occupied that space''.
''I continued to record behind local artists and then Bill Harris came up with the idea for me to wear a derby
to promote my next single, ''Cattawampus'' b/w ''San Antonio Rock'', produced by Billy Lee Riley and
Roland Janes for their record label, Rita Records. The derby became my trademark but a hit record wasn't in
the cards for me so I continued my club performances at the Nite Liter Club, with the Johnny Bernero Band''.
Martin Willis worked for Kemmons Wilson, founder of the Holiday Inn chain, where he fronted the Holiday
Trio, then went on to work at the Peabody Hotel as Catering Manager. From there, Willis worked as hotel
general manager at the Sheraton Motor Inn in Tallahassee, Florida. In 2006, Willis was invited to come out
of retirement and perform at the Memphis in May concert with Billy Lee Riley and the Little Green Men,
including Willis' old high school friend, Jimmy Marcus Van Eaton.
Martin Willis has an interesting take on his role at Sun. ''Sam hated me. Actually, he tolerated me. He didn't
want saxes at Sun. Everything was guitars. A solo usually meant a guitar break''. Nevertheless, Willis did
some memorable session work, even on a label that built its reputation on guitars (although Jerry Lee might
tell you differently). Perhaps Willis's two most memorable solos were both out of the ordinary. The first
occurred on Charlie Rich's ''Lonely Weekends''. Willis recalls, ''When Charlie got ready to record ''Lonely
Weekends'' he asked for me. We had already worked together in the studio a bit and done some club dates.
Charlie told me he wanted something different – he wanted a baritone sax solo, which was very rare, maybe
it hadn't even been done on a rock and roll record. He asked if I could get a baritone sax – I didn't own one at
the time. I borrowed the instrument and took it into the studio. Everyone gives me credit for the solo but the
truth is before I played that solo Charlie sat down with me and hummed what he thought the solo should
sound like. So I listened and said 'OK, I got it''. The session was unique for another reason. Willis recounts,
''Sam barely had enough mikes in there as it was. I had to sit next to J.M. Van Eaton's drums. He had a
separate mike on his bass drum. When it came time to solo, I had to lean over and play my horn into the bass
drum mike. Very few people know that to this day''.
The second most memorable work by Willis is unusual because the song wasn't a rocker. It occurred on Billy
Riley's standout recording of ''One More Time''. The four-bar intro and the 8-bar sax solo are Willis's ticket
of admission to Rock And Roll Heaven''. He could have left the studio that June, 1959 afternoon assured of
his reputation. A half a century later, Willis revealed the source of much of this inspiration. ''I was thinking of
Roy Acuff that day. I hadn't heard ''Gathering Flowers For The Master's bouquet'' since I was just a little
tyke. Suddenly it came to me when I started to play''.
Actually, the spirit of Acuff was looming large over Union Avenue that afternoon. It's more than ''Master's
Bouquet'' in Willis's work. Have a listen to Acuff's ''The Precious Jewel'' and you'll hear echoes of ''One More
Time''. And why stop there? The Stanley Brothers' ''Rank Stranger'' is also a close relative. The truth is that
Willis's melodic horn work that afternoon was inspired by a rich tradition of white country gospel music. It
suited Riley's soulful bluesy vocal and, more to the point, it fit the often daring hybrid approach that fueled
the best of Sun's music.
WILSON, JIMMY - The profoundly strange Jimmy Wilson remains something of a mystery man. Wilson was co-opted for session piano work in late 1956 for Sun Records, and played regularly at the studio until he left for California in 1958. Jimmy Wilson had an obsession with guns, and preferred working on his gun collection to playing session piano. He lived in a room above Taylor's Cafe, next door to the studio, but not even his proximity to the studio could lure him away from refurbishing or otherwise caring for a new firearm.
Back row, from left: Jimmy Wilson, Billy Riley, and Jimmy Van Eaton. Front row, from left: Pat O'Neill, Martin Willis, Starlight Club, Memphis, 1958. >
Gene Simmons (who began his career with Sun Records and later broke through on Hi Records with "Haunted House") remembered Wilson firing indiscriminately at passers-by from a tour bus that was taking them through southern Ontario, and he was eventually evicted from the rooms above Taylor's after he launched a home-made rocket from his apartment.
Jimmy Wilson's strangeness appears to have stemmed from more than a bad attitude; most agree that he was mentally disturbed. He had a pet raccoon that he later stabbed and let die in the studio with the knife embedded in it. His bizarre conduct continued on stage, as Billy Riley recalls: "Wilson was not like anyone I knew. He had nothing in common with anyone in the world. He was in one minute and out the next. I've seen him on stage playing a rock number just great, then, all of a sudden, he'd have a change come over him and he'd just quit playing and be staring straight ahead. Then he'd start playing Chopin or something right in the center of the song. We'd holler at him and he'd start playing rock and roll again. He played with us for five years and nobody knows where he came from or what happened to him".
Never an outstanding pianist, Jimmy Wilson nevertheless fitted in well on sessions, playing with Johnny Cash, Billy Riley, Warren Smith, and many others. He also worked professionally in Memphis under the pseudonym of Jan Dillard. At some point in 1958, Jimmy Wilson bummed twenty dollars from everyone he knew and headed out to California, where he later married the daughter of Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, the man responsible for Elvis Presley's gold lamé suit. Nudie Cohen promised to bankroll his career if he went straight, but the news soon reached Memphis that Jimmy Wilson had been committed. Besides the recordings that bear his stamp, Wilson left one enduring contribution to the Sun sound: he was the man who showed Sam Phillips how to place tacks on the hammers inside his piano to achieve a harsher, more metallic sound.
WILSON, SONNY - There is a lot of misunderstanding about Sonny Wilson, by and large. Sonny Wilson was discovered by Elvis Presley in 1960 playing in a Memphis bar, and set him up with Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Sonny recorded two sides for Sun in 1960, and the ''Great Pretender'' was released in August of 1960. Sonny's biggest success was in 1961 when ''Troubled Times'' charted regionally. Recorded for Paul Buff at Pal Studios in Cucamonga California (now called Rancho Cucamonga) and originally released on Paul's Plaza label, it was then picked up by Candix. This led to his appearance on television, most notably on the Wink Martindale program.
Sonny Wilson ^
The original Plaza single was backed with ''Lonely Nights''. Sonny had done a number of sessions at Pal Studios in Cucamonga , which also yielded ''I Ain't Giving Up Nothing'' which Candix selected for the B-side for their release. Those Pal Studio sessions are now available for download on iTunes, Napster, Amazon, and more, as part of an amazing compilation called, "Paul Buff Presents The Pal And Original Sound Studio Archives''. According to Sonny Wilson, (and a new source confirms this) a very young Frank Zappa was working there at the time he did these sessions.
WIMBERLY, MAGGIE SUE (SUE RICHARDS) – American songwriter, country and gospel singer. Born in
1941 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Sue Richards began singing Gospel music with her family at the age of 4, then released her first record on the Sun label at the age of 11, recording under her maiden name Maggie Sue Wimberly, in contrast, was a Quinton Claunch and Bill Cantrell protege. Like Bob Price, Maggie Sue was known by Quinton for her ability to sing around the house back in Muscle Shoals. At one time she lived within a few streets of both Price and Claunch.
It was on one of their trips home that Claunch and Cantrell decided to take Maggie Sue to Memphis to see Sam Phillips. Maggie Sue, born in Muscle Shoals in 1941, was very young, only 14, but possessed an acceptably adult voice and sufficient talent to persuade Phillips to record her.
She later recalled her Sun session, saying ''I had never given much though to country music before I went to Sun to cut ''How Long''. I was singing in a gospel choir, the Harmonettes, when Quinton and Bill asked me to change to country music. I soon found that country was down to earth music. I felt comfortable singing it''. There is some uncertainly about the genesis of Sun 229 by Maggie Sue.
The disc coupled two Claunch and Cantrell songs, ''How Long (Can It Be)'' and ''Daydreams Come True'',
and was evidently issued in December 1955 judging by the known release dates of other Sun singles. However, the filed session details give the recording date as March 18, 1955, some nine months before the release date. It is possible that Sam Phillips was too busy with Elvis Presley and other artists to issue the record immediately it was ready. It is also possible that he only decided to put the record out at all when he learned that Les Bihari of Meteor had also recorded a version of ''daydreams Come True''. The Bains' version came out on Meteor early in 1956. Sam obviously would not have wanted to lose out on the sequel to ''Daydreamin'''as he had on the original song. One other twist to the story is that demo tapes of Carl Perkins singing ''Turn Around'' dating from October 25, 1954, also contain two cuts of Maggie singing ''How Long Can It Be''. It is not clear whether this was the true date of the Wimberly session or whether, tragically, some of the Perkins tape was re-issued for Maggie's session in March 1955. In any event, the changing musical climate at the dawn of 1956 doomed ''Daydreams Come True''. It only sold a little two thousand copies.
Maggie Sue returned to Sun for one subsequent session, where she attempted various blues and rock and roll
titles. Neither Claunch nor Cantrell were involved in this exercise and nothing came of it at the time. Maggie Sue returned to singing for her own amusement and in local choir until she re-emerged in the 1970s under the name Sue Richards, she recorded "Too Many Daddys" for Epic Records in 1969, and released "I Just Had You On My Mind" on ABC-Dot in 1973. Her biggest hit "Sweet Sensuous Feelings" on ABC-Dot hit the charts in 1976. The song was written by Ava and Roy Aldridge. Richards toured as a background vocalist with Tammy Wynette from 1977 until Wynette's death in 1998.
As a songwriter, Richards wrote "Let's All Go Down to the River", written with Earl "Peanutt" Montgomery,
"I Just Had You On My Mind", "Somebody Hold Me (Until She Passes By)", written with Ava and Roy Aldridge, "Ease Me To The Ground", "Please Tell Him That I Said Hello", "He Was There When I Needed You" and "Imaginary Arms". Maggie Sue had been a childhood acquaintance of Virginia Wynette Pugh back in Alabama.
WINGATE, ALLEN – Wingate, who game to Tennessee from De Land, Florida, had some measure of success not with Sun Records, but rather with the Moon label in Memphis, owned by Cordell Jackson.
Wingate recorded for Moon Records under the name Allen Page and was a member of The Big Four, who served as the label's de facto house band. Page or Wingate had at least five records appear under his name for Moon and wrote several songs recorded by other artists for the label.
Other than his connection with one single by Ernie Barton, it seems that Alan Wingate had far more impact on Moon Records than its better known celestial rival across town.
Allen Wingate was saved in 1963 and soon thereafter began traveling for the Lord, by faith without any assistance of a Missionary Board, or a regular offering from a local congregation. He and two of other gentlemen, Billy and Tommy Brown began to travel around the United States preaching the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. Billy has told stories of miracles where deaf ears were opened, crooked eyes straightened out, blinded eyes opened, legs that needed serious care were healed immediately, appendicitis healed, bad heart condition healed, and many other healings and wonders from 1963-1969. Allen Wingate died in 1993.
WOOD, ANITA – Born as Anita Marie Wood on May 27, 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee, also known as Little Bitty and Little was a TV performer, recording artist and girlfriend to Elvis Presley. Anita Wood, a singer who won the 1954 Youth Talent Contest at the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, was the first runner-up in the Miss Tennessee pageant in 1956 and won the swimsuit competition. She became a disc jockey in Jackson, Tennessee, then co-host with Wink Martindale of television's "Top 10 Dance Party'' in Memphis. It was there Elvis Presley saw her and had one of his Memphis friends Red West, call to ask for a date.
Anita Wood, 1958 ^
Anita Wood signed a contract to work as an actress for Paramount Pictures, but later gave it up for Presley. Elvis Presley and Anita Wood (Elvis Presley's inner circle of Marilyn Monroe), met in 1957 and in the same year Presley referred to Wood as his number one girl in a letter from Germany during his Army tour. The two dated seriously for several years from 1957 to 1962.
Anita recorded for ABC-Paramount (October 1958); Sun Records (December 28, 1960 at Sam Phillips Recording Studio, 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, one block from the old Sun studio); and Santo (1963). She also worked on the Andy Williams TV Show (summer 1958) and is the uncredited vocalist with Williams on "The Hawaiian Wedding Song (Ke Kali Nei Au)'', a Top 15 hit in early 1959.
In 1964 she married NFL football player Johnny Brewer who played for the Cleveland Browns and the New Orleans Saints before dying of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2001. They had been married for 47 years and had three children.
In 1976, Johnny Brewer sued the Memphis Publishing Company for libel when it reported that Anita Brewer was divorced from Brewer and reunited with Presley in Las Vegas. Anita Wood appeared on the Larry King show on January 14, 2005 to talk about her romance with Elvis Presley. Today, Anita Wood still lives in Jackson, Tennessee.
WOOD, BOBBY - American session pianist, keyboard player and songwriter Bobby Wood, born January 25, 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee. The name Bobby Wood has appeared on the credits of hundreds of records comprising a virtual "Who's Who" of Pop and Country artists. His keyboard talents have graced the recordings of artists such as, Elvis Presley, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Charlie Rich, George Jones, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, The Boxtops, Tammy Wynette, Ronnie Milsap, B.J. Thomas, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Crystal Gayle, and Garth Brooks, to name only a few.
Over all, Bobby appears on more than 200 million records, cassettes, and CD's, which includes an all time record setting 100 million with Garth Brooks.
Bobby began his music career as an aspiring singer. He had a hit record in the early sixties, "If I'm A Fool For Loving You''. After a serious car accident, Bobby began a new career working for producers Sam Phillips (the man who discovered Elvis), and Chips Moman, as a session player at American Studios in Memphis. This studio had a string of 122 chart hits that were cut over a three year period, all recorded with virtually the same players. In 1969, Bobby worked on a session that produced Elvis' first number one record in over five years. The song was "Suspicious Minds''. Other hit songs from that session were "Kentucky Rain" and "In The Ghetto''. These recording sessions proved to be the most significant musically for Elvis since his first recording sessions, fourteen years earlier. Elvis called Bobby the most commercial piano player he'd ever heard. Three years later, in 1972, Elvis invited Bobby to tour with him. Unfortunately he had to decline.
In 1976, Bobby's songwriting career soared when he penned the number one country hit, "Still Thinkin' About You" for Billy Crash Graddock. In 1977 he collaborated on "What's Your Name, What's Your Number'', a song which has since been recorded in thirteen languages, and reached the top of the American pop charts. In 1978 he co-wrote "Talking In Your Sleep" for Crystal Gayle, which received the BMI Burton Award for the most performed song of the year. Bobby has had many other country singles on the charts, including Merle Haggard's version of "Better Love Next Time'', which raced up the charts to reach number one.
Bobby, along with fellow musicians Reggie Young, Bobby Emmons, Gene Chrisman, and Mike Leech (all known as "The Memphis Boys"), recorded an instrumental album produced by Alien Reynolds on Vanguard Records. The album was released in 1991 and topped the Jazz Charts. Bobby has also recorded for and toured with the Highwaymen, a country legend foursome consisting of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristoffersen, and Johnny Cash. Bobby began working with Garth Brooks in the late eighties when he played on his first demo sessions. He has since played keyboards on every one of Garth's albums (nine in all), of which Garth has made note when accepting his last two Album of the Year awards. Bobby has two cuts on Garth's Christmas albums, Beyond the Season, and The Magic of Christmas, and has since been co-writing with the superstar. Together they have written "In Another's Eyes'', a duet with Trish Yearwood which was a single on Garth's album Sevens and Trisha's album Songbook.
Bobby divided his time between his writing and recording sessions. In addition to his writing and session work, Bobby is an accomplished producer. He produced the Grammy nominated Christian album, Someday for Crystal Gayle on Intersound Records. In 1996 Reba Mclntyre re-cut "Talkin In Your Sleep" on her platimum selling album, Starting Over Again, a collection of her favorite songs.
In 1998 Bobby wrote the number 1 song, "Committment" for LeAnne Rimes platinum selling album, Top Of The World and currently has "Don't Tell Me You're Not In Love" on the new George Strait record, Road Less Traveled. Singer, songwriter, session musician and producer, Bobby Wood has achieved remarkable success in all, and is looking forward to his next endeavor.
YATES, BILL - He was known as Bill Yates in Memphis and on almost of his records, but he was born Billy
Vance Yates on December 21, 1936 in Columbus, Georgia. His father, Hubert Vance Yates, was born in
Mississippi around 1912 and his mother, Kitty, sic years younger, came from Oklahoma. Hubert was a
traveling evangelist who seems to have moved regularly between the area around Columbus, the north
Carolinas, and northern Mississippi. At the time of the 1940 census the family was living on Desota Avenue
in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Hubert was listed as H.B. Yates employed at the YMCA in an athletic
Billy Vance Yates was the oldest of three children born in Columbus (though, strangely, in a census
arror he was recorded as Billy Vance Yates, female). His brother, Leonard Charles, was a couple of years
younger and his sister, Carolyn, was a further year younger.
These three would be joined in September 1943
by their new young brother, Hubert Vance Yates Jr., known as Vance, born in Kannapolis.
''All three brothers and their sister were interested in music and they all had a natural ability to sing and
play'', report Charles Yates' sons, Rusty and Jeff, who are Billy's nephews and musicians themselves. Rusty
told Martin Hawkins: ''Their father was a roving evangelist, and the family all sang in church right from the
beginning. That was their introduction to music. The family was always traveling, but they spent a lot of time
in north Mississippi nor far from Memphis. They were living in Mississippi when they formed a kids' gospel
group in church. Charles, Bill and Carolyn were three members, and at one point they drafted in the pre-teen
Elvis Presley who went to the same church when Hubert was preaching near Tupelo. The boys all stayed in
tough with Elvis in later years''.
From left: Charles, Carolyn and Bill Yates, the young gospel group in Mississippi. >
Trough the 1950s, the Reverend Hubert Yates was based in Columbus, according to the annual City Directories, and it seems that Billy Vance Yates spent most of his teenage years there, honing his musical skills and planning a life as a touring musician. Rusty Yates said, ''In Georgia, Uncle Bill grew up as a natural piano player. But he could play great harmonica and he could play guitar too. How could just do it.
He started to play at various places there, and later Uncle Vance started to play with him too''. The events of those years are a little unclear but guitarist James Lucky Ward (who later played with Elvis Presley, Barbi Benton and Janis Joplin) remembered as a teenager, ''toiling in drifter bands behind now-obscure headliners like Hugh Lee Ott, Billy Vance Yates, briefly touted as the white Ray Charles, and Curley Money at Georgia clubs like the Chansaw.
Ward played with Money on an unissued Sun session that included ''Chainsaw Charlie''. Local news ads show that Billy Yates and Vance Yates played all along the Georgia coast and into Alabama ant it is likely that Billy made his recording debut as pianist with Jerry Lott who, as The Phantom, recorded the frantic rocker, ''Love Me'' in Mobile in 1958. The record came out on Dot Records and Lott later told Derek Glenister: ''I'm telling you, it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the guitar player's glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes, and the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over''.
By the time Bill Yates had already met and hung out with the big name piano pounder of the era, Jerry Lee Lewis, According to Rusty: ''Uncle Bill moved to Memphis sometime around the mid-1950s. Bill and Vance moved there together. He told me they flat broke and they slept in a car, or in fields by the roadside, just so they could save enough money to get somewhere to stay. They got to know Billy Adams and Uncle Bill and Billy Adams went out on tour with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and others from Memphis. They traveled around in a big old hearse at one tome, Bill told me Jerry Lee Lewis was very unreliable and sometimes he'd be the headliner but when the show started he would not be there, so Bill would go out and do the show for him, Bill could play piano just like Jerry Lee''.
In May 1959, Billy Yance Yates was married in Mobile, Alabama to Mary Giles. According to Rusty, ''Uncle Bill and Mary had sons, Dusty (Hubert), and Leslie, and daughters, Tanya and Denise, but in the end Bill didn't stay with Mary''. It seems that Bill was always off on the road somewhere, working in Memphis or elsewhere. By 1961 he had his eyes on Hollywood. The Columbus, Georgia Ledge-Enquirer of July 2, 1961 reported: ''Youths Join Presley Group For Hollywood: Two Columbus youths, Vance Yates Jr., and Bill Vance Yates, have joined the entourage of rock and roll singer Elvis Presley and will soon leave Memphis for Hollywood, where Presley is due to make another movie. Vance Yates Jr. was in Columbus yesterday for a few days before rejoining the band which accompanies Presley at his personal appearance and on recording dates. Young Yates plays the bass fiddle in the four-man band. His brother, Billy Vance, is a bodyguard for Presley''. Rusty Yates confirmed: ''Bill did spend time as Elvis's bodyguard. Bill was a big guy. Bill was always around Elvis and his friends. My father Charles was later in the Speer Quartet, who worked with Elvis, but the one who was closest to him though was Uncle Vance. When Elvis became famous and used to hire out whole movie theatres, then Bill and Vance would always be right there with him. In 1960, when I was about 6 months old, my dad was recording at RCA in Nashville with the Speer Quartet and Elvis came along to listen one day, because he loved that music. Elvis picked me up and said something like ''what a fine boy I was – and then I threw up on him. That's the story anyway''. While Billy and Vance were following the gospel and rhythm and blues or rock and roll, their brother Charles had become a member of the Prophets Quartet, originally from Knoxville, and the famous country gospel group, the Speer Family. Later, during the 1970s, Charles was in Elvis Presley's touring show and after that the Masters Five alongside gospel greats J.D. Sumner and Hovie Lister.
Despite his occasional trips away with the Presley entourage, Bill Yates' bread and butter work remained
in Memphis. He had a regular gig at the 5 gables Club in the late 1950s where he formed a band known as
the T-Birds. Then he hooked up again with drummer Billy Adams, who had just come of the road in 1961
to form a band. Adams band had the resident at Hernando's Hide-A-Way at 3210 Old Hernando Road in
south Memphis, a nightclub of some note where the band gave exposure to many up-and-coming
Memphis musicians. Rusty Yates remembered visiting his uncle Bill there: ''I know Bill played with Billy
Adams a lot. As a boy, about 4 or 5 years old. I remember being taken to a club where Adams had his
drums set up, probably the Hide-A-Way, and I sat on Adams' lap and he helped me to play the drums. I
remember that we''.
Other regular members of the Adams band where bass player Jesse Carter, guitarist Lee Adkins,
multiinstrumentalist Gene Parker, and saxophonist Russ Carlton. Jesse Carter remembered: ''I met Bill
Yates at the 5 Gables Club when he was playing as a single on South Bellevue. When he later moved to the
Hide-A-Away we played together there and then he joined with Adams, and then I did too. His brother
Vance Yates would play with us sometimes. He was a great vocalist and bassist, a good man. Bill Yates was
a real character, but he also had a great voice and was a good entertainer. He could always liven the crowd
up when he came along. He was a great piano player. He came from somewhere around Macon, Georgia
and his dad was a Holiness preacher. The family was all into gospel singing. I think that's where he got his
presence from, his projection of a song. But he was a shady character – he was unreliable, he might just
disappear for a white''.
So by 1961, Bill Yates had learned his trade and become part of a band whose musicians were wellrespected
and becoming regulars at the recording studios around town. The next step for him was surely to
get a recording contract for himself. The established label in Memphis was Sun, followed by the
emerging operations at Hi, Stax,or Fernwood. Other smaller fly-by-night labels came and went but one that
looked promising had just been operated by Ruben Cherry, and named Home Of The Blues after Cherry's
local record store.
All through the time he was recording at Sun, Bill Yates worked with the Bill Adams group at
Charles Foren's Hernando's Hide-A-Way club, and when Foren established the new Vapors Supper Club on
Brooks Road in south Memphis in 1969 Yates ans Adams moved there. By that time, Adams had set up a
booking agency, Memphis Artists Attractions, booking Yates and many others locally and across the Holiday
Inn network. Memphis's Key TV Guide for April 1973 captured the local scene, carrying ads for the
Admiral Benbow lounge – ''Billy Adams' Show and Danceband plays nightly except Sunday... Bill Yates
pianist, plays at cocktail time Mon-Fr'' – and for the Downtowner Motor Inn. On Union Avenue – ''the Billy
Yates Trio appears from 8 to 1 six nights a week''. That year Adams and Yates were competing with other
entertainment, dinning and dancing options that included Linda Ann, vivacious blonde, playing at the
Casino Lounge, Eddie Bond and his TV Stompers at the E B Ranch, Charlie Freeman at the Admiral
Benbow Club Lounge, Jesse Lopez (brother of Trini Lopez) at the Rivermont Holiday Inn, and Larry
Garrett and Lee Adkins at the Vapors''.
Eventually, Bill's absences from Memphis grew permanent. At some point, he and Vance Yates worked as
the Yates Brothers on shows booked out of Nashville by the Wil-Helm Talent Agency formed by Don
Helms and the Wilburn Brothers. It is not clear how long this lasted but it is likely the Yates boys wound up
in Las Vegas. By the close of the 1970s Bill Yates had settled there. He lived at various addresses in Vegas
through the 1980s, including Ramona Circle and Karen Avenue. His nephew, Rusty confirmed: ''Bill spent a
lot of time playing music in the west, especially Las Vegas, from the late 1970s through the 1980s. He was
an actor too, and he was an extra and stuntman in the movies. I remembered seeing him in his western gear,
mainly westerns. But I remember one time when Batman was in big in the movies they hired Bill to make
personal a ppearances at movie theatres as Batman. He'd go in there and leap around and play the part. That
was back in the 1960s''.
When Bill Yates moved west, his sister Carolyn was also singing in lounges across the country
including venues in Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Working as Carol Lee through the 1960s and 1970s, her
publicity noted that she was from the backwoods of Georgia and her singing had ''journeyed from the
church to the club to concerts'' but that she was ''an entertainer first of all'', singing from songbooks as
diverse as Sinatra and Ray Charles. She also sang country, not least her own song ''I Won't Mention It
Again'' that stayed at number 1 for thirteen weeks when recorded by Ray Price.
It was from Vegas that Bill Yates contacted his nephew Rusty, a budding musician, in 1979: ''I was nearly
20 years old and working for my dad, who wanted me to go into the service. But then Uncle Bill called
from Las Vegas and invited me to come out and play music with him there. In January 1980, I arrived and I
was expecting to play piano, which was my instrument. But he pointed me to the drum kit and I said I
should get on the drums. He needed a drummer. So I did that for a year at the King 8 Casino and then after
that I did it a couple years more. The King 8 had opened in 1974 on Tropicana Avenue off the southern end
of Vegas' main strip. It was a decent enough venue, if not quite the standard of the International where Elvis
Presley had held sway for many years. Bill played little of Presley's music but after Presley died in 1977
Bill recorded four songs: ''Elvis We Miss You'', ''Golden Guitar'', ''Poor But Proud'', and ''Number One
Country Music Star''. The recordings were a mix of blues, gospel, and country influences with story lyrics
and an intense, conversational vocal style.
They were of their time and perhaps typical of part of the Yates act of the day. Rusty Yates said: ''When
we were in Vegas, Uncle Bill would play an amazing range of music on piano. He'd play like Liberace and
then he'd play like Fats Domino and then he would play George Shearing or some ragtime. He could play it
all. He would play his own songs too, sometimes, thing like the ''M&Ms'' song and ''Big Big World'' that
was written by his friend Red West''. Al least two of Yates' later recordings were issued. A label called
Memphis Country Sights And Sound issued ''Poor But Proud'' and ''Greatest Star Of All'', one an in-vogue
nostalgic country song and the other an imaginative tribute to Hank Williams where Yates buys the car
Hank took his last journey in. It would make sense that the Elvis tribute was also issued but a copy of that
disc is still to be found.
The Las Vegas marriage records show that Billy Vance Yates was married twice in the city of the
quick ceremony. On July 20, 1985 he married May Elizabeth Nolan and on April 14, 1989 he married Cathy
Lynn West. Rusty Yates confirmed: ''Bill didn't stay with Mary when he went away to Vegas. He married
there twice but they didn't last. He didn't talk to his first wife for years and didn't stay in touch with his
children at that time''.
According to Rusty, ''Uncle Bill spent a lot of time out west. After he left Vegas, then he went to
Pinedale, Wyoming in the early 1990s. At that time in life he became a ''mountain man'' going on trips into
the wilderness and living that kind of life. He and William Golden from the Oak Ridge Boys would do that
together sometimes. They's disappear off and live in the hills and made their own leather gear and that sort
of things''. In July 2000, the Sublette County Journal carried a feature on an event called the Quick Draw,
where local artists and sculptors created works on the spot, using local people and scenes as their
inspiration. Their journalist wrote: ''As I stepped up to take a picture of one artist at work, I noticed that the
lump of clay before her looked and awful lot like the mountain man who was watching her work. The artist
introduced herself as Joyce Killebrew from Sedona, Arizona; then the mountain man spoke. Bill Yates is
from Memphis, Tennessee, and had worked with Elvis for six years as a piano player. He then playfully
scolded me for taking his picture when he didn't have his teeth in''.
The Quick Draw occurred at about the time Bill Yates' health started to nosedive. Rusty said, ''There came
a time in Wyoming when Uncle Bill was in failing health. He had diabetes, and someone contacted my dad
and said that he needed to be looked after and so his family brought him back to Louisiana. Then he got
into contact with his first wife and children again in Mississippi. He had lost both legs and was very ill''.
Bill moved to Forrest near Hattiesburg, Mississippi and his daughter Denise Nugend, said ''We were
estranged for many years before his illness but I convinced him to move closer to his children. He passed
away in 2007 after a long illness''. The Wayne County News reported, ''Graveside funeral service for Bill
Yates, 70, of Hattiesburg, were held on Saturday, December 8, 2007, at the Isney (Ala) Cemetery. Born Dec.
21, 1936, Yates was a musician. He died on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007, at Forrest General Hospital in
To Rusty Yates, ''Uncle Bill was as good a musician as you'd ever hear. He always had places to play
in Memphis and in Vegas. But he would just get a hankering yo go and do something else. Wherever he
was, he'd just take off from there. Uncle Vance was exactly the same way''.
Of the singing Yates family, Charles Yates is the survivor and still an accomplished gospel singer.
Vance Yates died in Corpus Christi, Texas in 2012, aged 68. His nephew said, ''He was in very bad health –
the conduct of his earlier life caught up with him''. Their sister Carolyn died aged 44, in 1983. But there is a
new generation of the musical Yates family. Charles's sons Rusty and Jeff run the Rusty Yates Band out of
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Rusty grew up singing in church where his grandfather preached. He plays
keyboards and sings, like his uncle Bill, and has a repertoire that includes a nod to Ray Charles, like his
uncle Vance. His gigs and recordings are to be found at www.rustyyatesband.com
YELVINGTON, MALCOLM - Born September 14, 1918 to Frank Yelvington and Sarah Edwards, in Covington, Tennessee, and growing up with the hit sounds of Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, started singing in the late 1930s, Malcolm was able to move his band through hillbilly to honky tonk to a kind of laid-back rockabilly.
Yelvinton's songwriting partner and chief
collaborator was singer, guitarist and pianist, Reece Fleming, the only man who recorded for
Sun Records who had a genuine Memphis-based recording pedigree.
As half of the duo Fleming and Townsend, Reece had first recorded with Raspers Townsend for Victor in May 1930 and went on to see releases on Victor, Bluebird, ARC and Decca. Mostly they made vocal and yodelling duets with Fleming on guitar and Townsend on harmonica.
Drawing on blues and hillbilly traditions, they often used a salacious approach -
"I'll Tell You About Woman" and "Bad Reputations" - but were capable of good, original
country music like "She's Just That Kind" and "Blue And Lonesome".
After the war he joined Reece Fleming's Tennesseans, playing schoolhouse dates around Covington. One of the key figures in the Memphis music scene in 1952 through 1955. Yelvington's Star Rhythm Boys employed a growling rockabilly sound and secured a daily gig on a local radio station. With a honky-tonk piano (Frank Tolley), electric guitars (Gordon Mashburn and Jake Ryles), steel guitar (Reece Fleming), and acoustic bass guitar (Miles Wimm), the Star Rhythm Boys were Memphis most innovative sound.
Yelvington's musical direction on "Gonna Have Myself A Ball", "Drinkin' Wine Spidee-O-Dee" (SUN 211), was an old rhythm and blues tune made famous by Sticks McGhee in 1949. At some point in the winter of 1953-54, the Star Rhythm Boys guitarist, Gordon Mashburn learned that there was a record company in Memphis that had just issued a disc by another local group, the Ripley Cotton Choppers. "We went down to see Sam", recalls Yelvington. "He asked us what type of music we played and we said, 'Country'. He said he wasn't interest, so I asked him what he wanted. He said, 'I don't know, but I'll know when I hear it'. Gordon said, 'Mr. Phillips, that means you'll have to listen to every single person who comes in off the street'. Sam said, 'I intent to'".
Yelvington and his group eventually persuaded Phillips to take a listen. "We couldn't come up with anything that Sam wanted", recalled Yelvington. "I wanted something like Hank Williams or Moon Mullican, but Sam kept saying no. Then I decided to try "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee". Sam poked his head around the door and said, 'Where did you get that from?'. I said, 'Man, we've been playing that every week for a long time".
In 1955 Yelvington sidestepped his Sun contract and recorded pseudonymously as Mac Sales and Jack for Meteor Records in Memphis "A Gal Named Joe", with equally poor response. The following year, Yelvington returned to Sun Records with a rockabilly novelty, "Rockin' With My Baby" (SUN 246). Sounding a little uncomfortable with the brisk tempo - and slurring the lyrics because he had removed his dentures - Yelvington nevertheless turned out a very creditable piece of the new music. Other cuts on Sun and Meteor are, "Trumpet", "Mr. Blues", "First And Last Love", "Goodby Marie", "It's Me Baby" and "Yakety Yak" provided some of the most interesting moments in Memphis rockabilly history.
Yelvington's sides on Sun and Meteor are some of the finest cuts in rockabilly history.
Talking about his Sun days, Malcolm's recollections in August 1971 to Martin Hawkins and Colin Escott were as follow: "I guess I can say I started in recording at the same time as Elvis. That's something isn't it! He got his first record out in the summer of 1954 and I got mine in the fall. The problem was that when I got mine out rock and roll was getting going pretty good and mine were mostly country and western, but we picked an rhythm and blues song to do, though we did it more oarless country style. It sold a few - I can't remember exactly - around Memphis. If you got one of 'em you got more'n I got. That one was "Drinkin' Wine".
"Drinkin' Wine" was a song that we had done for dances years before I ever recorded it. I could sing it in my sleep. The way we got onto doing it, we were down in the studio one day and we were going through some material that we had, and we couldn't come up with anything that Sam would like. He was after rhythm and blues or something with a solid beat to it, and I said to the boys 'let's try "Drinkin' Wine" we don't even have to rehearse that', we were playing it at dances every week anyhow. So he was sitting back in the control room there and my lead man he took off on it. We had lead, piano and steel and I started singing, and Sam poked his head round the door and said, 'where'd you get that?', and I told him, 'Man, we been doing that thing for a long time'. It was first done by a feller the name of Sticks McGhee, and then I think I was the first white artist ever to record it. And then Sam said, 'let's cut that, it sounds good'. So we cut it and it took about six or seven hours to get it like he wanted. He was most particular. He went out and got some boys to sing in the background. And the group was Reece Fleming, he's dead now, he played piano on et and Myles Winn, we called him "Red", played steel, and Jack Ryles on bass, Gordon Mashburn on lead and me on rhythm. We didn't have drums on.
In 1961 Yelvington finally gave up his club dates to concentrate on his day job, his bowling, and family life. In 1988, Malcolm Yelvington toured to England and Holland, where several thousand fans gathered to hear him play the old songs. Yelvington was one of a very few musicians to encourage Elvis Presley to continue his guest for a musical career. Many times Yelvington urged the roughs and the less-talented musicians to leave Elvis Presley to his music. This was partially due to Malcolm Yelvington's respect for Elvis Presley, but the lanky rockabilly artist also performed a similar type of music.
Yelvington recorded his signature song after Elvis Presley finished cutting Sun Record number 210, "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine". The previous year, Elvis Presley listened to "Drinkin' Wine Spodee-O-Dee" many times in local clubs. "Elvis stood out in the crowd, but he never talked to me", Yelvington recalled. "He was a fine singer. The boy was always looking for a piano player. He liked our man and that's why he hung out around us". Yelvington also re-emphasized that he had never played with Elvis Presley. "I understand there's a book that says that, but it's not true".
During his last years, Malcolm Yelvington lead tours at the re-born Sun
studio in Memphis, most Saturdays and greet the tourists. He'd tell his stories, and they were good ones because he really had been there. In 1997, aged 79, he released his first full-length album.
Malcolm Yelvington died at Memphis Baptist Hospital on February 21, 2001, press reports variously blaming cancer, heart failure, or pneumonia but in truth it was all three. His funeral service in Bartlett, Tennessee, included recordings of Malcolm's Christian songs, and was attended by his five children, eleven grandchildren as well as friends and fellow musicians.
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