THE ''FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL'' SESSIONS

STUDIO SESSION FOR BILLY RILEY
AT THE MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE FOR SUN RECORDS 1956

SUN RECORDING STUDIO
706 UNION AVENUE, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
SUN SESSION: TUESDAY DECEMBER 11, 1956
SESSION HOURS: UNKNOWN
PRODUCER AND RECORDING ENGINEER - SAM C. PHILLIPS

''FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL''

Guitarist Roland Janes confirms that he brought Indiana-born songwriter Ray Scott over to Riley's house so they could go through Ray's material and come up with a follow-up to ''Trouble Bound''. "We went through everything Ray had and is only one we took was ''Flying Saucer Rock And Roll''. But it was a good one."

Scott was no stranger to the Sun studio but fancied himself as more of songwriter than a recording artist. Nevertheless, his several vintage recordings at sought today by collectors. Two of his demos for Sun appeared on Bear Family That'll Flat Git It (Sun) - Volume 17 (BCD 16405 AH). If you listen closely to these ''Flying Saucer Rock And Roll'' sits, you'll hear an obvious separation between two different sessions. Alternates Take 1 to Take 6 were recorded before session pianist Jerry Lee Lewis joined on, and so the sound changes appreciably starting with Alternate Take 7. But along with that there's also a surprising key change. Prior to the addition of a piano, the boys rake the song in C, a most unlikely key for a rockabilly band. Once Lewis joins them, they take it up a half a tone to the key of D. D is an accessible key for a piano, guitar and bass. It's C that needs some explanation, and the best one is simply that without a piano or sax in the band, the stringed instruments only had to tune to each other - not to the outside world. In all likelihood, they thought they were playing in D at the first session. But Jerry Lee's instrument was less flexible, so at the second session the piano defined what D was. Riley's wife Joyce confirms that during the later years of his life, Billy performed the song in the key of C - a comfortably lower key for a more mature voice.

Riley fans may listen to Alternate Take 10 of ''Flying Saucer Rock And Roll'' and wonder why we have included the original single among this collection of alternates. The answer is simple. It isn't the master. It's very close, but the difference tells quite a tale. This is the bed track upon which the master was based. It was overdubbed for release. So what was added to this nearly perfect piece of 1956 rock and roll? The answer is Screaming! This is the very opposite of 'sweetening', which later became the industry standard for overdubbing. Leave it to Sam Phillips and Sun Records.

No strings or choral voices were added. This was an attempt to unsweeten a track, if ever there was one. It's true that the original recording (Alternate Take 10) did have some screaming on it.

But not enough for Sam Phillips. And so more of Marvin Pepper's raucous screams were added before release. You don't believe it? Listen for yourself. Do a side buy side comparison between this track and Sun 260. Lord knows, we've done plenty of them The results are unmistakable.

Half a century later, we reluctant tim learn that not all that wild abandon we heard on the single was as spontaneous as we had hoped or assumed. Some of it had to be added after the fact.

In case you're wondering why anybody would go to all this trouble to layer in more screaming, think about the era. ''Flying Saucer Rock And Roll'' was recorded in December, 1956. In January of that same year, Little Richard , the iconic screamer of rock and roll - hit the charts with ''Tutti Frutti''. Three months later, he was back with ''Long Tall Sally''. The era of screaming rock and roll had begun. Billy's vocal here already sounded like Richard Penniman. Why not add some screams and complete the picture? Another rockabilly record of the period that included screaming was Gene Vincent's ''B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go'' (Capitol 3678).

Billy Riley's attraction to Little Richard's musical style will be an in these notes. It was apparent in more than just the recording studio. Roland Janes recalls a road tour with Hayden Thompson. ''Every night Hayden would do a special set where he'd do nothing but Elvis songs and imitate his style. Billy would do the same thing with Little Richard songs. At the end of the show the two of them would come out onstage and do a grand finale so they'd have Elvis and Little Richard on stage together. It was something to see."

With a record on the market, Billy Riley needed to put a band together. Jack Clement was too busy engineering at Sun and to be playing clubs and Bernero had always been temporary. That left only guitarist Roland Janes. Billy Riley and Roland Janes had met a teenage drummer, James M. Van Eaton had been down at Sun with another group. He was quickly drafted into the fold, as was upright bassist Marvin Pepper. By the end of 1956, Riley's group had been co-opted as the house band at Sun Records.

During November and December 1956 Billy Riley and his group worked up their second single. Two weeks before Christmas they were joined by Jerry Lee Lewis who, ten days earlier, had cut his first single with the help of Roland Janes and James M. Van Eaton. On December 11, they cut one of the all-time rockabilly masterpieces, "Flying Saucer Rock And Roll".

01(1) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:02
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 1 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-12 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

According to Billy Riley, ''When we did ''Flying Saucer Rock And roll'', that night Sam gave our band its name. He said, 'We'll call you the Little Green Men'. So he put the name on the record, and we just lived with it''. That upstart piano player would be gone by the time Riley cut the second of his records (''Red Hot''). By then Jerry Lee Lewis was out on the road in support of his own emerging hit called ''Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On''.

01(2) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:01
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 2 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-13 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(3) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:00
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 3 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-14 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(4) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 1:58
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 4 – Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-15 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(5) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:02
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 5 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-16 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(6) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:06
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 6 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 1990
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15444-2-1 mono
BILLY RILEY - THE CLASSIC SUN RECORDINGS 1956 – 1960
Reissued: - 2011 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-17 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

This embryonic version of "Flying Saucer", is much slower then the released version, and the piano is absent. As is the case with Elvis Presley's Sun out-takes, the earlier version is evidence aplenty of how material was radically reworked at Sun over the course of many studio hours, ironically culminating in white hot versions that sounded totally spontaneous.

Riley's guitarist, Roland Janes, remembered a song called "Flying Saucer Rock And Roll" he had heard on a demo tape from Ray Scott, who later recorded one single for Satellite (the precursor of Stax).

With Jerry Lee Lewis on piano and Janes thrashing his tremolobar, Riley delivered the song in a newfound rasping voice that owed more than a passing nod to Little Richard. It is still not entirely clear how the tune found its way into Riley's repertoire. Roland Janes claims that they were actively searching for a follow-up.

He knew Ray Scott and brought him over to Riley's house, whereupon Scott presented a number of songs including "Flying Saucer Rock And Roll" (misprinted as "Saucers" on the record label). However, Riley remembers that Sam Phillips had a demo of the song and claims that Sam Phillips was the one who suggested recording it. "We made it a special sound", emphasized Riley. "Sam said, 'I want something kind of like a space...' He was half drunk at the time. He was in the studio pushing buttons, saying 'Make it sound like little green men. Have a drink. The drunker you get, the spacier you get".

According to Riley, both he and Van Eaton were pretty drunk (as was the case on most of the sessions). That night, the band was collectively dubbed the Billy Riley and the Little Green Men by Sam Phillips and it was under that sobriquet that the single was issued in January 1957.

01(7) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 1:59
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 7 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-18 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(8) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:05
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Chatter & Take 8 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-19 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(9) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:00
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Take 9 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-20 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

01(11) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:13
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - False Start - Take 10 - Not Originally Issued
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - 2011
First appearance: - Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 17122-1-21/22 mono
BILLY RILEY – THE OUTTAKES

When Sam Phillips pressed the red button on his Ampex tape machine to record Billy Riley's single, he was taking the plot of a sci-fi drive-in movie and turning it into a mesmeric rock and roll classic. The elements that he'd gathered together were right on target. Riley's hoarse throat vocal, Jerry Lee's freestyling at the studio upright and Roland Janes, with his eerily-echoed whammy bar, were enough to frighten anyone's horses.

No wonder they were dubbed "The Little Green Men". Billy Riley performs what has become a rockabilly anthem. His raspy vocal on "Flying Saucer Rock And Roll" soars over a frenetic musical sound anchored by newly recruited session pianist Jerry Lee Lewis.

The guitar breaks by Riley and session man Roland Janes have become models for aspiring rockabilly guitarists, but it is James M. Van Eaton who steal the show with some of the tastiest drumming in rockabilly history.

His work during the spacy four bar intro, with that brief foray on to the tom-tom are permanently ingrained in the consciousness of most Sun fans. Similarly, the last ten seconds of this record are an eye-opener. The snare roll during the last sustained chord might have been enough, but the unexpected bass drum stomp raises the record to brilliance.

01(12) - "FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL" - B.M.I. - 2:04
Composer: - Ray Scott
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - U 233 - Overdubbed Master Take 10
Recorded: - December 11, 1956
Released: - January 23, 1957
First appearance: - Sun Records (S) 78/45rpm standard single SUN 260-A mono
FLYING SAUCER ROCK AND ROLL / I WANT YOU BABY
Reissued - 1995 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15802-3-13 mono
THE SUN SINGLES COLLECTION - VOLUME 2

The song was topical. Buchanan and Goodman had concocted their "Flying Saucer" pastchi earlier in the fall of 1956 (undoubtedly where Ray Scott found some of his inspiration). And, as Riley explained, "That was the time they were supposedly sighting flying saucers all over. Things were happening in space. It was a good time for that record. It could have done something". And might have if every press over which Sam Phillips had a degree of control had not been cranking out "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Goin' On".

Topicality aside, the song functions as a tongue-in-cheek rock and roll creation myth with little green men teaching us how to do the bop and bringing the music all the way from Mars.

Ray Scott's lyrics also indulge both the Southerner's and rock and roll innate capacity for fantasy. On one level, it is totally absurd ("the cats jumped out and started a band...") but the outrageous lines get their impact from the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

The recording starts with a call and response between Roland Janes working the whammy bar on his Fender Stratocaster (one of the first uses of a whammy bar on record) and James M. Van Eaton pounding the daylights out of his cymbal (they did not have separate crash and ride cymbals at that time; if you wanted a "crash", you simply hit it harder). Sam Phillips had said, "Make it spacy" - and Roland Janes and James M. Van Eaton did their best.

Throughout the record, Van Eaton gets a deadened sound on his tom-toms by taping billfolds onto them. He was also using a bass drum with unborn calf skin on the front head which imparted a completely muffled sound. "We didn't tune (the drums)", stressed Riley. "We had that dead sound, that cardboard box sound like the old blues". At Sam Phillips' behest, Marvin Pepper contributed the blood curdling screams heard in the eighth bar of all three verses and in the fourth bar of the first guitar solo. Riley's vocal epitomized the half crazed rockabilly fool, going for broke as if his life depended upon it. Both guitar solos are classic double string blues based rockabilly. Roland Janes' Stratocaster has a wonderfully vibrant, live sound which contrast magically with the deadened drum sound. Riley's acoustic Martin Dreadnought underpins everything. The record ends with Jerry Lee Lewis holding down the sustain pedal on the piano, letting the final chord ring for a good ten seconds.

Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Billy Riley - Vocal and Guitar

Roland Janes - Guitar
Marvin Pepper - Bass
James M. Van Eaton - Drums
Jerry Lee Lewis – Piano (After Take 6)

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