Who was/is Bill Carlisle ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Proving rocking knew no age restrictions, Bill Carlisle was zeroing in on the age of 50 when he waxed the infectious Dumb Bunny for Chet Atkins on July 30, 1957 at RCA’s Nashville studio on McGavock Street with Hank Garland on lead guitar, Roy Huskey on bass, drummer Buddy Harman, and Dottie Sills and The Jordanaires’ Hugh Jarrett adding vocal backing—though he sure didn’t sound like it. Given to leaping high in the air onstage, Jumpin’ Bill was already close to a quarter century into his recording career, and he appeared on the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ as late as 2003.

Born December 19, 1908 in Wakefield, Kentucky, Bill and his brother Cliff grew up dirt-poor on a sharecropper’s farm raising tobacco and walking several miles to school each day. But that didn’t stop them from learning how to play guitar. Cliff, the older of the two by five years later, made it into a recording studio first for Gennett in 1930, playing steel guitar in partnership with guitarist Wilbur Ball on a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ classic T For Texas.

Bill made his recording debut in July of 1933, journeying to New York to wax a solo Rattlesnake Daddy for Vocalion. During three days of recording, Bill and Cliff (who mastered the Hawaiian steel guitar) also cut some duets, including the wonderfully raunchy Sal Got A Meatskin.  Double-entendre material became a specialty of the Carlisles, Cliff coming up with Mouses’ Ear Blues at the same series of dates. Bill continued to record prolifically, both under his own name and as half of The Carlisle Brothers, throughout the pre-war era for Vocalion, Bluebird, and Decca.

The Carlisle Brothers nailed a major country hit in 1946 for King Records with their version of Rainbow At Midnight, but Cliff called it quits the following year. Bill rebounded by scoring a solo ’48 hit on King, Tramp On The Street. He assembled a new group sensibly dubbed The Carlisles, and in ’51 they commenced a new series of C&W best-sellers for Mercury with the novelty Too Old To Cut The Mustard (Cliff had temporarily returned to the act, along with singer Martha Carson and a young Atkins on guitar).

Bill and The Carlisles topped the C&W hit parade in 1953 with another raucous entry, No Help Wanted, following it up with three more hits--Knothole, Iz Zat You, Myrtle, and Tain’t Nice (To Talk Like That)—before year’s end. Shake-A-Leg (written by Bill and The Louvin Brothers) and a cover of The Drifters’ zesty R&B smash Honey Love closed out the group’s hit streak in 1954 (by then Bill was vocally joined by Kenny Hill and Betty Amos).

Carlisle didn’t last long at RCA, despite the rowdy charm of Dumb Bunny. He drifted back to Mercury and then to Columbia, scoring his last chart entry for Hickory in 1965 with What Kinda Deal Is This. The high-flying Country Music Hall of Famer stayed musically active until just before the end on March 17, 2003 at age 94 in Nashville.

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