Who was/is Billy Lee Riley ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Billy Lee Riley
Kay attracted an answer disc, Wendy Dawn's John, in which Kay hears the record and comes home to live happily ever after. Instead, here’s Kay in Memphis. In Billy Riley's former lives, he'd been a radio hillbilly singer in Arkansas, a rockabilly singer on the original Sun label (in fact, just possibly the best rockabilly singer on any label), a blues man (his Lightnin' Leon single fooled the compilers of the original Blues Records discography), and a club-a-go-go singer. He'd been an artist, backing musician, label owner, and producer. Some of his tracks had appeared on a Bo Diddley album, and he'd recorded under more pseudonyms and for more labels than anyone besides John Lee Hooker. In 1967, an album he recorded for his own Mojo label was acquired by Stax Records in Memphis. Riley was in Atlanta at the time but decided that Memphis was happening again.
Stan Kesler, known to Riley from his first go-round in Memphis, was running the Sounds of Memphis studio and that's where Riley recorded Kay with a sharp-tip funk groove. He resituated the song in Memphis aka Soul City USA, so the line about Ft. Campbell (the military base north of Nashville where Jimi Hendrix served), was gone. The gulf between Memphis and Nashville was never more evident. Riley's rhythm track was created by Kesler's in-house group: guitarist Charlie Freeman, bassist Tommy McClure, drummer Sammy Creason, and Jim Dickinson on keyboards. The wah-wah guitarist could be Riley himself. All the musicians were white, but this was funk from the ground up.
On the label, Kay was credited to Riley’s Libra Productions. Riley played Kay for Sam Phillips, who said it was Riley's finest record. "Sam suggested I play it for Shelby Singleton who had just bought all the old Sun masters and had formed the Sun International label," Riley said later. "I did all the arranging and I had part of the Memphis Symphony, the Memphis Horns. I had the cream of the crop on that one. Shelby bought the record and gave me a job as producer and moved me to Fort Walton Beach, Florida to produce in his studio there." Singleton licensed it on June 17, 1969, a couple of weeks before he officially bought Sun from Phillips. Soon after Riley left for Florida, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records whisked Kesler's studio group away to Criteria Studios in Miami, and Kesler himself left for Nashville. Once again, everybody was leaving town. Riley grew disillusioned, but lived to enjoy late acclaim for his early records. He died on August 2, 2009. COLIN ESCOTT
Billy Lee Riley Classic Recordings 1956-1960 (2-CD)
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