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Sun Records Rockabilly Legend Billy Lee Riley Dies

Posted: Aug 03, 2009

Billy Lee Riley, who was a major part of Sun Records as a studio musician for other headliners died on Sunday, August 2, 2009 near his home in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He had been suffering from colon cancer, and it had moved to his bones, his wife, Joyce, told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tenn. He was 75.

Jerry Lee, Narvel Felts and Billy Lee in 2007.

"He was actually feeling better lately. So the very end was unexpected. But, he went peacefully," Joyce Riley said.

Riley was one of the early performers who recorded at Memphis' legendary Sun Records, playing on the original Sun recording of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," among others. Billy Lee's singles included "Red Hot" and "Flyin' Saucers Rock & Roll."

Born in the town of Pocahontas, Riley grew up in a sharecropper family in northeast Arkansas and learned guitar and harmonica from other families.

He kept performing late in life, including a June gig in Memphis with Sonny Burgess, another northeast Arkansas native and Sun performer.

Bob Timmers, founder of The Rockabilly Hall of Fame said, "If Jerry Lee Lewis hadn't been such a smash hit back in the late '50s, Sam Phillips was ready to push Billy Lee Riley.  But Billy Lee wound up taking second fiddle and that haunted him the rest of his life.  Billy Lee could do rock and roll, blues, country, whatever. Whenever he did a live show, he was in it 100%." 

A graveside service is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Newport, Arkansas.

A Billy Lee Riley Memorial Benefit show is scheduled for Sunday, August 30th in Newport, Arkansas at the Silver Moon Club, located on 167 Highway, North of the Rock and Roll Highway. The show will start at 1 pm. Scheduled to appear: Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, WS Holland and his band, Travis Wammack, Carl Mann, Smoochy Smith, Ace Cannon and his band, Jr Rogers, Warren Crow, JM VanEaton, Dale Hawkins, CW Gattin, Teddy Reidel, Jeannie and the Guys, Matt - Jim & Tim the Blues Bros. Band, Teddy Hill, Larry Donn. Contact: Rapidbc1@aol.com

-Michael Buffalo Smith (with some information derived from Yahoo News)

For LOTS more on Billy, visit his page at The Official Rockabilly Hall of Fame!


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waynep says...

Billy Lee was one of the very best. He deserved much more acclaim than what fate dealt him.

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