Billy Lee Riley R.I.P.
August 8, 2009 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Billy Lee Riley, legendary rockabilly performer and Sun Studios recording artist died on August 2, 2009. His two biggest hits were Flying Saucers Rock and Roll and Red Hot. Billy never achieved the fame of his Sun Records contemporaries Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley. He later went to Los Angeles and worked as a session musician, recording with artists such as the Beach Boys and Dean Martin. His career enjoyed a resurgence beginning in the mid-1990s. He released the Grammy nominated album Hot Damn! in 1997.

Baby Please Don't Go, another early Sun recording. Some more recent performance videos: Red Hot (2007) and Flying Saucers Rock/Trouble Bound (2005).

I searched and searched, I'm surprised this hadn't been posted already. Sorry, if it is a double and I missed something.
posted by marxchivist (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Rock and Roll: Three chords and a cloud of dust. All the rest is superfluous.
posted by belvidere at 1:04 PM on August 8, 2009

If, in your studies and love of rock n' roll and its history, you have overlooked Billy Lee Riley, then you have a gaping hole in the lesson on Sun Records.

And I'm pretty sure he put the "billy" into rockabilly.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:10 PM on August 8, 2009

Huh. I performed "Red Hot" just last night.
posted by sourwookie at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2009

Those two songs are enough for anyone's immortality. Gonna rock and roll all the way to the stars!

posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2009

Huh. Flying Saucer and Red Hot are two of the best cuts from "Robert Gordon with Link Wray", and in my naivete I thought they'd written them. Still great versions, though; the late great Mr. Wray gives them a workout.
posted by Bron at 2:15 PM on August 8, 2009


I mainly knew of him as the musician responsible for Harmonica Beatlemania. One of the better Beatles cash-in albums.
posted by jonp72 at 3:04 PM on August 8, 2009

posted by Smart Dalek at 3:15 PM on August 8, 2009

RiP Billy Lee.

Thanks for the fine post, marxchivist.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:08 PM on August 8, 2009

Thanks flapjax, before I posted this I thought "Surely flapjax has already done this." I love some early Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, but Billy Lee just seems to have this extra little bit of insanity and mayhem in these early cuts.
posted by marxchivist at 4:22 PM on August 8, 2009

The documentary Good Rockin' Tonight is about Sun Records. In the doc, Billy Lee Riley gets all up in Sam Phillips face and accuses him of not promoting "Red Hot" the way he should. Sam doesn't really disagree, just said he had a limited budget and had to do the best he could with it. I think the record Sam promoted instead of "Red Hot" was Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire". It must have really burned Riley to see Lewis performing on TV while he struggled for an audience.
posted by CCBC at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2009

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