Monday, August 19, 2013


One of Billy Lee Riley's first memorable records was "Red Hot". If you're at all into rockabilly, you probably know it. Most people assume it was recorded at Sun Studios because it was released on Sun Records and featured his backing band, the Little Green Men, who also served as the house band at Sun; that Jerry Lee Lewis played piano on it just adds to the confusion. But it was in fact recorded at Fernwood Studio in Memphis, in 1957. Seems like a trivial detail, but it's one of my ten thousand music bugaboos.

Riley did record quite a few sides at Sun, and it's the label most associated with him for good reason. His other big one, "Flying Saucers Rock 'n' Roll" was recorded there and that one-two punch would be his calling card. Both top notch rockers and both released on Sun. Neither was a real hit. Just as Riley was gaining traction, Jerry Lee Lewis's career was as well. Being the owner of a small independent label, Sam Phillips had limited resources. He wanted to put his money behind one or the other, and Jerry Lee Lewis got the nod. When Riley found out that Phillips canceled some 30,000 advance orders of "Red Hot", and told the distributors to push "Great Balls of Fire" instead, he was rightfully pissed. He went out, got faced, and then went back to Sun and smashed some shit up. Or so the story goes.

The first one below is the Fernwood recorded "Red Hot", and the next four are from Sun. There's a couple interesting later songs too, particularly "Little Green Men" from 1992. It's worth hearing because it features original Little Green Men Roland Janes on guitar and Jimmy Van Eaton on drums, plus Travis ("Scratchy") Wammack on guitar and Ace Cannon on sax. So, that's it, I'm off to dig into Fernwood stuff. This shit never ends.

Billy Lee Riley - Red Hot mp3 at Boogie Woogie Flu 1957
Billy Lee Riley - Flying Saucers Rock n' Roll mp3
at Boogie Woogie Flu 1957
Billy Lee Riley - Baby Please Don't Go at 1957
Billy Lee Riley - Pearly Lee mp3 at 1957
Billy Lee Riley - Rock With Me Baby mp3 at 1956
Billy Lee Riley - St. James Infirmary (live) mp3 at 1966
Billy Lee Riley - Little Green Men mp3 at Delta Boogie 1992
Billy Lee Riley's bio, in his own words at Delta Boogie
(NOTE: Scroll halfway down the page)
Billy Lee Riley at Wikipedia
Billy Lee Riley - Discography at Wang Dang Dula
Fernwood Studio at The Rockabilly Hall of Fame

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