When I heard the news last week about DJ Fontana and Bill Black making the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I Immediately sat down and started writing about DJ Fontana. I wasn’t disrespecting Bill Black. I knew I would get to him next, and now it is time to give Bill Black a great big posthumous congratulation.
Scotty, Bill and DJ
It’s hard to believe he passed away forty-four years ago. Too bad he didn’t have the durability of Scotty and DJ, who are still carrying on in their mid-seventies. Those three guys made one heck of a band behind Elvis. Despite his short time in the spotlight, Bill Black is an interesting story.
I told part of it five years ago in the 50th Anniversary issue of Elvis International, The Magazine. It was a sidebar to an article about the Legends Salute, a concert promoted by Darwin Lamm at Elvis week 2004. The concert was in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Elvis’ first song, “That’s All Right (Mama).” It was headlined by Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, Boots Randolph, and The Jordanaires.
A SALUTE TO BILL BLACK — The Unsung Legend
By Phil Arnold
From: Elvis International, The Magazine…50th Anniversary Of Rock & Roll — August 2004
The 50th anniversary of the birth of rock & roll cannot pass without giving just praise to one of the men who was there: Bill Black. Scotty Moore and Bill were the old pros in Sun Records studio on July 5,1954, when “That’s All Right (Mama) was recorded. They were pioneers, just like Elvis, in the unearthing of this new sound. Their musical talents on guitar and base blended with Elvis’s powerful vocal to create history.
Scene from Jailhouse Rock reminiscent of the real thing at Sun Records
Scotty Moore is a headliner of the 2004 Legends Salute. Bill Black, unfortunately, will not be on stage, as he died in 1965 of a brain tumor. His memory should be honored, not just for his contributions in the studio, but also for the huge benefits Elvis’ early live shows got from his stage presence. Quite often Bill’s joking around warmed up the crowd and took some heat off Elvis. Scotty Moore states, “If it hadn’t been for Bill, there were a bunch of shows where we would have died on the vine.”
Bill Black riding his upright base on the Milton Berle Show, April 3, 1956
Bill Black’s bag of tricks included riding his stand-up bass across the stage. In his book “That’s Alright Elvis” Scotty Moore tells of the times on stage when Bill would take off Scotty’s belt while he was doing a guitar solo, and throw it out into the audience.
Elvis and Bill Black on stage in Austin, TX, August 25, 1956
Bill parted company with Elvis in 1958. He went on to considerable success with a string of instrumental hits by Bill Black’s Combo in the early 60’s. He is a true trailblazer in the birth of rock & roll, and should be remembered when “The Legends” salute the 50th anniversary of rock & roll. Bill Black’s spirit will be up on stage with them that night, a legacy from the ‘unsung legend.’
© 2004 Philip R Arnold
Here are the songs on that string of instrumental hits by Bill Black’s Combo. The first three were all million sellers.
Smokie Part 2 #17 – 1959
White Silver Sands #9 – 1960
Josephine #18 – 1960
Don’t Be Cruel #11 – 1960
Blue Tango #16 – 1960
Hearts Of Stone #20 – 1961
Ole Buttermilk Sky #25 – 1961
Twist-Her #26 – 1962
Almost all pictures of Bill Black show him with an upright bass, but here is one taken on September 1, 1957 at Sick’s Seattle Stadium that shows him wielding a Fender electric bass.
Here is a 1962 shot of Bill Black’s Combo. Did you ever see any other band on stage where the bass player is out front and the guitar player is in the back?
If you would like to read up on more about Bill Black’s Combo, here is a link to a story I wrote in 2000 for Elvis International, The Magazine titled “The Music of Bill Black’s Combo.”
So, that’s my tribute to Bill Black, Elvis’ original bass player. I am so glad he will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.
Bill, you deserve it. Congratulations.
© 2009 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net