On Bob Dylan’s Jukebox : Billy Lee Riley – Red Hot

Primal 1950s Sun Records Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll could transform your life with the shocking power felt by Saul on the road to Damascus.

Reborn.

Changed utterly.

No going back now.

A record is made in Memphis Tennessee in 1957, ‘Red Hot’ by Billy Lee Riley from Pocohontas Arkansas.

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Then it is carried on the airwaves a thousand miles north to Hibbing Minnesota where 16 year old Robert Allen Zimmerman experiences an epiphany for which he would be forever grateful.

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‘[Billy Lee Riley} … was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote.

… Billy became what is known in the industry—a condescending term—as a one-hit wonder.

But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him.

And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot.

It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.’ (Bob Dylan)

Well, if that didn’t blast you out of your skull you need a skull transplant!

150 seconds of Bliss.

Pure Bliss.

Billy and his band, the brilliantly named ‘Little Green Men’ explode into your consciousness with the overwhelming impact of a comet crashing to Earth.

Roland Janes and Billy on the searing guitars.

Jimmy Van Eaton on the we will not be denied drums.

Marvin Pepper on the go as fast as you like boys I’ll keep us on the road bass.

Jimmy Wilson on the hold fast here comes the rapids piano.

And Billy’s vocal?

Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen here we have the very essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Now, in any well ordered Universe ‘Red Hot’ would have been a No 1 Hit.

But, as we know, things often don’t work out the way they should.

So, Sam Phillips, the Caesar of Sun Records, decided that he didn’t have the resources to properly promote both ‘Red Hot’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ – well which would you have chosen?

Nevertheless, to achieve some sort of cosmic balance, ‘Red Hot’ is now installed as A80 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Billy’s had one minor hit with the fantastic, ‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll’ (sure to feature here later) and he made important contributions as a sideman in Memphis with Sun and in Los Angeles.

His career got a welcome boost in the late 1970s when Robert Gordon and the mighty Link Wray recorded dynamite covers of Red Hot and Flyin’ Saucers.

Billy played irregularly but every time he hit the stage he carried with him and delivered the elemental white-fiery spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Here from 2008, just a year before he died, a performance that is a wonderful testament to a true Rock ‘n Roller.

God Bless you Billy Lee!

Notes :

Below, a joyous shot of an obviously delighted Bob Dylan revelling in the rapturous applause Billy Lee received when he joined Bob on stage in 1992.

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My go to CD for Billy Lee is ‘Billy Lee Rocks’ on the estimable Bear Family Label.

Red Hot was written and first recorded by Billy ‘The Kid Emerson’ in 1955.

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Billy also wrote ‘When It Rains, It Really Pours’ covered by Elvis himself and ‘Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile) which was recorded by Ry Cooder.

As far as I know Billy is still alive at the age of 93!

Thanks for the songs Billy!

SET YOUR CALENDARS!

The 2019 Immortal Jukebox ‘Christmas Alphabet’ will begin on Thursday December 5th and continue on the 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st.

Don’t miss out and spread the word!

40 thoughts on “On Bob Dylan’s Jukebox : Billy Lee Riley – Red Hot

  1. What a corking rasping voice from Billy Lee! – he sounds like a man whose girl really is red hot and has er, burnt his vocal chords 🙂 Just the right voice for the straight-down-the-line truth of one of those great early rockers!

    Liked by 1 person

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