1960 Bill Black’s Combo – Smokie Part 2
Bill Black grew up in Memphis. His father played the banjo and fiddle and made Bill an instrument from an old cigar box, a board, and some strings. Eventually, Bill learned to play guitar and bass.
Bill developed a slap-bass technique and also clowned around on stage. In 1952, he joined forces with guitarist Scotty Moore, and they played in the Starlight Wranglers. They briefly joined a band with future rockabilly stars Paul Burlison, Johnny Burnette, and Dorsey Burnette.
In 1954, Sam Phillips asked the pair to play backup for Elvis, who played rhythm guitar and sang and recorded a few songs. Sun Records initially credited them on the releases as “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill.” Later pressings listed them as Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys. They worked as part of the back-up band for Elvis in concert and even received 25% of his earnings for his early shows. Bill developed some comedy routines with Elvis.
In 1959, Bill became the leader of Bill Black’s Combo, an instrumental group. They recorded the album Saxy Jazz in 1959 and began releasing singles from the album. The song Smokie – Part 1 did not do too well until disk jockeys turned the single over and began playing Smokie – Part 2. That side reached #17 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart in early 1960.
The band immediately did better with their next single. Don Rondo reached #7 on the Hot 100 in 1957 with a vocal version of the song White Silver Sands, and Bill Black’s Combo released an instrumental version that reached #9 on the Hot 100 in 1960.
The band appeared and played both singles in the film Teenage Millionaire in 1961.
The band had a half-dozen additional top forty singles in the next two years. Their last visit to that chart came with their contribution to the twist party: Twist-Her reached #26 on the Hot 100 in 1963.
They followed that with another twist song, Twistin’ ‘White Silver Sands, but that single stalled at #92.
Bill became increasingly ill beginning in 1962, and Bob Tucker took his place on the road for live performances. The Beatles requested the band open for them on 13 stops of their American tour in 1964.
Bill went through several operations, but they were unable to halt his cancer’s progress. Bill died in 1965.
The band continued playing and recording albums through 1975, although their focus became Country music.
Paul McCartney now owns Bill’s primary stand-up bass.
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