1958 Roger Williams – Near You
Louis Jacob Weertz was born in Nebraska and grew up in Iowa. He began playing the piano by age three and attended Iowa’s Drake University to work on a degree in piano. The school had a policy of only allowing classical piano music to be played in their practice rooms, and they expelled Louis from the school after they caught him playing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.
He then earned an engineering degree from Idaho State College, after which he returned to Drake and earned a master’s degree in music. He won a few talent contests with his playing in the early fifties and signed with Kapp Records. The label pushed him into using the name Roger Williams (the name of the founder of Rhode Island).
Roger released the single Autumn Leaves in 1955 and the single topped the Hot 100. Over a dozen singles followed in the next few years but over half of them didn’t even reach the top forty.
He then covered a hit from 1947. Piano player Francis Craig had written the song Near You and recorded a single with vocals by orchestra member Bob Lamm.
Four other artists released versions of the song in 1947 that made the top ten, but the big hit belonged to Francis: his single stayed on the top of the Most Played By Jockeys chart for 17 weeks. Eventually, Old Town Road by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus took over his spot in the record books when it spent 19 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 in 2019.
Milton Berle used the song as his closing theme on his television show (Texaco Star Theater) from 1946 to 1958. Ironically, Roger recorded the song and released it as an instrumental during Milton’s last year with the show. Roger’s single reached #10 on the Hot 100 in 1958.
It was to be Roger’s last top forty single until 1966 (when Born Free took him back into the top ten again).
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