DAVE'S DIARY - 28 MAY 2006 - BILLY WALKER OBITUARY

BILLY WALKER RIP AT 77

BORN BILLY WALKER - RALLS, TEXAS, - JANUARY 14, 1929.
DIED MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, - MAY 21, 2006

BILLY WALKER KILLED ON LOST HIGHWAY

Famed Texan troubadour Billy Walker may not have appreciated the irony.

Walker died at 77 with his wife Bettie in a horrific Alabama car accident that claimed two of his band members.

The singer, known as the Travelling Texan and Masked Singer of Country Songs, was among the first to share a stage with Elvis and last to tour with Hank Williams.

He later cheated death on the 1963 plane-flight that took Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins when Hawkins gave him a ticket for another plane.

Walker also sang at the reprised wedding of Hank and second wife Billie Jean Jones Elishmar in New Orleans.

And, like Hank and Billie Jean's second husband Johnny Horton, he also perished in a vehicle on the Lost Highway between concerts.

The Walkers and bassist Charles Lilly Jr., 44, and guitarist Daniel Patton Sr., 40, went to God after their van overturned on I 65, near Foley, south of Montgomery, early on May 21.

Walker and band were driving to Middle Tennessee, after a gig at the Palm Lake Opry & RV Park in Foley, Alabama, when their van he was driving ran off the interstate and overturned, according to Alabama state troopers.

Joshua Brooks, the Walkers' 21-year-old grandson, is still in a critical condition at a Montgomery hospital.

Lilly and recently engaged Patton sang harmonies with Walker the group often picked up a drummer in each town they played.

News of the accident rocked Opry members.

"I'm devastated," said Jeannie Seely, former singing spouse of Hank Cochran.
"It just hurts all the way through."

Walker is best known for hits including Funny How Time Slips Away, Cross The Brazos At Waco and Charlie's Shoes.

Walker had 32 top 10 hits - Charlie's Shoes was selected as one of the Top 100 Hot Country Singles of all time.

The debonair tenor emerged from the Dallas music scene in the forties and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1960.

His voice and stage manner were integral parts of the Opry.

Walker was one of the show's most outgoing and personable performers - onstage and backstage.

And even behind the Opry's famed orange curtain, he was a bon vivant encouraging young artists even as he and Bettie asserted the importance of the show's veterans.

WILLIE NELSON

At one stage he gave shelter to a young Willie Nelson in his early era in Nashville and cut his songs.

The former Texan turkey plucker and singing DJ later joined Shotgun Willie in 1983 on Charlie's Shoes - a Roy Baham song Billy originally cut in 1962.

Willie met Walker in Waco and lived with him in Nashville where Billy was the first artist to record a Nelson song The Storm Within My Heart.

"Another Willie song Crazy I had placed on hold to record," the deceased revealed after he cut Mr Record Man.

Walker reached #23 in 1961 with Funny How Time Slips Away.

"I traded Crazy for another song called Charlie's Shoes. It became my first million selling song in the 60's. I've often wondered what the song Crazy would have done for me."

FROM RALLS TO GLORY

Walker was the seventh of eight children born to a Texan agrarian who ran a 180-acre farm until he lost it in the depression when he couldn't make a $20 payment.

Billy was just four when his mother died and at six was placed in an orphanage when the bank foreclosed.

"This meant my two brothers, Jerry, and Delmar and me had to go to the Methodist Home in Waco, Texas," the grandson of a Methodist Minister recalled after his dad moved from farm to farm as share-croppers.

After leaving the orphanage aged 12 he plucked turkeys to earn enough money to buy his first guitar.

He also bought a 25c instruction booklet and fell under the musical spell of Autry.

But his father told him "boy that guitar will send you straight to hell."

But at 13, his father gave him a dime to see a Gene Autry film, and he dreamed of becoming a singing cowboy

BOB WILLS

"One time Bob Wills came close to us and played a little town called Morton," Billy revealed in a 1992 interview.

"I found a café close to where they were playing and sure enough some of the Texas Playboys drifted in. The guy who taught me a few chords was Eldon Shamblin and I went away and practised until I mastered them."

At the age of 15 Billy hosted a show on KICA in Clovis, New Mexico, that he filled after an 80-mile drive.

When he fronted his first band Sons Of The Prairie he was heavily influenced by Sons Of The Pioneers.

He gravitated from another radio station at San Angelo to KWTX, Waco, where he was in competition with fellow singing DJ Hank Thompson on another local station.

In 1949 he auditioned for the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, hitched 100 miles to shows and performed with a mask explained by a ruse that he was a rich boy whose folks didn't want him associated with "dirty country music."

It worked.

Billy became opening act for Thompson with spots on the Hadacol show that featured the other Hank - Williams.

Walker, Price, and Lefty Frizzell recorded at the legendary Jim Beck studio in Dallas.

HANKS AND HADACOL

"Not many people know it but Hank Thompson got me my first recording contract with Capitol Records in 1949," Walker recalled in 1992.

"The first record I ever cut was You're Headin' For Heartaches. On the strength of that I got a spot on the Hadacol network show, pushed out by 13 major 50,000 watt stations.

Hank Williams, whom I was to get to know much better later on, was part of the Hadacol Caravan."

Walker worked with Sonny James, Ray Price, Hank Snow and Lefty Frizzell on the Big D Jamboree.

"By 1951 I had left Capitol and signed with Columbia," Walker revealed.

"The following year I had a regional hit with Anything Your Heart Desires. I had left the Jamboree so I headed for Nashville and met up with Webb Pierce."

Walker joined the Louisiana Hayride from 1952-5 and worked with Slim Whitman, Tommy and Goldie Hill, Faron Young, Jim Reeves and Horton.

"It was around this time that Hank Williams had got divorced from Audrey," Walker added.

"He had been drinking quite a bit and they threw him off the Opry so in August, 1952, he came back to the Hayride where he had started out. Hank had met up with a pretty young thing in Nashville called Billie Jean Jones Elishmar. She had been going out with Faron Young but I guess that washed up. She was about 19 and the daughter of a Bossier City police officer. Hank seemed really taken by her and one night in October on the way to the Hayride he wrote I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You for her and he sang it the same night on the Hayride. At 2 am he called me up and said "hey, I want you to sing at my wedding. I'm going to marry Billie Jean."

BILLY A SINGING WHILE HANK A WEDDING

Hank shocked Billy with his time frame and locale - the next morning in New Orleans after a 7 am flight on a small-chartered plane.

Not exactly a shotgun wedding - more a Colt repeater.

"What I only found out on the flight was that Hank had already gotten married and her divorce wasn't official until midnight so they decided to go through the ceremony again - this time in public," Walker added.

"A promoter in New Orleans, Oscar Davis, booked the huge Municipal Auditorium and got a few more acts to perform. There was a matinee and evening performance. At the time I had the No 1 hit in New Orleans with Anything Your Heart Desires and I was half way through the song, in front of the packed house, when out walks Hank, dragging Billie Jean along. He said wait a minute, Walker. When ol Hank wants to get married, he gets married.

They performed the ceremony right then and there and he says OK you can sing the rest of the song for me."

HANK FINALE TEXAS TOUR

Walker also performed on Hanks' fateful finale tour in Texas from December 10-21 in 1952 with gigs in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin.

He also planned to tour with the legend, then misguided by a convicted forger with phoney degrees, in February and help him return to the Opry.

"He needed money badly so he asked me to tour with him again in February because he got himself booked into a rehabilitation clinic in the Bahamas and needed to pay for that," Walker added.

"Hank was a tragic figure. Just 10 days after that tour he was dead."

PATSY CLINE

Walker avoided a similar fate in 1963 when played a benefit concert in Kansas City with Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.

Hawkins overheard Billy's dilemma and handed him his plane ticket, and said, "Here kid, you take this ticket and you get on that plane and you be Hawkshaw Hawkins, I'll fly home with Patsy and the others."

Later a small private plane would crash just 30 minutes from its final destination.

Hawkins, Randy Hughes, Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline were dead.

Walker had no idea that the plane ticket he received that day would literally save his life.

For years Walker carried a wound so deep that he couldn't speak over the loss of his friends.

Until one day he realised the greatest tribute he could give to his friends was to sing.

Walker and Marty Robbins also worked together on stage and on TV.

"He did 26 episodes for TV of a show called Marty Robbins Spotlight for a company called Showbiz for whom I did Billy Walker's Country Carnival for three years," Walker recalled.

BILLY, SLIM & ELVIS

It was in 1954 that Walker, who had a hit with Thank You For Calling, and Slim Whitman scored another claim to fame.

Elvis Presley made his stage debut at 19 when he opened for Walker and Whitman on the Overton Band Show in Memphis.

This led to Elvis appearing on the Louisiana Hayride and touring West Texas with the duo in February 1955.

A young Waylon Jennings was the poster paster and assisted in promotion of the tour.

Walker later introduced a shy Elvis to his old friend Roy Orbison.

"Elvis came to the Hayride in September, 1954, and stayed through until April or May of 1955," Walker added.

"He was doing stuff like That's Alright Mama, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Milk Cow Boogie and
I Forgot To Remember To Forget
. Elvis became a massive hit in West Texas. Not many people remember Elvis got super hot in West Texas long before he got hot anywhere else.

You'll not read that in many books because Tom Parker didn't want anything to do with country music as far as Elvis went. In his first book Parker acknowledged the fact that Slim Whitman and I helped him get started but he deleted all references to us later on."

RED FOLEY OZARK JUBILEE TO OPRY

Walker appeared regularly on Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee in the late fifties before joining the Opry in 1960.

He scored with Funny How Time Slips Away, Charlie's Shoes, Willie The Weeper, Circumstances, Cross The Brazos At Waco, Heart, Be Careful, The Morning Paper and Matmoros.

In the mid-sixties he joined Monument for five years and had hits with A Million And One, Bear With Me A Little Longer, Smoky Places, a revamp of Anything Your Heart Desires and Ramona.

And from 1970-4 the hits continued on MGM with When A Man Loves A Woman, She Goes Walking Through My Mind, I'm Gonna Keep Me On Loving You and Sing Me A Love Song To Baby.

A switch to RCA produced Word Games, Don't Stop In My World and If I'm Losing You.

Walker cut albums for indie labels before forming his own Tall Texan label for radio friendly tunes Coffee Brown Eyes and Wild Texas Rose.

He also recorded the oft requested wedding song Adam's Side and gospel CD Back On The Mountain Again.

Walker's radio reign receded but his fame flame burned bright at the Opry where he was a beacon for protégées.

"He couldn't have been more supportive," Brad Paisley said after the crash that took Walker.

Billy introduced Paisley on his first appearance on the Opry, in May 1999.

"I remember that he came to my first gold-record party, and I'll always remember his charismatic presence when he was on stage," Paisley, now 35, added.

"He never seemed old to me, which is another thing that is so hard about this."


BOXED SET

Bear Family released a Billy Walker six-disc Boxed Set Cross The Brazos At Waco that includes his complete Capitol and Columbia recordings from 1949 to 1966.

It also has a 32-page book with detailed info, biography and photos.

Track listings below

DISC 1:
1. Headin' For Heartaches I'm Gonna Take My Heart Away From You
2. You're Gonna Pay With A Broken Heart
3. You Didn't Try And Didn't Care
4. Too Many Times
5. Dirt 'Neath Your Feet
6. I Guess I'll Have To Die
7. Anything Your Heart Desires
8. Last Kiss Is The Sweetest, The
9. Alcohol Love
10. I Ain't Got No Roses
11. Beautiful Brown Eyes
12. Don't Tell A Soul I Love You
13. She's Got Honky Tonk Blood (In Her Veins)
14. What Would You Do
15. Always Think Of You
16. Ting-A-Ling
17. Fifteen Hugs Past Midnight (Twenty Kisses)
18. Millie Darling
19. Anything Your Heart Desires
20. What Makes Me Love You (Like I Do)
21. One Heart's Beatin', One Heart's Cheatin'
22. If I Should Live That Long
23. Stolen Love
24. Who Took My Ring From Your Finger

DISC 2:

1. Back Street Affair You Can Talk Me Out Of Anything (But You)
2. True Love's So Hard To Find
3. You Have My Heart Now/You Know You Did
4. One You Hurt, The
5. I Can Tell
6. I Had A Dream
7. I'm Looking For Love
8. Gal About Town
9. I Didn't Have The Nerve It Took To Go
10. Don't Let Your Pride Break Your Heart
11. Mexican Joe
12. Time Will Tell
13. Headin' For Heartaches
14. It Hurts Too Much To Laugh
15. I Got Lost Along The Way
16. I Can't Keep The Girls Away
17. Thank You For Calling
18. Candle Light
19. Pretend You Just Don't Know Me
20. I'm A Fool To Care
21. Going-Going-Gone!

DISC 3:

1. Kissing You You're The Only Good Thing
2. Let Me Hear From You
3. Let Me Hear From You
4. Hey!
5. Fool That I Am
6. Record, The
7. Which One Of Us Is To Blame
8. Let's Make Memories Tonight
9. Whirlpool
10. Go Ahead And Make Me Cry
11. Most Important Things, The
12. Can't You Love Me Just A Little
13. Blue Mountain Waltz
14. Why Does It Have To Be
15. So Far
16. Little Baggy Britches
17. Leavin' On My Mind
18. I'll Never Stand In Your Way
19. Untamed Heart
20. Especially For Fools
21. If You Were Happy (Then I'm Satisfied)
22. Headin' Down The Wrong Highway
23. On My Mind Again
24. Viva La Matador!

DISC 4:

1. Anything Your Heart Desires I Care No More
2. Image Of Me, The
3. I Need It
4. Where My Baby Goes (She Goes With Me)
5. Put Your Hand In Mine
6. It'll Take A While
7. It's Doggone Tough On Me
8. Ghost Of A Promise
9. Love's Got A Hold On Me
10. I Dreamed Of An Old Love Affair
11. Mr. Heartache
12. I Thought About You
13. Storm Within My Heart, The
14. One Way Give And Take
15. Woman Like You, A
16. I Call It Heaven
17. Forever
18. Farewell Party
19. Changed My Mind
20. Gotta Find A Way
21. I'll Be True To You
22. Little Lover
23. I Wish You Love
24. Yes, I've Made It
25. Faded Lights And Lonesome People


DISC 5:

1. Just Call Me Lonesome (from Now On) / Let's Think About Livin' / Alone With You
2. They'll Never Take Her Love From Me
3. I Take The Chance
4. Guess Things Happen That Way
5. I'm The One Who Loves You, (Remember Me)
6. Molly Darling
7. Rockin' Alone (In An Old Rockin' Chair)
8. Gonna Find Me A Bluebird
9. There Stands The Glass
10. Jambalaya
11. Charlie's Shoes
12. Funny How Time Slips Away
13. Joey's Back In Town
14. Charlie's Shoes
15. Wild Colonial Boy
16. I Know I'm Lying
17. Next Voice You Hear, The
18. Willie The Weeper
19. It's Me Not Them
20. Lovely Hula Hands
21. Beggin' For Trouble
22. Plaything
23. I've Got A New Heartache
24. Give Back My Heart
25. Ancient History
26. Thank You For Calling
27. Man Who Has Everything, The
28. These Arms Of Mine
29. Throw Me Out


DISC 6:

1. Storm Of Love That Would Sure Go Good
2. Heart Be Careful
3. Circumstances
4. It's Lonesome
5. Morning Paper, The
6. Coming Back For More
7. Cross The Brazos At Waco
8. Down To My Last Cigarette
9. It It Pleases You
10. I'm So Miserable Without You
11. Matamoros
12. Samuel Colt
13. Blue Moonlight
14. Come A Little Bit Closer
15. Gun, The Gold, The Girl, The
16. Blizzard, The
17. Pancho Villa
18. Cattle Call
19. Amigo's Guitar
20. Lawman, The
21. Buy Juanita Some Flowers
22. I'm Nothin' To You
23. Smokey Memories
24. Nobody But A Fool
25. Pretend You Don't See Me
26. Don't Change


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