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  •  

    Justis, Bill

    Arranger, composer, saxophonist and trumpeter from Birmingham, Alabama, who spent his formative years in Memphis, Tennessee, and pursued degrees in music and English at Tulane University.  Going to school in New Orleans had its perks, like local gigs on the dance club and jazz circuits. 

     

    In 1954, he moved back to Memphis and slummed in local bands until Sam Phillips offered him a job at Sun Records.  Well, make that jobs.  Not only did Bill issue recordings under his own name:  He also wrote arrangements for Sun fixtures such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. 

     

    In 1957, Bill released an instrumental entitled “Raunchy”, whose title reflects the sound of the music.  The song features Sid Manker on a guitar that sounds like it would be perfectly home in the Mississippi Delta and Bill on a sax that sounds like it would be perfectly at home in a Vegas strip club.  It was an enormous hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard top forty, where it would hang around for about four months.  “Raunchy” also achieved international success, topping the Australian chart and going to #11 in the United Kingdom.  Other artists who have had hit versions of it include Ernie Freeman and Billy Vaughn.  George Harrison auditioned for The Quarry Men with his rendition of it, and we all know where that led. 

     

    In 1960, he discovered a lounge singer in the Sharecropper Club in Memphis who was doing covers of Frank Sinatra songs.  The young man’s name was Charlie Rich, and Bill whisked him away from obscurity and inked him to a deal at Sun Records.  It did not take long for Charlie to score a hit, thanks in part to Bill’s arrangement, with “Lonely Weekends”.  The song has a gospel feel to it, with Charlie having a musical conversation with the back-up singers.  Imagine Elvis Presley being backed by not only The Jordanaires but The Anita Kerr Singers plus Ray Conniff and his singers, and you have some idea. 

     

    In 1961, Bill parted ways with Sun and started up the short-lived Play Me label.  He then did stints at Monument and Mercury, where he would stay for the remainder of his life, as an arranger and producer. 

     

    As a musician, Bill cranked out string of albums on the Smash record label with self-explanatory titles such as Alley Cat/Green Onions:  Bill Justis Plays 12 Big Instrumental Hits.  Although he never replicated the success of “Raunchy”, he did manage #42 in the States with “College Man” and returned to the top of the Australian charts with “Tamoure” in 1963.  In 1964, he played sax on the soundtrack of the Elvis Presley vehicle, Kissin’ Cousins, and took up the managing reins for Ronny & the Daytonas. 

     

    In 1969, he released Raunchy & Other Great Instrumentals on Sun and was undoubtedly pleased when Ray Stevens scored a gold record with “Gitarzan”.  (Stevens later credited Bill for coining the word.) 

     

    In the 1970s, Bill turned his attention to film, writing scores for Dear Dead Delilah, Hooper, and Smokey and the Bandit.  In 1979, he arranged the strings on Billie Jo Spears’ cover of “I Will Survive”. 

     

    He passed away, aged 55, from cancer.  The burial took place at Memphis’s Memorial Park Cemetery. 

     

    In recent years, much of Bill’s catalogue has become available on CDs such as Bill Justis’ String of Pearls (Cha Hot Cha) and Selected Hits.

     

    Sources:

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Justis
    2. http://www.discogs.com/artist/Bill+Justis
    3. http://www.emusic.com/artist/Bill-Justis-MP3-Download/11677849.html
    4. http://www.spaceagepop.com/justis.htm
    5. http://www.artistdirect.com/artist/bio/bill-justis/451095
    6. The Beatles Anthology by The Beatles (Chronicle Books)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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