Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bill Black's Combo

Bill Black's Combo

People, let me tell you. This one's personal. I loved the instrumentals put out by this historic group. I loved to dance to their music. But they were also a part of our local and my personal history.

If your not familiar with Bill Black, he was Elvis's bass player. Bill and Scotty Moore would stay with Elvis through the first big rockabilly years (54-58) and then be run off by "the Colonel". I would also add they made very little money while the "King" was being made by the "Colonel" (not).

Bill Black and his Combo

Bill would go onto found a group called Bill Black's Combo in 1959. They recorded instrumentals in the pop market and later on for the Country and Western Charts. Between 59 and 62 they had eight in the Top 40.

Some of the Combo's hits were Smokie Part 1 and Part 2 (1960)(#17).  White River Sands or White Silver Sands, not sure which it was called, went to #9. Josephine was #18, Don't Be Cruel was #11, Blue Tango went to #16, Hearts of Stone climbed to #20. They had four albums. The Saxy Jazz stayed in the Top 100 for a whole year.

Bill Black's Combo

They were voted Billboards #1 Instrumental Group in 1961. Some reference said the strippers loved the music. It became the strip music of choice in the best and the lowest of strip joints. Not a half bad recommendation since the strippers in that day and time knew what music was and understood what both forms of rhythm meant. 

Bill Black died during brain surgery in 1965. He was 39 years of age. His widow sold the Combo kit and kaboodle to Bobby Joe Tucker and Larry Rogers in 65 or 66. Tucker had been playing guitar and managing the group since joining in 1963. Bill Black had quit traveling with the group due to health and his recording studio duties.

Bill Black's Combo

In 1964, Bill Black's Combo opened for the Beatles on their first American tour. Bill couldn't make the trip. Tucker was a full time Memphis State University journalism professor. Here's where the music and and the fan's life start to intertwine. 

Bill Black's Combo played in my little hometown for the White River Water Carnival sometime in the early sixties. I couldn't remember what year. Neither could Bobby Joe Tucker. 

Bill Black's Combo

Bobby Joe Tucker and I were friends when I was a journalism student at Memphis State. I knew he owned Bill Black's Combo because I asked him one day why he drove a big old black Lincoln. He said it was part of the Combo's transportation. That conversation was somewhere around 1966. 

Bill Black's Combo and the Beatles 1964

Tucker and I were neighbors. He, being a gainfully employed professor and owner of a rock and roll band, lived high on the hog at the swinging Cabana Apartments. I lived in the cheap Kimball Apartment complex next door. I was a married college student, working blue collar and he was the hipster with the good day gig.

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Tucker was a good guy. He taught a first year cinematography class. I think I had that one and maybe one or two more with him. John Thomas was our still photography instructor and Shelby Foote, the writer in residence.

Bill Black's Combo ! Oh Sugar !!

Today, I spoke with Bobby Joe Tucker for the first time since 1969. I called and we spoke for half and hour. We talked of the changes in our lives, music and Memphis. We laughed like a couple of kids. It was good to talk to my former journalism mentor and rock and roll hero. The guy never changes. Still a Jonesboro boy at heart.

I hope you have an opportunity to go to the links and listen to this music. It's my idea of kick back and relax rock and roll. When you dance to this music it's like slipping into a comfortable pair of loafers. It just seems to happen and feels good at the same time.

Good work Bill Black ! Good work Bobby Joe Tucker ! 

               We sure enjoyed it !                Y'all did good !

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