Billy Riley grew up in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and moved to Memphis in 1955 with the idea of making country records. He ended up as “the unsung hero of Sun rock ‘n’ roll”.
His mid 50’s nearly-hits Red Hot and Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll featured then-unknown pianist Jerry Lee Lewis, but the Riley-led Sun Records house band – The Little Green Men – with Jimmy Van Eaton on drums, Roland James on guitar, Jimmy Wilson on piano and Martin Willis on sax, helped shape many of Sun’s major successes, backing Lewis, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison.
Riley’s own wild shows earned him a reputation, especially in the South where nervous town officials tried to ban them.
He left Sun Records in 1959, spending the next decade as sideman to Albert Collins, Johnny Rivers and Sammy Davis Jr. In later years, Bob Dylan declared himself a Billy Lee Riley fan, as did Link Wray, who covered Red Hot.
In 1973 he dropped out of music altogether and went back to Arkansas, where he worked as an interior decorator. In 1978 he returned to Memphis to make country records, with his old bandmate Van Eaton on drums, bass player Jerry Phillips (youngest son of Sun founder, Sam Phillips) and producer Knox Phillips (Sam’s older son).
Instead they recorded an album of definitive Sun rock & roll classics and some Riley originals. Riley’s last album was One More Time (2002).
He passed away in 2009.