Bill Black Biography

William Patton Black, 17 September 1926, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 21 October 1965, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Black was the bass-playing half of the Scotty And Bill team that backed Elvis Presley on his earliest live performances. After leaving Presley, Black launched a successful career of his own as leader of the Bill Black Combo. Initially playing an acoustic stand-up bass, Black was hired as a session musician by Sun Records, where he met Presley in 1954. He played on the earliest Sun tracks, including ‘That’s All Right’. Black toured with Presley alongside guitarist Scotty Moore; later, drummer D.J. Fontana was added to the group. Black and Moore left Presley’s employment in 1957 owing to what they felt was unfair payment. The Bill Black Combo was formed in 1959, with Black (electric bass guitar), Reggie Young (guitar), Martin Wills (saxophone), Carl McAvoy (piano) and Jerry Arnold (drums). Signed to Hi Records in Memphis, the group favoured an instrumental R&B-based sound tempered with jazz. Their first chart success was ‘Smokie Part 2’ in late 1959, but it was the follow-up, ‘White Silver Sands’, in the spring of 1960, that gave the group its biggest US hit, reaching number 9. Black retired from touring in 1962, and the group continued performing under the same name without him, with Bob Tucker playing bass. The group also backed other artists, including Gene Simmons on the 1964 number 11 hit ‘Haunted House’. Saxophonist Ace Cannon was a member of the group for some time. The group continued playing even after Black died of a brain tumour in October 1965. The Bill Black Combo achieved a total of 19 US chart singles and was still working under the leadership of Tucker decades later.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.