Bill Carlisle Biography

William Carlisle, 19 December 1908, Wakefield, Kentucky, USA, d. 17 March 2003, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. The younger brother of country singer Cliff Carlisle. Attracted by his brother’s success, Bill began to perform at an early age and soon established himself with his fine guitar playing and vocals. Around 1930, he appeared with his brother as the Carlisles. They toured extensively throughout the Midwest and for some years in the 40s, they were based at Knoxville and Memphis. They also had their own barn dance stage show on WLAP Louisville. In 1933, through Cliff’s assistance, he recorded for ARC. His version of ‘Rattlesnake Daddy’ became very popular and further established his reputation as a fine guitarist and also a vocalist who liked to perform all types of songs including the risqué material that his brother had also popularised. Initially known, by some, as Smilin’ Bill, he worked for much of the time with his brother until 1947. At times the brothers did work as separate units with Bill working on The Carlisle Family Barn Dance on WLAP, which had then relocated from Louisville to Lexington, while Cliff with his Rambling Cowboys were on WWNC Asheville, North Carolina. The brothers made numerous recordings together and in 1946 they gained a number 5 US country chart hit with their version of ‘Rainbow At Midnight’.

After the brothers split amicably around 1947 and Cliff basically retired, Bill continued to perform and gained a Top 20 hit with his solo recording of ‘Tramp On The Street’ for King Records. In 1951, he returned to Knoxville, where he organised his new group the Carlisles, which included gospel singer Martha Carson and for a short time brother Cliff, who he had persuaded to come out of retirement. Later when Cliff again retired and Carson left they were replaced by Roy Sneed and Betty Amos. (When Amos left to pursue a solo career, she was replaced by Dottie Sills and later her sister, Bobbi Sills). By this time, he had acquired his nicknames of Jumpin’ or Boundin’ Bill owing to his habit of leaping around when performing. Carlisle and the group recorded for Mercury Records and specialised in fairly up-tempo novelty numbers but also including straight country and gospel material. They soon found chart success when Carlisle’s self-penned ‘Too Old To Cut The Mustard’ became a number 6 US country chart hit. (It was also a number 5 in 1952 for Ernest Tubb and Red Foley). In 1953, ‘No Help Wanted’ became a number 1 and remained in the charts for six months. Later that year three more major hits followed namely ‘Knothole’ (number 3), ‘Is Zat You, Myrtle?’ (number 2) and ‘Tain’t Nice To Talk Like That’ (number 5). In 1954, after two further Top 20 hits with ‘Shake-A-Leg’ and ‘Honey Love’, the Carlisles’ recording success ended. In April 1953, the Carlisles became members of the Grand Ole Opry and when the band finally disbanded in the mid-60s, Bill stayed on, appearing at times with his children Billy and Sheila and various musicians. He also continued to record and in 1966, his Hickory recording of ‘What Kinda Deal Is This?’ made number 4 on the US country charts.

Carlisle continued to make Grand Ole Opry appearances through the 90s sometimes with the show’s staff musician Joe Edwards playing lead guitar. He underwent heart surgery in 1993 but returned to the Grand Ole Opry later. Sadly the ‘jumpin’’ had gone and in the late 90s, he was compelled to resort to using a walking frame but still proved a popular and welcome act on the stage. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2002. Eminent authority Charles K. Wolfe summed up the career of both Carlisles by stating ‘They were among Kentucky’s first successful full-time country musicians, and their accomplishments are impressive by any standard.’

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