Bill Justis Biography

14 October 1927, Birmingham, Alabama, USA, d. 15 July 1982, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Justis was a saxophonist, arranger and producer who created ‘Raunchy’, one of the classic rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals (and, coincidentally, the first song that George Harrison learned to play). He grew up in Memphis playing jazz and dance band music before joining Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in 1957 as musical director. Phillips liked a tune called ‘Backwoods’, composed by Justis and guitarist Sid Manker, but renamed it ‘Raunchy’. It was issued as a single and Justis’ own honking saxophone solo made it a million-seller. Cover versions by Billy Vaughn and Ernie Freeman also sold well, while there were later recordings by the Shadows and Duane Eddy. Later singles such as ‘College Man’ and ‘Flea Circus’ (written by Steve Cropper) were unsuccessful and Justis concentrated on his arrangements for Sun artists. His most important A&R work was with Charlie Rich, whom he discovered singing ballads. Urging him to listen to Jerry Lee Lewis, Justis produced Rich’s biggest rock era hit, ‘Lonely Weekends’, in 1960 and also co-wrote the answer record ‘After The Hop’ for Bill Pinky And The Turks. Leaving Sun, Justis recorded rockabilly artist Ray Smith for Sam’s brother Judd Phillips and briefly ran his own label (Play Me) before working again with Rich at RCA Records. By 1963 he was with Monument Records, another significant southern label, where he produced hits by vocal group the Dixiebelles. Kenny Rogers was among those for whom he later wrote arrangements. Justis occasionally made his own instrumental albums. He died in July 1982.

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

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