With all of the talking I do about the mighty Sun Records and Sam Phillips I forget, not on purpose, one important Person. This man did most of the arrangements for the great artists and recorded a Grammy Hall of Fame song!
William E. “Bill” Justis Jr. (October 14, 1927 – July 15, 1982) was an American pioneer rock and roll musician, composer, and musical arranger best known for his 1957 Grammy Hall of Fame song, “Raunchy.”
Justis was born in Birmingham, Alabama but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and studied music at Christian Brothers College (high school department) and Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. A trumpet and saxophone player, while in university he performed with local jazz and dance bands.
He returned home to Memphis in 1954 and was eventually taken on by Sam Phillips at Sun Records where he recorded music for himself as well as arranged the music for Sun artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich.
Released in November 1957, his song “Raunchy” was the first rock and roll instrumental hit, and its popularity was such that it reached No.2 on the American Billboard chart and got to No. 1 on the Australian charts. It reached No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart. Justis had one other significant hit record, “College Man“, that went to U.S. No. 42.
In 1961, Justis moved to Nashville where he became a successful record producer and music arranger for both pop and country music performers at Monument and Mercury Records and other labels. He played saxophone on the soundtrack for the 1964 Elvis Presley film, Kissin’ Cousins and that same year took over as manager of the singing group, Ronny & the Daytonas.
Justis had a Number One hit in Australia in 1963 with “Tamoure“. The song did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the early 1960s he produced a successful series of instrumental albums on the Smash label. Justis is credited by Ray Stevens in the TNN special The Life and Times of Ray Stevens for giving him the phrase “Gitarzan” for which became a million selling pop hit for Stevens in 1969.
Justis also wrote the music for several Hollywood motion pictures including the 1977 Burt Reynolds / Sally Field hit Smokey and the Bandit and the acting duos 1978 film, Hooper.
Justis died of cancer in Nashville in 1982, at the age of 55, and was interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis.