… Another piece of the story of Sun Records.
More early blues music.
Billy “the kid” Emerson:
When It Rains It Really Pours/Sun Single #214/recorded/October 27/54
Red Hot/Sun Single #218/May 31/55
Slashing blues, infectious R&B, formulaic Rock & Roll, moving Gospel — keyboardist Billy “The Kid” Emerson played all those interrelated styles during a lengthy career that began in Florida and later transported him up to Memphis and Chicago.
Emerson had already learned his way around a piano when he entered the Navy in 1943. After the war, he began playing around Tarpon Springs, attending Florida A&M during the late ’40s and early ’50s.
He picked up his nickname while playing a joint in St. Petersburg; the club owner dressed the band up in cowboy duds that begged comparison with a certain murderous outlaw.
A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That’s where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm.
Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid’s debut waxing “No Teasing Around“.
Emerson’s songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun — but more as a source for other performers’ material later on.
His bluesy 1955 outing “When It Rains It Pours” elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson’s “Red Hot” (a takeoff on an old cheerleader’s chant from Emerson’s school days) became a savage Rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun and Bob Luman on Imperial.
After his “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955.
Despite first-rate offerings such as the jumping “Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles)” and a sophisticated “Don’t Start Me to Lying“, national recognition eluded Emerson at Vee-Jay too.
Emerson was inducted in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
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Willie Nix, the Memphis Blues Boy:
Nix came out of the rural South with a great beat and a way with lyrics that made him something of a topical urban poet. Despite recordings for RPM and Sun, and then Chance in Chicago, he never advanced beyond the ranks of the also-rans in the quest for blues success, in either Memphis or Chicago; however, if anyone ever deserved to do better based on the evidence that’s left behind, it was Willie Nix.
Born in Memphis, he first entered performing as a tap dancer at age 12, and as a teenager during the late ’30s, he toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Shows as a dancing comedian.
He appeared in various variety venues during the early ’40s, and performed on streets and parks around Memphis.
In 1947, Nix appeared with Robert Lockwood, Jr. on a Little Rock, AR radio station, and subsequently worked with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and Joe Willie Wilkins as the Four Aces in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Nix joined B.B. King and Joe Hill Louis for appearances on Memphis radio, and worked with The Beale Streeters during the late ’40s. He made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records’ Checker offshoot in 1952.
Sam Philips signed him up as “the Memphis Blues Boy” for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band, and he later cut sides for Art Sheridan’s Chance label in Chicago.
He worked with Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Shines, and Memphis Slim during the mid ’50s, but at the end of the decade was back in Memphis, and did a short stretch in prison late in the decade.
Nix’s health and abilities deteriorated during the ’60s and ’70s, and he hobo’ed around, performing occasionally, telling tall tales about his life and generally acting erratically.