Bill Black

Gary: “Let’s look at a bass player who had a very short, but interesting career.  He was only with us for 40 years, but in those short years, this musician was very involved with the History of Rock and Roll.  He of course, along with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana wrote part of that History…

Bill with his brand new “Fender Precision Bass” 1957


The Jordinaires, Elvis, Scotty Moor, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana.  October 1957


Bill Black’s Combo (circa 1961)


Bill Black 


Smokie Part 2

Bill Black’s Combo – Bill Black (bass); Hank Hakins (guitar); Ace Cannon (saxophone); Bobby Emmons (piano); Jerry Arnold (drums)


Smokie Part 2 + Yogi / From Teenage Millionaire 1961 /

Bill Black’s Combo

In 1959 Black joined a group of musicians which became Bill Black’s Combo. The lineup was Black (bass), Joe Lewis Hall (piano),Reggie Young (guitar), Martin Wills (saxophone), and Jerry Arnold (drums).

There were several personnel changes. While Young was in the army, his position was filled by Hank Hankins, Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill. Ace Cannon replaced Wills on sax. Carl McVoy replaced Hall in the studio, while Bobby Emmons replaced him on tour.

1.  Smokie – Part 2/ Hi 2018/ December 1959/  #17

2.  White Silver Sands/ Hi 2021/ March 1960/ #9  #1 R&B (4)

3.  Josephine/ Hi 2022/ July 1960/ #18

4.  Don’t Be Cruel/ Hi 2026/ October 1961/ #11

5.  Blue Tango/ Hi 2027/ December 1961/ #16

6.  Hearts of Stone/ Hi 2028/ March 1961/ #20

7.  Ole Buttermilk Sky/ Hi 2036/ August 1961/ #25

8.  Twist – Her/ Hi 2042/ January 1962/ #26

Bill also had strong support with 33 1/3 rpm LP’s (Long Playing Records).  Here are a few Album Cuts.

1.  Movin’/ From the 1962 LP of the same name

2.  My Girl Josephine/ From the 1963 LP: Twist – Her

3.  T.D.’s Boogie Woogie/ From the 1965 LP: The Untouchable Sound – Bill Black’s Combo Goes Big Band

William Patton “Bill” Black, Jr.

Born: Sept 17, 1926 in Memphis, TN

Died: Oct 21, 1965 in Memphis, TN

Labels: Hi (35), HI (10), Mega (4), CBS (3)

Bill Black had two distinct phases of his career in which he made a notable mark on early rock & roll music: first as the rockabilly bass player for Elvis Presley and then as a bandleader of Bill Black’s Combo, which scored numerous instrumental hits in the early ’60s.

Such is the irony of the world that his most significant contributions, as a rockabilly pioneer in the trio that Elvis Presley fronted at the beginning of his career, brought him much less commercial reward ($$$) than the far less artistic hit records under his own name.

Black first recorded for Sun Records in early 1954 as a member of a country band, “Doug Poindexter and the Starlite Wranglers”, who also included guitarist Scotty Moore. That group issued just one single for Sun, but that was enough to make the talents of Black and Moore known to Sun head Sam Phillips, who put the pair together with Elvis Presley.

Under the billing of “Elvis Presley, Scotty, and Bill”, they put out five records on Sun in 1954 and 1955, which are usually acknowledged as some of the finest rockabilly records ever done and Presley at his most youthfully uninhibited. Black was an important part of the early Presley sound with his slap stand-up bass and ebullient onstage manner.

Black and Moore continued to work with Presley (later being billed as “Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys”) until 1958, leaving his band in large part due to disputes over financial terms. Black and Moore had started out receiving one-quarter of the royalties at the outset of Presley’s career, but after Presley had rocketed to stardom with RCA starting in 1956, they were on a mere 200 dollars/week wage.

Although Moore would eventually work with Presley again, Black never did, joining a Memphis group that evolved into “Bill Black’s Combo” in 1959. Their instrumental “Smokie,” released late that year, made the Top Ten.

Bill Black’s Combo stuck to the formula of “Smokie” for many of their subsequent singles: a basic shuffle beat, simple bluesy R&B riffs, and some rinky-dink organ and smoky saxophone lines on top. They weren’t too imaginative, but they were quite successful, placing eight singles in the Top 40 between 1959 and 1962, including “White Silver Sands,” “Josephine,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Blue Tango,” and “Hearts of Stone.”

Their sales were greatly boosted by the suitability of their instrumental rock for background music at bars, clubs, and diners, with many of their discs placed in jukeboxes. They were still charting in the Top 100 as late as 1964, the year they also toured with the Beatles during the British stars’ first nationwide American tour.

Black, sadly, developed a brain tumor and died in 1965, shortly before his 40th birthday and before rock historians had a chance to allow him to tell his side of the Elvis Presley story.


9 responses to “Bill Black

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  6. Jørgen Poulsen

    Bill Black was great. Sad I not have meet him. Keep Rockin’

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