In 1957, Billy Lee Riley found himself signed to Sun Records in Memphis, the premier rock & roll label in the country. For a poor boy from Arkansas this was living the dream. But playing in the big leagues also means you’re side by side with the pros. Hard to stand out when you walk the halls with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and the ghost of Elvis Presley.
Show business ain’t no tea party, bubba — it’s a bloodsport. And not the fun kind with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Get the band-aids ready.
Riley’s first single, titled “Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll,” generated enough success for him to name his band The Little Green Men and established a beachhead of favor within the company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to stem the oncoming tide.
For his second single with Sun, Riley chose to cover an R&B song written by Billy “The Kid” Emerson called “Red Hot.” The record was gaining traction with teens in jeans and the soda shop record machines, on its way to becoming a bona fide hit, when Jerry Lee Lewis unleashed “Great Balls Of Fire” upon the world. Suddenly, the promotional department at Sun dropped “Red Hot” to focus on the fiery inferno produced by Riley’s labelmate. Reduced to a cooling ember, Riley’s single struggled and never broke out of Memphis.
Billy Lee Riley never hit it big, but he still influenced lovers of early rock & roll and rockabilly, including Bob Dylan. He later became a well-regarded session musician in Los Angeles before heading back to Arkansas..
Also, he believes your gal ain’t, and I quote, “doodley-squat.”