100 Greatest Men: #87. Billy Walker

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Known affectionately as the Tall Texan, Billy Walker was a B-list hitmaker at radio, but an A-lister on the Grand Ole Opry stage and on syndicated television.

Born in Texas on the eve of the Great Depression in 1929, Walker was a professional musician by his late teens, joining the Dallas-based Big D Jamboree in 1949.   A brief stint at Capitol records wasn’t successful, though he achieved some notoriety performing as “The Traveling Texan, the Masked Singer of Country Songs”, performing with a Lone Ranger-style mask on his face.

But the early fifties put him on the map.  A new recording contract with Columbia Records dovetailed with him joining the Louisiana Hayride, and he had his first major hit in 1954 with “Thank You For Calling.”   His tenure with the label would last until 1965, with his peak success coming in the early sixties.  He joined the Opry in 1960, where  he would remain a member for the rest of his life, and he had his only #1 hit in 1962 with “(I’d Like to Be in) Charlie’s Shoes.”

Future success on record would include a stint on Monument Records in the latter half of the sixties, followed by a run on MGM in the seventies.  Moderate hits were produced on both labels.  But it was on television where he was most successful.  He starred on ABC’s Ozark Jubilee in the fifties, and headlined his own popular syndicated TV show, Billy Walker’s Country Carnival, in the late sixties.  He made frequent guest appearances on a variety of country music shows throughout the seventies, before being a regular on the televised portions of the Grand Ole Opry in the eighties and nineties.

Walker’s media reach helped him sustain a successful international touring career, and his ear for good talent led to him playing instrumental roles in the success of Elvis Presley as a singer and Willie Nelson as a songwriter.   Before his untimely death in 2006, he released his swan song, Thank You, Thank You Very Much, a 2003 collection on his own Tall Texan label that featured a return to the traditional sounds of his seminal work for Columbia.

Essential Singles:

  • Funny How Time Slips Away, 1961
  • (I’d Like to Be in) Charlie’s Shoes, 1962
  • Cross the Brazos at Waco, 1964
  • A Million and One, 1966
  • When a Man Loves a Woman (The Way That I Love You), 1972

Essential Albums:

  • Cross the Brazos at Waco, 1964
  • Thank You For Calling, 1964
  • A Million and One, 1966
  • Portrait of Billy, 1969
  • Thank You, Thank You Very Much, 2003

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4 Comments

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4 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #87. Billy Walker

  1. bobNo Gravatar

    I never heard of Billy Walker before but he sounded pretty good on the You-Tube video of the Willie Nelson song, “Funny How Time Slips Away”. On secondhandsongs.com they list 38 covers of the song with Walker’s listed first with a date of July 1961.

  2. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    I’m not sure it is fair to list him as a B-list performer at radio as there were periods where he was A-list material particularly during the early 1970s on MGM when (according to Record World) two singles “When a Man Loves a Woman (The Way That I Love You)” and “Sing Me A love Song To Baby” both made it to #1 and several other songs went to the top in regional markets. Moreover, Bear Family issued a massive five CD boxed set on Walker covering his Columbia years. While Bear has done single disc sets on lesser artists, the big boxes normally are reserved for really significant artists

    Billy Walker faced three main problems in establishing himself at radio: (1) his voice was very similar to that of Marty Robbins; (2) from 1954-1965 he recorded for the same label as Robbins, meaning he was getting second crack at material suited to both of them, and (3) he was on a label with a roster overflowing with stars, so that the label really didn’t put a lot of promotional push behind him. Even so, “Cross The Brazos At Waco” made it to #2, blocked from the top by Connie Smith’s “Once A Day”

    After leaving Columbia for Monument Walker experienced a career surge with “A Million And One” reaching #2 for four weeks and “Bear With Me A Little Longer” making it to #3.

    The last major hit was on RCA when “Word Games” cracked the top ten

    I think you have him properly ranked

  3. Pingback: “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” Goes Gold; Fire at The Cowboy Arms; Hear the New Gillian Welch Record | Country California

  4. kathrine bocshNo Gravatar

    the smile on the face of this great man is really itself an antidepressant and shows the purity in him

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