Prince of the Blues : Billy Wright©2004JCMarion


Billy Wright was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in May of 1932. As a child he excelled in gospel music centered in the Black church, but soon discovered the secular music of the time most often at Atlanta's 81 Theater. As a teenager he began to develop a blues singers personality and style. Soon in 1949 he was discovered by band leader Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams who thought that the young singer had promise. Soon Williams put Wright in touch with R & B record producer Herman Lubinsky at Savoy Records of Newark, New Jersey. From his initial recording session for Savoy came "Blues For My Baby" and "You Satisfy Me" released by Savoy on #710. This first offering by Wright was a hit for the label and a good seller on the Rhythm & Blues charts. After a good run Savoy released "Billy's Boogie Blues" and "I Keep Drinking" on # 715.

In early February of 1950 Billy Wright records "Back Biting Woman" and "Thinkin' Blues" which was recorded at the same September 1949 session for Savoy Records on # 733. In July Savoy announces " After Dark Blues" and "Heavy Hearted Blues" by Wright released on # 741. In October another Savoy release pairs "Fore Day Blues" (from the first 9/49 session) with "Empty Hands" on # 761. At the end of the year of 1950 Savoy issues "Keep Your Hands On Your Heart" and "Mean 'Ol Wine" on #766. In February of 1951 "Keep Your Hands" is a good seller for Wright in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. By April #766 is hitting the R & B charts in New Orleans and Dallas. From a recording session in Atlanta in December of 1950 Savoy releases "Stacked Deck" and "Mercy Mercy" by Billy Wright on # 781 in May. The record takes off immediately in New Orleans for Wright. In August Savoy #810 features "Hey Little Girl" (recorded with vocalist Allene Phillips) and "Gotta Find My Baby" (from a session a year and a half ago) which gets an initial push in Atlanta. In November "When The Wagon Comes" and "A New Kind Of Loving" recorded with the John Peck band is released by Savoy on # 819. In late December Wright closes out the year on record with "Thinking And Drinking" and "Turn The Lamps Down Low" on Savoy # 827. Wright appears for the holiday week at Houston's Bronze Peacock with Willie Mae Thornton, Jimmy McCracklin, and Marie Adams.

The Atlanta band that Wright often records with includes John Peck on trumpet, Fred Jackson on tenor sax, and Wesley Jackson on guitar. In later sessions the band consists of Pat Johnson on trumpet, John Houghton on trombone, Buddy Tate and Ben Richardson on saxes, Skip Hall on piano, Carl Wilson on bass, and Bobby Donaldson on drums. It was at this time that Wright befriended an up and coming singer from Macon, Georgia named Richard Penniman. In later years you can hear the resemblance to Wright in Little Richard's early recordings for Peacock Records. Richard also adopted many of Wright's stage mannerisms and his unique "look". Billy Wright, now often called the "Prince Of The Blues", opens up 1952 with a week at the Apollo Theater in New York and then a week's engagement at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. "Turn The Lamps Down Low" is a good seller in Atlanta for the singer who can't seem to get a breakout hit on the national charts. In February, Savoy releases # 837 which features "Every Evening" and "Married Woman Boogie". In April Wright sets off on a series of one nighters across the South with The Five Keys, Varetta Dillard, and the Hot Lips Page orchestra. After months on the road, Billy Wright records "Going Down Slow" and "If I Didn't Love You So" on Savoy # 870 which is released in November. In June of 1951 Wright does a recording session for Savoy in New Orleans and Savoy releases a song from that session called "Four Cold Cold Walls" and "After Awhile" on # 1100. In April of 1954 Wright records "Live The Life" and "I Remember" on Savoy # 1127.

After more than five years of moderate but steady sales for Savoy Records, Wright turns to Houston, Texas and signs with Peacock Records headed by Don Robey. In July of 1955 he records "Bad Luck, Heartaches, And Trouble" and "The Question" on # 1657. By now Wright was an almost invisible presence in the new popularity of R & B which is now part of the rock 'n roll age. By the late nineteen fifties Wright was recording for the small independent label Carrollton Records with "Have Mercy Baby" and "I Love You Sweetheart" on # 801. Throughout the nineteen sixties Billy Wright was mainly a master of ceremonies at a number of Atlanta night spots introducing both established and new talent breaking into the music scene. He seldom performed and did not record for any established labels during this time. In the mid seventies his health failed and he suffered the effects of a stroke. He lived his last years in obscurity and passed away on October 27, 1991. He was fifty nine years old. A straight forward Rhythm & Blues performer and an early fifties influence to Little Richard and others, he is remembered musically on the CD called "Classic R & B - 1949 - 1951 " on the European label Classics. The CD contains his best work for Savoy Records.

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