Billy Lee Riley
— Rock 'n Roll Highway 67 —
Like other rockabilly artists, Billy was influenced by the African American music of the delta. The son of a northeast Arkansas sharecropper, Billy credited black farm workers with teaching him to play the guitar and giving him an appreciation for the blues.
Billy began recording in 1955, joining forces in Memphis with Jack Clement, who would become a legendary producer and songwriter in his own right. Both Riley and Clement were soon working for Sam Phillips at Sun Records, where Billy released his first single, "Flyin' Saucer Rock 'n Roll,” in early 1957. The song is where Billy's band got its name, the Little Green Men.
He recorded "Red Hot later in '57. The song won acclaim but only marginal record sales. Typical of Billy's luck with the charts, the record was overshadowed by Jerry Lee Lewis! "Great Balls of Fire." He also recorded
Billy and his band, especially guitarist Roland Janes and drummer J.M: Van Eaton, became well known for their live shows. Their tight sound and high energy performances were considered among the best in the business.
Although chart success eluded him, Billy Lee Riley was highly respected within the recording industry, and he was still being recognized by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan decades after his tenure at Sun. He remains a revered figure in rockabilly music history.
Philips (right) is pictured with Billy Riley in the 1980s. Billy
worked at the Sun studios in Memphis for four years in the
'50s, both as a solo artist and as a talented studio musician.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment. A significant historical year for this entry is 1955.
Location. 36° 4.03′ N, 90° 57.445′ W. Marker is in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, in Lawrence County. Marker can be reached from
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Johnny Cash (here, next to this marker); Carl Perkins (here, next to this marker); Jerry Lee Lewis (a few steps from this marker); Conway Twitty (a few steps from this marker); Roy Orbison (a few steps from this marker); Wanda Jackson (a few steps from this marker); Sonny Burgess (a few steps from this marker); When The Beatles Came to Town (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Walnut Ridge.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 13, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 7, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 173 times since then and 50 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 7, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.