60s Oldies Music

Bill Doggett and His “Honky Tonk” Hit

Bill Doggett
Jazz organ player Bill Doggett in France. (Source: Wikipedia)

Introduction

Bill Doggett (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1916 – died in 1996) was an American R&B jazz pianist, organist and arranger known for his multi-million selling single “Honky Tonk” in during the 50s music era. This song is now an oldies music classic. Gaining his skills in playing the piano from his mother, at 15 he was already playing for a combo performing at various local theaters and clubs around Philadelphia. He went on to play for bandleader Lucky Millinder, arranger Jimmy Mundy, the vocal group The Ink Spots, Tympany Five (led by Louis Jordan) before forming his own trio in 1951. He had become really proficient in playing the Hammond organ while working with Jordan. With his own band, Doggett recorded “Honky Tonk” which became a massive hit in 1956, topping the R&B chart and at #2 on the pop chart. He had also released many other singles such as “Slow Walk”, “Ram-Bunk-Shush”, “Soft”, “Leaps and Bounds”, and “Hold It”, among others. They never reached the phenomenal success as “Honky Tonk” although they did pretty well on the charts. As an arranger, Doggett worked with other artists such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. He died in New York in 1996, aged 80.


Early days

Known for his compositions “Honky Tonk” and “Hippy Dippy,” Bill Doggett was born William Ballard Doggett on February 16, 1916 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Young Doggett was introduced to music by her mother when he was only nine years old. When he was fifteen, Doggett started performing in local theaters and clubs with a Philadelphia area combo while studying in high school.

During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, Doggett sold his band to the rhythm & blues and swing bandleader Lucky Millinder and then worked for both Millinder and arranger Jimmy Mundy. The American vocal group The Ink Spots later recruited Doggett to work for them as pianist and arranger.

 

Bill Dogget’s peak years

In late 1947, Doggett became the pianist for Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five when he replaced the position of Wild Bill Davis. He played the Hammond organ in Jordan’s group. In 1950, Doggett also wrote the song “Saturday Night Fish Fry” which was listed as one of Jordan’s biggest hits.

Doggett established his own trio which was later signed to King Records in 1951. Things started to click when he released the single “Honky Tonk” in 1956. Co-written by Billy Butler, the song topped the R&B chart and crossed over to pop where it landed at #2. It stayed on the US Billboard R&B chart for over two months and sold four million copies. Doggett also worked as an arranger for numerous performers which included Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong.

 

As a performer, Doggett began in swing music and later switched to play soul jazz. Aside from the breakthrough hit “Honky Tonk,” he also released some remarkable singles such as “Be-Baba-Leba” (#3 R&B), “Slow Walk” (#4 R&B), “Ram-Bunk-Shush” (#10 R&B), “Hold It!” (#3 R&B) among others.

Later life and death

Doggett continued working as a musician and arranger until he died due to heart failure  in New York on November 13, 1916. He was 80 years old.