The Music of Bill Justis

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Creator of perhaps the most famous rock and roll instrumental

Because of his famous rock and roll instrumental “Raunchy,” Bill Justis was catapulted as one of the early pioneers of rock and roll. Apart from being a musician and composer, Justis was also a record producer, arranger, A&R guy, manager and musical director. Born in Alabama but raised in Tennessee, Justis studied music when he was in high school and university. Justis’ first recording career was at Sun Records, where he released the eventual hit “Raunchy” in 1957. Justis recorded and released only one other hit charter, “College Man.” Later in his career he produced a number of successful albums under Smash label, as well as served as a record producer and music arranger for country and pop music artists. A saxophonist and a trumpeter, he performed on the soundtrack of Kissin’ Cousins, an Elvis Presley film. Justis also scored for Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper. He succumbed to cancer in 1982, at the age of 55.

Early life

Early rock and roll pioneer William Everett “Bill” Justis was born on October 14, 1927 in Birmingham, Alabama. However, he grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he finished high school. Justis then moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to study at a university there. It was also in New Orleans where the saxophone and trumpet player had begun performing for local dance and jazz bands, giving him valuable exposure.

Professional career

Justis’ first professional foray into the music business happened in 1957. Legendary music figure Sam Phillips invited Justis to become a musical director for his famed Sun label. Justis also became one of Sun’s artists, and at age 30 he was definitely older than most of the label’s other wards. Aside from being a recording artist, Justis also worked as the label’s arranger, working on the records of his label mates such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich.

The emergence of “Raunchy”

As he was older than his Sun peers, Justis initially showed little interest towards the new genre called rock and roll, which had become a hit with the young crowd. However, when he saw how famous (and most of all materially advantageous) rock and roll had become, Justis jumped into the bandwagon. He decided to try to record some rock and roll music.

Justis and rock and roll guitarist Sid Manker composed the song which was initially titled “Backwoods.” Sun’s Phillips gave the instrumental tune a new title “Raunchy” and released it as a single in November 1957.

“Raunchy” featured Justis’ saxophone and Manker’s distinctively twangy lead guitar. These elements led “Raunchy” to go all the way to #2 on the Hot 100. It also went to #6 on the country singles chart, and topped the R&B singles chart.

Other charting singles, and Justis’ later career

Justis would score a few more hits of his own, with his self-penned single “College Man” (#42 pop) in 1958 and 1963’s “Tamoure” (#101 pop) which also became a chart-topper in Australia.

Justis had left Sun and decided to concentrate more on studio work and collaborations. He held a variety of positions in the music industry, mostly behind the scenes for the remainder of his career.

During the early 1960s, Justis became a producer on Mercury’s Smash label, helming a series of hit albums, all of which were instrumental. In the following years Justis helmed the records of Patsy Cline, Tom Jones, and Dean Martin, to name a few. He had also become a manager, overseeing the career of the vocal group Ronny & the Daytonas for a time.

Justis had also worked in films. He provided the saxophone for the soundtrack ofKissin’ Cousins, a 1964 Elvis Presley film. He also scored for Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper, both of which starred Burt Reynolds.

Justis passed away on July 15, 1982 of cancer. His trademark tune “Raunchy” has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and covered by many artists such as Duane Eddy, The Ventures, and the Beatles’ George Harrison.

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