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The one hit-wonder praised by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan


The one hit-wonder praised by Bob Dylan

It’s not easy to be a successful songwriter like Bob Dylan, who wrote more than 600 songs and sold millions of albums worldwide. The number of artists who wrote only one hit song is certainly much bigger than the number of musicians who were able to have multiple hits during their career.


It is really difficult to be successful especially in music but to replicate that success multiple times over the decades, it’s really something impressive. During his speech at MusiCares, in 2015, when he was elected Person of The Year, Bob Dylan praised a one hit-wonder artist and Rock and Roll Garage tells you a little more about him.

The one hit-wonder praised by Bob Dylan

The artist mentioned by Dylan is Billy Lee Riley, who is also a dear friend of his. He was seven years older than the Folk Rock artist and was born in Pocahontas, Arkansas. The first song he recorded was “Trouble Bound” in 1955. But his most famous songs are “Rock With Me Baby”, Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll” and “Red Hot”, the song praised by Dylan during his speech.

“I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They’ve helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I’d like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn’t work. Billy was a son of rock ‘n’ roll, obviously.”

“He was a true original, he did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You just don’t stand a chance.”

He continued:

“So Billy became what is known in the industry — a condescending term, by the way — as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy’s hit song was called ‘Red Hot,’ and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.”

“He did it with style and grace. You won’t find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas — I know they’re in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan — I’ve got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet,” Bob Dylan said.

He said that the song “Red Hot” still impresses him nowadays

“Red Hot” was actually written by Billy “The Kid” Emerson in 1955 but it was Billy Lee Riley who made the most famous cover of the song (1957). Dylan had the chance to see him playing live a couple of times and also to hang out with him.

“I’d see him a couple times a year and we’d always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we’d cross paths now and again. We’d always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I’d heard ‘Red Hot.’ I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it’s impressed me to this day.”

He continued:

“I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man, he wasn’t bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. And he knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was,” Bob Dylan said.

As Dylan noted, it is believed that what compromised the success of his version of “Red Hot” was that Sun Studios decided to focus on the promotion of Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire”, which became a worldwide hit. During his career, Riley also worked as a session musician for names like Dean Martin, Beach Boys, Herb Albert and Sammy Davis Jr. In 1997 his album “Hot Damn!” was nominated for a Grammy Award and his final album was “Still Got My Mojo”, released in 2009.

“And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing — because John sang some truth today — one day you get sick and you don’t get better. That’s from a song of his called ‘Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days.’ It’s one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain’t lying.”

Dylan continued:

“And I ain’t lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend’s doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can’t be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.”

“I’m going to get out of here now. I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that’s OK. Like the spiritual song, ‘I’m still just crossing over Jordan too.’ Let’s hope we meet again, sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, ‘the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,’” Bob Dylan said.”

He passed away in 2009 at the age of 75, a victim of colon cancer.

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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