BILL DUNIVEN (By Bo Berglind and Tony Wilkinson)
Born 23 January 1938, Steele, Missouri
Bill Duniven was born in Steele, Missouri, close to the Arkansas border, in 1938. His main musical influence as a teenager were the Sun records coming out of nearby Memphis. "There was a radio station in Blytheville called KLCN which played all those Sam Phillips records. So my early influences were, of course, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins, people like that. That's what really got me interested in music. At school, I entered a talent show and sang 'Heartbreak Hotel'. There was just me and a piano player and I won first prize. Then I went down to the drug store and spent all my $ 25 that I won on sodas."
A little later on he formed a group with some friends which led to work in local clubs and ultimately a recording deal : "I was playing this little old night club and a guy came by named Arlen Vaden of Vaden Records. He asked me if I'd be interested in making a record. I said 'Sure' - I didn't have to think twice about it. So we went down to Hi Records in Memphis and I recorded my first record using Bill Black's band, that's who you hear on 'Knocking On The Backside'. The guy playing piano on that thing was a guy named Carl McVoy, who was Jerry Lee Lewis's cousin and Johnny "Ace" Cannon was blowing the sax. It was all of Bill Black's band, except for Bill himself, he wasn't there, and some other guy played bass." The top side of Duniven's release was written by fellow Vaden artist Teddy Redell and was coupled with the Jimmy Wakely country hit "One Has My Name". "I didn't know the song but Arlen wanted me to do it, so we cut that thing and, when we did it, I was singing it off a piece of paper he had written down."
As a businessman, Bill rates Arlen Vaden very highly. "He is a top-notch promoter. He partied a lot but he's strictly business. But he is a character and I say that affectionately." "Knocking On The Backside" picked up lots of airplay when released and was quite a regional success, leading to a few TV appearances in Memphis. "The first time I did it on TV was on WHBQ, Channel 13. I was on with a guy called Billy Lee Riley. He was on a new label called Home Of The Blues Records and he was doing 'Teenage Letter', the old Joe Turner song. I was just a guest on there and I was doing my song. Then I was on another dance hop down there on station WMCT on Channel 5 and I was on that with a girl named Dodie Stevens who had out 'Pink Shoelaces'." Despite good airplay, TV appearances and gigs within a 200-mile radius, Vaden did not release a follow-up. But Bill holds no grudges and looks back fondly on the short period he was involved with the company : "Arlen had a bunch of great talent on the label. His first release was 'Down At Big Mary's House' by Bobby Brown & the Curios, then he had Larry Donn and Teddy Redell. Arlen got into the record business through gospel music, he was big in the gospel field. He was far from being religious but that's how he got into the record business. But he was a good businessman and a fine promoter. He'd book us into little places out in the country and he'd go out there before the shows and put these big flashy posters up and all the local people thought the circus or something was coming to town. Then when we played the show the place would be real full, 'cause these people had nowhere else to go. And at the end of the night he'd hand me $ 10. I'd say: 'Arlen, this isn't very much for all this work I've been doing', and he'd say: 'Well, it takes a lot of money to make you a star.' When I first met Arlen, he was driving a 1956 Chevy that burned oil so bad that it looked like he was spraying for mosquitos when he drove down the road. Then after we'd started doing these concerts he went over to Memphis and bought a brandnew white Oldsmobile Convertible, so it wasn't diificult to see where all the money was going. It's kinda funny when you look back."
Bill did play shows with some of his heroes from Sun Records like Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. As for the rest of the sixties, Bill continued to play shows, but devoted most of his time studying to become a pilot and eventually became a pilot trainer himself. He cut a couple of singles but they all failed to reach the charts, He cut his only album in 1979, with some of the tracks being recorded at Sam Phillips Studio in Memphis. In 1982, he began to tour the Holiday Inn and Ramada Inn circuits. In the mid-nineties, Bill had a heart operation, but unfortunately complications set in, which resulted in his demise in 1999.
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