BILLY "CRASH" CRADDOCK
Born William Wayne Craddock, 16 June 1939, Greensboro,
Billy "Crash" Craddock - a cousin of Gene Vincent (Craddock) - was a breath of fresh air among the pretty boys who emerged on the music scene in the late fifties and early sixties. Here was someone who could actually sing and who did record some bona fide rock 'n' roll that stood head above the anaemic soft-rock of the time. Born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, Billy picked up the 'Crash' nickname from his years playing football for Rankia High School. He got into music by forming a group called The Four Rebels with his brother Ronald and two high school friends, but he soon became a solo act and as such he released his first two singles for minor local labels. Both were rockabilly-styled and came out in the autumn of 1957, first "Smacky Mouth" on Sky Castle, then "Birddoggin'" on Colonial, with very limited sales.
While working at the club of his manager, Fred Khoury, Craddock was discovered by promo men from Columbia Records. Soon he was signed to that label and invited to travel to Nashville for his first session, on June 6, 1958. "I was scared to death going to Nashville", he says. "I was nineteen years old. I thought that a write-up in the local paper was as big as I'd get." What Billy didn't know that he was going to be accompanied by the cream of the crop : Grady Martin, Harold Bradley, Floyd Cramer, Lightnin' Chance, Buddy Harman and producer Don Law. Craddock says : "It was amazing watching them at work. Don Law would play them a demo of a song. Now the demos around that time were usually just terrible. These guys in the studio could get an excellent arrangement down so quickly. Their talent intimidated and scared me the most, I guess. Maybe that's why I never did play guitar on the Columbia records."
His first single for the label came out on Columbia's Date subsidiary : "Ah Poor Little Baby"/"Lulu Lee". Though it was not released in the UK, it was covered there by Adam Faith on Top Rank and much later also by Shakin' Stevens. However, Billy's next seven singles would be released on the parent label. The backing by the Nashville A-team is always good and in some cases superb. One of the best is "I Want That" (late 1959), with fine sax work by Boots Randolph. Alas, commercial success in the USA eluded Craddock, apart from one week on Billboard's Hot 100 (at # 94) for "Don't Destroy Me". But there was one country where he became very big, even to the extent of headlining a 1960 tour that included the Everly Brothers and Bobby Rydell. That country was Australia. When he arrived there for the tour, he was met by 5,000 kids at the airport, who screamed their head off. Billy had the # 1 record in the country ("Boom Boom Baby", which the B-side of "Don't Destroy Me" in the USA) and he didn't even know it! Craddock had his final Columbia session in September 1960. He remained popular in Australia and had further releases on Mercury, King and Chart, but on the whole the 60s were a decade on the periphery of show business for him..
Early in 1971, he recorded a country cover of "Knock Three Times" (then a # 1 pop hit for the group Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando), which reached # 3 on the country charts, on the Cartwheel label. From there he went on to achieve more than dozen Top 10 hits, including the number ones "Rub It In" (1974), "Ruby Baby" (1974, yes the Drifters / Dion song) and "Broken Down In Tiny Pieces" (1976), all three on ABC (or ABC/Dot). His career declined after leaving Capitol in 1982, as subsequent affiliations with CeeCee (a self- owned company) and Atlantic yielded no significant recordings. Like his role model, Elvis Presley, Craddock was only marginally a country artist. His Elvis-derived style - replete with spangled jumpsuits, copious displays of chest hair, masculine athleticism, and a Vegas-inspired version of rockabilly - made him a highly popular performer, until the tastes of country audiences changed and neotraditionalists such as Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and George Strait emerged. Still, Craddock continued to perform and even started singing his Columbia material again in the 1990s, which he hadn't done for decades.
- CD : Boom Boom Baby (Bear Family BCD 15610). The complete Columbia / Date recordings, 1958-60 (21 tracks). Released in 1992.
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