LIGHTNIN' CHANCE

Born Floyd Taylor Chance, 21 December 1925, Como, Mississippi

After Bob Moore, Lightnin' Chance was probably Nashville's most famous and prolific bass player. A onetime Grand Ole Opry staff musician, Chance played a stand-up acoustic bass, both on the road and in the recording studio. His specialty was providing a foundation for harmony while adding tonal colour. "I played with tone as much as possible", Chance said. "Back then there were no electrified amplifiers [for basses], but you could achieve varied effects, offering a greater variety of tones... It's all in the wrist movement really."

Chance's father, Jody, a Dixieland banjoist, first gave him a four-string Martin guitar. In school Chance played clarinet, saxophone, and bass horn. While making touchdowns on the football field he earned the nickname "Lightnin'". During World War II, the U.S. Naval Conservatory provided Chance with advanced musical training while he served with the Fourth Fleet Band, entertaining the troops in battle zones such as North Africa. Discharged, Chance moved to Memphis, playing in Eddie Hill's band (1947-51) and performing on WMPS radio and WMC-TV. Chance's first recordings were in Sam Phillips's Memphis studio, which later housed Sun Records.

In Nashville, Chance played on Hank Williams's last session (Sept. 23, 1952), which yielded three # 1 country hits of 1953: "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Kaw-Liga" and "Take These Chains From My Heart". Other million sellers boasting Chance's bass include Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe", Faron Young's "Hello Walls" and all the Cadence hits by the Everly Brothers pre-"Let It Be Me". Noting the Jordanaires' vocal chart relating to the tones of the diatonic scale, Chance adapted it so studio instrumentalists who did not read music might follow along. It became the Nashville Numbering System.

In 1952 Chance joined an Opry touring contingent that played New York City's Astor Hotel. During the 1960s he opened the Nashvile office for Chappell Music publishing and worked on Nashville's WLAC-TV. He later played Ralph Emery's early-morning WSM-TV program (until 1988, when Chance retired). Chance has played with almost every major Nashville recording artist, including Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Johnny Horton, Patsy Cline, Sonny James, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Self, Melvin Endsley, Onie Wheeler, Ric Cartey and Tom T. Hall.

(Adapted from Walt Trott's entry for Chance in The Encyclopedia of Country Music, edited by Paul Kingsbury. New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.)

 
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