Born 27 January 1939, Grand Rivers, Kentucky
In 1998 I had several e-mail exchanges with Steve Lester from Owensboro in Kentucky, who is probably the greatest Ray Smith fan in the world. He was (maybe still is) running Wix Records at the time, with Tommie Wix. I told Steve how much I liked the guitar playing on Ray's Sun recordings and asked him if he knew who the guitarist was. He informed me that it was one Stanley Walker, whom he considered to be a friend. "I have his address, why don't you write Stanley a letter, he sure would appreciate hearing from you." So that's what I did. (An old-fashioned hand-written letter that is, no e-mail.) I told Stanley that his solo on "Right Behind You Baby" was probably my all-time favourite guitar solo and asked him a few questions. About six weeks later, at the beginning of 1999, I received a small package from the USA with a cassette tape. It turned out to be a 13-minute spoken letter from Stanley, delivered in a real southern drawl. He was quite surprised that someone from the Netherlands would take an interest in his guitar picking of 40 years ago. "I'm not much at writing letters, so I hope you won't mind this tape." Not at all, Stanley. "I started playing with Ray Smith in 1956 and I've been with him for about 15 years. I backed him up and played guitar on all his Sun records, I'm real proud of that. Ray Smith is the only artist that I ever recorded with." (I had asked him if he played on any other Sun recordings.) "I've worked with a lot of people in the business, but not on records. I have played with Jerry Lee Lewis, Lefty Frizzell, Roy Clark, people like that. Later, I played with a lady called Jean Shepard at the Grand Ole Opry, which was a dream come true for me, playing at the Opry." Then he goes on to talk about his favourite guitar players (James Burton, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis) and the music he likes. "I like the old rock, but I always loved country. And I like gospel music. In the fifties I worked with Dottie Rambo. I didn't know then that she had written so many gospel songs."
Stanley was a self-taught guitar player who started fooling around with the instrument when he was not even six years old. His sound is different from other guitarists because he always tuned his guitar to straight E. It's a very distinct sound that matches the intensity of Ray Smith's vocals. Sam Phillips once said : "Ray Smith was probably the most intense person I ever recorded. He was totally wrapped up in what he was doing. Nobody wanted recognition more than Ray." Stanley was not originally a member of the group that Ray formed in 1956, the Rock & Roll Boys, but he soon replaced the original guitarist, Raymond Jones. Ray and Stanley were as close as brothers, they were always together. They also sang together on one Sun track, the Charlie Rich composition "Sail Away" (Sun 319, 1959). Ray told Dave Booth : "Stanley was a short guy, so we took five stacks of records - in fact it was Bill Justis's record of "Raunchy" - and stood Stanley up there so he could get even with me to sing in the mike."
Around this time, Stanley also cut a record (now extremely rare) in Atlanta as a singer : "Please Don't Mention My Name" (written and produced by Freddy Weller) c / w "Winner Take All" (written and produced by Joe South, with a harmony vocal by Ray Smith). Released on Lowery 011. Walker does not play on any of the Judd recordings that Ray made in 1959-60, like Ray's only major hit, "Rockin' Little Angel" (# 22). The guitarists on those records are Grady Martin and Chet Atkins. But when Ray was resigned to Sun in 1961 for two singles, Stanley was back in the studio, playing beside Nashville pros like Bob Moore and 'Pig' Robbins. Tired of the road, Stanley split up with Ray in 1971. He formed his own country band and also did more vocal recording. "I never thought about being a singer myself, I just wanted to be a backup guitar player. I finally kinda got into the singing business and recorded a few records of my own. Only one of them was released nation-wide, it was almost a hit. Billboard gave it a recommendation, but it never did chart, so I never got a real good contract." This was "Old Easy Loving, He Ain't Easy Anymore". Other records by Stanley include "She Can Go To Hell (As Far As I'm Concerned)"/"I'm Not Through Loving You" (Sing Me 23) and "Walking Into Your Life"/"Your Forevers (Don't Last Very Long)" (Shadow AC-00051). He also recorded an entire LP in 1982, of which I have no details.
"I still have a little group, with which I play on Fridays and Saturdays in my hometown. I'm so proud that you remember me and that you like my guitar playing. That was a wonderful letter and my wife - her name is Kay - thought so too. It took a while to get back to you, but I had an accident on the job a while ago and hurt my back. I work for the County Road Department. But I'm doing all right now. I hope we can stay in touch." (I wrote him a second letter, but this time there was no reaction.) Stanley retired from his day job in March 2008. Now that he's retired, he can play more shows. At the age of 70, he is not yet ready to quit music
Bear Family has just released a 34-track CD : "Ray Smith : Rockin' Little Angel : The Sun Years, Plus" (BCD 16936). 22 Sun and 12 Judd recordings.
More info: http://rockabillyhall.com/StanleyWalker.html
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