Bill Justis was a fine saxophonist, arranger and producer in the early days of rock-and-roll. He managed to come up with one huge hit as a performer that paved the way for other instrumental hits that would follow.
William E. Justis, Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1926, and grew up in Memphis. He learned to play alto sax and studied music and became a music arranger at Tulane University in New Orleans, and later at the University of Arizona. Justis worked as a session saxophonist. He returned to Memphis and later acquired a job as a staff musician and producer at Sun Records in Memphis in 1957.
He joined forces with Sid Manker and the two of them worked out an instrumental that they called Backwoods, with Justis on sax and Manker on guitar. The recording was renamed Raunchy and leased to Phillips. In late 1957 and early 1958 Raunchy climbed the charts until it reached number eleven in the UK and number two in the USA. It was a huge hit for Bill Justis, but it was to be his only top forty hit as a performer. Instrumentals had not really found much of a place in the current wave of rock-and-roll until Raunchy came along, but other such recordings would henceforth more readily find a spot on the charts if they could grab the public's attention. Justis had another hit, although it just missed the top forty, with College Man.
Sun Records did its best to appeal to a national pop audience that hungered for more. Justis continued to work for Sun, as leader of the house band and arranging for some of the label's most noted performers, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Charlie Rich. Eventually Justis started his own label and called it Play Me, although it didn't go very far. He worked for RCA/Groove, once again with Charlie Rich, and moved to Nashville. There he worked for labels such as Monument and ABC, and produced some music for Fats Domino in the early 60's. He also produced at Sound Stage for a hot group from Memphis called the Dixiebelles in 1963 and 1964, and worked with Ronny and the Daytonas.
Justis was a knowledgeable and hard-working musician. He died from unspecified causes in Nashville in 1982. His name is most associated by the record-buying public with his huge instrumental hit from 1957, Raunchy.
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