Billy Mize (Born William Robert Mize on April 29, 1929 in Arkansas City, Kansas) is a steel guitarist, band leader, vocalist, songwriter, and TV show host.
He was raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, an area steeped in country music thanks to relocated Okies and other southerners headed for the gold in them there hills out west. He originally learned to play guitar as a child, but fell in love with the steel guitar he received for his 18th birthday.
He moved to Bakersfield, California and formed his own band playing local gigs and also working as a disc jockey on KPMC. In 1953, he, Bill Woods and Herb Henson put together a local TV show called The Cousin Herb Trading Post Show on KERO-TV Bakersfield, where he became affectionately known as Billy The Kid. The signal from that show was so strong the show could be seen as far as Fresno, all the way over to the central coast and Los Angeles. The show was wildly popular because it not only featured fledgling acts such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Jean Shepard, Bonnie Owens, Ferlin Husky, but many national acts such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. He stayed with the show for thirteen years. In 1955 he began to appear on the Hank Penny Show on Los Angeles television and by 1957 he was working on seven different weekly shows in the LA area, including the Hank Penny Show, Cal Worthington Show, Country Music Time and the legendary Town Hall Party. He recorded for Decca (Solid Sender/It Could happen - 1957), Challenge and Liberty, finally hitting the country charts in 1966 with You Can't Stop Me for Columbia. That year he began hosting and performing on Gene Autry's Melody Ranch network show on KTLA as well as starting his own syndicated Billy Mize Show from Bakersfield. During the next decade he managed eleven chart hits as well as writing hits for others such as Who Will Buy The Wine (Charlie Walker), My Baby Walks All Over Me (Johnny Sea) and Don't Let The Blues Make You Bad (Dean Martin). Dean Martin cut three of his songs in one day in June 1966, including "Terrible Tangled Web."
He won the Academy of Country Music's "TV Personality of the Year" award three years in a row between 1965 and 1967. In 1972 he taped two pilots of the "Billy Mize Music Hall," which he hoped to sell into national syndication. With Merle Haggard on the one show and Marty Robbins on the other it seemed a sure fire bet, but it wasn't picked up.
Shakers will no doubt know other versions of these, for instance Jerry Lee Lewis' great version of Who Will Buy The Wine and Bob Luman's wonderfully moody reading of "My Baby Walks All Over Me." He was a mainstay of Merle Haggard's band, playing steel and rhythm on many of Merle's classics. In the early '80s, Billy hooked up with his brother Buddy for various television projects. In recent times he's been heading Billy Mize Productions, making television spectaculars with Merle Haggard. He suffered a stroke during the mid-90's and although he now speaks a little slowly, he has recovered well enough to again play guitar.
A documentary chronicling the life of Billy Mize and his impact on the country music industry will be released in 2012. Titled "Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound," it screens at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June of 2014. For more information see www.billymizemovie.com.