William Marvin "Billy" Walker (January 14, 1929 - May 21, 2006) was an American country music singer and guitarist best known for his 1962 hit, "(I'd Like to Be In) Charlie's Shoes". Nicknamed The Tall Texan, Walker had more than 30 charted records during a nearly 60-year career; and was a longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Billy Walker was born in Ralls, Texas on January 14, 1929 and was the youngest of three children. His mother died when he was only six years old, and Billy's father was unable to care for him and his two older brothers. Some of the children were placed in a Methodist orphanage in Waco, Texas. Billy attended High School in Whiteface,TX and had won a talent contest which entitled him to appear on radio in Clovis,NM. He seems to have played on his own radio show there, too. This was possibly at the station owned by Pop Echols at the time. Inspired by the music of Gene Autry as a teenager, he had began his professional music career in 1947 at age 18. After his debut on Clovis radio as a teenager he later joined the Big D Jamboree in Dallas in 1949. The same year, Hank Thompson helped him sign with Capitol Records after he worked with Walker in Waco. His manager at the time had him wear a Lone Ranger-style black mask and billed him as The Traveling Texan, the Masked Singer of Country Songs.
In 1951, Walker signed with Columbia Records and the following year joined the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he and Slim Whitman were responsible in part for Elvis Presley's first appearance on the radio program. In 1954, Walker scored his first hit with "Thank You for Calling". His early Columbia recordings were at a Dallas studio owned by producer Jim Beck, responsible for hits by Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell and others. In 1955, Walker, Presley and Tillman Franks teamed up for a tour of West Texas. Walker soon became a cast member of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, where he began a long friendship with host Red Foley.
Country music career:
After a brief attempt at rock 'n' roll, Walker played the Texas bar circuit before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 1959 and joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. He was one of the first artists to record a Willie Nelson song; and although his 1961 version of "Funny How Time Slips Away" only reached No. 23 on Billboard's country singles chart, it helped establish Walker's national reputation. In 1962, he topped the chart with "Charlie's Shoes", the only No. 1 single of his career. His smooth tenor was well-suited to other Western-inspired hits including "Matamoros" and "Cross the Brazos at Waco" (1964).
After performing at a charity concert in Kansas City, Kansas on March 3, 1963, Walker received an urgent phone call to return to Nashville. Fellow performer Hawkshaw Hawkins gave Walker his commercial airline ticket and instead flew back to Tennessee on March 5 on a private plane, which crashed, killing Hawkins, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and pilot Randy Hughes.
After leaving Columbia in 1965, Walker signed with producer Fred Foster's Monument Records and moved to MGM in 1970 and to RCA Records in 1974. He later recorded for several independent labels, including his own Tall Texan label.
In the late 1960s, he hosted a syndicated television show, Billy Walker's Country Carnival, and appeared on other country music TV programs. Walker performed around the world, and several times during the 1980s sang at the International Festival of Country Music at Wembley Arena in London. In April 2006, Walker recorded the duet "All I Ever Need Is You" with Danish singer Susanne Lana for Hillside House Records. The recording, at Signal Path Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, was produced by Charlie McCoy.
Walker continued to tour and remained a mainstay on the Grand Ole Opry, and was scheduled to perform two days following his death with Terri Clark, Porter Wagoner and others.
On May 21, 2006, Walker died in a car accident when the van he was driving back to Nashville after a performance in Foley, Alabama veered off Interstate 65 in Fort Deposit and overturned. His wife Bettie; bassist Charles Lilly Jr., son of Everett Lilly of The Lilly Brothers; and guitarist Daniel Patton were also killed in the 12:40 a.m. CT crash. The Walkers, Lilly, and Patton died instantly. Walker's grandson, Joshua Brooks, survived with serious injuries. Walker was interred in Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville.
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