Bill Carlisle , the Grand Ole Opry star whose abrupt midsong leaps earned him the name “Jumpin’ Bill,” died Monday (March 17) at his Nashville-area home after years of declining health. He was 94.
A Grand Ole Opry member since 1953, Carlisle was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002. Carlisle made his last Opry appearance on March 7 and suffered a stroke last Wednesday (March 12).
William Carlisle was born Dec. 19, 1908 in Wakefield, Ky., near Louisville. Following the lead of brother Cliff, who was four years his senior, Carlisle learned to play guitar and began doing shows in the region during the 1920s. In 1929, Carlisle, his brother and father and other members of the family launched The Carlisle Family Saturday Night Barn Dance on a Louisville radio station. Four years later, Cliff helped his brother get a deal with ARC Records, the upshot of which was the recording “Rattlesnake Daddy,” one of Carlisle’s own compositions.
Recording for a variety of labels during the ’30s, Carlisle popularized such tunes as “String Bean Mama,” “Jumpin’ and Jerkin’ Blues” and “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down.” He also toured the live-radio circuit, sometimes with Cliff, sometimes with his own band, working at stations in Lexington and Louisville, Ky.; Charlotte and Winston-Salem, N. C., Greenville, S.C.; Shreveport, La.; and Knoxville, Tenn. In Knoxville, he and his brother starred for years on the historic country music shows, Midday Merry-Go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance.
Working as the Carlisles, the brothers achieved their first chart hit, “Rainbow at Midnight,” in 1946. Two years later, as the Carlisle Brothers, they charted again with “Tramp on the Street.” Bill Carlisle came into his own as a solo recording artist in the early 1950s via a series of novelty hits, most of which he wrote himself. These included “No Help Wanted,” “Knothole,” “Shake-a-Leg” and one that added an enduring phrase about aging to the American lexicon, “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.” In addition to Carlisle, the song was cut by Ernest Tubb and Red Foley, the Maddox Brothers and Rose and the unlikely duo of Rosemary Clooney and Marlene Dietrich.
Carlisle’s most surprising hit was his 1954 cover of the Drifters’ R&B smoothie, “Honey Love,” which came out the same year. His version reached No. 12 on the country charts. Carlisle made his final chart appearance in 1965-66 with “What Kinda Deal Is This.” Although best known for his novelty tunes, Carlisle also wrote the now-classic hymn, “Gone Home.”
During much of his half-century on the Grand Ole Opry, Carlisle sang with a group that featured his son, Billy, and daughter, Sheila.
Funeral services will be held Thursday afternoon (March 20) at Cole & Garrett Funeral Home in Goodlettsville, Tenn.