This Week in Texas Music History we learn of a country singer who gave big breaks to Elvis and Willie.
by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
Billy Walker was born on January 14, 1929 in the Texas Panhandle. His family moved around, settling in Clovis, New Mexico, where Walker started his radio career as a high school student. He began touring the Southwest with a country band after graduation, and joined the Big D Jamboree program in 1949 as the “Traveling Texan,” a stage persona who wore a mask supposedly to conceal his identity from wealthy, disapproving parents. He recorded for Capitol and Columbia, and moved on to the Louisiana Hayride, where he worked alongside Hank Williams, Sr. and a young Elvis Presley. Walker accompanied Elvis on his early, influential West Texas tours. In 1960, Walker joined the Grand Ole Opry, and in Nashville he came to know fellow Texan and aspiring songwriter Willie Nelson. It was Walker who first recorded one of Willie’s iconic songs, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” in 1961.
Walker also played a role in getting another classic Willie song, “Crazy,” to his friend Patsy Cline. In a twist of fate, Walker would then narrowly avoid the plane crash that took Cline’s life in 1963, giving his seat on that fated flight to Hawkshaw Hawkins. Having influenced the careers of artists so big they don’t need last names—Hank, Elvis, Willie, Patsy—Billy Walker continued to record hits through the 1970s and perform on the Grand Ole Opry for decades more.
Chris Lehman in Laurie E. Jasinski, Gary Hartman, Casey Monahan, and Ann T. Smith, eds. The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition. Denton, TX: Texas State Historical Association, 2012.