Biography: Billy Walker

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Known as the Tall Texan, Billy Walker had an amazing career that started with humble west Texas roots.


Billy Walker had a career in music that spanned over six decades!


William Marvin Walker, one of eight children, was born on January 14th, 1929, in Ralls, Texas.  He never knew his mother as she passed away when he was an infant.  His father, due to financial hardships caused by the Great Depression, placed the young Walker into an orphanage in Waco around the age of six.  While life in the orphanage was incredibly harsh, his fortune turned around somewhat when he was able to return to his father at age eleven.  Walker was no stranger to hard work and spent months plucking turkey feathers for enough money to buy his first guitar.  He claimed that seeing the 1937 Gene Autry "singing cowboy" feature called Public Cowboy #1 inspired him to become a musician since it was something he thought he could do as well as Gene.  At the age of fifteen, he traveled all the way to Clovis, New Mexico, to participate in a local radio singing contest - which he won!  The prize was $3 and the chance to host a weekly radio show.  Walker would hitchhike the 80-mile trip once a week to participate and would make it back home in time to help his father with the morning work the next day.


The Big D Jamboree, also known as The Lone Star Barn Dance, saw more than 50 performers over its lifespan.  Walker is the masked man on the right.


1947 would mark the official start of Walker's music career.  At the age of 18, he traveled to Dallas and by 1949 he joined the Big D Jamboree radio program where he would don a mask and perform as the "Traveling Texan".  It was none other than Hank Williams himself that got Walker a contract with Capitol Records after the two worked together in Waco.  In 1951, Walker signed with Columbia Records and by 1952 he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, to join the crew of The Louisiana Hayride, a radio show that served as the launching point for the careers of dozens of future music superstars.  One such artist was Elvis Presley, who was virtually unknown until Walker got him onto the show after catching the young man singing at a performance in Memphis, Tennessee. Walker had his first Top 10 country hit in 1954 with his "Thank You for Calling".  The following year, he teamed up with Presley and Tillman Franks for a musical tour of west Texas (where they were joined by a young Waylon Jennings).  Shortly after the tour, Walker moved up to Springfield, Missouri, to join the cast of the newly formed television weekly Ozark Jubiilee, another program known as the launching point for numerous musical careers.


Walker was introduced on The Grand Ole Opry by the great Ernest Tubb.  He performed on the program regularly for the rest of his life.


A few years of modest success passed.  1957 saw a Top 20 hit, "On My Mind Again" at #12.  In 1960, Walker joined the crew of The Grand Ole Opry and moved to Nashville.  After charting at #19 with "I Wish You Love", he became one of the first artists to record a song written by a young songwriter named Willie Nelson: "Funny How Time Slips Away".  Although he only charted at #23 with the song, it got enough play that Walker's name was becoming known nationally.  This paid off dividends when Walker released his next single in 1962, "(I'd Like to Be In) Charlie's Shoes".  The song shot up to #1 and the next single, "Willie the Weeper", peaked at #5.  1963 saw an incredibly close call for Walker as he was scheduled to ride on the ill-fated plane trip that claimed the lives of Hawkshaw Hawkins, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and their pilot on March 5th.  Fate would have it that Hawkshaw would switch planes with Walker so the latter could return to Nashville on the morning flight.


Billy and Bettie Walker were married in the late 1970s.  They remained together for the rest of their lives.


The mid-1960s kept the Tall Texan busy as he continued touring and recording.  Some of his hits during this time include "Circumstances", "Cross the Brazos at Waco", "Matamoros", "A Million In One", "Bear with Me a Little Longer", and "Ramona".  Walker began hosting his own syndicated television program, Billy Walker's Country Carnival, and took great pride appearing on every major syndicated country show in America during that time.  The early 70s saw several more hits for Walker, including "I'm Gonna Keep on Lovin' You", "She Goes Walking Through My Mind", "Sing Me a Love Song to Baby", and "Word Games".  After 1975, Walker did not have any more Top 10 hits, but his singles consistently charted in the Top 100 all the way through the end of his career.  He continued touring throughout the world, yet always found time to appear on The Grand Ole Opry.


With fifteen Top 10 singles, three Top 20 albums, and his own syndicated TV show, Billy Walker remains one of the most well known country musicians to come out of west Texas - even today!


On May 21st, 2006, Walker's life was taken when the van he was driving overturned off the side of Highway 65 after returning home from a gig in Alabama.  Three others, including his wife Bettie, were also taken in the accident.  After a lifetime dedicated to country music, the Tall Texan was laid to rest in Nashville.  Walker was instrumental in the careers of countless artists in both country and rock.  To learn more about the Tall Texan, visit his homepage here.



(1961) Everybody's Hits But Mine

(1964) Anything Your Heart Desires

(1964) Thank You For Calling - #18

(1965) The Gun, the Gold, and the Girl / I Cross the Brazos at Waco - #13

(1966) A Million In One - #13

(1967) The Walker Way - #37

(1968) I Taught Her Everything She Knows - #38

(1968) Salutes the Country Music Hall of Fame

(1969) Portrait of Billy - #40

(1969) How Big Is God

(1970) Darling Days

(1970) When a Man Loves a Woman (The Way That I Love You) - #40

(1971) I'm Gonna Keep On Lovin' You / She Goes Walkin' Through My Mind - #44

(1971) Live

(1973) The Billy Walker Show

(1973) The Hand of Love

(1974) Too Many Memories

(1975) Livin' and Losin' - #27

(1976) Alone Again - #47

(1980) Bye Love Song (with Barbara Fairchild)

(1984) Life is a Song


Songs on KBEC 1390:

"(I'd Like to Be In) Charlie's Shoes" - #1

"Cross the Brazos at Waco" - #2