Nashville Cats: A Salute to Arranger and Musical Director Bill Walker
May 30, 2015
The museum’s quarterly program series Nashville Cats: A Celebration of Music City Musicians returned Saturday, May 30, with arranger and musical director Bill Walker. Hosted by John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Musuem, the program was presented in support of the exhibition Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City presented by Citi. It included an in-depth interview illustrated with vintage recordings, photos and film clips. A successful music arranger and director, Walker worked with Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, the Statler Brothers, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ann-Margret and many more music legends, to help them sound their best, on stage and in the studio.
Born May 28, 1927, in Sydney, Australia, Walker grew up in a musical home. His mother sang and his father played harmonica. By the time he was five, Walker could play the family piano. After earning his degree, Walker took a job with RCA Records at its office in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he arranged cover versions of songs that had already become popular in America.
Walker came to Nashville in 1964, to work with Jim Reeves. When Reeves died in a plane crash, Eddy Arnold enlisted Walker’s services, and the two worked together through 1968. The next year, Walker joined The Johnny Cash Show as musical director, and at the end of every show Cash would say to him, “Goodnight, Bill Walker!” The work began pouring in.
After Cash’s show ended, Walker worked as an independent producer for Capitol Records, masterminding sessions for Roy Rogers, Billy Walker, Ferlin Husky and Wanda Jackson, among others.
During this time Walker began working with Donna Fargo. Walker’s productions of “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U. S. A.” and “Funny Face” both took Fargo to #1 and launched her career.
Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Walker concentrated on writing, arranging and conducting music for network and syndicated television. Among his many credits are 15 CMA awards shows, The Statler Brothers Show, and many specials.
As a record producer, arranger and conductor, he earned gold records for Eddy Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away,” Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red,” Roy Clark’s “Come Live With Me,” Jim Reeves’ “From a Jack to a King,” Marty Robbins’ “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife,” Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and many more.
Walker continues to record. He and wife Jeanine have made four gospel albums and they perform at venues large and small around the world.