Bill Walker, a formally trained musical arranger and conductor, traces his career from Australia to Nashville, where he helped artists such as Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, and the Statler Brothers sound their best on stage and in the studio. This interview, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as part of the Nashville Cats series, was recorded on May 30, 2015.
During the program, Walker offers numerous comic moments while recounting his life’s work. Born May 28, 1927, in Sydney, Australia, he grew up in a musical home, his mother singing and his father playing harmonica. By the time he was five, Walker could play the family piano. After earning his degree, he 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.
Bill 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!” and the work poured in. Walker recalls his experience of working with Bob Dylan on the first episode.
In addition to the Cash show, Walker worked on the CMA Awards broadcast, “The Statler Brothers Show,” and many specials. His arrangements grace many country classics, including Johnny Cash’s recording of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and Eddy Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away.”
After Cash’s show ended, Walker produced artists such as Roy Rogers, Billy Walker, Ferlin Husky, Wanda Jackson, and Donna Fargo. His 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, Bill Walker concentrated on writing, arranging, and conducting music for network and syndicated television.
The program concludes with a piano performance by Walker.
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