William Everett "Bill" Justis, Jr. (October 14, 1926 – July 15, 1982) was an American pioneer rock and roll musician, composer, and musical arranger, best known for his 1957 Grammy Hall of Fame song, "Raunchy." As a songwriter, he was also often credited as Bill Everette.
Justis was born in Birmingham, Alabama but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. His mother was a concert pianist, who encouraged him into music, which he studied at Christian Brothers College (high school department) and Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. After graduation, Justis started playing trumpet in jazz and dance bands in Memphis, and took up the saxophone around 1955.
He was eventually taken on by Sam Phillips at Sun Records where he recorded music for himself as well as arranged the music for Sun artists. At 30, Justis was a good decade older than most of Sun's artists and had little interest in rock & roll until he learned just how lucrative the music had become. With guitarist Sid Manker, Justis composed a wild, primitive instrumental they dubbed "Backwoods"; Phillips renamed the tune "Raunchy," releasing it as a single in November 1957. Although Justis' honking tenor sax assumed centre stage, what made "Raunchy" so unique was Manker's guitar; he forged the song's distinctive riff not from the traditional middle strings but from the bass strings, creating a cavernous, resonant sound further buffered by studio echo.
Released in November 1957, his song "Raunchy" was the first rock and roll instrumental hit, and its popularity was such that it reached #2 on the American Billboard chart by 3 different artists (Ernie Freeman for Imperial, and Billy Vaughn on Dot). It reached #11 in the UK Singles Chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Justis would nevertheless score only more chart hit, "College Man," which only went as high as number 42. He continued recording the occasional single (including "Flea Circus," penned by Steve Cropper), but by and large focused the remainder of his career on studio work, arranging sessions for Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. Justis also discovered Charlie Rich at Memphis night spot The Sharecropper Club and brought him to Sun in 1960, arranging Rich's first major hit, "Lonely Weekends."
However, squabbles with Phillips prompted Justis to leave Sun soon after, and he formed his own label, the short-lived Play Me Records. In 1961 after moving to Nashville and briefly reuniting with Rich at RCA. By 1963 he was with Monument Records, another significant southern label, where he produced hits by vocal group the Dixiebelles. Kenny Rogers was among those for whom he later wrote arrangements. He then landed with Mercury which remained his home for the remainder of his career.
In the years to follow, Justis would arrange records for everyone from Patsy Cline to Dean Martin to Tom Jones, also recording a series of instrumental LPs for Mercury's Smash subsidiary. He played saxophone on the soundtrack for the 1964 Elvis Presley film, Kissin' Cousins and that same year took over as manager of the singing group, Ronny & the Daytonas.
Justis had a number one hit in Australia in 1963 with "Tamoure". The song did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100. In the early 1960s he produced a successful series of instrumental albums on the Smash label (Alley Cat/Green Onions and Telstar/The Lonely Bull). Justis was credited by Ray Stevens in the TNN special, The Life and Times of Ray Stevens, for giving him the phrase "gitarzan", which became a million selling hit for Stevens in 1969.
Justis also wrote the scores for several films including Dear Dead Delilah (1972), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Hooper (1978), The Villain (1979), and Island Claws (1980).Justis died of cancer in Nashville in 1982, at the age of 55. The huge crowd that attended his funeral attested to the respect in which he was held. He was interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia & All Music)