Producer, music arranger and music director Bill Walker died Thursday. He was 95 years old.
Walker served as the musical director on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC, which ran from 1969 to 1971. In the ’70s and ’80s, Walker also wrote, arranged and conducted music for network and syndicated television. Among his credits are 15 years of the CMA Awards for CBS, Perry Como and His Nashville Friends, Nashville Remembers Elvis on His Birthday, The Grand Ole Opry at 50, Lynn Anderson & Tina Turner in Nashville, Ann-Margret’s Rhinestone Cowgirl, Opryland in Russia, That Great American Gospel Sound (with Tennessee Ernie Ford and Della Reese), Conway Twitty: On the Mississippi, The Tenth Anniversary of the Reopening of Ford’s Theater, The Music City News Cover Awards Show (also for 15 years) and more.
As a record producer, arranger and conductor, Walker earned gold records for Eddy Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away,” “Turn the World Around,” “Misty Blue,” and “What’s He Doing in My World”; Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red (My Love)” and “My Elusive Dreams”; Roy Clark’s “Come Live With Me,” Jim Reeves’ “From a Jack to a King”; Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night”; Marty Robbins’ “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife”; Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”; Bob Dylan’s “Copper Kettle” and Nashville Skyline; and Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face.”
Walker was born April 28, 1927, in Sydney, Australia. After earning his degree at Sydney University’s Conservatorium of Music, 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 recorded 23 albums, including the collections Walker’ Round the World and Walker’ Round the Shows.
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 following year, Walker joined The Johnny Cash Show as musical director. Cash would end each show by saying “Goodnight, Bill Walker!” The show lasted 58 episodes. 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. Walker’s work producing Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face” played a role in each song becoming a multi-week No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart.
Walker also guest-conducted orchestras in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Memphis, Nashville, Phoenix, Tampa and Hartford, Connecticut, and frequently wrote arrangements for artists performing with the Boston Pops, as well as sometimes sitting in with them as a pianist.
From the late ’70s, Walker ran his own independent label, Con Brio Records, serving as its talent scout, arranger and producer, working with artists including Don King, Dale McBride and Terri Hollowell. Walker also worked for The Statler Brothers Show on The Nashville Network.
Walker composed music for movies featuring Kirk Douglas, Tony Franciosa, Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy and Gregory Peck.
Walker is survived by his wife, singer Jeanine (Ogletree) Walker, daughter Beth Walker, son Colin Walker, sister Julianne Smith, brother Robert Walker, 13 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren. Walker was predeceased by his son, AristoMedia Group founder Jeff Walker, son Peter Walker and daughter Lisa Gibson. Details surrounding the service will be released.