NASHVILLE — Bill Walker, a conductor and arranger who grew to become a musical power in Nashville, scoring standard recordings for nation stars like Marty Robbins and Connie Smith and serving as musical director for Johnny Cash’s primetime tv selection present, died on May 26 at a rehabilitation facility close to right here. He was 95.
His loss of life was confirmed by his daughter-in-law Terri Walker, who mentioned he had developed pneumonia after current knee substitute surgical procedure.
A classically educated pianist, Mr. Walker orchestrated blockbuster hits like Eddy Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away” (1965) and Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1970). Both data reached No. 1 on the nation chart and crossed over to the pop Top 10.
He additionally served as arranger and conductor for, amongst many different recordings, Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.,” a chart-topping nation single that stalled simply outdoors the pop Top 10 in 1972.
In the method he had a hand in shaping each the luxurious, refined Nashville Sound of the Sixties and the soulful “countrypolitan” sensibility that got here after it.
Empathy and class had been his calling playing cards, together with a knack for plumbing the emotional coronary heart of a track, a present that was nowhere extra evident than in his work on “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
“Take the ribbon from my hair,” Ms. Smith implores her lover as Mr. Walker’s gossamer association caresses the ache in her voice.
His sympathetic strings likewise lent pathos to George Jones’s lovelorn “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a No. 1 nation hit in 1980.
“You are there to make the artist sound good, not to show how clever you can be,” Mr. Walker mentioned of his philosophy of recording in a 2015 interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
“That’s how I used to do it,” he continued. “It didn’t matter if the artist was a hillbilly singer from back in the woods somewhere or Perry Como. You give them the same attention no matter what.”
William Alfred Walker was born on April 28, 1927, in Sydney, Australia, the eldest of three youngsters of Alfred and Beryl (Gabb) Walker. His father was a dairy farmer, his mom a homemaker.
William started enjoying the piano at age 5 and quickly began taking personal classes. While in highschool and school he carried out in golf equipment and taught himself the rudiments of arranging by listening to standard recordings on the radio. He acquired his formal coaching at Sydney University’s Conservatorium of Music, graduating in 1955.
In 1957 he moved to South Africa to change into the musical director of the Johannesburg division of RCA Records, the place he launched 23 largely instrumental albums of pop and Latin music that featured him on piano backed by massive and small ensembles.
He additionally produced classes for the nation famous person Jim Reeves, who inspired him to maneuver to Nashville; Mr. Walker arrived the weekend Mr. Reeves died at 39 in a deadly airplane crash, in July 1964.
He began working with Mr. Arnold and helped revive the singer’s profession at a time when ballad singers had been being eclipsed on the nation chart by artists like Buck Owens and Roger Miller, who had been extra attuned to up-tempo rock ’n’ roll.
Mr. Walker later turned down an opportunity to succeed Chet Atkins as head of the Nashville workplace of RCA earlier than turning into the musical director of “The Johnny Cash Show” on ABC-TV in 1969. There, he helped convey Southern tradition to dwelling rooms and dens throughout the nation by collaborating with Mahalia Jackson, Roy Acuff, Louis Armstrong and an array of different company.
He additionally wrote and performed the association for Mr. Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” a dwell recording from the present that went to No. 1 on the nation chart in 1970. Mr. Cash usually signed off every episode of his program with the salutation, “Goodnight, Mr. Walker!”
After The Johnny Cash Show ended its run in 1971, Mr. Walker spent the following 20 years working as an unbiased producer for singers like Ferlin Husky and Wanda Jackson and managing his personal label, Con Brio Records. In the early ’70s he labored with Ray Charles and Loretta Lynn for an NBC tv particular.
From 1991 to 1998 he was the musical director for “The Statler Brothers Show,” a preferred musical selection present on the Nashville Network. He remained energetic as a producer and arranger into the 2000s, writing scores for TV specials and motion pictures at a time when session musicians relied totally on improvised, or “head,” preparations.
Mr. Walker is survived by his spouse of 51 years, Jeanine (Ogletree) Walker, a former Nashville session singer; a daughter, Beth Walker; a son, Colin, from a earlier marriage; his sister, Julianne Smith; his brother, Robert; and 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Two sons, Jeff and Peter, and a daughter, Lisa Gibson, all from earlier marriages, died.
Mr. Walker labored with ensembles on at least 4 continents, together with studio professionals on the East and West Coasts of the United States. For the preparations that he composed, although, he most popular the intuitive, less-is-more strategy of the session musicians he first encountered in Nashville within the Sixties.
“That’s the thing with Nashville players,” he mentioned in his interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “They all listen to each other and they join in the licks. It’s the stuff you can’t write. You can only give them the idea and let them go with it.”