The Billy Lee Riley Story

The Billy Lee Riley Story

Copyright 1996 Billy Lee Riley

My name is Billy Lee Riley, I was born October 5, 1933 in Pocohantas, Arkansas. A small rural town in northeast Arkansas in the foothills of the Ozarks. At the age of three my family moved from Pocahontas to Osceola, another small rural Arkansas town founded on the banks of the Mississippi River. Osceola was a cotton farming town and we moved onto what was once a large plantation owned by Mr. Hal Jackson. Therefore it's name was "Jacksonville." The houses on the farm was used as rental property. If a tenant wanted to live there and work on the farm his rent was free. But if a tenant preferred working jobs other than farm work the rent was one dollar per week. My father was a house painter by trade so he chose to pay the dollar a week rent. But in the fall and winter months when painting work was scarce, my dad and my older sister worked in the fields picking cotton.

I learned to play the harmonica at the age of six and my love for blues music started at that age. Some of my black friends, playmates and I would go over to the black section of town and listen to the black blues singers playing on the streets or sit by the doors of the honky tonks and listen to music from the juke boxes. Saturday afternoons for most other kids my age was a Saturday matinee western movie. I did that, too, but most of the time a Saturday matinee for me was the sound of the blues coming from the juke boxes at the beer joints.

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