An infrequent lead artist who nevertheless was a fairly ubiquitous presence on the Memphis rock scene in the early to mid-1950’s

Wilton Love was born in 1929 and by the time he turned twenty was already a noted pianist in his hometown’s vast music scene who taught Roscoe Gordon the intricacies of the instrument.

Love first got his chance to record for Sam Phillips in the summer of 1951 but not under his own name, as Phillips, who was in need of a commercial follow-up to Jackie Brenston’s hit “Rocket 88” which he’d sold to Chess Records, had Love cut a song he’d written called “Juiced” which Phillips then sent to Chicago as if it had been done by Brenston. This duplicity not only cost Brenston the rightful chance to build his own career legacy, but also prevented Love from getting credit for his first efforts.

Phillips thought enough of Love however to bring him back to cut records under his own name, also released through Chess, though his two singles came out a year apart and weren’t promoted by the company. By then Phillips had started his own Sun label and Love got work as a session pianist for the company.

In 1954 Phillips gave Love another chance, cutting a bunch of sides, even scheduling his first single for the label, but then failed to issue it and turned his attention to a white singer named Presley who he signed just two months later, the point where Sun increasingly turned its back on black artists altogether.

Love joined his former pupil Gordon, who was the same age and a sporadic hitmaker, touring with him as well as subbing for Rosco on piano in the studio, again for Sun Records, but never getting the chance for record any more under his own name.

By 1957 Love had moved to Colorado and was playing in a club, remaining there the rest of his life. A brush with the law in 1974 was the last time he received any notice in the press and a year later he died at the age of 45 from alcoholism.

He was a talented writer, a capable singer and a good pianist who deserved better.
BILLY LOVE DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date on Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Chess 1472; July, 1951)
Credited to Jackie Brenston… Written and recorded by Love but passed off as by Jackie Brenston by Sam Phillips when he gave it to Chess, the shameful details of which override the performance which is hardly great either. (2)

(Chess 1508; April, 1952)
A first rate arrangement that features a great rhythm section and blistering sax and guitar solos while Love delivers the goods on a raucous story with sexual undertones thanks to a focused and invigorating vocal performance. (8)

(Chess 1508; April, 1952)
A listless record from all involved, from Love to the band to Sam Phillips recording it, as this comes across as nothing more than a demo or a first-run take before working out a fuller arrangement to go along with a more suitable lead vocal. (3)

(Chess 1516; August, 1952)
An unfunny song wherein Love “compliments” his girlfriend by insulting her with crude remarks about her appearance and while his vocal performance and even the band’s minimal contributions are tolerable, the content is not and therefore this should be avoided. (2)

(Chess 1516; August, 1952)
While the run-down of all of the financial obstacles he faces is a little too literate to flow well as lyrics, the performance itself draws your attention as he poses some very real problems with a band that adds to the weary atmosphere. (5)