Bill Justis – Raunchy

This weekend will lean toward the 1950’s…we start it off with this instrumental. 

Back in 1950s Liverpool  a young John, Paul, and George were riding on a bus and Paul was trying to get George Harrison in the Quarrymen. George was much younger and John had his doubts about letting the kid join. Paul asked young George to get his guitar out and play the instrumental Rauncy right there on the bus. John was impressed and the rest…as they say is history.

This was originally called “Backwards.” Justis changed the title when he heard someone enjoying the tune say that it was “raunchy,” which meant “messy” or “dirty” in ’50s teenage slang.

The song was written by Bill Justis and Sidney Manker who played that riff on the song. 

Justis landed a job as musical director at Sun Records, run by Sam Phillips. During his time there, he arranged music for acts like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. Meanwhile, he got the idea to record his own rock ‘n roll tune and enlisted some jazzmen and rock ‘n roll players for the session that produced “Raunchy.” When the sax player he hired fell ill, Justis stepped in. Although he’d long ago traded his trumpet for sax, he hadn’t played the instrument for a while, which resulted in a distinctive off tone that set the original instrumental apart from its many covers.

This instrumental peaked at #2 in the US Hot 100, #1 in the R&B Charts, and #6 in the Country Charts. 

Bill Justis: “I read about how much money he had made out of rock ‘n roll so I said, ‘That’s for me!'” “So, I immediately set out for a record store and bought $80 worth of the all-time rock ‘n roll hits. I studied the stuff and found it was so simple, yet basic and savage, that it was difficult to perform.”

From Songfacts

Ernie Freeman covered this. It was a reversal of the usual process as Freeman was black and Justis was white. Freeman’s version hit #4 while Justis’ hit #2. Although both did extensive session work, “Raunchy” remains each act’s sole Top 40 hit.

George Harrison played this on his guitar for John Lennon when he was auditioning to be a member of The Quarrymen.

While working for his father’s roofing business in his native Memphis, Justis made the rounds in local dance bands as a trumpet player. When the office’s closing left him without a job, Justis decided to pursue music full time as an arranger. An article about Buck Ram, a prolific songwriter and producer who was integral in the vocal group scene of the ’50s, turned him on to rock ‘n roll.

Justis and Freeman weren’t the only performers to have a hit with “Raunchy” in 1957. Billy Vaughn also released a version that went to #10. Several other acts covered the tune, including Santo & Johnny, The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Scotty Moore, Alex Chilton, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s, among others.

Justis recorded this two more times: in 1962 for the album Bill Justis Plays 12 More Big Instrumental Hits and in 1969 for the album Raunchy & Other Great Instrumentals.

This was used in the movies The Loveless (1981), Great Balls Of Fire! (1989), Nowhere Boy (2009), and Camp X-Ray (2014).



Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

19 thoughts on “Bill Justis – Raunchy”

    1. You are right…that is the first time I heard it also. That was a great documentary…just not long enough. I remember fussing at George Martin because Paul just started “Hey Jude Don’t…” and George Martin the talking head came in and you couldn’t hear nor see the song. This was before you could see that footage anywhere as you know.


    1. Yes he was…that sound he got was perfect with that music. I wish RCA would have made Elvis record there.
      I have to wonder if this version was the one they listened to over there…there were like 2-3 versions out in 58.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t say raunchy either…but I guess it is about timing.
      I’m re-reading Tune In…the Mark Lewisohn Beatles book. They did have some really good taste in hits and B sides…a lot of B sides.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m basically picking songs that were inspiration to the early Beatles this weekend… you grew up in a perfect time Jeff. Those Sun records are great.

      Liked by 1 person

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