I was born in Ralls, Texas, and one of eight children and the grandson of a Methodist minister. My mother died when I was four. Because of the great depression, my father was unable to keep the family together. He was 36 and had eight children so he placed me and two of my brothers in the Methodist Orphanage in Waco, Texas. I recall my daddy turning loose of my hand, watching him walk away and not seeing him again for five years. The Orphanage was a cruel place at that time. My brothers and I were isolated for 30 days in one small room. You want to hear about child abuse – they wouldn’t be allowed to operate today. I recall one young boy who was made to sleep all night sitting on the commode. They beat us and if we wet the bed, they rubbed our face in it. pulled our hair, made us go without food.
My daddy re-married and came to get us when I was 11. He gave me a dime to see a Gene Autry movie. It was called “Public Cowboy #1.” I looked at Gene on that screen and said I can do that. From that moment on, I knew I was born to sing. I worked at plucking’ turkeys to earn enough money to buy my first guitar. By the age of 15 I won my first singing contest at KICA Radio in Clovis, New Mexico singing “I’ll Never Let You Go, Little Darling’.” The prize was $3.00 – a chocolate cake and a chance to have my own radio show every Saturday. I would hitchhike 80 miles one way every week because I had a dream. Some nights I wouldn’t make it all the way and I’d sleep along side of the road but come morning I’d be there to help my daddy with his milk route. When you’ve got a dream – nothing can stop you.
I gave my heart to Jesus at 15 or at least I thought I did only to be told by my father, “boy that guitar will send you straight to hell.” Still I set out to fulfill my dream of becoming a country music star and left God out of my life for a lot of years. I went through a period in my life when I had fame, fortune and everything that was supposed to make one happy. Only to find out that I had left out the One that makes life really count. . . the Lord.
It was the Big D Jamboree radio show in Dallas, Texas that got the ball rolling for me. In 1949 Hank Thompson assisted in getting my first recording contract for Capitol Records. I was with Columbia Records for 15 years. I recorded for major record companies for 30 years.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many giants such as Jim Reeves, Red Foley, Lefty Frizzell, Slim Whitman, Ernest Tubb, Patti Page, and Hank Williams SR. Slim Whitman and I helped Elvis Presley become a member of the Louisiana Hayride. I remember my first encounter with Elvis Presley. I was doing a show in Memphis at the Overton Band Shell. Here comes this good looking’ kid dressed in black pants with a pink coat and pink shoes to match. He asked if he could sing a song. I just stood there and said sure. Instant electricity.
In 1955 Tillman Franks, and Elvis joined me for a tour of West Texas. I paid Elvis $150.00 a day and $10.00 car expenses. A young outlaw by the name of Waylon Jennings passed out posters in the town to help promote the show. God has been so good to me. He has protected me in my travels around the world and allowed me to know many dignitaries and celebrities.
During my 50 plus years in country music I’ve achieved 32 Top 10 Hits, 6 #1 Hits and over 100 chart records and hosted my own syndicated television show called “Billy Walker’s Country Carnival” for several years, and appeared on every major country music television show in the United States.
Here’s a little song that was #1 in 1962 “Charlie’s Shoes.” “Cross The Brazos At Waco.”
Someone once told me “find something you love doing, and do it so well that people will want to pay you for doing it. I found it. I was born to sing. I remember the first time I got paid. I was about 14 and went to visit my grandmother in Temple Texas and I walked by the Cefsicks Hall which was a Bohemian Dance Hall and I was carrying my guitar. This ole boy hollowed out from the dance hall and said “hey kid can you play that guitar?” and I said yep but I ain’t playing it for nothing. I went over and played some songs for him and he paid me $2.00. I don’t work that cheap anymore.
On March 5, 1963 after a benefit concert in Kansas City, I narrowly escaped a fatal plane crash that took the lives of my friends Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes, and Patsy Cline. I received an emergency telephone call to return to Nashville. It was at that moment Hawkshaw Hawkins overheard my conversation and he took out a commercial airline ticket and handed it to me and said here kid – you be Hawkshaw Hawkins on that plane tomorrow morning and I’ll take your place on the private plane. Little did I know that plane ticket would save my life?
I remember the last night my good friend Red Foley performed. He came to my dressing room and said “Billy, there’s something different about you.” I begin to share with Red my association with Christ. He said, do you think God could ever forgive a sinner like me. He began to tell me all the rotten things he had done in his life and I looked him in the face and said, “Red, if God can forgive me, He can forgive you.” I prayed with Red, he went out and the last song he sang was this one “Peace In The Valley.” He came over to side of the stage and said Billy – I’ve never sung that song and feel the way I do tonight. Two hours later Red Foley had passed from this life.
My first marriage lasted almost 29 years. You see I didn’t believe in divorce and I wanted to keep my family together. My wife at the time didn’t want to serve God, but served the god of this world. Through much pain and heartache I surrendered my WHOLE heart to Jesus and He’s lifted me as high as any man can be. What the devil intended for evil, God has turned for good in my life and I praise him.
He brought a man by the name of Eddie Cunningham, who was an Assembly of God Pastor in Atlanta, Illinois across my path. He stepped on my bus one day and said Billy – God told me to tell you, He had his finger on you. I begin to weep because I knew this was true. I spent three days with this man in prayer and fasting. On the third day God filled me with his spirit and I’ve never been the same. Without it you’ll only give lip service to God and you’ll live beneath what God wants you to have.
Bettie and I were married 34 years and I was able to serve God everyday of those 34 years. Everything I have or will ever have I owe to God. When you give God your whole heart, He’ll give you everything He has. That’s what I asked for and He’s never failed me. My faith enabled Him to turn what could have been defeats into lasting victories.
Our nation as a whole does not seem to be concerned if God gets any praise, but His children see His loving hand of mercy everyday on their lives. I Peter 2:9 says “We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation a peculiar people that we should show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you have been touched by His presence, you know that nothing this world has to offer can ever replace this encounter. He is our greatest prize.
Let me encourage you to get on track with God, stay on track with God and let Him bless your life abundantly, above anything you can think or ask. I’m a blessed man.