Mr. Honky Tonk, Bill Doggett, passed away this past
Thursday (Nov. 14) at his home on Long Island after a brief illness. He was 80
years old. Though best known for his multi-million selling instrumental hit of
1956, "Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)," Doggett was one of the trailblazers of jazz
and rhythm & blues.
Born in Philadelphia in 1916, Doggett taught himself
piano and formed his first band in 1935. By 1940 he was playing for the Ink
Spots and arranging for Ella Fitzgerald. He joined up with the great Louis
Jordan & His Tympany Five (of Five Guys Named Moe fame) in 1947, playing on
such classics as "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and paving the way for rock 'n'
In 1952, Doggett took up the Hammond organ, formed his own combo and,
in 1953, signed on with Cincinnati's King Records, home of Wynonie Harris, Hank
Ballard and James Brown. Doggett outsold them all with a little tune he and his
band (Clifford Scott, Shep Shepherd and Billy Butler) worked out between sets
at a gig somewhere in Ohio. As is the case, King owner Syd Nathan didn't think
much of it and let Doggett and the group keep the writing credit on the tune
(not a practise to happen very often in those days). "Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)"
went on to sell over six million copies and become the biggest selling
instrumental hit of all time.
Doggett continued to record for King into
the early '60s, with several other Top 40 releases, but none as big as "Honky
Tonk." Since then Doggett recorded for a series of labels in various styles but
always featuring his distinctive Hammond organ sound. There were many who took
up that sound since then, but Doggett was one of the first. I am proud to have
worked with him on what was to become his last release, 1991's The Right
Choice (After Hours/Ichiban). He was a rarity in the music business, a
truly gentle man and a great talent.