"Mountain of Love" is one of those 45s that is interesting not for the performer but for the story that's behind it. What sounds as a Northern Soul shaker on the surface carries with it the story of one of R&R's most neglected and underrated talent. Harold Dorman is one of those hillbilly cats that time forgot. You will find little about him in the history books. He recorded a few flopped singles for Sam Phillips before hitting big once with this catchy tune. That about sums it up for Harold Dorman. Not so for the band backing him on this single, The Little Green Men. I wouldn't be surprised if that name doesn't ring any bells immediately. The Little Green Men were to Sun records what the Funk Brothers were to Motown, a studio band that was the driving force behind many of the label's greatest hits. They were what really shook up Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lot of Shaking Going On".
Ironically it was that very Jerry Lee that caused key member Billy Lee Riley's career to stall. Riley, like many of the Sun stars, came from a share cropping background, a life as close to slavery as you can get in these modern times. It was in the rural fields of Mississippi he learned how to play the guitar, copying the Blues cats that came through town. Riley didn't stop there. He mastered the piano, the sax and played some mean harmonica as well. In the mid fifties he was discovered by Sun's producer, Cowboy Jack Clement and soon found himself doing session work for the studio as well as cutting his own red hot tunes on wax. His biggest claim to fame is arguably one of the era's most exiting Rockabilly sides, aptly titled "Red Hot". Legendary R&R DJ Alen Freed declared it was going to be a smash, an endorsement that usually would at least secure a #5 spot in the charts.
Unfortunately it didn't go down that way. Sam Phillips told him "We're not shipping "Red Hot," we're shipping "Great Balls of Fire" Riley recalls today, a Jerry Lee record he gave its balls in the first place! Phillips pulled him off the Alan Freed tour, replacing him with the Killer. "Red Hot" sank like a brick. Disenchanted Riley soon left Sun, taking the Little Green Men with him. They set out to establish Rita records hoping to get a slice of the pie themselves. Riley produced "Mountain of Love" on Dorman in 1960, burying the hottest outfit in the business under a layer of strings. To this day people mistake Dorman for a black entertainer, failing to hear the Rockabilly outfit underneath the dressing. In yet another ironic twist of fate Riley sold his share in Rita just before "Mountain of Love" became the short lived label's biggest hit.
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Explore Billy Lee Riley on Red Hot: The Best of Billy Lee Riley
Read an interview with Riley in the Phoenix New Times here.