He was the one who penned some of the chart-topping country hits in history. A songwriter behind country legends Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charley Pride, and Reba McEntire, to name a few. The genius man behind these, Wilburn Steven Rice, or simply “Bill” Rice, produced clever and beautifully arranged melodies that spanned in the ’60s until the ’90s.
His Humble Beginning
This Arkansan native was born on April 19, 1939. Raised in Datto, Arkansas, Rice started playing the guitar at the age of 14. At 18, he had his first recording contract with Fernwood Record through Scotty Moore, the artist who also helped Elvis Presley’s career.
In his tour as an artist, Rice met Jerry Foster, whom he collaborated with. Having good lyrics but needing some good melody, Foster’s songs, as per Rice’s observation, are a bit lackluster. The two then decided to work together, helping each other.
In the early 1960s, they signed a songwriting contract with the help of Cowboy Jack Clement and Bill Hall. And by the late 1960s, it proved successful as their pair up produced a great deal of winning hits.
Wanting to pursue one of his dreams, that is to be a singer, he tried going solo. His single, “Travelin’ Minstrel Man” was one of the Top 40 hits in 1971. However, his legacy still goes back to being a songwriter. Together with Foster, they composed chart-topping hits for Twitty, Lewis, Price, and Mark Chestnutt. In addition, they wrote Top 10 hits for Pride, Mel Tillis, Paycheck, Bob Luman, Nat Stuckey, Mickey Gilley and Hank Williams Jr.
His Success Story
Every journey starts with a rough terrain, and it’s not every time you will feel success. Bill Rice is a witness to this as his career was not always on top. However, he was still blessed because, in time, he reaped accolades that he deserved.
In 1972, both songwriters Rice and Foster achieved a record 10 ASCAP songwriting awards. Then, they went on to the best record in 1974. It was the same year when they created the production company Farah, which has 11 ASCAP commendations to note. Continuing his success, Rice received a GRAMMY nomination together with Foster for Gilley’s no. 9 Country hit “Here Comes the Hurt Again.”
Later, Rice formed another songwriting partnership, with then-wife Sharon Vaughn Rice. Together, they wrote songs that went on to be big hits like Patty Loveless’ “Lonely Too Long” and Reba McEntire’s “I’m Not That Lonely Yet.” Also, they were the ones behind “‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose,” a CMA Vocal Duo Event of the Year for Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan in 1992.
Rice was not just a talented songwriter, he also was active in helping others create their own way to success. He brought some artists like Roger Murrah, Jim McBride, Rich Alves, and others to write for his publishing companies. In 1994, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Rice has recorded some songs of his own, but it was “Travelin’ Minstrel Man” that became a hit. Listen to this 1971 hit below.