Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By,” became the country’s biggest chart-buster of the modern era (19 weeks at #1) and the 7th biggest country hit of all time on September 25, 1961.
The song was written by a Kentucky songwriter Kendall. The title “Walk On By” was terrific but there was something missing and he just can’t figure it out. The song seemed perfect for the country music market, perfect lyrics but no one seemed interested. He knows that he just needed a hook but he just can’t come up with it either.
By 1960, Hayes rewrote his song. He called his contacts and got a demo for “Walk On By.” They played it for Leroy Van Dyke who also needed a hit that time. He was already running his fourth-year career with two different labels, yet he only landed one song on the Billboard Charts. Do you remember “The Auctioneer?” That was it! Sadly, after its phenomenal success, he had been shut out. While the singer and his new label wanted to find a big record, Van Dyke knew that he wasn’t going to starve to death if all his country music dates dried up.
In a very real sense, Van Dyke was one Music City artist who didn’t have to depend on each new song and personal appearance. Unlike most, he had something to fall back on.
The session at which Van Dyke recorded “Walk On By” turned out very well. In a rare move, radio programmers all over the country went against the record label, artist, and producer, and “Walk On By” quickly took off. In just three weeks, the Hayes composition had gone from being a throwaway piece to the #1 song in the nation. Mercury’s pressing plants were overwhelmed trying to keep up with the demand. Leroy’s record would remain on Billboard’s country singles chart for 37 weeks, holding the top spot for nineteen of those, making “Walk On By” the seventh biggest hit in country music history.
Over the years, a host of different artists have charted with the Hayes classic, but none has been able to follow the success of the original release. By the same token, Leroy Van Dyke could never follow his top recording either. He never again ruled the charts. There are songs and people whose talents shine brilliantly, but briefly. Such is the case with this artist and this song. “Walk On By” was a failed effort that found life through a four-word editing suggestion. It was a straight country record that found great acceptance on the national pop playlist of Billboard Magazine (reaching the #5 position). In its real sense, “Walk On By” is an example of a rags-to-riches fable that validates the American dream of the underdog overcoming all odds to make it to the top.