Country Music Hall of Fame member Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle, whose music and comedy made him a Grand Ole Opry staple for the past half-century, died March 17 at his home in Goodlettsville, Tenn., after suffering a stroke the previous week. He was 94.
A Grand Ole Opry member since 1953, Carlisle was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002. He is best known for novelty hits like “No Help Wanted,” and for penning the now-classic hymn “Gone Home,” popularized by Flatt & Scruggs and recently recorded by Ricky Skaggs.
William Carlisle was born into poverty in Wakefield, Ky., near Louisville. Following the lead of older brother Cliff, he learned to play guitar and began performing around the region during the 1920s. In 1929, the family launched the “Carlisle Family Saturday Night Barn Dance” on a Louisville radio station.
Bill developed an alter-ego for his shows: a comedic rube in overalls named Hot Shot Elmer, noted for gags that included a pet skunk, a shock box and ducks in diapers.
In the mid-’30s, Cliff and Bill formed the Carlisle Brothers, one of the most popular country duos of the time. They had live programs on radio stations in nine Southeastern cities, gaining their largest following during a stint on “The Midday Merry-Go-Round” on Knoxville’s WNOX.
From 1932 to 1947, they recorded more than 100 sides for six different labels, peaking with 1946 single “Rainbow at Midnight,” which hit No. 5 on the Billboard country singles chart. In 1948, they charted again with “Tramp on the Street.”
In addition to their recordings, the brothers’ live shows drew big crowds, who particularly came to see Bill as Hot Shot Elmer. The barefoot Hot Shot was notorious for hurdling chairs in the audience and leaping from the stage, earning Carlisle his “Jumpin’ Bill” nickname.
He came into his own as a solo recording artist with a series of novelty hits in the early 1950s, most of which he wrote. These include “No Help Wanted”; “Knothole”; “Shake-a-Leg”; and “Too Old to Cut the Mustard,” which spurred interest from the Grand Ole Opry.
But when the Opry didn’t take him on right away, he found himself scrambling for work — which inspired him to write “No Help Wanted.” The song reached No. 1 in January 1953, and 10 months later, the Opry had added Carlisle to its roster.
Carlisle gave Chet Atkins one of his first jobs in music, employing the now-legendary guitar picker as a fiddler in the early 1940s. Carlisle was noted for his own skill as an acoustic guitar player; he was an early favorite of rock ‘n’ roll guitar hero Duane Eddy, and some credit him with influencing rockabilly.
Six major surgeries in the 1990s limited his jumping but he continued to mix music and comedy throughout his tenure at the Opry. He performed with a walker after hip replacement and kept using it even after he no longer needed it, only to surprise the audience by flinging it over his shoulder at the end of his set and walking away. He made his last Opry appearance March 7.
He was married to the former Leona King for 62 years, and both of their children — Sheila Carlisle, who died in 1991, and Bill Carlisle Jr.– performed in their dad’s ensemble.
Survivors include son Bill Jr. and three grandchildren.