One-Man Band Series, #2: Bloodshot Bill
One of the more standout presences in the obscure music world today is the Montreal-based one-man band Bloodshot Bill. When it comes to this rockabilly wild man, it is pretty safe to say that he is an exception to what many have come to expect from modern one-man bands. That is to say, Bloodshot Bill has departed somewhat from the primitive rock’n’roll, blues trash, and garage sounds that have been so heavily attached to the subculture in recent years. Instead, his songs embody a certain nostalgia, carrying within their notes and chords and words and beats a sound that many can easily associate with the record player era, with old 45’s, big greasy hairdos, black-and-white films, soda shops, pinup girls, smoky barrooms with Wurlitzer jukeboxes, pop art, hollow-body electric guitars, beat-up Converse sneakers hanging by their laces from telephone wires, and a great many other things.
He sways to the rhythm. He shakes his head back and forth, side to side, while his dark locks, combed to perfection only moments before, come loose and hang over his brow and eyes in long greasy strands. He frantically strums and picks the strings of his guitar. He trembles and stomps to the beat. He wails unrestrainedly into the microphone, serving up his peculiar vocal acrobatics, going through a series of grunts, growls, snarls, hiccups, yodels, measured breaths, and a number of other sounds born of his mouth and throat that go entirely against and far beyond ordinary singing.
It’s a frenzied rebel sound that Bloodshot Bill owns, the guitar occupying the middle ground between clear channel and dirty settings, the drum and hi-hat work steady, and the deep, raspy, hiccupy vocals more than a little reminiscent of the late, great Charlie Feathers. His sound represents rockabilly as it should be, as it used to be, only with his own twist applied to it. To be sure, it is greasy-haired, comb-in-the-back-pocket, cigarette-behind-the-ear, cuffed pant legs, plaid-shirted, foot-stompin’, hip-shakin’, finger-snappin’, tattoo-sportin’, needle-to-the-vinyl music for both the one-man band and rockabilly sets alike.
When I first approached Bloodshot Bill to be part of my One-Man Band Series, he quickly agreed to do it. Not long after that I received a package from Canada’s Transistor 66 Records containing a Bloodshot Bill bio and a copy of his latest album, “Git High Tonight!” From the first echoey notes and unusual vocal bits of the first song, Shick Shack, I could clearly tell that I was in for a different sort of listening experience. And once I had heard the last chord of the last song, Oh Honey Doll Baby Doll, I knew for certain that it had indeed been a different sort of listening experience, the kind that could have only come from Bloodshot Bill himself, by himself. “Git High Tonight!” was not my first exposure to Bloodshot Bill. I first heard him on a compilation by Rock N Roll Purgatory titled “Attack of the One-Man Bands.” After that, I heard his 2006 release on Flying Saucer Records, “Trashy Greasy Rockin’ Billy!” That album is home to such songs as Ring the Bell, I’ll Know, and Hangin’ Me Tonight. Trashabilly was one of the words used to describe that particular album, and I for one think it a fair enough term. After all, the songs do exude a noticeable combination of trash and rockabilly, though definitely more of the latter than the former.
In a world where the human majority seems hell-bent on progression, on cutting edge development and ultramodern concepts, it is inexpressibly nice when one such as myself comes across something a bit more real and meaningful, something less corrupt and artificial, something that harkens back to a decidedly simpler and more innocent time. And for me, Bloodshot Bill’s songs offer that. Of course, the time I am referring to, when the marriage of hillbilly and rock’n’roll was more commonly known as rockabilly, was well before my own, lamentably, as I was born too late for such things. That in no way curbs my interest and enthusiasm, though. And I often find myself as hungry for it as if I had lived during that particular period. Besides, there are a select handful of artists these days, like Bloodshot Bill, as few as they are, who do a bang-up job of keeping the spirit of that music and era alive and well.
When I listen to Bloodshot Bill’s music, I can clearly see in my mind’s eye the late Hasil Adkins tipping a can of beer to salute him from that great trailer park in eternity. I can see Feathers giving him a cool, silent nod of approval. I can see Elvis pointing at him as if to say, “Nice tunes, Bill. Keep it up.” In the distance, Johnny Cash offers a slow wave of his pale hand in recognition of Bloodshot’s contributions to a fading era of rock’n’roll. There are more, many more, like Carl Perkins and Link Wray, and on and on and on, who applaud him from the polished planks of the stage at world’s end, all knowing that with such artists as Bloodshot Bill the spotlights will continue to burn bright and the curtain will never close on rock’n’roll as they knew it in their day.
Just last week I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Bloodshot Bill. The interview went as follows…
First, as my interviews typically go, I would like to begin with an introduction to the artist. Who is Bloodshot Bill, not just as a musician and singer/songwriter but also as an individual, as a human being of this mad world in which we live?
I’m a pretty easy-goin’ guy. When I come home from traveling, I like to go record shopping, hang with friends, be alone, write/record new songs…nothing crazy crazy out of the ordinary.
Your sound really takes me back to the old school feel of rock’n’roll…to the early rockabilly days, truth be told. What influenced you to embrace that type of sound? Or was it just a natural occurrence when you started writing and playing your own songs?
I’ve loved this stuff since I was real young. So, I just want to write and play stuff that I would listen to…and that’s what I do.
What’s all this about you not being able to return to the United States by law for at least another year and some odd months?
Well, the short version is that I got stopped crossing into the States with no work permit, and they banned me from entering for five years. Could’ve been worse.
At present, the one-man band movement seems to be in high gear, gaining momentum, with great artists such as yourself, of course, as well as Reverend Beat-Man, Dead Elvis, Bud McMuffin, Sheriff Perkins, King Automatic, Phillip Roebuck, Bob Log III, Pete Yorko, and Mosquito Bandito, among others. It seems like a very geographically selective phenomenon, however, with a much more prevalent one-man band scene in Europe than here in the States. Why do you think that is? And what has been your experience with it?
I think Europe just kind of embraces things to the tenth degree. Being a solo act is easy in the way that you’re free to make all the decisions, just pick up and go when you want. My only beef is when promoters try to set up “Battle of the One-Man Bands” gigs. I think it’s kind of cheesy to do that. Same deal with girl bands. “Oh, there’re girls in this band? Let’s have a night of all-girl bands,” etc…). Like it’s a lame novelty or something. I don’t think people should be paid attention to just because they’re a one-man band, a girl band, or whatever. If they’re good, they’re good, and that’s what should count.
What are some of your more wild and memorable tour moments, if you don’t mind me asking?
So many! One time I played in a bar and there was a dead body in the wall (they didn’t find it till months later)…and an after party that turned into one big naked dance party, which was great (especially since the girl/guy ratio was 85 to 15). Really, so much strange stuff has happened that it doesn’t even seem that strange anymore…and my memory sucks… Oh, but Charlie Feathers’ kids coming out to see me in Memphis was very memorable for me!
You seem to be involved in quite a few other endeavors right now in addition to your one-man band project. Can you talk about those a little?
Right now I’m doing Tandoori Knights with King Khan, in which we kind of explore our Indian roots (he’s east, I’m west). There’s The Ding-Dongs with Mark Sultan (otherwise known as BBQ), and we pretty much play straight-up rock’n’roll/rockabilly. These are two guys I really love and have a ball with. Our records should be out soon. Also, I have a band back home called The Hand-Cuffs, which again is a rock’n’roll band. Like I said, I play music I would want to listen to, you know. Don’t expect me to start an indie rock/disco/whatever kind of band just for the sake of it.
What are some of your major influences, musically speaking? For example, some people have compared your vocals to the late, great Charlie Feathers’ vocals, to a degree at least…and I tend to agree with them, but again only to a degree.
Yes, Charlie Feathers is an obvious influence (ok, maybe not so obvious), as is Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, and really most early rock’n’roll, hillbilly, rockabilly. If it’s wild, then I did it!
Is it true that you have a hair pomade sponsor? If so, you are probably the only other musician I know of, taking into account Sinner and the boys from The Chop Tops, who has such a sponsorship. Long live greasy rock’n’roll!
Yes, I’ve been sponsored by American Greaser Supply out of Kansas City since about 2002, I think. They run an annual fest out there called Greaserama. I played it, and they dug me.
You just got back from some gigs and bit of good old busking. Do you take to busking often in order to fund your travels, or was simply a spontaneous one-time event that took place on this specific trip?
No, we just brought the acoustic instruments out after the gig to keep the party going. I used to busk a little, but I guess I prefer bars ‘cause they serve drinks.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover in this interview or anything you’d like to express, talk about, etc, please feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Bill.
My memory really sucks. If folks are interested though, there’s a lot of stuff on the internet about me that I probably forgot to mention here.