- Courtesy Photo
- Bloodshot Bill
Back in the '50s, pompadours, beehives, two-toned shoes and swing skirts were all the rage. And blaring from the AM dial were the savage strains of artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Link Wray. Those artists and others pioneered the rockabilly genre, an early rock-and-roll style that fused country, Western swing, and rhythm and blues.
Montréal rocker Bloodshot Bill has always been enamored of the era and its signature sound. The 43-year-old father of two, who prefers to keep his real name a mystery, started playing music in the late '90s and has released a hefty string of albums since then. Typically, you'll find the artist performing as a one-man band, stomping on drums with his feet as he sings and strums guitar.
Bloodshot Bill's sound is practically indistinguishable from that which he idolizes. His music is replete with fuzzy production aesthetics, stinging guitar riffs and blown-out vocals with slap-back reverb. And he looks the part, too — greased hair and all.
Bloodshot Bill performs on Friday, January 11, at Nectar's in Burlington, with locals the Welterweights and Laura Dame "The Spinster," and on Saturday, January 12, at Charlie-O's World Famous in Montpelier.
Seven Days caught up with Bloodshot Bill by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: I get the impression you've had some crazy nights in your rock-and-roll career. Does having kids change that, or not so much?
BLOODSHOT BILL: Yeah, I mean, I'm also at the age where I've had plenty of nights, you know? I'll still have a night every now and again. But, especially when I'm on the road, I don't have to make every night Saturday night, you know? [Though] I kind of just did that. I played three shows around New Year's, and, wow, I did not get any sleep. I got sick after. If you have crazy nights all the time, you're just gonna burn out.
SD: Lovemaking and heartbreaking seem to be recurrent themes in your work. I assume you speak from experience. Any advice for singles looking to mingle? Asking for a friend, of course.
BB: I don't know. Be yourself. Don't try to impress anybody. When something feels right, you'll know it. Don't try to push things. Take things as they come. Take things slow — or, take things fast. If it seems like it's a one-night thing, go for it. It all depends what you're looking for.
SD: Your music has an unquestionably authentic retro sound. Do you feel it stands apart from the '50s era in certain ways? Or is the point for it to be indistinguishable?
BB: There's so much under the umbrella of rockabilly. There are individual bands that are more mellow, and some bands that are so crazy you can't believe their record came out in the '50s. A lot of people don't know that. They just think of [the era] as this kind of nostalgic ice cream shop — their grandfather's music. But there's so much crazy music that's crazier than anything that comes out today.
For me, I don't know what makes my music different. I'm not totally sure. Maybe that's for someone else to say. Maybe I'm too close to it.
SD: What do you mean by "crazier than anything" coming out nowadays?
BB: Just super-wild music. A lot of bands today, when they're doing it, they kind of look at it like an instruction guide, you know? Like, "Oh, I'm supposed to have an upright bass, and then I'm supposed to sing about Cadillacs." I call it Disney music. It's so safe and just boring. The bands back then, it was all new to them. There was no kind of rule book. They were just making these crazy records.
SD: Are there specific techniques you use to preserve that retro quality when you're recording?
BB: I think having a good knowledge of the roots of the music and being knowledgeable with the music, I find it's easier to play around with it and do your own thing. Every genre has its little things that make it sound like that kind of music. And as long as you know the history of the music, I find you can play around with it.
SD: But are you, like, a gearhead? Do you seek out specific pieces of vintage equipment to obtain a certain sound?
BB: I am a bit of a gearhead, and I'm not a bit of a gearhead. I love the old gear. The amps — nothing sounds better. And the guitars — nothing feels and sounds better to me. But I don't know the names of anything. People start talking to me — "Oh, the EF140" — and I'm, like, lost. I have no clue what they're talking about. I know what I like when I see something.
SD: You dropped a few hot singles in 2018. Do they herald a new record?
BB: Oh, yeah. I got a new one coming out February 15 on Goner Records.
SD: Awesome. Do you have a title?
BB: Yeah, it's called Come Get Your Love Right Now.
SD: Anything new or special about this one? Maybe something you hadn't tried before?
BB: Not so much super new, but maybe I explored a little more. I really like exotica music and, on this record, I feel like I explored the exotica side a little bit more. [And] I've got some more records coming out.
SD: In 2019?
BB: Yeah. I do these collaborations a lot. I've got one with Deke Dickerson coming out, one with the 126.96.36.199's. This other band I do, the Tandoori Knights, with King Khan, we put out our record, like, 10 years ago. But we're gonna play some festivals in April, so we might put out some other singles, too.
SD: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with rockabilly legend Hasil Adkins?
BB: When I started playing, people said, "Hey, you sound like Hasil Adkins." I didn't know his music then, and when I finally heard Out to Hunch, I fell in love. Then I got Hasil's phone number and just called him up out of nowhere. And he was so kind. We spoke for hours, like we were old friends or something. Of course, years later, I started working with the same record label he was on.
After he passed [in 2005], his girlfriend sent me an email saying, "Hasil used to tape-record his phone conversations. Would you like a copy?" She sent me a cassette of us talking on the phone, playing songs to each other. It's a pretty nice souvenir. We actually never met in person.
SD: If you could interview any musician, who would it be and why?
BB: Link Wray. He's like God to me. For one, the career he had. He started out playing country music with his brothers. Just the stories I've read, the stuff he's gone through, super-wild stuff. He had an instrumental hit that was banned. He had hits, but he wouldn't play the game. He would play these little clubs in [Washington,] D.C., because he loved playing there. And he just kept going, into the 2000s. Pretty inspirational.
SD: Did you ever encounter him in real life?
BB: No, I never met him. I was at his show in the front row. I gave him a high five or something.