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  Big Peter talks to Billy Walton and William Paris

billy walton

Following the end of their latest UK tour, Peter McGee caught up with Billy Walton (esteemed frontman and guitar wizard) and William Paris (the sharp dressed bassist) of the Billy Walton Band at The Ferry, Glasgow. Not wanting the party to end early, a round of Guinness was ordered. Did the words flow smoothly or were they slurred? That’s for you to decide.

PM: Have you enjoyed the past few weeks you’ve been over?
BW: It’s been fantastic. We’ve had a laugh the whole time, the crowds were fantastic - and your accent is wonderful!

I was rather unnerved by this last comment, but quickly realised that the New Jersey sense of humour may not be far-removed from that of the Scotsman.

PM: You’re the first person ever to say that! You’ll probably be the last, too! Thanks!
BW: What?
PM: See?
PM: How do the UK crowds compare to their US counterparts?
BW: Music is music, y’know? The world’s not that big. Whether a fast song or a slow song, people can relate to it no matter what accent you have or where you’re from.
PM: Are the women prettier here or in America?
BW: Uh, that’s a loaded question!
PM: I won’t bug an answer out of you, then. How does it feel being onstage, playing every night to complete strangers?
BW: It’s great! As soon as we start playing and soon as I make eye contact and see people having a good time, it seems that you’re not so much of a stranger.
WP: The people here want the interaction. That’s [partly] why they come here, so the challenge is to interact. Really, it’s a privilege for us to tour around and entertain people - and have a great time doing it. We’re trying to get better at it. The idea would be that they [the crowd] can’t wait to get here, and we can’t wait to play.
PM: The Billy Walton Band recently released Live at the Stone Pony. Can you tell us a little about it?
BW: The Stone Pony is a legendary rock club in Asbury Park, where Southside Johnny and Bruce [Springsteen] - everybody in that scene - used to show up and jam. It wasn’t just the Stone Pony; there was actually a circuit, a bunch of bars. Mainly being New Jersey, whether it’s Asbury Park, Long Beach Island or Cape May, there was always a beachfront with a bunch of bands. It was a great thing.
WP: Of course, this goes way back. Lionel Hampton, Frank Sinatra - all the jazz greats - they all played up and down there in the 20s, 30s and 40s. There’s a real history of music on the Jersey shore.
BW: The Pony, though. I pretty much grew up there, playing with everybody I possibly could; all the Asbury cats. I cut my teeth there.

A brief tangent was taken and ultimately led to Billy and William drawing righteous comparisons between another New Jersey venue and the Cavern club in Liverpool. Following Billy’s assertion, we all agreed that the Cavern Club was indeed critical in establishing the initial success of (Hey! Hey! we are)The Monkees.
WP: There was this place called the Upstage Club. Before the Stone Pony - a big, big club - there was this much smaller club where all these guys - Southside, Bruce, Little Steven - would practise and learn to do their thing. Much like the Beatles had the Cavern.

For anyone who doubts its legacy, make haste with reading about New Jersey’s rich musical history. There’s much more to it than Jon Bon Jovi.

PM: Billy, you’ve shared the stage a few times with Southside Johnny. That must be good experience?
BW: I’m actually in the Jukes full-time now. The past two or three years have been great. To play with a legendary guy like Johnny, who really works the crowd, is terrific.
PM: Have you found his personality rubbing off on you at all?
BW: You learn from the master. The guy can take you anywhere doing shows. One instance was the Paradiso in Amsterdam and it was a week after Solomon Burke had passed away, having been booked to play there. On the ride over, the idea came out to do a tribute to him. We did “Got to Get You off My Mind”, and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”. Then we did “Cry to Me”. Johnny did this version and the place stopped. He touched everybody in there. You can learn from that. I was standing onstage going “This is the most awesome thing I’ve done in my life!” He nailed it. That’s part of music: touching people.

Billy reflects for a millisecond.

BW: Well, not necessarily touching people…
PM: Depends on the gender.
BW: Yeah, right!
WP: Billy’s been fortunate to have quite a few of those experiences like when he jammed with Double Trouble in Austin or when we were just driving about in the tour bus recently and he spoke about being onstage at the Stone Pony with Sam from Sam and Dave.
PM: I guess, then, that New Jersey - with its character, its history - means a lot to you?
BW: Right, yeah. I mean, it’s where you’re from. It’s almost like a brotherhood. The people want to help each other; they want to be friends. It a unique thing.
WP: We’ve chosen to embrace it. In the 70s, all those kids and young musicians going to CBGBs hated New Jersey - they wanted nothing to do with New Jersey. That’s why they went to New York City!
BW: The reason why we stick together is that we’re the underdog. We’re not quite New York. We’re not quite Philadephia. But we have the Shore.

At this point, William left the table. Billy went on to stress the fraternal nature of residents of Long Beach Island, and how he and his band would boomerang between venues in order to play songs with friends who played in nearby venues, further cementing his earlier points. Playing down my inner jealousies, I reasoned that I should redirect my job hunting to the Jersey Shore.

PM: What plans lie ahead for the Billy Walton Band in 2011?
BW: We plan to take over the world by 2012 and make everyday Christmas.
PM: Sounds like a plan!
BW: I’m doing some stuff with the Jukes, and always trying to create stuff for the next release. The key for me is that I want to create something that I’m proud of. Of course, I want to play new places and meet new people, too, but it’s always about creating something new.

Having finished our pints, we shook hands and declared our meeting to be at an end. The Billy Walton Band made their way to their bus, with their eventual destination being New Jersey. I did likewise, only having a much less attractive destination. Many thanks to the Billy Walton Band and good luck to them in their future musical endeavours.

Author: Peter McGee