Sunday, July 15, 2007

The artist who influenced me the most

In preparation for a feature on this year's Pittsburgh Blues Festival, Scott Mervis at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked me this question:

"We're previewing the Blues Festival and what we'd like to do is have the artists talk about the musician who influenced them the most -- what they loved about them, what they learned from them. Would it be possible to email me a few graphs* in the next few days?"

Here's what I wrote back:

On the first Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band LP, recorded in 1979, we covered a song called "Is It Over?" that was originally recorded by Otis Clay. That was the title song of that first LP.

My manager at the time got in touch with Otis and, after much coaxing, he got Otis to agree to come east from Chicago to do a couple of dates with our band backing him up. We worked hard to learn all of Otis's material, studying his "Live in Japan" album carefully. At the first rehearsal for our first show at Desperado's in Washington, D.C., it was instantly clear that the band and Otis were perfectly matched. At the show, toward the end of Otis's great set, he unexpectedly called me up to sing with him. I will never forget the chills that went down my spine when I stood next to him--this was the real Otis Clay and not a recording in my living room--and improvised with him on "Is It Over?".

We've performed together many times since, and Otis was kind enough to make a cameo appearance with me on my Soul Collection CD in 1998. For many years, I copied Otis blatantly and shamelessly. I'm probably a bit more subtle about copying him now, but when I sing, he is always in there somewhere. From Otis I learned focus--the ability to block out distractions and enter deeply into a song. I also learned to approach every gig, no matter how few people are in the audience, with the same commitment to practice the craft of singing. I've seen Otis sing in a wide variety of settings and circumstances, and have never seen anything less than a transcendent performance.

This will be in the paper sometime this week. I'll add a link when it appears.

* "graphs" is newspaper jargon for "paragraphs."

UPDATE: Here's the article

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Blogger Terrence said...

I thought you were most influenced by Huey Lewis and the News. You said as much to me in Cresson, PA circa 1987 at the sabby Hotel.

post-modern Accordionist

9:21 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

That's funny Terrence. I can imagine that I might have said that in 1987. That was around the time that Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band were aspiring to be something much like what Huey Lewis and the News were then: commercially successful.

I guess some influences persist and others don't. This is one in the latter category.

10:19 PM  

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