News, Gossip, and Stuff From Inside Billy’s Head

Neal and Jack join the Spooklights

I’ve picked up a couple of new Spooklights I’d like to introduce to you.  Both of them came to me through connections with my guitar player and sometime producer, Jim Hemphill.  That probably makes him the MVP for the moment.  Until someone shows up with a bottle.

IMG_0633Neal Robinson is a lifelong friend of Jim, or at least, they’ve known each other their entire lives. Neal grew up in State Center, Iowa, and now lives in Minneapolis.  He’s played bass in a variety of R&B and rock bands mostly based in Des Moines, and co-wrote and and recorded a reggae EP in 2004 that hit radio stations in over 20 countries, including Kingston, Jamaica.  Billy describes Neal’s bass lines as “badass.”

jack bowers

 

 

 

Jack Bowers lives in Macon, Georgia.  Jack started playing harmonica at 14. When Jim,  the Spooklights’ lead guitar player,  was in Macon in 1994, he and Jack formed “Four Drink Minimum,” a “basement band.” After Jim moved back to Texas, Jack played for the Barrell House Ballers, Keith Williams, and a number of jam bands. For the last three and a half years, Jack was a member of Boot Hill the Band, a popular band in Macon and the Southeast. Jack played harmonica and was the back-up vocalist.  Jim recently introduced Billy to Jack, and now it can never be undone.jack playing

Road dawgs, drug dogs, and the DEA

I have a story I want to pass on. This one isn’t quite as entertaining as most of my road experiences. This happened to me on the way to my last show.

 I was on my way to Coffeeville KS from Chicago. I had my cruise control set to avoid any entanglements with Law Enforcement. It was a pretty uneventful drive until I was just about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Sitting between the north and south bound lanes of I-55 there was a black unmarked car. Lots of antennas on that sucker. Since I wasn’t speeding I didn’t pay much attention to it until I looked in my rearview and saw that they were tailing me.

 I’m not really new at this so I just kept on driving and waited to see if they were actually tailing me or just waiting to get off at the next exit. They stayed right behind me for a few miles and then started to pull around me. Instead of passing though, they just drove beside me for a few miles and then got back behind me. I was expecting to get pulled over but they kept tailing me another few miles.

 By now we had gone about 10 miles and passed a couple of exits so I figured they were running my plates.

 They started around me again so I figured the plates had come back clean and they’d go tail somebody else.

 They pulled up beside me again but we were at an entrance ramp onto I-55 and a car had merged into my lane from the ramp so I had to apply some brake to avoid running up their tailpipe. As soon as I applied the brake the black antennae car braked hard and pulled in behind me and hit the lights.

 I pulled over and rolled the window down.  One of the cops came up to the car and asked me if I knew why he’d pulled me over. I told him I had no idea, I knew I wasn’t speeding and he said no I wasn’t speeding but I was wearing earbuds.  They’re for my GPS.

 I said OK and then he told me that I also had an air freshener hanging from my mirror that could obstruct my vision, as well as having a crack in my windshield. The crack runs across the bottom of the window, but he said that was also an obstruction of my view.

 Years of roadwork and multiple shakedowns from cops have taught me that the best thing to do in that situation is just hand them your driver’s license and proof of insurance and don’t say anything else.

They’ll either write you a ticket or they won’t and trying to explain yourself isn’t gonna do anything anyway.DON KNOTTS

 I already had my license in my hand and when I handed it to the cop he initially said he didn’t need to see it, then changed his mind and said he better run it just to be safe.

 He went back to his car and after about ten minutes he came back, handed me my license, said it was clean and to not wear earbuds.

 I was just about to ask him if I was free to go when he asked if I had any kind of drugs or large amounts of cash in the car. I told him that I didn’t. He asked if I had any cocaine, weed, or meth. I told him I didn’t.

 Then he asked if I’d mind if he searched my car. In his defense, he made sure to point out that I wasn’t obligated to submit to a search, he wasn’t requiring me to, as that would violate my 4th amendment right against unreasonable searches.

 I know a little bit about searches and what the cops are supposed to be doing since I’m married to a lawyer and my guitar player has a day job as a lawyer, and they are always telling me how this stuff is supposed to go, according to the constitution and the 250 years worth of Supreme Court cases that had to be decided because the cops keep trying to prove that them thinking there’s probable cause is the same as there actually being probable cause.   So I know kind of how these things are supposed to happen, and then I also know how they really happen.  Which brings me back to my story –

 I told the officer that I still had a long way to go and really needed to be on my way.

 That was when he told me I needed to wait for the K9 unit to check my car out and that it would be along in just a minute. For those of you following along, the cops don’t need your consent or probable cause to run a drug dog around your car.

 The K9 unit showed up about 5 minutes later. I can only assume the dog had already been sent for when they pulled me over. Hell, that might have been why they tailed me for so long, to give the K9 unit time to get there.

 The dog handler came over and asked me to step out of the car while he walked his dog around it.

 I got out of the car and that was the first time I really noticed the cops. They were dressed like commandos or ninjas, maybe navy seals. They were wearing full Kevlar, weapons all over their vests, pistols and mace and all kinds of Batman looking stuff, dressed all in black right down to their ski hats and gloves. Because people with air fresheners are scary, I guess.

 The dog handler took his dog around a couple of times and the three cops had a little pow wow there beside my car.

 The K9 officer came and told me that his dog had alerted on my car. He told me his dog never missed (like it mattered if I believed that anyway) and asked where I had the drugs stashed. I told him I didn’t have any drugs or any money but now that his dog had given them probable cause I knew they were gonna do their search. And they did.

I wasn’t cuffed but I was locked in the back of the black antennae car while the three cops tossed my car, all my luggage, my guitar cases, and everything else in the car, including my dirty socks that hadn’t made it into the laundry bag and the mostly empty bag of strawberry twizzlers.

 After about 40 minutes they put it all back in my car and then told me they didn’t find anything and I was free to go.

I asked about the obstructed view issue and that’s when the lead cop told me they were DEA. Turns out they weren’t interested in traffic citations, just drugs and cash. So they pulled me over for a supposed traffic violation they never intended to ticket me for to begin with.

 I have to say that if you’re gonna have your rights trampled on from a BS traffic stop it is better to have it be the DEA. They’re only looking for dope or money. You’re not gonna get your balls busted for having your tail lights too dim. They were professional and they were courteous, but it was still a BS shakedown.

 That brings me to another point besides the unethical at best and illegal at worst traffic stop search.

 A couple of years ago I was pulled over just south of Texarkana TX by a highway patrolman for what he claimed was an improper lane change. He said I didn’t have my blinker on long enough before I changed lanes.

 After checking my license and proof of insurance he asked if I had any weed in my car. I told him no. The truth is I don’t smoke weed. Never have. I haven’t spent a hundred dollars on weed in my entire life.

But the cop insisted he smelled weed when he walked up to the car and that I needed to tell him where it was stashed and not lie to him.

 Now why in the hell should I be the only one telling the truth? Because the truth is – I Don’t Smoke Weed. When he said he smelled marijuana smoke, he balls out lied. But that was his excuse for tossing my car.

 The K9 officer told me his dog didn’t miss. Turns out he’s full of shit, too. His dog does miss. Probably a lot considering most of their stops are based on the same stupid shit that made them pull me over. And that got me to wondering how many innocent people have to deal with this BS because a cop thinks he has some special Spidy Sense about who’s carrying drugs.

 I lost count years ago of how many times I’ve been shaken down on this kind of crap. About twenty years ago outside of Salt Lake City it took three cruisers, six cops, and a K9 unit to write me a 15 dollar ticket for having too long of a safety chain on my trailer.

 All six of those cops I’m sure swear they have that special Cop Spidy Sense.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to it so it doesn’t really rattle me. I just chalk it up to the price of driving with long hair and out of state plates. I’m not intimidated when I get stopped because they NEVER find anything and I always get turned loose after the dog gets its treat for pretending to smell drugs.  I get shafted, the public gets shafted, and the constitution gets shafted, but at least one good thing comes out of it – the dog gets its treat.  Woof.

 

 

 

He needs a hug

Rowdy.  Wistful.  Damn the luck, bring me another beer.

Most of Billy’s songs fit one or more of these descriptions.  But one song from the latest album, “The UnExplainable Billy Eli,” departs from the usual for a dark, theatrical take on the moodiness and depression that so often accompany creative people on their journey through life.

This song is unmistakably a Billy Eli song, but one like you’ve never heard before.   Enjoy.   Listen to Punishing Time. 

“This settles it, I’m gonna live forever.” ***

billy and clementineOn May 31 I’m playing at Woodall’s Watering Hole in Hubbard, Texas, a crossroads Texas town like the ones I’ve passed through all my life.  Only this time, I’ll be crossing paths with Billy Joe Shaver, opening the show for him that night.

I’ve got silver in my hair, or should I say, there’s a little black in my silver hair.  I’ve got a few lines in my face and a permanent trucker’s tan on my left arm. I’ve worn out more tires, alternators, and seat covers than I can count driving around the country playing for folks.  I can do almost every bar trick ever invented, thanks to endless hours spent waiting for night to roll around so I can get up on stage and do my trick.  I’ve got some divorce decrees, some support orders, a few police reports laying around, and even a file on me in an FBI building somewhere.  I’ve ridden a mule in the Arizona desert and gotten lost in the subway in New York City.  I’ve eaten everything from a week old burrito from the Alsups to steak in a penthouse restaurant with real linen napkins.  And my lifetime social security earnings report is about as big as a convenience store receipt, all due to my steadfast refusal to get a real job.
But I’m like a kid on the playground next to Billy Joe Shaver.  I first remember him from Honky Tonk Heroes, which came out right about the time I was supposed to be seriously considering what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I got to listening to those Honky Tonk songs and decided I didn’t want to grow up.
I don’t know if being a honky tonker causes you to have a hard life, or if having a hard life makes you a honky tonker.  I only know  that I do this because it’s what I do.  Hell, all I ever wanted was to run up and down the country playing in beer joints.

Billy Eli and Billy Joe Shaver at Woodall’s Watering Hole, Hubbard TX May 31, 9pm. 

***Billy Joe singing “I’m gonna live forever.”

 

 

Why oh Why

ID-10012725I am three days back from my winter trek to the northeast.  This has been one of the roughest winters they’ve had in a while, so of course I thought it would be a good idea to take my southern ass up there and go play some shows.  Me, who has a good coat but no gloves.  Lots of long sleeved shirts but no wool socks. And i only had an ice scraper for the windshield because my yankee wife was smart enough to stick one in the car. If I’d have known it was there it would have been very helpful.

But i figured I’d be mostly in my car – where honky tonk players spend most of their time – or in a nice toasty bar, and it turns out that’s exactly what happened. I’m not really gonna go skiing or anything like that.  I played a bunch of shows to pretty full houses, crowds that were very welcoming and very happy to get out of the house and move a little.

All in all, I really did have a great time and so I’ll probably be back next winter.  ‘Cause I’m not all that bright.  But I do know how to have fun in any kind of weather.

 –Tompkins County Blues,  a song about winter

Gig Saturday October 5 Just Added

Billy Eli will be performing a solo show on Saturday Oct. 5 at the Rattlesnake Inn in Florence Texas.  The Rattlesnake in has been a working Honky Tonk since 1933, so come experience a bit of Texas history while listening to Texas’ future of honky tonk.

People Like Us are Fearless Families

I have partnered up with attorney Pamela Parker!

We first partnered up many years ago when we got married and started raising our four kids together. Two of those kids have serious special needs – one with autism and one with cerebral palsy.  Over the years we’ve learned how to  beat out our own path in life, finding laughter and love in everything that happens, even the things that we wish wouldn’t  have happened.

Our life includes special needs, it’s not defined by special needs.

Our personal partnership has been great, and for some reason continually surprises people.  When people hear Pam is married to a honky tonk star, she gets a doubletake, then I see the wheels in their head struggling to realign, then “Wow.  Really? That must be fun.”   I usually get “Dude! You married a lawyer???? How’d you do that?”

We’ve also spent a lot of our separate professional lives working for special needs families.  I’ve played many fundraising events for a variety of special needs causes, and Pam’s legal practice serves mostly special needs families.

Finally, we’ve partnered up in the professional realm.  Our project, the Fearless Family Tour,Fearless_Family_Tour brings Pam’s information about special needs planning to families along with my music concert, peppered with stories that all fearless families out there will identify with.  We have some other projects in the works that will raise money to help more families get their special kids set up for the future.

We’ve created a facebook community  to let families connect with each other.

We have found the people like us, and they are fearless families.  We all have dreams and together we can help each other reach them. Let’s hike that trail together.  Come to one of our events, join the facebook community, or have your group sponsor us to come to your town.

People Like Us

Billy Eli copyright 2005

Well, baby, I know, it can be a real drag

And it brings me down to see you looking so sad

And I know sometimes it gets to you

That we don’t live like the rest of the world does

But the world wasn’t built for people like us

 

Well people like us don’t ever seem to count

We don’t make the wheels go around

We got dreams we just won’t leave to die in the dust

And the world wasn’t built for people like us

 

Well sometimes it seems like this never goes anywhere

And I hope you don’t think that we’re not ever gonna get there

I know sometimes it gets to you that we don’t live like the rest of the world does

But the world wasn’t built for people like us

 

Well people like us don’t ever seem to count

We don’t make the wheels go around

We got dreams we just won’t leave to die in the dust

And the world wasn’t built for people like us

 

The world wasn’t built for people like us

The world wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

World wasn’t built for people like us

 

The Devil’s at the Door – the Writing of “Lost Behind the Wall”

Lost Behind the Wall is a unique song for me.  My best friend Lewis ran into some serious trouble that irreversibly changed his life forever, and I wanted to write a tribute song to him.  The song is about events that actually happened.

A lot of my songs are based on real people, but the stories I tell about those people are not biographical.  And while my songs are almost always written in first person, they are not autobiographical either.

This song, though, is inspired by real, actual events.  I wanted to tell the story, but I didn’t want to do a standard narrative style – A happened, then B happened, etc.

I wrote in my usual, most favored style, which is to paint images using the fewest possible words.  The story, for me, is about despair and its consequences.  By using images without the narrative storyline, I was able to give listeners some wiggle room to take whatever parts of the song that speak to them and make the story personal to their own experience.

After all, the devil knocks on everybody’s door eventually.Lewis 002