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Meeting Billy:
Of Guitar Straps and Getting Gooey

by Jeffrey Robert Connelly

After spending all day at a Star Trek convention on Sunday (though I'm a lifelong Trekker it was my first con, and now I know why), going home and relaxing sounded like a hell of a good idea. Hey, I'd just spent twenty bucks to hear William Shatner go off for an hour. My work was done.

So, what do I do? I ignore my body's protests and head to Open Mind Music in hopes that the advertised Billy Talbot in-store performance actually happens. After all, it was technically "Billy Talbot and Friends," you never could tell who one of those friends might be.

Now, if I know anything about rock and roll, it's that shows NEVER start on time. More than that, the ad said the show starts "around 7pm", which I reckon means sometime before 9pm. I get there at about 7:10, and--what a shock!--he's not even there yet.

CYM is playing. Before the song is over, though, someone apparently decides that it's a little too corny and changes it.

I spend most of the next half hour or so browsing, then rebrowsing. It's not exactly a big store, though I notice they carry boots. It's the only store I can think of offhand in San Francisco that I've seen boots. More reasonably priced than Logos in Santa Cruz, too. (But I digress.)

Billy arrives with what I can only call a lack of fanfare; he and his entourage just sorta show up. By this point equipment has already begun to be set up. No drums or keyboards, just mikes and guitar stuff.

Billy was mostly just wandering around, talking to his crew, that sort of thing. Surely, he wouldn't mind if...

Now, I've always been a believer in letting famous people have their peace and privacy. Going up to them and getting all gooey is just plain wrong, particularly if they're in a restaurant or walking down the street or something like that. Hell, I have a problem with it even in situations where you're supposed to talk to them, like signings or that kind of thing.

Ironically, across the street from Open Mind is a place called Comix Experience where Trace Beaulieu and Jim Mallon from Mystery Science Theater 3000 were having an autograph signing last April. Even then I felt really nervous about going up to them--sure, they may be there with pen in hand, but it doesn't necessarily mean they wanna be there. Don't get me wrong, though, I took full advantage of the situation. I had them sign an MST3K movie poster AND a picture AND my video store's copy of This Island Earth AND, perhaps worst of all, I put a microcassette recorder in front of Trace and asked him to record an answering machine greeting for Kim and I in Crow's voice. Just taking advantage of what I figured was a sanctioned, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But this was different, wasn't it? Sure it was. Billy wasn't shopping or spending time with his family or anything like that. He was just killing time. So...

I stepped up to him and asked him, politely, if his appearance had anything to do with the Crazy Horse solo album--I stumbled over that phrase as I heard myself say it, but plundered onwards--we'd heard about. He said that, yeah, he was probably going to be playing a couple tracks from it, and also mentioned that most of it was already recorded, and that Neil was involved with it.

Score! He brought up Neil, I didn't. That was important to me. I didn't want him to think that the only reason I was interested in him was purely for the Neil connection. (Honestly, though. I really did want to hear what he sounded like on his own, plus I secretly hoped he'd resurrect Stand By Me. No such luck.) And it would have been really bad form had I, like, asked if Neil was going to be on the new album or something. Not cool.

Sensing that I probably had his attention for maybe another thirty seconds, I commented that I'd managed to make it out to some of the OPL shows, and actually inside for 3/21--and, say, isn't that the performance of BWYWMTD that ended up on the album?

I don't think he knew for certain what night I was referring to--"That was a Thursday show, right?"--nor what night that track was from, but then again, why would he? I doubt that he was necessarily involved in that decision. He did comment that the later shows were a lot hotter, and I agreed that they were great, and though I hadn't been able to get into any of them I listened from outside and occasionally watched through the window.

Right about then my internal geek-o-meter was tipping dangerously into the red, so I thanked him both for those shows (which didn't come out sounding right at all) and for being there now (not much better). I debated for a moment, then figured, if you're gonna get gooey, do it right. I extended my hand and said, "My name's Jeff Connelly. It was a pleasure talking to you."

He shook my hand and said, "Thanks, Jeff," and walked away. He didn't seem to be in hurry, which I took to be a good thing. (Heck, Shatner refused to shake hands at all.)

So, I happily continued my browsing. There were maybe 20, 25 people, which was the most there were going to be, and by this point it was nearly eight.

I'm flipping through the Prince LPs (including an original German pressing of the Black Album for only $8.99, oddly enough) when Billy walks up to me and asks, "Do you have a guitar strap?"

It takes me a moment to respond--not because I had to think about the question, but just in amazement that the question is being asked at all. Billy Talbot is asking me for a guitar strap. Wow. Alas...

"No, I'm sorry, I don't," I reply. He walks away. I was suddenly reminded of my brother Jim's story (apocryphal? probably) about meeting a surprisingly pensive Bono in a bar in the UK; after Jim mentions that he's in a band, Bono asks him if he has a demo tape on him, which he doesn't. Of all the silly things, not carry around a demo, just in case. Man, see if I don't keep a strap handy whenever I'm going to be anywhere near Billy Talbot. (Jim says he brought a tape along when he saw U2 at the Oakland Coliseum on the following tour, but didn't get a chance to give it to Bono. Well, I'm coming to the next show prepared...just in case.)

Shortly after that I notice a MORE BARN! t-shirt. I don't have one myself, but they're hard to miss. It was Rustie Jim Patilla (I apologize if I misspelled your name--I didn't feel right asking you how it's spelled), who apparently was passing through the area and decided to stop by. Very cool. DevonT and Fontainebleau were also there, though I didn't realize it at the time due to lack of identifying t-shirts.   :)   Still, not a bad Rustie presence--four people when there were no more than 25 altogether.

Billy and co. came on around quarter past eight or so; sharing practically equal time with him was a singer by the name of Mary Shure (Sure? Shoor? Schuur? well, phonetically it's right) whose posture while singing reminded me quite a bit of Jim Morrison. The leather pants and poet's blouse didn't hurt, either. Apparently she has a band in LA called Bonejumping -- definitely keep an eye out for them. Billy usually stood back during her songs, occasionally singing along or playing tambourine. I loved how even while playing tambourine he got that same rock and roll face he gets playing anything else.

During his songs, Billy mostly played acoustic, both six and twelve string. He had a six string bassist and a rhythm guitarist alternating between electric and acoustic. I found it all fascinating, because it was very obvious that they were still learning a lot of the songs. For that matter, Billy's first song was Lennon's In My Life, and he didn't quite have all the words nailed down on that one, either. It didn't matter, though, it worked.

Often they would be working out the arrangements and tuning in the middle of a song. (Watch out for that Em!) It was very loose, like watching the creative process at work, and made the OPL shows look tight and well-orchestrated. This really was stepping into the garage, made all the cooler by the fact that this guy would be playing at Madison Square Garden in a matter of months...

...which was part of what impressed me so much. He just got back from a European tour ("it was great" was his reply when a store employee asked how it went) and will be starting a tour of the states very soon. So what does he do on his time off? Free shows in record stores! Yeah!

He closed, wonderfully, with Danny Whitten's I Don't Wanna Talk About It. A little something from his past.

Overall it was a very cool show--you can't go wrong for free anyway, and best of all, nobody called out for Southern Man.

That's all you can really ask.

Hip Drag Queen
PS: No, I didn't tape it. Don't I wish.
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